Full disclosure: I'm a sucker. For memoir; for underdogs; for “Small-town Misfit Navigates Big Wide World' narratives; for authentic, unselfconsciousFull disclosure: I'm a sucker. For memoir; for underdogs; for “Small-town Misfit Navigates Big Wide World' narratives; for authentic, unselfconscious narration of sex and LSD trips ("LSD is best taken in glorious weather when you aren't jostling for power with your boyfriend, I decided."). I am a sponge for a life’s worth of honestly-earned,generously dispensed wisdom. And I am a sucker for the serendipitous.
How fortunate I stumbled upon Debra Monroe’s new memoir, "My Unsentimental Education," satisfying all those cravings? Monroe’s tale of growing up in Spooner, WI and meandering from working class roots to a PhD, writing awards and multiple books, exudes a heartbreakingly honest truth and matter-of-fact authenticity. Unsentimental. No apologies.
Early, Monroe's staccato sentences flit from detail to detail across verdant meadows of her childhood, sexual awakening and constant effort to find her way in a world neither woman- or smart-shaped. Memories of the early years are recounted in hundreds of tiny snippets, lofted gossamer of visual fragments, smells, impacts, comments -- delicately tossed tinsel giving shape and nuance to an ordinary tree. Why should the memoir be the territory of the rich and famous, or the self-serving recovery addict?
The years go by, and the off-beat rhythm continues. More recent, more powerful memories are recorded more intensely and precisely, with a pointillist focus; clear targeted dot by dot application ... a little here, a little there, rapidly... I follow, intrigued by every dot, not sure how it makes sense, and then am blown away when the full picture is artfully revealed at chapter’s end.
I grew up an intellectual outsider in the middle of nowhere, like Monroe, accumulating successes that began to weigh heavy in a community more focused on alfalfa farming and copper mines than on philosophy. So her story of escaping briefly to a writers' camp, where her gift was suddenly at home, struck a particularly raw, empathic nerve with me. She discovered at the camp she was not as alone as perhaps she thought, and for an intoxicating first time was lauded for her precocious skill. Leaving the camp was her first hangover: ... "That night, my parents arrived to take me home. They’d been confused by the whole episode, that I’d wanted to go, that I’d won a prize. They were used to prizes for best jam, best sales record for radial tires in the tristate area, best football playing—not best use of figurative language. We drove under interstate overpasses that seemed like cattle gates, one after another hanging over me as I passed through the chute toward home."
Like the needlepoint hobby she intersperses in the narrative, Monroe slowly stitched together her education in a crazy-quilt path to a PhD and beyond. Progressing through this later arc the writing becomes more complex, sentences longer. I don't know if this evolution of sentence structure is intentional, but it reflects the evolution of this unconventional woman making her way in the world, by any means necessary, but mostly through hard work, an eye for the quirky, an unremitting love of language and keen awareness the life she would have would be the life she would make for herself.
"My Unsentimental Education" is matter of fact; not dramatic, competitive recovery-porn, like so many recent memoirs. The title of this meticulously told, thoughtful memoir could not be more perfect distillation of the voice and story within. ...more
I picked up Danny, the Champion of the World on the recommendation of a respected friend, who said it was his favorite book as a child. Having never hI picked up Danny, the Champion of the World on the recommendation of a respected friend, who said it was his favorite book as a child. Having never heard of it, and being on a Dahl-jag lately, I had to read it.
The story is of Danny, son of a gas-station/car repair shop owner. They share a gypsy caravan behind the station as their home. Danny's mother has died so he and his father soldier on.
Danny awakes one night to find his father gone, and upon his return secrets are revealed. The secret allows Danny to apply his intelligence, save his father, humble a wealthy nemesis and generally come of age with the help of his father's masterful parenting.
There is a wonderfully delivered bit of moralizing, about the wasteful and shamelessly wealthy indulging in habits that, if forsaken, could feed hundreds. Danny will discover adults around him are not what they seem, and every one of them has secrets... and that's not bad; it just is true. Again, the master-stroke of every Dahl story is to speak truth plainly to children, rather than pretend. It is the source of what some would call his "darkness," but I prefer to see it as the most important element of his writing: he does not, will not, condescend or patronize child readers.
