A touch too pat at times but, overall, a well-considered diagnosis of a real and overlooked crisis in public health.

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TOGETHER

THE HEALING POWER OF HUMAN CONNECTION IN A SOMETIMES LONELY WORLD

The former surgeon general examines the health crises brought on by a more overarching plague: loneliness.

“For more than a century,” writes Murthy, “the physicians holding this office [the surgeon general’s] have addressed national health crises ranging from yellow fever and influenza outbreaks to the aftermath of hurricanes and tornados to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.” The epidemic he was called on to address took more insidious forms: eating disorders, depression, opioid and other chemical addiction, and suicide. All have in common a source in social dislocation—but not isolation, since being able to be alone can be a healthy thing—that in turn produces loneliness, the inability to summon human contact when human contact is wanted, even if one is in a room full of people. These days, the author writes, Americans aren’t good at being with others, and it doesn’t help that social media thrives on our loneliness, for which we turn to a world of virtual others for succor. Murthy’s approach is anecdotal, sometimes annoyingly so: Not every observation needs an “I was Joe’s anomie” story to back it, which blunts rather than sharpens the message. Still, the numbers are meaningful. As the author observes, there are more lonely or socially isolated people in America today than there are smokers, smoking having been a health problem that medicine and society banded together to do something about, never mind the tobacco lobbyists. Loneliness is more difficult to spot than a curl of smoke, and for that, Murthy offers some useful prescriptions, including teaching people “self-compassion,” which “is what shields us from—or at least softens the blow of—the judgment and ridicule of people who don’t understand us.” Other measures for young people, who bear much of the weight of the epidemic, include setting aside more family time and encouraging offline as well as online play.

A touch too pat at times but, overall, a well-considered diagnosis of a real and overlooked crisis in public health.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291329-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper Wave/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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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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