A top-notch book of natural science that busts myths as it entertains.



A cheerful and knowledgeable popular science review of female animals.

For decades, writes British science writer Cooke, “studies of intrasexual competition focused on male competition for mates, and the combative potential of females was largely ignored by science. The resulting data gap on females then masqueraded as knowledge. It’s assumed females aren’t competitive, and theories are based upon that understanding—when the truth is we just haven’t been paying attention.” The author emphasizes that it was only at the end of the 20th century that women began to enter biology in large numbers. Many turned their attention to female animals, heretofore considered too boring to bother to study, and discovered that “true till-death-do-us-part sexual monogamy…proved to be extremely rare, found in less than 7 percent of known species.” A skilled journalist, Cooke has traveled the world to interview experts, most of them women, who have performed groundbreaking research and are unafraid to confront skeptical male colleagues. Despite deploring his Victorian sensibilities, Cooke remains a Darwin enthusiast, but she maintains that his later (and lesser known) theory of sexual selection deserves equal status with natural selection. Readers will receive a superb education in the evolution and mechanics of animal sex as well as countless colorful anecdotes describing bizarre reproductive behavior. Readers will find the familiar account of female spiders eating males as they try to mate, but there is much more to discover in Cooke’s fascinating pages: Almost all birds are monogamous, but it’s a social monogamy; 90% of female birds sneak away from the nest to copulate with multiple males, so a single clutch of eggs can have many fathers. Permanently attached to a rock, a barnacle possesses the longest penis for its size in the animal kingdom, but this is purely functional, enabling it to search for neighboring females. If there are no females within reach, as a last resort, the hermaphroditic creature fertilizes itself.

A top-notch book of natural science that busts myths as it entertains.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7489-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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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