But does Dahl write for children? Or, does he write for adults who might have influence on children, and who might be able to change their child-rearing ways in time, adopt Dahl's ideas and morals, and make the world a better place for children, and hence make better children who will grow into better adults? You would be correct to guess the latter is my view. This is an adult story.
Dahl is subversive, and subtle about it. "Here, Parents! Have a lovely story you can read to your children." All the while, I imagine him watching the reader: "Are you paying attention to how this adult treats the child? Can you do the same?" Or, in the case of the adults in Matilda, "Can you see what buffoons most of them are? Can you avoid doing this to your child?"
This might have been only theory, but the last page of the book, after the story is over, directs the moral squarely to adults: Don't be a stuffy stodgy parent. Be fun! Engage your child. Let them make mistakes and grow. Don't lie to them." (paraphrased.)
I fear I'm becoming a Dahlcoholic. I've seen Matilda on Broadway twice this year (also read the book for comparative notes), am in the middle of "DannI fear I'm becoming a Dahlcoholic. I've seen Matilda on Broadway twice this year (also read the book for comparative notes), am in the middle of "Danny, Champion of the World," love "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach," and "The Fantastic Mr.Fox." To these I recently added "The BFG." I have read raves about this book, and decided it was time to fulfill my obligation and read it.
When I read a Dahl book, as a middle aged man, I look for the primary lesson he is trying to get across to children. Dahl understood better than most that the power of storytelling surpasses lecturing, admonition and brute force. Every story carries a primary lesson. What does Dahl wish his child readers will take from this story, to help them buck-up against the schnozzwangling horrors life will inevitably present to every "human bean"?
All "others" aren't bad. Every group has its runt who is picked on. Big problems can be solved by little people taking action. Playing with language is fun. Whizzpoppers are inevitable...even in the presence of the queen.
I don't want to get too analytical or interpretive, so I'll leave my praise focused on the joy of reading Dahl's style; on the consistent insistence that children NOT be shielded from the troubles of the world; and on the vivid imagery his linguistic play concocts.
I share some misgivings over the solution to the problem of the giants, but absolutely love the rather quick and tidy conclusion that reveals the TRUE author of the book. And maybe that is the ultimate moral: even raised by a pack of buffoons, malnourished by "snozzcumbers," and forced to learn English by re-reading a single Darles Chikins book, over and over...even against his runty size, the BFG applied himself to what he loved, regardless of any criticism and succeeded in achieving his dreams....more
When a friend asked me to read and review “The Probability of God,” because he knew my position on the topic (0.000000000001%), I thought I’d try to gWhen a friend asked me to read and review “The Probability of God,” because he knew my position on the topic (0.000000000001%), I thought I’d try to give the book a fair chance and an objective review. I give it 3 stars because it is clear, well written and semi entertaining.
There is only one redeeming element of content in this book, and that is the chapter on the math of faith. In this chapter Unwin describes how all of our belief decisions are ultimately estimates that a proposition is true. I firmly “believe” that every action we take is based on the combined calculation of experiential evidence, factored against the unknown and the likelihood that our chosen action will achieve our desired result. Pretty fancy way of saying that, no matter how much calculation you put into an action, in the end all of us “wing it” at some point.
But should we spend ANY time building the foundational support for our future leaps of faith on empty propositions like “God Exists?” or should be compiling more and more experiential evidence? I vote the latter.
