I’ve got a book recommendation: Misbehaving, the making of behavioral economics by Richard H. Thaler. The standard economics (that you may have learned in college) is based on the notion that markets are made up of rational actors who use all the publicly available information to make the best possible individual decisions. Everybody knows that’s not strictly true, but since the 1950s economists have held that it’s a good-enough assumption for making economic predictions.
Since the 1970s, Thaler’s career has revolved around poking holes in that worldview. In other words, he’s been looking for and documenting situations where the quirky decision-making of real human beings leads to results very different than the rational-actor models constructed by economists.
Not only is that an interesting topic that has all sorts of fascinating real-world applications (including the over-valuing of high draft picks in the NFL), but Thaler is a marvelous story-teller. His stories — of experiments in human decision-making, and of his attempts to introduce more realistic thinking into the stuffy and self-important world of academic economists — are consistently amusing. The book’s ongoing theme is that whether you are talking about contestants on Dutch game shows or University of Chicago business school professors choosing offices in a new building, people are funny — and you can’t really understand the world until you account for the predicable ways that people are funny.
The title has a wonderful double meaning: Economic models can fail when humans “misbehave” by not making the supposedly rational choices the model calls for. But by pointing out such embarrassing glitches, Thaler was also “misbehaving” according to the community standards of economists. So his career is a story of successful rebellion.
Finally, there’s political significance to the revolution Thaler has been leading: Idealizing markets, and exaggerating the powers of the people who participate in them, tempts a person to turn all of society’s decision-making over to “the Market”. For decades, economists’ false assumptions have biased their analysis in favor of market-based solutions. But people who are still making those simplistic Econ-101 arguments in favor of free markets are behind the times. They are, as Keynes observed, “slaves of some defunct economist”.
I really don't know what to make of this. Enjoyable overall, but there was so much that was bewildering.
I'm reminded of something I heard about humor.I really don't know what to make of this. Enjoyable overall, but there was so much that was bewildering.
I'm reminded of something I heard about humor. A psychologist who'd made a rather superficial study of responses to some form of humor remarked that subjects tended to fall into two categories: one group laughed uproariously, and the other group stroked their chins (or something similar) and quietly said, "Hmm, that's funny. Interesting." The point was that most comedians fell into the second group.
I think this book is analogous — most people scratch their heads and think "I know I'm missing something, probably a lot, and I have no idea how much it matters", while a smaller group of readers (including a lot of authors) stare off into the middle distance and think, "Deeply provocative confusion. Hmm, fascinating."
If I could, though, I'd be diving straight into the next in the series, because there are mysteries here. To quote Churchill, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key", and I'm willing to keep looking for that key. Unfortunately, real life responsibilities mean I can't read the next in the series for a while......more
I thought that was a very good audiobook, although I'm not too experienced with listening to books. Gould's voice definitely had the correct gritty depth, and once you get used to his fairly limited range and repertoire of vocal characterizations, it work really well. Chandler uses first person, limited point of view narration in the book, so a single narrator really fits the book. It is also unabridged, which appeals me as a reader.
This version is from a BBC radio dramatization by the BBC (no, none of the characters mysteriously acquired British accents). That means there are limited sound effects, and different actors voice the lines of the different characters. I only listened to twenty minutes or so, but I liked it.
Some specifics: one mild negative is that the actor playing Marlowe doesn't really have the right voice. There's no gravel in his throat from endless glasses (not merely shots) of whiskey and countless cigarettes.
Since there's a lot of interior monologue from Marlowe's perspective, the lead actor is switching from speaking lines that others characters are hearing, to voiceover lines that they aren't. Using other voices actually makes that a little trickier, but it worked fairly seamlessly for me; no trouble at all.
But that was the only poor casting choice. The voice of Moose Malloy was a delight; it perfectly matched the physicality of that character. The others I heard in that limited sample were fine, too. The sound effects made the action more accessible, helping to frame the change of scenes in the listener's imagination.
Which of the audiobooks should you listen to (assuming you don't want both, perhaps at different times)?
This version works a bit better at being engaging. Those sound effects and voice changes really help signal a change in scene and keeping characters separated. If you're on a commute or a roadtrip, for example, or in some other distracting environment, it'd probably work better. For the same reasons, it'll work well for those who aren't used to audiobooks, or specifically enjoy the theatrical aspect—there are a lot of good radio plays that have been made that don't get enough attention.
