THE KINDNESS OF CHILDREN

Despite its vague, somewhat saccharine title, this short book is a subtle, psychologically and imaginatively rich guide to one of the important ways in which children learn how to be more fully human: namely, kindness. Paley, a former kindergarten teacher, a MacArthur Award recipient, and the prolific author of many books about children and education (The Girl with the Brown Crayon, 1997, etc.), describes how very young students transform themselves and one another by taking in, narrating, and sometimes dramatically acting out tales of kindness and other acts of goodness. “The infant returns a smile; the schoolchild returns a story,” she observes. Beginning with the true account of Teddy, a multi-handicapped boy in a London school who wears a padded helmet and is treated sensitively by a “normal” student, she delves into the matter of how children, at their best, find ways of reaching out to those in need, thus allowing themselves and their peers to grow morally. Yet her book is less about “the kindness of children” than about the imaginative and ethical power of narratives about goodness for young minds. Her writing’s allusive—e.g., she makes reference to traditional Jewish teachings about kindness—and sometimes poetic. On occasion, the book suffers from hyperbole, as when Paley writes about children’s acts of goodness that “rock the [moral] universe.” Perhaps because she believes that children are “often more kind to each other than unkind,” Paley doesn—t delve enough into the interplay between children’s propensities for kindness and for cruelty. This is unfortunate, especially since the single time she writes about a child who reports being hated and shunned by her peers is the volume’s most interesting section. But in general, Paley instructively illustrates how the children with whom she interacts so well are “making sense of all the unspoken messages” articulated to them while they—re also creating “little homes for one another where everyone can imagine playing and no one is left out.”

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-674-50358-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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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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