Archive for the ‘books’ tag
The reason I love a good book review is it gives 80% or the value of the book, plus some insight from (one hopes) an expert about how that book doesn’t quite achieve its potential. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is super hot this summer, and Larry Summer’s review does what I describe:
All of this is more than enough to justify the rapturous reception accorded Piketty in many quarters. But recall that Kennedy seemed to hit the zeitgeist perfectly but turned out later to have missed his mark as the Berlin Wall fell and the United States enjoyed an economic renaissance in the decade after he wrote; similarly, I have serious reservations about Piketty’s theorizing as a guide to understanding the evolution of American inequality. And, as even Piketty himself recognizes, his policy recommendations are unworldly—which could stand in the way of more feasible steps that could make a material difference for the middle class.
An interesting theory, if not totally convincing or novel: Douglas Copeland explains that new age of television has largely replaced novels as a discussion-venue for long-form storytelling.
When a new technology obsolesces an old one, it frees the newly obsolete medium to become an art form. Enter The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, The Wire and . . . all of the new shows that are basically movies that run for 50 hours and serve as a paradise for talented actors. Perhaps this shift to long-format TV has generated the biggest change in creative culture in decades. I’ve noticed that people now discuss TV the way they once discussed novels. What chapter are you on? Wasn’t so-and-so’s character great? Are you watching the new season? You watched it all in one night? Our long-form attention span is shifting to a new medium.
Kevin Baker — almost by accident — attended a book club reading his book and neglected to disclose that he’d written it. It makes for a charming little story:
The night the club was to meet, I showed up early, thinking I’d introduce myself at the start and ask if they wanted me there or not. But it was an informal setting, and it just felt too pompous to pop up and exclaim, “Hello, I’m the author!” I decided to wait until we were all supposed to introduce ourselves.
You really don’t know yourself until you know how other people see you. Whether or not that’s true, I really enjoyed this brief description of how travel books seek to explain my country to the world.
But maybe the topic that gets the most attention in these books is food, which they praise for its quality and variety (and portion size) in a tone of near-disbelief. As in any culture, the niceties of dining — especially at someone’s home — can get complicated. Here, from Wikitravel, is some sage advice on a ritual that even I did not realize was so complicated until I read this passage:
When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.
Isaac Asimov explains the magical things they do.
(via Austin Kleon)
Makes me think Lex Luther. And get a little jealous.
Richard Wilson writes an incredibly enjoyable list of ten books you probably shouldn’t read before you die. His reasons are probably the most fun. On The Lord of the Rings:
The best I can say about this book is that it was a very useful tool at school for helping to choose your friends. Carrying a copy of Tolkien’s monstrous tome was the equivalent of a leper’s bell: ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ I knew I would have nothing in common with anyone who had read it. Their taste in music, clothes, television, everything was predetermined by their devotion to Gandalf. Without a shadow of a doubt, in a few years, these people would be going to Peter Gabriel gigs and reading Dune.
Tyler Cowen (he of Marginal Revolution fame) thinks you should throw out less-than-great books you’ve read.
If you donate the otherwise-trashed book somewhere, someone might read it. OK, maybe that person will read one more book in life but more likely that book will substitute for that person reading some other book instead.
…A lot of books don’t make the cut of “above average to those readers they will attract” and of course since you’ve spent some time with the volume you ought to be in a position to know. (But note the calculation is tricky. Sometimes a very bad book can be useful because it might appeal to “bad” readers and lure them away from even worse books. Please make all the appropriate calculations here.)
The worst thing you can do is to give such a book to a friend or family member. You are tempting them, but with mediocrity.
So all you altruists out there, ready your trash can and exercise your elbow. See if you can toss a book into the bin with one fell swoop from across the room. The love of humanity demands it.
The Economist has a new travel blog — I’m still deeply ambivalent about the mixing of that paper and blogs — which poses an interesting question: how many travel guidebooks are written by people who’ve actually been there?
Indeed, he wrote about Colombia without even going close. As he told Australia’s Sunday Herald Sun newspaper: “They didn’t pay me enough to go to Colombia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating who was in an intern in the Colombian consulate.”
Lonely Planet protests that Mr Kohnstamm is an isolated example. “We don’t have any evidence as yet that what he describes in that book applies anywhere else,” said Stephen Palmer, Lonely Planet’s chief executive, to the BBC. And the company has also deflated Mr Kohnstamm’s remarks about Colombia by pointing out that he was writing about the country’s history, not its sights or restaurants.
Nudge is a book that’s popped up in a lot of places recently and I really want to give it a look. Says Steven Levitt:
“Libertarian paternalism” is just the sort of phrase that makes me stop paying attention.
Which is why I could not have been more surprised and delighted when I finally got to read a copy of their new book Nudge. Despite my initial misgivings, I’m halfway through it, and this is a book I love.
The main point of the book (paraphrased) is as follows:
Since people don’t think very hard about the choices they make, it is a lot easier to trick them into doing what you want than to try to educate them or incentivize them to change their behavior. There are many ways to trick people, but one of the easiest is simply by giving thought to the way choices are arrayed to them, or what they call “choice architecture.”