Gould's version, on the other hand, is unabridged and uses precisely one voice, as does the book. So it probably would appeal to someone that really wants the "book" experience. I listened to Gould read the first Marlowe book, The Big Sleep, while on a very long walk around San Francisco on a November evening and it was perfect (well, yeah, a Dashiell Hammett novel might have been better. I'll get to those). The second one I listened too on the couch while suffering from a cold a few weeks later. It worked well as a substitute for a book—when I listened to this radio play, I immediately detected the edits, so I'm confident I got about as much out of Gould's audiobook as I would have from the text.
Well, again, like the first book, there are some elements of historic social injustice reflected uncritically here, and that canWonderful, wonderful!
Well, again, like the first book, there are some elements of historic social injustice reflected uncritically here, and that can be disturbing. But given that complex limitation, the storytelling here otherwise excels.
The most obvious thing we recognize in Chandler is his hard-boiled tough guy narrative, and that deserves the attention. This is definitely part of the hyper-masculine world of John Wayne and Anglo Saxon machismo—the knight errant who never receives or even accepts the benediction of the affection of others. The closest anyone can ever get to a man like this is friendly wise-cracking camaraderie, and that is also portrayed well.
Another aspect, though, is how often Chandler spends time describing the scenery, and clothing. It verges on tedious at times, saved only by the incongruity of a tough guy—someone perceived as a brute—walking into yet another mansion and pondering the elegant architecture and landscape, then meeting someone and focusing so intently on the color and material of fabric, or the many other details that are supposed to be invisible to such an archetypal male gaze.
One difference between Chandler's second novel and the first, The Big Sleep, is that he didn't lose track of any plot threads here. Oh, no one has yet pointed out that one of the murders in the first novel remains unexplained? Well, that doesn't happen here.
The mere fact that the first book could work as wonderfully as it does with such an astonishing oversight points out what makes the Philip Marlowe novels so distinctive: the plot is chaotic, and simply all over the place. In this one, there are several plot threads that are never tied up, and at least three surplus villains. In comparison, all the other tidy drawing-room detective novels—even those that involve copious amounts of violence and far more mayhem than Chandler delivers—feel artificial in comparison. To the extent we understand how detective work must be, clearly there's never going to be complete information, or a settle resolution of any significant number of crimes, at least in the absence of a complete confession (and, given that the vast majority of violent criminals aren't firing on all cylinders, as it were, even a confession might not always provide logical closure).
Chandler delivers something that feels real. Agatha Christie is providing a logic puzzle based on careful observation of details. Fun, but bloodless. Even when blood is spilt, many authors never seem to do chaos correctly.
Oh, yeah, there are plenty that have learned this lesson. Sure—but as far as I know, Chandler did it first, and he did it magnificently.
Oh, I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook narrated by Elliot Gould, who was an admirable choice, having actually played Philip Marlowe on the big screen in 1973. I liked the fact that it was unabridged; I also enjoyed the fact that a single narrator's voice fits the novel well, since it is a first-person narrative (most novels are in the third person). Gould's voice is also deep and nicely gravelly, and fits Marlowe's, even if it seems a bit off for some of the other characters.
I also listened to the first twenty minutes or so of an alternate version, which began existence as a BBC Radio Play. It has multiple voice actors playing the different characters, as well as some sound effects to set the scene, so it is more acoustically interesting, and undoubtedly more "accessible", which might help those that otherwise might not quicken to the moderately complex plot that Chandler lays out. It might also work better as, for example, entertainment on a commute or a road trip, where driving should be taking up some of the listener's cognitive capacity. That version was, however, abridged, so it isn't quite as pristine as a "book" experience. Oh, and the voice of Marlowe really wasn't tough enough. Still, good listening. ...more
I was really tempted to give this five stars. Can I really blame Chandler for including the misogynistic and homophobic that was undoubtedly an accuraI was really tempted to give this five stars. Can I really blame Chandler for including the misogynistic and homophobic that was undoubtedly an accurate portrayal of the brutish and nasty world of Philip Marlowe?
I'm afraid I can. I don't think anyone has ever written this kind of fiction better, and it is certainly hard to imagine someone shoehorning an enlightened attitude into the confines here, but it is what I wish for. Choosing to write the book in the first person certainly didn't make that task any easier.
Still, that fifth star tempts me. Chandler writes so perfectly, consistently finding the right phrase, and the right word, to economically and beautifully capture the nasty world our dark knight struggles against, with wit and a hard head.