A reader-friendly primer in better thinking through the cultivation of that rarest of rarities: a sound argument.



Much-published psychologist Pinker looks at the not-so-common roots of common-sensical thinking.

Rationality, writes the author, “emerges from a community of reasoners who spot each other’s fallacies.” In other words, it has a social dimension, and it invites good company in order to wrestle with big problems such as climate change. Unfortunately, “among our fiercest problems today is convincing people to accept the solutions when we do find them.” That’s because so many people are so—well, irrational, or at least encumbered by bad habits of thinking and presuppositions. Discussing beliefs in ghosts and haunted houses, the author wryly points out that 5% more people believe in the latter than in the former, which means “that some people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts.” Rationality is not the same thing as logic, Pinker argues, though there are points in common. Along the way, he examines the differences between propensity and probability, the maddening habit of falling victim to confirmation bias (believing what we want to believe and never mind contrary evidence), the workings of the conjunction rule (by which we conflate suppositions about people and events based on little or no factuality), and our tendency to mistake coincidence for pattern. Pinker serves up plenty of mental exercises that are intended to help us overcome the tricks our minds play on us—e.g., Prisoner’s Dilemma game-theoretic scenarios that help expose the reasons so many people are content to be “free riders” in using public goods; or stupid conspiracy theories advanced by people who believe they’re being suppressed, which, as Pinker notes, is “not the strategy you see from dissidents in undeniably repressive regimes like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.” The author can be heady and geeky, but seldom to the point that his discussions shade off into inaccessibility.

A reader-friendly primer in better thinking through the cultivation of that rarest of rarities: a sound argument.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-56199-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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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 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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