I'm probably at a 3.5 with this book. It wasn't uninteresting, but uneven and not entirely satisfying.
The first third of this book largely summarizes...moreI'm probably at a 3.5 with this book. It wasn't uninteresting, but uneven and not entirely satisfying.
The first third of this book largely summarizes the findings which Kahneman and others have established over the last several decades that heuristics and intuition play a dominant role in judgment and decision making. If you're already up to speed on Kahneman's work, you can easily skip this third.
The second third covers differences between liberal and conservative moral foundations. Unfortunately I had already got the gist of the work a few years ago when the websites used for Haidts research - yourmorals.org and projectimplicit.org - made the rounds. The section adds a little meat but nothing terribly new. The genetic "reasons" for predisposition towards different moral sets are touched on only briefly, unfortunate as this is one of the more interesting areas in question. Causality isn't big in this book, mostly descriptions and classifications.
The final third attempts to tie it all upwards to politics. I found this section the fuzziest and least satisfying. It will probably be of most interest to liberals who haven't thought much about reconciliation with conservative viewpoints. For moderates and conservatives, there's not much either surprising or compelling. Tempering my liberal beliefs towards respect of other moral foundations is something I did a long time ago without benefit of the research here, so I wasn't overly edified.
This sounds like a harsher review than I intend. For readers unfamiliar with the material or lines of thinking, the book is probably "just fine" and will likely be interesting ... I just wasn't one of those readers.(less)
It probably takes a special sort of person to dive into an entire book about one statistical theory, but for those so-motivated, this one pays off.
Th...moreIt probably takes a special sort of person to dive into an entire book about one statistical theory, but for those so-motivated, this one pays off.
The pro's: The author has done a phenomenal job at capturing and richly detailing the very "large" personalities that have championed (or condemned) the use of Bayes' Rule through the centuries, amidst a little-known and long-simmering war that has persisted between statistical Bayesians and frequentists since the concept was first brought forward. This is even more impressive as she is a journalist, rather than a statistician. McGrayne immerses the reader in what can only be called "lush" detail of the history, from personalities to global events.
The con's: This a very dense text. Not dry in an academic sense, but a lot of material to consume. At times I had to summon extra reserves of motivation to proceed to the next chapter. The topic is also a difficult one to communicate solely through narrative - more than once I found myself wishing for just a little bit of math-by-the-way-of-example to help grasp the concepts. (With such, this could actually serve well as an educational vehicle). While already familiar with Bayes, the application in some of the historical examples was, for me, elusive.
Computing power has today made the Bayesian/frequentist conflict somewhat moot, and I found myself wishing for a little more exposition of Bayesian applications in the modern era. (To me, this is where the real excitement lies, if "excitement" is the correct term!)
Overall - if statistics, scientific inference, decision theory or machine learning excite you, this is probably a book to have under your belt. Reading the history of Bayesian vs frequentist wars triggered some good musing and reflection on the critical question of "how to make inferences when too little, rather than too much, data are at hand".
A worthy followup to "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World". Given the many segments of lost history, as a narrative these stories are diff...moreA worthy followup to "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World". Given the many segments of lost history, as a narrative these stories are difficult to tell, up until the final chapters on Queen Manduhai, which are well worth the read. Weatherford continues to add depth and color to a neglected but critical period in global history. (less)
Two attributes of this book place it a cut above peers (genre peers, as there isn't a mountain of equivalents about Bhutan itself): first, the writing...moreTwo attributes of this book place it a cut above peers (genre peers, as there isn't a mountain of equivalents about Bhutan itself): first, the writing style is rich, descriptive, evocative and immersive, making it fairly easy for me to connect the narrative to the place and culture. Second, the author is absolutely honest and extremely effective at communicating the "no easy answers" reality of issues when viewed through different cultural lenses, be they development, poverty and/or cultural preservation, gender equality, independent thought vs conformism, or ethnic tensions with the Southern Bhutanese. I have only had the opportunity to experience a sliver of this when living in the post-rainforest Brazilian province of Rondonia for a month, but I can very much understand and relate to the difficulty and self questioning which arises when "easy", North American cultural or political judgments are confronted with the human realities of individuals living their lives. The author's telling of how she wrestles with these contradictions is perhaps one of the strongest and most valuable elements of the book. It will not be satisfying to some as she does not arrive at final conclusions, but I think this represents the reality of the situation.
Relative to some of the reviews, I found the writing far more self reflective than self absorbed, and any hints of the latter aren't inconsistent with the author's age when experiencing the events or writing the book, again, I think what we have is an unusually "honest telling". The transition of subject matter to politics and ultimately love story did not strike me as incongruous or unnatural, and the latter occupied a very, very small portion at the end. I didn't spot the "raunchy" section referenced in one review, so this may be a matter of personal calibration. Overall I very much enjoyed the book, finding it stimulating, entertaining, and rewarding.(less)