A satisfying insider’s excursion into the scientific realities behind CSI-style pop culture.

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FORENSICS

WHAT BUGS, BURNS, PRINTS, DNA AND MORE TELL US ABOUT CRIME

From a bestselling mystery author, a curiosity-fueled look at the realities behind crime science.

Scotland-based McDermid (The Skeleton Road, 2014, etc.) has published 29 novels, but she approaches the grisly realities of crime scenes and corpses with a neophyte’s sense of wonder. In the preface, she notes that “crime fiction proper only began with an evidence-based legal system [that] those pioneering scientists and detectives bequeathed us.” True to this notion of a historical debt, the author discusses forensic science’s development by identifying the first cases solved by insect analysis, ballistics, and other once-radical tactics. She focuses on topics ranging from toxicology and blood spatter to innovations in DNA replication and forensic anthropology. For each, she provides an approachable scientific overview and a narrative of significant cases, interspersed with commentary from top forensic investigators (one of whom tartly observes about her peers’ formidable senses of certainty, “they are not being trained to think that an opinion is an opinion”). McDermid is clearly fascinated by odd, obscure historical details—e.g., the French once called arsenic “inheritance powder”; fingerprinting was used in India and Argentina before it was trusted in England or America. The author establishes that public interest in forensics is nothing new; since the early 20th century, these new types of scientists were made into celebrities by “scores of journalists, hungry for a ‘scientist foils serial killer’ headline.” McDermid emphasizes the meticulousness of these professionals and claims that they learn from flawed cases, which become notorious among them, and for good reason: “If it suits the [defense] lawyer’s narrative, they will undermine first a scientist’s testimony and then their good name.” The author concludes by arguing that accelerating innovations in forensic science make the apprehension of violent felons ever likelier, noting how DNA technology has solved numerous cold cases, and forensic anthropology has proved equally useful for investigating child pornographers and mass graves in Kosovo.

A satisfying insider’s excursion into the scientific realities behind CSI-style pop culture.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2391-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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