The project of a fair review begins collapsing in upon itself rather quickly. Within the first few pages, Unwin makes clear that the importance of this book is the application of Bayesian statistical calculations, and not a rehash of theist or atheist positions, and so he declares, “Summarizing, our objective is to calculate the probability that God exists.” The brakes on my train of thought screeched as I hit the emergency stop lever. Probability is a science applied to the likelihood of events happening. I’m not the mathematician Unwin is, so please forgive any minor misphrasing, probability is aptly applied to propositions like, “What is the probability that a coin flipped 100 times will come up heads?” Tangible, measurable, definable entities like “coin” and “flipping” and “100” factor into the ability to state a probability. “God exists” is a meaningless statement containing nothing tangible, measurable or definable to which probability can be attached. But I probably shouldn’t abandon the book so quickly. 5 pages seems like an inadequate sampling. (It takes up until chapter 11 for Unwin to discuss the meaning of “exists.”) Sure enough, by Chapter 1 Unwin was addressing my concern. The stated central goal of chapter 1, to establish “What shall we mean by the word God in our central proposition: God exists?” We shall face a conundrum of “common language” fuzziness, Unwin warns. “Flight 360 for Cincinnatti is showing an on-time departure.” Completely meaningless out of context. But is Unwin going to argue that we have as much context for “God” as for “Cincinnatti”? Let me spare you the machinations of Chapter one to arrive at its conclusion: “We will use the word God in the traditional sense associated with the major monotheistic faiths and not in a more philosophical, abstract way.” Traditional Sense? If that were so clear, perhaps we wouldn’t have 10,000 different sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Chapter two proceeds to compare a mall “You are Here” map to the universe, with predictably inapt results and conclusions. The mall is a closed system, observable, known limits, etc. Yet Unwin arrives at the bizarre conclusion that “Surprise at the existence of life [in the universe], like surprise at the accuracy of the mall map (in terms of the “You are here” notation) is unwarranted.” This is but the creationists “fine tuned universe” or “anthropic principle” in disguise. Unwin then shifts to discussion of “irreducible complexity”, another creationist canard wielded against evolution, before expressing his view, “My humble view is that if we wish to ascribe to God…” Whoa… Wish to ascribe to God? I wish to determine the probability that “God Exists,” not engage in wishful thinking about what we would like God to be if we had our druthers. But I’ll keep reading… The Dam is Cracking: I’m reminded at this point of Tim Minchin’s “Storm” in which he says, “A crack begins to appear in my diplomacy dike” and it will soon be unable to hold back the ravings this author deserves.
Unwin again, “I believe that any science-based argument for or against the existence of the person-God is troublesome. Looking for God in science is like breaking open a television set to look for the tiny actors inside.” Need I elaborate on how horribly deficient this analogy is? It’s on par with the equating of God with Cincinnatti… i.e. desiring to talk about the undefined in terms that have meaning. And what discussion of God and science would be complete without a slip into this kind of Gould-esque NOMA stance? And then the talk turns to Bayesian probability calculations. I’ll be honest: by this point I’ve lost interest in the project, so I flip to the “conclusions” of chapter 4, one of which is to assign a 50% probability of God existing right out of the box. Unwin calls this taking the position of maximum ignorance, and I will have to agree with him… but not in the way he means it. It appears we are going to be adducing evidence for and against God’s existence (as a “person”) and adjusting our ignorance level moving forward. By the end of the Bayesian section, the probability that God Exists is 67%. Spoiler alert. Oh… too late. By my lights, at best Unwin should be at 17%, but NO calculation takes into effect the question of whether or not “God” should have been posited as an explanation of anything at all in the first place. But it is only arriving at the skimmed-to conclusion of the book that I can fully explode. “Our model indicates that as a consequence of the disparate characters of faith and probability, faith-based beliefs can provide no legitimate basis for any form of human conflict.” Is he denying religious conflict, or simply playing the definitional trump card of “since I define it this way, anything to the contrary can’t be “truly” using the words correctly.” And… enter the no-True Scotsman fallacy. ...more
As I write this review, I am about 10% into the third book of this trilogy. And when I say book, I mean volume... there are three (3) roughly 1000 pagAs I write this review, I am about 10% into the third book of this trilogy. And when I say book, I mean volume... there are three (3) roughly 1000 page books in "The Baroque Cycle": Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World.
Reviewing this first volume without the content of the others would be unfair. Reviewing the entire series on content would be immensely difficult, so I suppose I shall stick to reviewing in terms of pleasures derived.
Language: Neal Stephenson is, if nothing else, a cunning linguist. His vocabulary is replete with wanton lucubrations and exasperating and exacerbating in his continual use or archaic spellings of words like "phant'sy" or "barock." If you liked that sentence, you may like these books. I have never turned to the Kindle "definitions" button so frequently in my life, and my Scrabble scores have been soaring with all of the new words I have learned... or is that "learnt". I LOVE learning new words (even old, archaic words), so I look at this as a win, not a drag on the story.
History/Philosophy: There's a nice plot line threaded around Newton.. no Leibniz... no Louis the XIV... no William of Orange... Okay, reset: The plot wends its way through most of 17th and early 18th century European history, and in its own "Forrest Gumpesque" way, the characters seem to find themselves in the middle of many of the most important moments of that history. It's a nice way to convey history, if one is averse to reading dry text books. On the other hand, there are far too many dukes, duchesses, kings, queens, petit nobles, bastards, marriages of convenience, royal lineages and other trappings designed to either fill pages or convey that Europe was an incestuous, suppurating boil of syphlitic philandering... God, he's rubbing off on me.
