Like many liberal readers, I read this hoping to gain some insight about how one of the reddest, most conservative parts of America sees the world. InLike many liberal readers, I read this hoping to gain some insight about how one of the reddest, most conservative parts of America sees the world. In fairness to author J. D. Vance, that is not what he promises the reader. It is simply a memoir about his childhood and his family, from the perspective of someone who was born into "hillbilly" Appalachian culture but who improbably left, first to college and then to Yale Law School, a bastion and breeding ground of the coastal elite. I think if you read it as such, a personal story told over drinks by some guy with an interesting life story, it's much better than if you try to glean deep cultural insight.
That Vance feels a deep affection for his hillbilly roots while acknowledging its problems is not surprising and not unique to his culture. Many people from all backgrounds, whether they're stereotypically high-class, low-class, or anything in between, will feel the same. And when describing his loving relationship with Mamaw and his conflicts with his mother, which occupy a large fraction of the book, Vance remains squarely in the space of "personal story," though he's led quite a life and has a lot of vivid personal stories to tell. A few things I did learn:
- Hillbillies aren't necessarily all that religious. They may identify as God-fearing Christians, but formalized religion and doctrine are not a major driver of their world-views. - Something I knew in the abstract but was sharply emphasized: Appalachia has a sense of hopelessness and anger not just because things have been going economically poorly for them, but because things have been getting worse. - A major driver of the problems Vance describes seem to be fueled by pregnancy too early in life, leading to people becoming parents before they're ready and knocking on further to unstable households and unhappy parent-child relationships.
This book's strength is description; there is very little prescription for problems, even at an exploratory level, other than somewhat low-content admonitions about how hard work, self-regimen, and a loving support network helped him along. Even if it was intended all along as a memoir, I think a little closer look at some of the challenges facing Appalachian culture would have made this book better. For example, to the last point above, it seems like a logical idea would be to increase the use and availability of contraceptives. But there are probably both financial and cultural barriers to this. What are some of those barriers and how can we get around them in a realistic way (i.e. not something hopelessly broad like "make the whole region's economy better")? This book may stimulate discussion points such as these, but does not tackle this directly other than to anecdotally illustrate the problems that come with having children too early.
Which again, to be fair, is not what the book sets out to do, however it has been pitched to you as a reader. Step in just looking for a story. ...more
Published shortly before the crisis of 2008, this is a thoughtful, minimally technical book about the misuse of statistics in finance by a relativelyPublished shortly before the crisis of 2008, this is a thoughtful, minimally technical book about the misuse of statistics in finance by a relatively well-known figure in the industry.
The early chapters that describe Bayesian statistics in layman's terms were excellent. The way Rebonato cast the problem of bad financial statistics into inadequate weight and formulation of priors was a kind of "a-ha" moment for me. The lessons of history at very long timeframes can and should influence our opinions on future outcomes, and our ability to make statistical statements based on a few years of data is necessarily weak regarding phenomena that occur at longer cycles. (Let us hope no one ever says or publishes anything more about "10,000-year" financial events; not only do we definitionally not have enough data, but data today may not be good in a decade's time, much less ten millennia.)
The inadequacy of some of the financial industry's models has been covered at length since 2008, but too often I think the message ends up being something like "toss math out the window." The real problem is the abuse of math, and the false sense of certainty that quantification can bring. Thinking about risk in a Bayesian context requires us to acknowledge the prior assumptions that go into our models on one hand and the subsequent effect our data has had on our beliefs about what may happen in the future, from which point we can ask ourselves whether our new beliefs are reasonable or whether we have structurally assumed possibilities away.
The book has some overlap with topics discussed by the much more famous Nassim Taleb, but compared to Taleb's writings, it is less dyspeptic and contains fewer philosophical digressions, which for my money makes it a better read. (I did greatly enjoy Fooled by Randomness, but the various more recent online articles by and about him have greatly discouraged me from reading him further.) It gets a little dry towards the end - the "economic capital" chapter and the prescriptive chapter at the end are primarily of interest to people in banking and less so to casual readers. But overall, great read for people who want to seriously understand the capabilities and limitations of quantitative methods in social settings. ...more
A collection of five essays plus some forewords/afterwords that focus on explaining open source, its importance in hacker culture, and its potential tA collection of five essays plus some forewords/afterwords that focus on explaining open source, its importance in hacker culture, and its potential to be profitable in a business setting as well. At this point it's nearly 20 years old, and a few things are either dated or widely understood, but there are still plenty of insights in here for both coders and non-coders alike. In particular, I think non-technical readers who are interested in the business of tech can learn a lot, as the tendency to perceive open-sourced code as "working for free" persists in some non-technical circles.
