I haven’t been able to read a book for fun in who knows how long due to the unrelenting barrage of school work this semester. And I’ve always been oneI haven’t been able to read a book for fun in who knows how long due to the unrelenting barrage of school work this semester. And I’ve always been one of those people that comprehend things better by seeing the print before my own eyes rather than by listening to someone else talk. Thus, I had never really considered listening to an audio book before. However, it seemed a good alternative to listening to music while toiling away at some of the less “thought-intensive” aspects of my work, so I decided to give the audio version of “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,” by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner a go. Despite the fact that the author reciting the book (I believe it was Dubner) spoke much too slowly and without inflection, it was an overall good first experience considering the content.
This book was written very much in the same style of some of Malcolm Gladwell’s writings, specifically “Outliers”, and even more so “What the Dog Saw”. Levitt, an economist, uses a scientific approach to examine what he considers more interesting questions than those typically studied by economists. Such topics include investigating the commonalities of Sumo Wrestlers and teachers, the role of abortion in the rapid decline of crime in the 90s, why drug Lords often live at home with their mothers if selling drugs is such a lucrative business, and whether giving a child an upper class, stereotypically white name improves his or her chances of success, to name a few. (As a side note, although apparently the name Heather was a popular middle to upper class White girl’s name in the 80s, it is one of the few which is now considered a very popular name among low socio-economic classes…. Thanks mom…) I personally found the chapter about how Roe vs. Wade and the legalization of abortion impacted the crime rate of the 90s as one of the most interesting. This chapter, as one might imagine, is also the most controversial. The authors methodologically lay out every possible explanation which has been given for the sudden decrease in crime in the 1990s, despite the predictions of specialists that crime would continue to rise to devastating levels. Then, one by one, the authors point out flaws in the reasoning of each of these explanations. They go on to make a very convincing argument that the legalization of abortion had the most impact on the national decrease in crime (I’ll let those interested read the argument for themselves). Granted, Levitt’s original article on the subject sparked a number of rebuttals – and while Levitt concedes that the relationship between abortion and crime is perhaps weaker than originally believed, it is still statistically significant.
Another chapter particularly interesting is based on the life of a Chicago sociology graduate student (Sudhir Vanketesh) who spends six years tagging along/observing the daily activities and internal structure of a Chicago gang. At one point, the gang leader even lets Vanketesh try his hand at leading the gang for an entire day. Vanketesh later wrote a book about the experience called Gang Leader for a Day, which I have also read and highly recommend. If anything else, it allows us insight into a world that many fear and would not otherwise have access to. It also instilled in me more sympathy than I would have previously thought possible for the group of criminals by society’s standards. Overall, the book was pretty short (the recording lasted 6 hours) and informative. So, if it sounds like it could be your cup of tea, it is definitely worth reading rather than listening to the audio version, because, like I said, Dubner’s recitation was really nothing special. ...more
Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is a book describing how humans are often influenced by contextual variables which oftNudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is a book describing how humans are often influenced by contextual variables which often lead to poor decision making. However, by structuring choices differently and changing these contextual elements, it is possible to “nudge” people towards making better decisions, those that they would choose themselves if we were completely rational creatures.
The authors state the purpose of their book quite eloquently on their website: “Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum. They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions. The person who creates that environment is, in our terminology, a choice architect. The goal of Nudge is to show how choice architecture can be used to help nudge people to make better choices (as judged by themselves) without forcing certain outcomes upon anyone, a philosophy we call libertarian paternalism. The tools highlighted are: defaults, expecting error, understanding mappings, giving feedback, structuring complex choices, and creating incentives” (http://nudges.org/).
It’s kind of scary to think about how all the things that shouldn’t affect our decisions but do anyway. Defaults, for instance – A majority of the population says they would gladly donate their organs in the event of an untimely demise. Yet, the numbers of people who indicate their consent to donate organs on the back of their drivers license does not even come close to the numbers who claim they would donate. Why the discrepancy? Because here individuals have to opt in if they wish to donate… the default is to not. In other places where the default is to donate, the numbers who indicate they would not are far less. The examples go on and on – nearly every decision we make is influenced by the architecture of the choice. I definitely side with the authors that if we can use these tactics to nudge people towards making better decisions, why shouldn’t we?