Character Development: I've grown to appreciate the value of a well developed back story, and I can't say I've seen one pieced together as well as Jack Shaftoe's character over two books. Daniel Waterhouse is equally well drawn.
What would I critique the book on? I feel like Stephenson slips out of character once in a while. For example, in referring to Eliza's children cavorting through a castle (ooh... spoiler for book 2) he says the children were "tear-assing" through the halls. That's a bit modern, and it happened a couple of other times... in ways that dragged me up, out of the comfortably constructed phant'sy Stephenson had spent so much time planting me in. ...more
After seeing the new Peter Jackson Movie, which only covers the first 5 chapters of the book, my son was anxious to read ahead and see where the storyAfter seeing the new Peter Jackson Movie, which only covers the first 5 chapters of the book, my son was anxious to read ahead and see where the story went. so, when I bought the Kindle version for him I decided to dive in as well.
It's 304 pages long, but a very rapid read, and I finished it in one night. I was amazed at how much of the movie dialogue is identical to sections of the book. Jackson's presentation on screen is faithful, and even enhanced by introducing characters and concepts in this first movie that, in the book, just pop up out of nowhere.
But this is a book review, of a book written in 1937. I am sure I will be the first to review it. :-) But seriously, I can't drive myself to do a deep review because of how hugely popular and well known this book is, AND because all of the imagination has been stripped away from my mind by the movie. It's all been done, I'm sure.
Suffice to say it is enjoyable, and the story moves at a good clip, allowing you to ... if so desired... finish this in one sitting....more
I may not be the fairest reviewer of this genre, or this specific book. Pot boiler, Western detective novels are rare on my bookshelf (or Kindle), andI may not be the fairest reviewer of this genre, or this specific book. Pot boiler, Western detective novels are rare on my bookshelf (or Kindle), and I've known the author for thirty-some years.
Those caveats aside, Bourn's daring choice to write in the voice of a short, Hispanic female turned what could have been a cliched bit of Tex-arcana into a pleasant character study of a powerful woman in a predominantly male profession, in a testosterone soaked state. He successfully balances the competing interests of Mickey Jones: solving the murder mystery, and resolving her own personal issues.
Writing an entire novel in first person narration is a challenge for any author to pull off, but Bourn shoulders the load and delivers. He writes Mickey Jones' character with a crisp, clear style, adding no unnecessary flourishes, parentheticals, or run-ons. A occasional anachronism, or slightly too formal word sneaks in, bringing the only hairline cracks to an otherwise well-crafted and inhabitable protagonist's voice. Early on I forgot the Anglo man I knew wrote the story, and was swept up in the detailed locations and wrapped comfortably in the folksy Texas aphorisms that pepper the story.
I've recently had the "pleasure" of reading friends' self-published novels, and I have to say that throughout "One Dead Ranger" my expectations were completely eclipsed and exceeded. This is a solid debut, and we can hope for more! ...more
In the heat of the 2012 Presidential battle, mired in debates with Libertarian friends, I sought a good read about justice, society, responsibility anIn the heat of the 2012 Presidential battle, mired in debates with Libertarian friends, I sought a good read about justice, society, responsibility and humanity. My father recommended this to me when I was very young... too young to appreciate or desire this novel. But as a Nevada district attorney, I suppose he had some very deep connection to the story of Nevada Justice.
"The Oxbow Incident" is a meditation on the rule of law, the establishment of society, and all the personality types at play in the quest for justice. The specific part of human society that this book picks at until raw, is our motivation to act; our motivation to participate in pack behavior; our lust for power, and the willingness of some individuals to use the pack to attain that power.
Circumstances suggest that a man has been murdered and 40 head of cattle rustled. Justice must be served, and not at the slow pace offered by the judicial system. The town-folk of Bridger's Wells Nevada form a posse/lynch mob to find the pre-determined-guilty parties, and exact a rapid frontier justice.
The various characters serve as mouthpieces for and against a rush to judgment or action. Davies and young Gerald Tetley offer book-end assessments of human motivations, and it is hard to say who is more accurate, or who pays more for the beliefs he holds, in the end.
