A well-researched, wide-ranging, and discouraging addition to the why-people-do-stupid-things genre.

THE DELUSIONS OF CROWDS

WHY PEOPLE GO MAD IN GROUPS

An intriguing contemporary update of Charles Mackay’s 1841 classic, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions.

Neurologist and journalist Bernstein effectively explains the biological, evolutionary, and psychological bases of human irrationality. “When presented with facts and data that contradict our deeply held beliefs, we generally do not reconsider and alter those beliefs appropriately,” he writes. “More often than not we avoid contrary facts and data, and when we cannot avoid them, our erroneous assessments will occasionally even harden, and, yet more amazingly, make us more likely to proselytize them.” Asked about the safety of vaccines during the 2016 presidential campaign, neurosurgeon Ben Carson summarized the overwhelming evidence in favor. Donald Trump disagreed, describing a “beautiful child” who became autistic after a vaccination. Sadly, “most observers scored the interchange in Trump’s favor.” Readers will wince at the often bloody hysteria that accompanied the Reformation, roll their eyes at our inability to resist get-rich-quick schemes, and chuckle at the widespread American movement that awaited the world’s end in 1843—all of which makes for disturbing yet fascinating reading. The rise of evangelicalism is arguably the most important transformation in recent American political life, and many readers may be shocked that 35% of Americans believe “Jesus will return to earth in their lifetimes.” Citing the work of religious historian Robert Wright, Bernstein notes, “Revelation’s opacity and ambiguity only amplified its influence, since they open the way to a wide range of allegorical interpretations about when and how the world ends.” Furthermore, this belief is “so embedded in our political system that at least one U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, subscribed to it, as do a large swatch of politicians at all levels,” including Mike Pence. The author offers solid sections on digital age hucksters before a concluding chapter on Muslim apocalypticists, who have much in common with the Christian variety. Bernstein’s account of financial shenanigans is a jolly ride, but he finds no humor in religious extremism, and readers may share his despair at learning what seemingly educated people believe.

A well-researched, wide-ranging, and discouraging addition to the why-people-do-stupid-things genre.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5709-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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