THE ANATOMY OF DISGUST

Having ably dissected humiliation in his 1993 book of that title, Miller now sets his keen insights on something even more fundamental to the human condition: disgust. It is easy to dismiss disgust as a mere gut-level twinge; after all, the word (and thus, to some extent, the concept) did not even enter the English language until the 17th century. But Miller convincingly argues for disgust's wide-ranging cultural influence, ``the important role it plays in organizing and internalizing many of our attitudes towards the moral, social, and political domains.'' With an Aristotelian zeal and thoroughness, he proceeds to explore the ramifications of disgust's various manifestations, from its role as the strict guardian of social hierarchies to its place as the gentle handmaiden of civilization. These are impressive credentials, considering its origins in what Miller terms ``life soup, the roiling stuff of eating, defecation, fornication, generation, death, rot, and regeneration.'' Miller argues that disgust ``uses'' this very raw material for two distinct purposes. The first is a Freudian kind of superego short- circuiting of unconscious desire (i.e., the incest taboo). The second is to prevent excess (think of the self-loathing that often accompanies hangovers). While his sociopolitical/moral analyses of the workings of disgust are thorough and convincing, Miller spends little time on disgust's necessary opposite, desire. He also fails to consider the possible evolutionary functions of disgust. From food taboos to table manners, its specificities are often culturally constructed, but we all have the capacity and drive to be disgusted. Was this to help us avoid the rotten, the diseased, the unhealthy? Like many books on single subjects, this is sometimes overzealous in its interpretations—disgust seems to lurk in every corner of social life—but Miller has done a tasteful and intelligent job of shedding light on the muck of our most visceral and primordial emotion.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-674-03154-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1997

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more