CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT

THE PHILOSOPHER WHO FLUNKED LIFE AND OTHER GREAT LESSONS FROM HISTORY

Historical anecdotes coupled with nostrums for the business-as-warfare crowd. Drawing on George Santayana’s by now tired saw that those who cannot remember the past will necessarily repeat it, the authors (Allison is a magazine publisher, while Adams and Hambly are history professors) offer a sturdy assemblage of historical oddments that in themselves make for entertaining little studies. One, for instance, concerns the Roman senator Gaius Popillius Laenas, who singly faced down a Syrian army that was poised to invade Egypt; Laenas sternly told the Syrian satrap that although he may have been alone, he had the whole might of the Roman empire backing him. Another recounts the fabulous wealth that fledgling financier Nathan Rothschild made by speculating on the British bond market at the time of Waterloo; Rothschild had employed a network of private spies who followed Wellington and Napoleon into the field, and armed with the information these spies provided, Rothschild was able to predict the outcome of that great battle and to manipulate the market accordingly. Still another relates the medieval European belief that in the far corners of Asia lay a fabulous realm whose Christian king, Prester John, awaited the arrival of fellow believers on whom he would shower wealth and titles. The morals the authors append to these little studies are less entertaining. When they are not immediately transparent—and the authors seem utterly convinced that theirs is the only possible interpretation of events—these preachy lessons are sometimes even vaguely creepy. They view the world of commerce as a battleground, competitors as conspiratorial enemies whose aim is to keep the righteous, namely readers of this book, from their rightful riches. Thus the lesson of Laenas’s bravery is “A bluff works only when it is believed,” of Rothschild’s cunning that it’s a good thing to cultivate reliable sources, of the quest for Prester John, “Your hopes are not reality”—hardly surprising conclusions. Readers who like their Machiavellian theory dumbed down will find this book of value.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-85951-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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