As a few other people have noted this book is not an exhaustive history of cotton, but something closer to a series of closely connected essays on the...moreAs a few other people have noted this book is not an exhaustive history of cotton, but something closer to a series of closely connected essays on the plant. The book focuses heavily on the United States. While I generally found Cotton interesting, and Yafa's style engaging, I had two (fairly minor) issues with the book.
The first is that he has a few tangents that are not really related to the main theme of the book. For instance he dedicates a fair amount of space to giving an overview of the history of the Blues. His justification is basically that there are some blues songs about Boll Weevils, and some blues musicians grew up on cotton farms... Yeah... The section was interesting enough but there was no real reason for it to be in this book.
The second thing that bothered me was that (I believe) Yafa occasionally overplays his hand with regard to the importance of cotton in shaping historical events. I can't really criticize him strongly for this though, as this is a vice that nearly all biographical based histories are prone to.(less)
Baghdad without a Map is well written, interesting, and occasionally borderline insightful. I only gave it three stars because it lacks a central them...moreBaghdad without a Map is well written, interesting, and occasionally borderline insightful. I only gave it three stars because it lacks a central theme or thesis which makes it essentially a well done travelogue. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not a genre that lends itself to greatness.(less)
These interviews give a nice summary of the '08 financial crisis, along with its causes and consequences. Furthermore, they do so in a way that is app...moreThese interviews give a nice summary of the '08 financial crisis, along with its causes and consequences. Furthermore, they do so in a way that is approachable to people without much background in finance. That said, the book isn't just a "crisis for dummies.' The anonymous hedge fund manager being interviewed in the book is generally self-reflective and likable (except for some occasional bitching about his taxes), and has some interesting comments on the virtues that one successful in finance.
All that being said, there is nothing particularly original here. I'd recommend the book to (a) liberal arts majors who want a competent introduction to finance and particularly the recent financial crisis - though be warned, this is not a comprehensive survey, and (b) people with an interest in finance who want a breezy and refresher on things they've heard a hundred times before.(less)
I went into reading Better with a healthy antipathy towards the medical profession, and while I retain that attitude I was impressed Gawande personall...moreI went into reading Better with a healthy antipathy towards the medical profession, and while I retain that attitude I was impressed Gawande personally.
Much of the book is essentially a defense of what might be called "boring virtues." These are things like diligence, and persistence and Gawande argues that they are among the most important factors in succeeding as a doctor (or just about anything else). This is the hospital as McDonald's view - the difference is that instead of grinding out (in the words of Ray Croc) hamburgers, they grind out surgeries, therapy, and correct diagnoses. Improving performance at either does not require genius or great technology it requires competence, and a willingness to go in every day and try to figure out ways to get better results than you did the way before. For instance, you might increase hand sanitation by asking doctors and nurses where hand sanitation stations would be most convenient and putting them in there.
One reason Better got only four stars instead of five is that Gawande has an irritating tendency to give meandering expressions of fealty to the dogmas of his profession. His view of medical ethics is fairly conservative (e.g. basically the A.M.A.'s got it right), and his critique of the American medical system as a whole is tepid at best (we're doing great, but lets try to do even better!) This later point in particular must have struck many readers, as it's pretty much universally acknowledged these days that the American medial system is a complete train wreck. Neither of these are huge issues though, since Gawande's focus was, quite reasonably, how people could do better in their professions. The A.M.A.s ethics policies and national healthcare policy were tangential issues, and even if I disagree with his views on them that wasn't enough to ruin the book for me.(less)