While the topic of the book in itself is very interesting, I felt somewhat removed from this book, despite the very visible practical implications. I think part of it is just because at this point in my life, when I am riding home from school or work, I want to listen to something light that doesn’t require me to think (**cough – Tina Fey’s Bossypants—cough**) I think this book will be very helpful to come back to at a later date though. I definitely want to read up on good investing practices, because I am not at all well-versed in that area and I think I would be able to get more out of the sections on money after I am a bit more knowledgeable.
In conclusion, this book is definitely worth a read through, especially if you are looking for a book to “better yourself” by understanding the extraneous variables which unduly impact our decisions, and learning to consequently make better ones. However, I would recommend the text version and not the audio, because this narrator’s voice verged on monotone (to the point of being Kristen Stewart annoying) and he had a much harder time sustaining my attention than I’m sure reading it myself would have. ...more
I originally read “Drive” because it seemed like it would be interesting and easier to swallow than academic journal articles on motivation. Trust me,I originally read “Drive” because it seemed like it would be interesting and easier to swallow than academic journal articles on motivation. Trust me, it was indeed. I feel like the stance of this book is very similar to “Punished by Rewards” (by Alphie Kohn) which convincingly insists that not all rewards have their intended effect. Yet, we tend to offer them up like candy without fully understanding the unintended consequences of certain rewards. For instance, seminal research by Deci and Ryan (which is reviewed in this book) found that giving extrinsic rewards (bonuses, pay, tangible things, etc) for tasks that individuals find intrinsically interesting (i.e., doing the task because an individual finds it interesting) can actually hurt motivation in that it destroys the intrinsic motivation individuals feel for the task. Consequently, the task becomes not longer enjoyable, and the rewards needed to elicit the desired behavior must continue to increase to evoke the desired response. I haven’t finished Kohn’s “Punished by Rewards” yet, so I cannot for sure recommend one over the other to those who are interested in motivation. However, from what I have read of “Punished by Rewards,” it seems to be much denser and perhaps more comprehensive. Although they are both popular press, “Drive” is probably more superficial and requires less of a commitment to finishing it.
The bottom line is that this book offers an interesting view of motivation that is easily understandable to the layperson, and thus could be quite useful in making people question when and why they should give rewards (they are, after all, useful in SOME situations – not ALL). It has been a while since I have read it (I got a little sidetracked with studying for my comprehensive exams) so I can’t really speak to the specific points I found most interesting, but this book is a quick and worthwhile read for anyone who is a parent, plans to be one, manages or coaches others, or who has or will ever try and motivate another person. ...more
I was really excited to start listening to “Moonwalking with Einstein,” by journalist Joshua Foer, because I typically find books about memory prettyI was really excited to start listening to “Moonwalking with Einstein,” by journalist Joshua Foer, because I typically find books about memory pretty intriguing. A few years back, Foer covered an article on the U.S. memory championship, which essentially fueled his personal interest in improving his own memory. Thus, he enlisted the help of an expert “mental athlete” to coach him, and before he knew it his mission transformed to one of competing in (and hopefully winning) the U.S. Memory Championship.
Although Foer writes that the book is not a self help book, I think such a format would have been immensely more interesting. Of course then Foer would have had to find a skill to teach that is actually in the slightest bit USEFUL to others. I’m not saying that improving one’s memory is not a noble goal – but the methods utilized by memory champs would never actually be useful in real life, with perhaps the exception of the memory palace. What is a memory palace, you ask? It is a place in your mind where an individual is able to store bizarre images to help remember items (oftentimes lists). However, I still think that writing a grocery list on a piece of paper is vastly more efficient than spending a lot more time coming up with and inserting images representing the food you need to purchase into the palace. The entire time I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking that the years and years these individuals spend training to accomplish such a non-useful feat is basically a waste of time and talent which could be poured into the pursuit of a skill that can actually benefit oneself or others. I mean, do these mental athletes not have jobs? Do they contribute to society AT ALL? For the most part it sounds like they sit secluded in their parents’ basements for hours on end staring at decks of cards.
The only chapter of any interest in this entire book written about “S,” the mnemonist which Alfred Luria’s book, “Mind of a Mnemonist” is written (Although “Mind of a Mnemonist” happens to be one of my favorite books – and Foer’s account did not do it justice). “S” has synesthesia, which is a blending of the senses which largely contributes to S’s seemingly endless memory. For those of you who have never heard of synesthesia, it is in my personal opinion one of the coolest phenomena ever – although I’m sure I would be less with thrilled if I had to personally live with it. Two other good books on the subject are “The Man Who Tasted Shapes” by Richard Cytowic and “Born on a Blue Day” by Daniel Tammet the latter of which adds Autism into the mix).
