Cutting-edge research and effective storytelling create an insightful book on an ever changing field.

THE EXPECTATION EFFECT

HOW YOUR MINDSET CAN CHANGE YOUR WORLD

The human brain, according to this absorbing book, has a mind of its own.

Robson, a former editor at New Scientist and a senior journalist at the BBC, has been studying the brain for years, and he admits that he is still surprised by the way it works. Why do athletes who believe in lucky charms perform better when they carry them? Why do people who believe that age leads to wisdom live longer than people who see getting older as a collection of physical problems? One of the keys to understanding this, writes the author, is the placebo effect, with which most readers will be familiar. The author also describes the “nocebo effect.” As he writes, “placebo means ‘I shall please,’ and nocebo means ‘I shall harm’—and the nocebo response occurs when we believe the body to be under threat. Through the actions of the prediction machine, such expectations will change our physiology so that the mere thought of having a symptom or disease can make us ill.” The reasons for the placebo/nocebo effect lie in the brain’s tendency to fill in the blanks. Since it can only process a small portion of received information, it makes up the rest with pieces of memory and assumption. Then it generates a response, which might involve releasing needed chemicals into the body. Mental becomes physical; expectations shape reality. Robson delves into the underpinning research, which includes methods to train the brain into positive patterns and processes, but he also emphasizes the limits. You cannot become rich by merely wishing for it, for example, but the brain can be trained into experiencing greater satisfaction with life. Robson’s many anecdotes and examples give a human dimension to these ideas. There is no doubt that there is still much to learn about the brain, but the author provides a solid grounding and a useful map on where future paths might lead.

Cutting-edge research and effective storytelling create an insightful book on an ever changing field.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-82763-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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 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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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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