Some of the locals are "axe-to-grind", power hungry men whose motivations cover the entire spectrum EXCEPT for achieving justice in the case. I could not help but see, in this 1940 Western novel, an eerie parallel to modern times. Members of the vigilante posse hell-bent on lynching anyone for the murder of Kincaid, morphed in my mind to become the GWBush Administration and its cronies pushing America to war in Iraq. Circumstantial evidence; pleas to save society; appeals to machismo. A twist, late in the novel, makes this analogy even more apt in my mind... Without spoiling the novel (I hope) no WMD's were found in the Oxbow valley, either.
Elvis Costello writes on his 1988 album "Spike", "One day you're going to have to face a deep dark truthful mirror... and it's going to tell you things that I still love you too much to say..."
This novel is a starkly powerful mirror held up to our psyches, reflecting our willingness to stand up and do what's right, to "go along, to get along," to participate in sins of omission or commission. A Western American novel, no doubt, but also a timeless assessment of human nature, and the problems of power, justice, tribalism and fear. No reader can walk away from this novel and claim, in good conscience, looking themselves in the mirror, that they do not know the options facing them when a moral and ethical dilemma invites, nay demands their involvement. ...more
The title, "Bleak House" sounds somewhat off. As the main character is eventually named as the Mistress of Bleak House, she is very happy. Perhaps atThe title, "Bleak House" sounds somewhat off. As the main character is eventually named as the Mistress of Bleak House, she is very happy. Perhaps at Dicken's time the word 'bleak' had different meaning than now? Perhaps Dickens novel is the source of the new meaning: desolate bereft, lacking in hope or options.
Sure, Charlie's working his usual magic, spinning characters in vivid detail, often with a tongue in cheek, oblique metaphor, rather than through direct exposition. Dickens, you know, can write!! But Jesus does this book drag. I was 40% into the book before anything resembling a plot point occurred. In a 1017 page book, that means we withstand 400 pages of excruciating character development. As with all Dickens novels, you know none of them will go to waste in the end, but the setup just seems too extravagant for the eventual resolution(s).
If you love Dickens, then by all means read this to either enlarge or temper your love. You cannot finish this novel, I dare say, without your opinion of Dickens being altered. But if you're a Dickens virgin, hie thee and away to some other more digestible option. This one is pure roughage....more
As I contemplate the futility of writing the 41,190th review of this book,I think I hear the Mockingjay sing "Poo Tee Weet". And so it goes. Collins hAs I contemplate the futility of writing the 41,190th review of this book,I think I hear the Mockingjay sing "Poo Tee Weet". And so it goes. Collins has entered the company of Vonnegut, at least in as far as she has written an anti-war book. Quoth a friend of Vonnegut in "Slaughterhouse 5"... "you're writing an anti-war book? You might as well write an anti-glacier book."
That line has newfound irony in the age of global warming, and with the existence of Michael Crichton's ridiculous, anti-scientific "State of Fear." But I fear I digress from Katniss' plight and the capstone to the "Hunger Games" trilogy.
The Mockingjay is more adult in tone and writing style, and I found it to be an improvement over the first two installments. Nevertheless, the plot driven nature of the story exposes the generally monotonic character development. And, after reading all three books I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the first person story-telling employed here. Or perhaps I'm just not happy with Collins' execution of it.
***potential thematic spoiler below***
But when Collins boils down the purpose of this trilogy to a single sentence (and an epigraph/credits section thanking her father for lessons against war), I'm left even a little more empty, starved for literature. The sentence, near the end is (paraphrased), "What kind of society let's its children be sent off to kill one another?"
Uh.... every one since the beginning of societal conflict?
I know she wants to draw attention to the horror of war, but if one can read that as her intent (and I'd argue you can, quite easily) you have to say that she struck a lightly glancing blow with this arrow. Katniss would be disappointed. Vonnegut is rolling in his grave. Movie producers are licking their chops at the opportunity to get very wealthy glamorizing warfare.
I started to give this book four stars, as I had some kind of better feeling about it, in comparison to "The Hunger Games." But then I asked myself, wI started to give this book four stars, as I had some kind of better feeling about it, in comparison to "The Hunger Games." But then I asked myself, why?
