Beautiful, Edward Tufte-type graphics, and extremely fun tidbits about language, social views, and dating, but lacks a memorable gestalt. It makes senBeautiful, Edward Tufte-type graphics, and extremely fun tidbits about language, social views, and dating, but lacks a memorable gestalt. It makes sense that "Dataclysm" was assembled from Christian Rudder's OK Trends blog; it reads like a series of loosely connected blog posts. Some are quite fun to read; the chapter analyzing the most and least common words used in their dating profiles by people of different ethnicities is laugh out loud funny (Rudder's take-away: "white people differentiate themselves mostly by their hair and eyes, Asians by their country of origin, Latinos by their music.") It's an uneven, often entertaining set of essays about what we can learn about ourselves and each other from big data. Worth a read, but I recommend skimming or skipping the less compelling chapters....more
An extremely funny and engaging first-person account of discovering, resisting, and ultimately falling in love with meditation, by ABC News anchor DanAn extremely funny and engaging first-person account of discovering, resisting, and ultimately falling in love with meditation, by ABC News anchor Dan Harris. Unlike with so many books about meditation, at the heart of it is a real and compelling story, of Harris' experiments with meditation after experiencing an on-air panic attack in front of millions of viewers, triggered by a combination of PTSD from his war reporting and subsequent abuse of hard drugs.
Harris narrates his explorations of the mindfulness world in a smart and amusingly skeptical voice, poking fun at the privilege, the New Age language, the soft-voiced teachers, the post-60s vibe, and he ably skewers the psychobabble of megapersonalities like Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle. But ultimately, the story is about his finding greater peace, focus, and happiness in meditation practice, and how it changed his life for the better. Harris brings a reporter's eye for detail and story-telling gift to a subject that is often heavy on the conceptual and the psychological. His blow-by-blow account of a 10-day meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center is a particular highlight showcasing his wit and fresh insights into meditation practice....more
A clinically precise, elegantly written case study of a perverted justice system that represented nothing short of a police state. The Ferguson policeA clinically precise, elegantly written case study of a perverted justice system that represented nothing short of a police state. The Ferguson police, predominantly whites from other St. Louis County suburbs, patrolled the predominantly black community and would stop residents on foot and in their cars incessantly in order to produce fines and fees. In a town of 21,000, the police produced an astounding 90,000 citations and summonses from 2010-2014. The entire government apparatus, including the city council, chief of police, and the courts, set as a primary goal for police the generation of revenue -- in some cases admonishing officers who hadn't met their monthly quotas. Citizens, often barely scraping by financially, wind up in jail over unpaid parking tickets or violations of obscure ordinances, sometimes losing their jobs as a result. Police routinely use excessive force, in some cases against minors, and treat residents with utter disrespect. It's no wonder the place exploded after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
At a basic level, the report provides context for the outrage surrounding Brown's death. But it also may be a stand-in for other local governments operating like this elsewhere in the U.S. The advocacy and litigation organization Equal Justice Under the Law has done amazing work to expose and challenge debtors prisons and other constitutional violations by local governments in the deep South. As astonishing as it is to read the DOJ report, it may be that the story of Ferguson is far from unusual....more
As far as I can tell, the narrative of every Malcolm Gladwell book goes something like this: 1. Conventional wisdom on social problem, cultural trend,As far as I can tell, the narrative of every Malcolm Gladwell book goes something like this: 1. Conventional wisdom on social problem, cultural trend, or historical event is X. 2. HOWEVER, upon closer inspection, the truth is just the opposite! 3. Insert stunning new research, featuring mavericky social scientist/historian, illustrated by colorful story and simple, incontestable graphs. 4. Conventional wisdom (seemingly) exploded.
In "David and Goliath" Gladwell revisits this familiar and by now suspicious formula, with middling results. This time, his thesis is that, contrary to what we might believe, the powerful, the strong, the establishment are not, in fact, always at such an advantage. The "little guy," the downtrodden, those who have suffered terrible hardships or lack material resources are often stronger, more resilient, more creative than those with the apparent advantages of privilege, power and status. Some intriguing data and historical anecdotes bear this out: a disproportionate number of U.S. presidents and British prime ministers lost their fathers at an early age, dyslexics are overrepresented among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, numerous resistance movements prevailed over mighty adversaries, against seemingly impossible odds.
Where we misinterpret these examples, Gladwell argues, is in thinking that people succeeded *despite* adversity. In fact, sounding a lot like Katy Perry via Friedrich Nietzsche ("what does not kill me makes me stronger"), he seems to say that those who pass through the crucible of great adversity emerge with remarkable qualities: strength, creativity, willingness to flout the rules of engagement. And this pattern holds at both the individual and collective levels.
Not surprisingly, Gladwell doesn't dwell on the many counterexamples to his thesis. Presumably, most children who lose a parent do not respond with the resilience and determination to get elected president (e.g. Barack Obama) or find a cure for childhood leukemia (e.g. oncologist Emil Freireich). Not all ethnic or religious groups respond to persecution with the creativity and cleverness demonstrated by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Huguenots of southeastern France. It feels like Gladwell is oversimplifying by attributing so much of these success stories to the adversity, when in fact, as he briefly acknowledged, it's the adversity *combined* with other factors that leads to these remarkable outcomes. Unfortunately, Gladwell doesn't delve much into what the research suggests those other factors might be.
Gladwell also inserts a handful of stories in the latter half of the book that don't fit well into his larger narrative. He takes us on an interesting detour to explore the relationship between government legitimacy, crime, and civil unrest, taking as case studies the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY and Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1970s. But these examples, however vividly evoked, seem largely unrelated to his main point about the power of Davids against the Goliaths of the world.
Ultimately, Gladwell's latest offers a hodgepodge of stories and insights, most of them less novel than they seem at first glance. His analysis is never quite rigorous or thorough enough to leave the reader feeling confident of his wide-eyed conclusions. One receives some comfort and even inspiration from the patently conventional message that life's great hardships are often opportunities for transformation and self-transcendence. But let's be honest, we knew that long before reading "David and Goliath."...more