I'm not really sure for whom Seife wrote this book. The majority of people who like math and/or statistics will already be very aware of most of the sI'm not really sure for whom Seife wrote this book. The majority of people who like math and/or statistics will already be very aware of most of the statistical concepts that Seife introduces in his book: significant digits, the importance of looking closely at how axes are labelled, appropriate population sampling and correlation vs. causation. And the people who don't like math won't voluntarily read a book on math. So that leaves...I don't know: people who like math but are bad at it? Middle-schoolers? And unfortunately, this book won't work great for those people either, because rather than using the actual names for the mathematical concepts, like I did, Seife makes up terms so that if this is your first exposure to the concepts, you won't actually be able to communicate about them or google more about them. I think my turning point with Seife was in an appendix about the difference between sensitivity and positive predictive value, where I was originally annoyed that he didn't name-check Bayes and then realized that he also didn't mention sensitivity or positive predictive value in the entire appendix even once! This appendix was literally about how just knowing the sensitivity of a test without knowing the prevalence of disease results in not being able to predict the positive predictive value and he didn't use the names for a single one of those concepts.
I found the latter half of the book more interesting: Seife largely moves away from mathematical concepts and investigates political hijinks, such as the Franken election, Bush v. Gore and gerrymandering. It doesn't really add to numeracy, nor have that many striking examples of "proofiness," (except that humans can't count numbers to 6 digits worth of significant figures, which hopefully most people intuitively know) but it is interesting.
Overall, it's not a bad book. I might give it to a child who was interested in math, but I don't think most adults will enjoy it very much....more
This is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fuThis is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fun, romp-like, young-adult faerie tale should, while also having very worthwhile commentary on such topics as security theatre, the advantages and lack thereof of growing up, and the importance of feeling that you have agency over your own life.
Despite trying to cover some Big Ideas, and despite having some of the best world-building I've ever read, I barely noticed either of those things until I finished, because ultimately, The Girl Who Circumnavigated [etc] is, at it's heart, a faerie tale, and it reads like one: seamless and mythic. I felt wrapped up in the plot and the characters, with some room spared to appreciate the atmosphere. It was just once I finished that I realized how novel the book was. This is the type of book that I'll want to reread over and over again, and I am completely confident that I will find more each time I do.
It's worth noting, as an aside, that Valente's work is also extremely strong from a gender perspective: she has self-sufficient, interesting female characters who have myriad personalities and goals besides romantic ones. And unlike some books that have gotten critical acclaim for strong female characters, The Girl Who [etc] stars characters who break the bookish-eager to please-sidekick mold of female characters: the titular September is brash, nosy and heartless as well as brave, inventive and persistent; her mother is a mechanic.
There are so many other positive things to say: the denouement is clever (and extremely obvious once you know it, but so brave that I never expected it to be true!) and profound and sad, all at once. There is a Wyverary - a mix of a wyvern and a library who knows everything about everything as long as it starts with the letters A-L. There is a soap golem, who of course, has Truth inscribed on her forehead, and is of course, named Lye.
It's like the Phantom Tollbooth crashed into a faerie tale and it is absolutely delicious....more
This book was simply delicious in every way possible. I loved the first book in the series, but felt hesitant about the rest of the series: sometimesThis book was simply delicious in every way possible. I loved the first book in the series, but felt hesitant about the rest of the series: sometimes a great first book is every good idea that the author had, and the rest of the series merely tries to scramble along on the coat tails. Moreover, one of the things that I loved about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was its depiction of childhood, and I worried it couldn't be continued in a sustainable way and also have the heroine grow.
I should have put more faith in Catherynne M. Valente. First of all: I am insane with jealousy over her imagination. Every page of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland... was just as inventive as the page before, and it all seemed to flow effortlessly. We met characters that I never would have thought of: a beautifully inventive family of coffee and tea people, and turquoise kangaroos that wear their memories in pouches, and allusions to classic mythology that seem Just Right, only no one's ever thought of them before, like Valente's take on the minotaur, and what seems like it will one day be classic mythology, like Queer, Questing and Quiet Physicks and in between are beautifully depicted characters, who are neither deeply inventive, nor cleverly allusive so much as they are wonderfully depicted, almost real people, who are flawed, and brave and everything else I could ever ask for.
