COMING INTO BEING

ARTIFACTS AND TEXTS IN THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Meandering millennial meditations by a self-described cultural historian, WissenskÅnstler, Marshall McLuhanite, and yogic proselytizer. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that this book is more stream-of-consciousness than history of consciousness, as Thompson (The American Replacement of Nature, 1991, etc.) jettisons such Western prejudices as order and coherence while he whimsically skips from Proust to Earth Goddesses to the Rig Veda to comparing translations of Lao Tzu. When Joseph Campbell engages in such dazzling eclecticism, it usually works. Here it seems misconceived. Electrified by the constructed significance of the year 2000, Thompson also succumbs to an apocalyptic variant of the Whig fallacy of history. Instead of viewing the present as the grand culmination of centuries of meliorations, he sees it as the beginning of a final transformation of humanity involving ``the recovering of the feminine, the deconstruction of the patriarchy, the deconstruction of capital-incentive economies of scale run by military-athletic-entertainment-industrial complexes with their shadow economies of drugs, arms traffic and crime; and a general resistance to medibusiness taking over the human body.'' If we do not throw off all these old bonds, if we do not subjugate science to ancient wisdom, Thompson predicts a violent, long-drawn disintegration of civil society, ``darkness and entropy in a war of each against all.'' In any book so fruitcake-rich with ideas and theories, you're bound to find at least a few tasty morsels, and Thompson does not disappoint. He offers some provocative—though unoriginal—ideas on the evolution of consciousness, and his discussion of the limits and fallibilities of academia and science is first-rate. But the healthy skepticism he shows here completely vanishes when it comes to matters more mysterious and arcane. Things must be in a pretty bad way if science and reason cannot save us, and we must cast ourselves instead on Thompson's haphazard ruminations. (18 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: June 24, 1996

ISBN: 0-312-15834-3

Page Count: 284

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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