Did the characterizations become any deeper or more complex? No. Did the self-reflective, choppy first person narration by Katniss Everdeen improve? No. Did the author misuse the phrase "begs the question"? Yes. Did I notice an annoying pattern of character names matching the industry of their districts? Yes.. (Really, how contrived do we have to be in a post apocalyptic America? "Thresh" comes from the district with wheat fields? Twill comes from district 8, manufacturers of textiles? PLEEEEAASE!!)
I'm all for "willing suspension of disbelief" but this series is really asking me to choke down a lot of objections.
Fun, light, tolerable, exciting for the kids... just not great literature. In fact, it makes the entire Harry Potter series look like great literature.
And I don't want to throw any spoilers out there, but let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised to read something equivalent to "Luke, I am your father" in the next book.
Still, exciting enough to inspire kids to read, so I can't go below a 3 star review....more
A bird yammers outside my window as I write this review. Perhaps it is a mockingjay? I started reading this book on the heels of my son discovering itA bird yammers outside my window as I write this review. Perhaps it is a mockingjay? I started reading this book on the heels of my son discovering it, and in anticipation of seeing the movie. I can't be harsh on the book. Anything that gets millions of kids reading is good, in my eyes, even if it is a transparent, predictable plot-driven hash-up of American Idol and Survivor (American Reality TV shows) with pretensions of being a character driven coming of age epic, involving rebels and dark overlords choking the freedom from the universe like none since Darth Vader have done.
Wait... maybe I can be harsh on the book.
So it's a mediocre, derivative book, in my eyes... why the cultural explosion surrounding it? I have never seen my local cinema's parking lot so full as it has been this opening weekend. There is something in the air, the zeitgeist, that is putting a lot of ass-kicking heroines on our movie screens right now: Think Lisbeth Salander, in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." Are the women of the world yearning to have a role model that succeeds through strength and wit, rather than T and A?
I don't want to try reading too much into the success of this book (and movie) franchise, and will give it three stars for being relatively engrossing, enjoyable, and literacy inspiring for kids....more
To quote Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun", "I don't believe that just because ideas are tenacious that it means that they're worthy." And thank gTo quote Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun", "I don't believe that just because ideas are tenacious that it means that they're worthy." And thank goodness Billy Beane does not either; or Bill James; or Voros McCracken; or Galileo; or...
"Whoa... WHOA!!! Let's not get carried away, Hoss! Billy Beane in the same sentence with Galileo? This is a damn baseball book isn't it?" Ostensibly, yes... and if you've seen the movie, it's also a father/daughter love story starring Brad Pitt.
But what this book is, at its core, is a piercing look at an individual's ability and willingness to stand, armed with data, to fight against a dogmatic, institutional resistance to science. It is a case study of human nature and politics, played out in the microcosm of Baseball. This book is about "religion" and "tribalism" (even in the form of a national pastime) and the ways that all human organizations opposed to science protect themselves, their power and position. This book is about cognitive bias and an unwillingness to change even when evidence contrary to your beliefs is clearly and consistently demonstrated.**
In author Lewis' indictment of the generally stagnant pool of talent in baseball management I hear echoes of interfaith ecumenism: "There are no real standards, because no one wants to put too fine a point on the question: what qualifies these people for this job? Taking into account any quality other than "clubability" would make everyone’s membership a little less secure."
Yes, as long as we don't point a finger at each other, we can all get along just fine. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The fraternal protection of status quo vs. one man's willingness to fight for what he sees as a better way.
Lewis' prose is smooth and pleasant reading. It helps to be a baseball fan, but contrary to some critiques I have heard, the narrative arc is not overwhelmed by statistics and "inside baseball." The diversions from the plot, to establish Bill James, Scott Hatteberg and Voros McCracken for the roles they play in the overall drama, are tightly drawn character studies that support later chapters.
**How lucky could I be? What are the odds that I would finish Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" and then dive immediately into a book that weaves a ripping tale about the very same cognitive biases (and resultant market inefficiencies) manifest in the world of Major League Baseball? I don't think I could ask for a better way to cement the lessons of Kahneman than the real-life story of "Moneyball."
As I read Kahneman's book I commented to myself that it could be a training manual for avoiding exploitation resulting from one's own cognitive biases, or it could be a recipe book for predators to use in ruthlessly taking advantage of them. Moneyball is about the latter group, looking at the horrendously inefficient, cognitively medieval way baseball was being run, and reaping the benefits of being willing and able to act on data rather than hunches.
