With meticulous research and a facility for storytelling, Konnikova makes this intriguing topic absolutely riveting.

THE CONFIDENCE GAME

WHY WE FALL FOR IT...EVERY TIME

What makes a con artist, and why are we duped by them? New Yorker columnist Konnikova (Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, 2013) takes us deeply into the art and psychology of the con game.

They are known as "confidence artists," a term first applied in 1849 to William Thompson, who befriended New York passers-by before asking them, "Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?" The con game existed long before Thompson (or Manhattan, for that matter), and it continues today in Ponzi schemes, e-ticket scams, and missives from Nigerian princes. Konnikova dissects the con into its component stages, illustrating each with accounts of con artists whose mastery made them legend and sent their victims to the poorhouse: Cassie Chadwick, who for years posed as the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie; Greenwich Village psychic Sylvia Mitchell, who cleaned out customers' bank accounts as "Zena the Clairvoyant"; Victor Lustig, the man who twice sold the Eiffel Tower; and many more. She reveals the inner workings of well-known cons and provides insight into techniques such as information priming and the Marc Antony gambit. Konnikova studies the psychology of both the grifter and the mark, laying bare what makes each well-suited for the roles they play in the confidence game. In uncovering the characteristics of a con artist, the author points to a "dark triad" of traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. She examines the roots of both deception and trust, and she explores a range of behaviors and attributes that include the chameleon effect (why Dale Carnegie's treatise on winning friends and influencing people is "a sort of unwitting bible for cons in training"), the inherent human belief in positive outcomes, and the sunk-cost fallacy, a tendency that keeps us clinging to an investment despite glaring signs that we should walk away.

With meticulous research and a facility for storytelling, Konnikova makes this intriguing topic absolutely riveting.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-42741-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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