The centerpiece eponymous essay is somewhat loosely organized but contains good ideas, discussing how rapid releases, sharing of information, and openness to external contributions can overcome the complexities that arise from the management of a large programming project. "The Magic Cauldron" is a refreshingly non-ideological and practical examination of why selling software isn't like selling a manufactured good and how open source can help businesses turn a profit. "Revenge of the Hackers" is a sort of case study and set of practical lessons learned by Raymond's experience with Netscape. These three essays are solid and definitely worth your time.
"A Brief History of Hackerdom" is fine, but is clearly a short table-setter for non-technical readers who don't know much about the history of Linux, free software, and the Internet. The one essay I felt was not so great was "Homesteading the Noosphere," an anthropological look at behaviors and values in the hacker community; I found it uncompelling in its connections to gift culture and a little outdated in its emphasis on no forking (these days forking and merging forks is both simpler and more acceptable, I think). ...more
Fun old-timey adventure story where hale, spirited men from the "civilized" world travel into Terra Incognita and meet strange new people, battle monsFun old-timey adventure story where hale, spirited men from the "civilized" world travel into Terra Incognita and meet strange new people, battle monsters, and have close scrapes with death in the most romantic way. It's not deep or life-changing; it's a crowd-pleaser, a raconteur's yarn. The epigraph makes its purpose clear: "I have wrought my simple plan / If I give one hour of joy / To the boy who's half a man, / Or the man who's half a boy."
It is also an interesting snapshot of early 20th century thinking, both in terms of morals and social attitudes and in terms of scientific thinking. You have to look at the book as a product of its time. It definitely has an unabashed "white man's burden" feel - white Europeans bringing their superiority to benighted, backwards natives, strange animals' heads desired for mantelpiece decoration, the glory and adventure had by gentlemen while the lady is a prize to be won. If that will get too much in the way for you, don't trouble yourself reading this.
Also of interest is the attitudes towards science that it depicts. The professors are depicted as adventurers in their own right, with a tendency to go off into eggheaded asides but otherwise strong in personality and physique. The expansion of the frontiers of scientific knowledge is treated as part and parcel of the broader romantic notion of exploration. It certainly glamorizes and emphasizes field work, with laboratory work (where, of course, a lot of real science work gets done) receiving little shrift and the task of lecturing to students actively pooh-poohed by one of the protagonists.
And of course, there are frightful beasts and battles and dramatic, thrilling moments. Again, let's not lose ourselves in analysis; that's what this book is really about. ...more
For about two-thirds of its length, this is a quite charming book about the lives, travails, and capers of a Greek town on the island of Cephalonia, sFor about two-thirds of its length, this is a quite charming book about the lives, travails, and capers of a Greek town on the island of Cephalonia, set against the backdrop of World War II and, eventually, an Italian occupation. The characters are colorful and lovable, the stories are amusing, and there are regular changes of narrational perspective that really put you into the thick of things - I'm thinking of the Carlo chapters and the early single chapter from Mussolini's point of view. And how can you resist the wonderful first chapter, in which a doctor removes a decades-old pea from a townsperson's ear?
At times the humor definitely feels traditionalist, which may not be to some people's tastes. A reasonable chunk of the humor can be categorized along the lines of "men are all like... and women are all like..." and on saws of national stereotype (i.e. "Heaven is where the police are British ..."). There's more than just that, as in the above example with the pea; there's plenty of other quips and jokes and physical comedy. But I can easily see some readers finding the writing tiresome.
This would especially be the case in the last third of the novel, where the quality really tails off. By the end I was rushing to finish. The story gets more serious, which in my opinion does not play to De Bernières's strengths at all. The yarns and perspective shifts and local color are traded off for an attempt to drive plot; quirkiness is surrendered for a more common love story narrative, good guys being heroic heroes and bad guys being mostly faceless villains. There's always the risk when you write something "charming" that it slips over to the other side of corny, and that's kind of what happens. ...more