Like baseball itself, 'Moneyball" is more than meets the eyes....more
In the last few years I have had two books that took me FOREVER to get through. The first was Daniel Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and the seconIn the last few years I have had two books that took me FOREVER to get through. The first was Daniel Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and the second is Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow." What caused this? What do they have in common? Both books explain, in minute detail, simple concepts with immensely far-reaching implications, and both have been... after the slog... the most intellectually rewarding reading of my adult life.
Where to begin... I have a number of theories running around in my head, and occasionally I try to corral them on paper, organize, sequence and interconnect them in a way that will prevent my reader from meaningfully widening their eyes, in an aside, while winding their finger around one ear... ("Cuckoo!") Good writing about complex topics is very, very difficult, and Kahneman has corraled 30+ years of science, his career and all he has learned into a perfectly arranged sequence that leads the reader into a wilderness... provisioning you in each chapter with the tools you'll need for the next part of the journey.
The second most striking effect on me is the number of times I said, "Yes... YES!!! this is what I've been saying!" In my case it has usually been some sort of "intuitive"(excuse me, Mr. Kahneman... I mean "System 1") recognition of a pattern in my observations about the way we think. In Kahneman's case those intuitions have been converted into theoretical propositions, each meticulously researched in well designed experiments. Clearly, this is at least one difference between me and a Nobel Prize winning researcher.
So why does this stuff matter? In the context of broader discussions of free will, intention, choice and control over the directions our lives take, this book can provide some powerful insights that might currently be obscured by these "cognitive illusions" and the inherent limitations of "System 1/System 2" thinking.
Perhaps we're not as "free" in our decisions as we might like to think, if "priming" has such a stunningly reproducible effect. Perhaps we're not so determined, if activities that initially require "System 2" attention, can be turned into second-nature, "technical-expertise intuitions." I.e. learning and training MATTERS in our ability to detect and respond to events that... if untrained... might take advantage of our brain's inherent "blind spots" or weaknesses.
Perhaps childhood religious indoctrination is a very adept recognition of these mental tendencies/flaws, so profoundly (if intuitively/naively) expressed by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, "Give me the boy until 7, I will give you the man." (paraphrased; forgive me)
Kahneman's discoveries and documentation of mental capacity and biases could form the basis of a "Mental Martial Arts" program: an alternative form of indoctrination, in which students are trained to understand the weaknesses of their brains, and learn to take stances and practices that eliminate or reduce the errors to which these weaknesses can lead.
This book will rearrange the way you think... about how you think....more
There are books which everyone says, "You simply must read this in your lifetime," and when I got a Kindle I found many of them available for free, inThere are books which everyone says, "You simply must read this in your lifetime," and when I got a Kindle I found many of them available for free, including this Dickens classic. When my son was assigned it for his High School Literature class, I could not resist the chance to catch up on a classic while annoying a high schooler with my interpretations and questions.
Simply on the merits of topic, you should read this book. This novel serves as a reasonably good primer on the French Revolution, and I found the historical information fascinating. But I won't focus on plot, or give away any details.
One of my first thoughts is that Dickens is a man who can say with 100 words what it takes many only 10 to say. His sentences can be ponderously long, and of course they are also afflicted by the Victorian style of his day: That is to say, more formal and almost competitive in the use of little known adjectives.
But then you happen across a passage that is so perfectly formed, so minutely and attentively rendered that it still shines like a jewel after 150 years have passed. You have to forgive the excesses of Dickens' genius, in much the same way you have to ignore "I Heart Huckabees" if you want to love Dustin Hoffmann in the vast majority of his movies.
Now, I don't know the historical timeline of when the first thriller novel with interwoven plot lines was written. But surely this novel must be one of the best, first examples of a non-linear, complex narrative that weaves all strands together beautifully in the end.
I also could not help noticing how much of the imagery was pegged on an assumed knowledge of Christianity. Being thouroughly steeped in Christian mythology myself, I found the allusions and metaphors quite effective, but wonder what value will be lost to the non-religious, or non-Christian reader?
There is a lot of satisfaction to be found in this novel, and it is well deserving of a place in that list of books "everyone simply must read!"