If you are looking for a book that helps you improve your memory via useful and practical suggestions, “Moonwalking with Einstein” is not for you. If you are looking for an inspiring story about the limits of the human mind, this book is not for you. For all those even thinking about picking this book up, do yourself a favor and skip Foer’s frequently pretentious-sounding nonsense and read Luria’s, Cytowic’s or Tammet’s instead! ...more
I am one of the few people that LOVES books and movies about runners, but who can’t personally run more than 200 feet (and that’s being generous) withI am one of the few people that LOVES books and movies about runners, but who can’t personally run more than 200 feet (and that’s being generous) without my lungs shriveling up and imploding (inspiring, I know…but if you are looking to me for inspiration, I feel sorry for you. That’s what the books about running are there for! So stop reading this and go pick up Born to Run instead. Wait – finish reading this review first and then go do it. Unless you are morbidly obese. Then stop reading immediately and go get inspired – with permission from your health care professional of course). I am also one of what I imagine is a much larger group of people endlessly fascinated with literary renditions of World War II – in particular the Holocaust. And, to top it all off, I will choose a good “I’m stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with practically no hope of survival” book any day (Life of Pi, anyone?). So imagine my delight when I heard about Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Sea Biscuit) that combines all three things! That’s right – running, WWII, and rafts! It doesn’t get any better than that. Unless of course you are the person longing to run while trapped on a rapidly deflating raft in the middle of the ocean in Japanese waters. And the raft is in danger of being eaten by 10 foot long sharks. And you have no food. And perhaps only a tablespoon of water. Then I’m pretty sure life could be better.
If the scenario sounds too awful to be true, it isn’t. In fact, Louie Zamperini is the name of the man who found himself on that ill-fated raft, and is consequently the man who inspired Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. But I think I’m jumping ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Zamperini was a rebellious youth who turned to running as a constructive release for his pent up energy. He was tremendously talented, and set to break the four minute mile. His incredible gift took him as far as the Berlin Olympics. Then, in the midst of training for his second Olympics, he was drafted by the Air Force during World War II. In the Air Force, Louis managed to avert tragedy after tragedy until one day his bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing all but two of his crewmates. And so he found himself and two of his crew drifting hopelessly day after day, presumably west, toward Japanese territory.
I typically don’t like books that get into the fighting aspects of the War , and reading about all the various battles doesn’t really interest me as much as the stories about people struggling to maintain their humanity and dignity in the face of unbearable hardships. This is why I tend to pick up books about the Holocaust rather than about the War itself. I was initially worried that since Hillenbrand’s book is a non-fiction account of Louie’s time in the Air Force, the story would waver on the line between dull and mildly interesting. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This book NEVER felt like non-fiction, and by that I mean it lacked that matter-of-fact/removed quality that is unfortunately quite common among books of its kind. Plus, it opened up a completely different side of the WWII to me from the one I routinely read about. For so many years I’ve been caught up in the plentitude of heartbreaking injustices committed by the Nazis against the Jewish, and never gave much thought to the equally appalling atrocities committed against American prisoners of war by their captors. The fact that Louie Zamperini is still alive (at 95) to tell the world his story baffles me. And not only is he alive, but he is also doing all the promotional events involved with the book tour, since author Hillenbrand suffers from debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome and cannot go on tour herself.
You know how every so often, you get asked that question, “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” I have never had an answer to that question until now. And that answer is Louie Zamperini. So if you’re out there Louie, I’ll be waiting for your call... no, seriously. In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend this book to absolutely everyone. You will not be disappointed by the perspective it offers, and if you are, you are dead inside. Or Hitler’s ghost. Or both.
You are probably all familiar with the boldly emblazoned (and often bedazzled) word “PINK” festooned across the seats of sweatpants from the ever popuYou are probably all familiar with the boldly emblazoned (and often bedazzled) word “PINK” festooned across the seats of sweatpants from the ever popular Victoria’s Secret PINK collection ( a trend which, quite frankly, I’m not sure I will ever quite grasp). <3 PINK! each popular high school girl’s rump loudly proclaims as she walks by! And why shouldn’t we [heart] pink? Since little girls we have been told that pink is synonymous with femininity. Pretty and pink practically go hand in hand! Sparkles, and all things pink, bring us one step closer to becoming the princesses that many girls dream of. So what’s the harm of living in this sugar and spice and everything nice world? If a little girl wants to play dress-up, try on makeup, draw pictures of her prince charming – shouldn’t we just let her? My mom never forbade me to play with Barbies or tiaras and I think I turned out mostly fine (although my Barbies were nicely counterbalanced with my Michaelangelo nunchucks – Cowabunga Dude!).