One of the things I love about Valente, as mentioned above, is her depiction of childhood. Her depiction of young adulthood/early teen years is just as spot on. She treats it with Valente whimsy, talking about how September has a Heart, but it is new and raw. And underneath the whimsy she is just so spot-on about the ways that Right and Wrong feel so intense in those early years, and how raw betrayal feels, because you aren't emotionally scarred down from years of them same yet. It's a magical combination of lovely prose and deep insight. I love how it flows clearly from her depiction of child September.
I can't review this book properly without talking about the shadows. I loved this plot: that Fairyland needed its shadows in order to have magic, but the shadows needed to be free and not have to do the bidding of their person. I felt the moral tug in both directions, and I loved that September felt equally torn. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that I worried that it was going to end uncomfortably: I felt like Valente had set up an unsolvable quandary and that any solution would either be morally offensive or seem like a deus ex machina to the beautifully set up puzzle. Again, I need to learn to have faith: Valente did not disappoint.
Although these are young adult books, they are challenging in terms of the morals they present, both in the world-savingly large, and in the romantically-inclined small and they examine teen-years in a way that I'm not sure I would have tolerated from up-close. I think that they are books that absolutely should be read in adult years, but I think there is probably much to be enjoyed here by young readers as well. I know I plan on reading them to my daughter early and often. But before that: must read book #3. Preferably right now. ...more
So, let's start off by being fair: 1) I would never had even looked twice at this book had it not been by Michael Chabon. 2) I had idly wondered, in mSo, let's start off by being fair: 1) I would never had even looked twice at this book had it not been by Michael Chabon. 2) I had idly wondered, in my revery at The Yiddish Policemen's Union how people who weren't me and didn't share my passions reacted to the book. And now I have an answer. This book is ostensibly about lay midwives, jazz music and blaxploitation films. I can't quite figure out how to put how I feel about lay midwives into a sentence that is polite enough for social media and does not horribly side track this review, so let's let that suffice. I certainly don't hate music, but I'm just not one of those people who *gets* music, you know? Like, I wish I did and I respect people who are into music, but Chabon goes on and on about a piece, or whatever, and my eyes glaze and I skip several paragraphs and he's still going on and I have no idea what he's talking about, and if we're truly being honest here (because hey, why not?) I really don't know why anyone would buy a record in 2014 anyway so the fact that there are COMPETING record stores seems ridiculously anachronistic, but again, I don't *get* music, so what do I know? And finally, I've never had an opinion on blaxploitation films (although I strongly recommend going down the rabbit hole and wikipedia-ing blaxploitation, and that finding the legions of other subgenres ending in -ploitation.) So the idea that I would read and enjoy a book about lay midwives, jazz and blaxploitation was already on flimsy ground. And let me also say, that I certainly don't believe that there are certain topics that are verboten based on race or sex or religion. But then, let's pretend to ourselves for a second that we're Michael Chabon, and we're famous for writing books about bi-curious geeky Jewish boys and we start a book about a bi-curious geeky Jewish boy, who happens to be into Jazz and then we end up also writing about blaxploitation and then before you know it, there are a couple of Black characters and then all of a sudden you're knee-deep in racial tension. So there's a few of things you can do: you could back out until you're back on safe territory; you can do a lot of researching or you can decide to forge ahead, gunsblazing, and write about racial relations. Chabon clearly decided to do that latter, and while I will continue to sing his praises for writing uncomfortable truths and borderline offensively accurate portrayals of the Jewish community, as a Jewish woman reading a book by a Jewish author, I was pretty unsettled by him (attempting to) do the same with the African American community. And intersectionality was definitely problematic: in an entire book on Jewish-Back relations there were two female Black characters: An afro-touting, impossibly skinny, impossibly sexy, aged sex symbol/film star and a perpetually hungry, perpetually angry, perpetually pregnant woman. Not that the Black men were portrayed that much better: they inevitably abandoned their children and were to a one portrayed as violent, cheating and irresponsible. Also, his conclusion seemed to be that White people (of whom there are no non-Jews in the book) and Black people are too different and want things that are too different and any partnership, or indeed real friendship is doomed to fail.
In conclusion, if this had just been a book about privileged, Jewish, Julius Jaffe, who writes Lovecraftian poetry, and his questionably unrequited love for Titus Joyner, obsessed with Blaxploitation and trying to come in to his own after a troubled childhood, and it was done respectfully, without stereotypes and the other 95% were jettisoned, I would have read the heck out of it. As was, an extremely poor showing by one of my favorite authors....more