AJ's Reviews > The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

The Spirit Level by Richard G. Wilkinson
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's review
Dec 26, 09

bookshelves: first-reads, nonfiction, 2009, do-not-own
Read in December, 2009

Disclaimer: I won a free copy of this book through Goodreads' First Reads program.

From the very first, I found this book quite insulting to my intelligence. The first things that struck me the wrong way were a chapter telling me how to read a graph, and a footnote to explain what an endnote is. (Seriously.)

The statistical evidence displayed in this book is shoddy, at best. The authors dedicate each of the chapters in part 2 of the book to a measure of well-being, and then show plots between the measure of inequality and whatever measure of well-being they are discussing. Instead of presenting quantitative graphs, they show very qualitative ones -- choosing to label their axes as "high" and "low" without any numbers for deeper analysis. Many of their fits are questionable and I wonder if they have used a least-squares fit. No matter what type of fit they used, many of their r squared values (not shown) must be quite low.

In addition, and I could go on and on about how badly they portray their facts in this book, some of their graphs would have no statistical correlation without data points for the US and UK which are outliers that create entire trends on their own.

All of which is to say that the authors are showing a lot of correlated data without really touching on the topic of causation until part 3 of the book, where they mention that causation is hard to determine, trot out a few studies that have (probably) shown causation and pretty much leave the reader to assume that it means that there is causation in terms of inequality and well-being. Then they talk about animal studies, evo-psych, and say something along the lines of "none of the other explanations seem to make any sense so our idea is obviously correct."

While I tend to agree with their ideas, including their idea that co-ops will help reduce inequality (see also Mindful Economics) their means of presenting their thesis are utterly unscientific, and this ultimately erodes their credibility entirely.

I also found upsetting a few tired old heterosexist and fat-shaming statements that were thrown out in some of the chapters, including, but not limited to, families without fathers are completely flawed and obesity will kill everyone (see for a good counterpoint The Obesity Myth Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health).
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Reading Progress

12/23/2009 page 1
0.28%
12/26/2009 page 173
49.15% "Can't wait to be finished with this one!"
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Michael I find your review insulting to my intelligence!


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