Lord Acton would be proud. Essential for interpreting history and world events—both the provinces of tyrants—alike.



Brilliant study of the nature of power, explaining just why it so often renders those who hold it evil.

“Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power?” So asks Klaas, a professor of global politics at University College London, at the outset of this absorbing survey. The answer is yes. The author delivers a provocative argument to support that claim, whether discussing the case of an African strongman who cannibalized his political enemies or the martinet president of a homeowners association. Two memorable examples come early: One is a “psychopathic pharmacist” who organized the survivors of a 1629 shipwreck on an Australian island to commit more than 100 murders at his whim. The second is a similar marooning, four centuries later, in which a group of young Tongan men lived for more than a year in a flatly organized shared-power-and-responsibility system. That all survived may have been a fluke given that we tend to create hierarchies in which “upstarts who would’ve previously faced ostracism, humiliation, or death now had a real prospect of becoming genuinely powerful.” Because power thrives on conflict, the rate of violence increases; because people fear violence, powerful people who offer security thrive. Hierarchy itself isn’t bad, writes Klaas; it’s just that it attracts corrupt people who flourish in competition. Today, “much of the world is dominated by systems that attract and promote corruptible people.” Some make no effort to disguise their corruption (Putin, Trump, etc.); others are more sophisticated. Is it nature or nurture? “We don’t know,” writes Klaas. The implications are far-reaching. For example, since police work attracts former soldiers who enjoy exercising power, real police reform will involve not hiring such people. To keep people from abusing power, those with power within a hierarchy must be rotated and kept an eye on, given that “watched people are nice people.”

Lord Acton would be proud. Essential for interpreting history and world events—both the provinces of tyrants—alike.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982154-09-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.


A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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