by William J. Bernstein ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 2, 2021
A well-researched, wide-ranging, and discouraging addition to the why-people-do-stupid-things genre.
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
Page Count: 576
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020
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by David Grann ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 18, 2017
Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2017
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Finalist
Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.
During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.
Pub Date: April 18, 2017
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017
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by Jonah Berger ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 7, 2023
Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.
Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.
By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.
Pub Date: March 7, 2023
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Harper Business
Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023
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