Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (2008) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan (2007) fascinated readers with evidence that...

ROCK BREAKS SCISSORS

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO OUTGUESSING AND OUTWITTING ALMOST EVERYBODY

An ingenious guide to outsmarting others by predicting their choices when they are trying to be unpredictable.

Being predictable is difficult, writes business and science writer Poundstone (Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?, 2012, etc.). When taking tests in which they are asked to write a series of random numbers, almost everyone avoids repeats such as 4444, but true randomness requires them. The authors of these tests fall into this trap, so if a correct answer in a true-false test is true, the following is more likely to be false and vice versa. If doubt remains, guess true, since 56 percent of true-false answers are true. Test authors must invent many wrong answers for every right one, and it’s tempting to use shortcuts. The easiest is to insert “never,” “always,” “all” or “none,” into a reasonable statement. Never choose these. On the other hand, if one answer is “all of the above” or “none of the above,” the test author must carefully write the other answers around them, so why waste all that work? These are correct an astonishing 52 percent of the time. Many genuine insights on gambling, betting pools and the stock market have limited appeal, but the string of surprises continues. Thus, hot streaks (consecutive wins in any sport and other examples) occur as often as they do in roulette. In other words, they’re purely random. “All of this book’s applications are founded on one simple idea,” writes the author. “When people make arbitrary, random, or strategic choices, they fall into unconscious patterns that you can predict.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (2008) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan (2007) fascinated readers with evidence that reality regularly contradicts common sense. Poundstone delivers modestly useful advice for taking advantage of this, but mostly his book is another delightful addition to the everything-you-thought-you-knew-is-wrong genre.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-22806-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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