However, from Peggy Orenstein’s point of view – this girly-girl culture is teaching females that their looks are their most important assets, and what seems innocent at a young age could be harmful as girls mature. Even I am guilty of some of the apparent faux pas Orenstein discourages in Cinderella Ate My Daughter. For instance, when I first see another female, practically the first thing I do is tell her I like what she is wearing, or her hair looks nice, or complement some other aspect of her appearance. I know I personally love hearing these complements about myself, but perhaps that goes to show just how important these trivial superficial things have become to me, and many women for that matter. And how healthy is that?
Orenstein covers a wide array of topics – from the more palpably disturbing effects of this girly girl culture (e.g., child beauty pageants, or as she calls them, “preschoolers tricked out like Vegas Showgirls) to the less seemingly malevolent (e.g., Fairy Tales), and everything in between (premature sexualization, narcissism and depression, Disney Channel role models a la Hannah Montana, etc). A provocative read to say the least, I think Orenstein definitely has some interesting points. And despite her strong views, she admits she has had her own difficulty sticking to her guns when her daughter Daisy peers up at her with weepy eyes and begs for just one princess Barbie. Orenstein’s personal struggles with the concepts she purports only make her that much more relatable. After finally putting down this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would want to raise my own daughter… I suppose I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
Apparently, modern day witch hunts do exist. In case you haven’t heard the story of the West Memphis Three, now is your chance to read all about it beApparently, modern day witch hunts do exist. In case you haven’t heard the story of the West Memphis Three, now is your chance to read all about it before it is released as a movie later this year.
Back in 1993, three young boys were reported missing. The next day, police found the dead bodies of the boys, submerged in the waters of a ditch in woods near the boys’ homes. The boys were tied in an unusual position, stripped naked with their hands and feet bound together from the back. For weeks after the murders, the police had little to go on and no suspects. Then seemingly out of nowhere, police began targeting local three teenagers, supposedly belonging to a satanic cult: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. Due to the fact that these teenagers wore black band t-shirts and played Dungeons and Dragons, they were “obviously” into some dark stuff, including Devil worshipping. Side note: if DND is all it takes to be labeled a murderer, my boyfriend better be on his best behavior. The police believed without a shadow of a doubt that these boys were guilty, and aided Prosecutors in convincing the Jury of their guilt. The jury, then, gave convictions of life in prison to Jessie and Jason, and the death penalty to Damien, the supposed leader of the group. However, not everyone was as convinced of the boys’ guilt as the jury and police, seeing the case against them for what it was – riddled with more questions than answers.
Mara Leveritt, a journalist in search of the truth, was one such individual who questioned the “facts” of the case. She compiled and wrote The Devil’s Knot as an unbiased look into the investigation, highlighting inconsistencies among testimonies, holes in the investigation, shoddy police work, a lack of hard evidence, and a fervor to find someone, anyone, to pin the murders on, even if the facts didn’t necessarily support such accusations. After all, America demanded justice for the shocking murder of these innocent children. After reading this book, I find it terrifying how easily a case could be falsely built around anyone provided the right set of circumstances. This is the kind of thing that makes a person lose faith in the people who are supposed to be protecting us from injustice, not helping to cause it.
Leveritt does an exceptional job of laying out the case. In fact, the only thing I was left wishing for at the book’s conclusion was not something that the author could have actually helped. That is, I wanted to know about the events leading up to the three being released from prison, obviously impossible since they were released in 2011 and this book was published in 2003. Furthermore, based on Leveritt’s reporting, the facts seemed to point to the guilt of the stepfather of one of the murdered boys – but this could neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed at the time of publication. However, since finishing the book, I realized that there are three documentaries about the case: one filmed during the investigation/trial (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills), another filmed while the three convicted boys were in prison (Paradise Lost: Revelations), and the third after new evidence was found and a new trial date set (Paradise Lost: Purgatory). Right now they are at the top of my must watch list. Hopefully they will be able to fill in the answers to some of my unresolved questions after finishing the book.
I highly recommend The Devil’s Knot. It was completely engrossing, and it’s good to know that the West Memphis Three were finally given the justice they deserved, although it can never take away the wrong that was done to them.