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A few short book reviews


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What I've read recently:

Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
This is an interesting, albeit flawed book. Written by a biologist, it seeks to examine the root causes of the striking disparities in relative fortunes of Eurasian versus non-Eurasian societies. When he sticks to this topic, he provides a compelling thesis backed by an abundance of evidence. When he strays from his sphere of competence, a few problems emerge. For example, he occasionally resorts to a cloying political correctness - explaining that one should dismiss theories of racial or cultural superiority because they are morally repugnant (and, by the way, untrue). Now, as a scientist, he should stick to science. One evaluates a theory based on its predictive power and its explanatory value. One rejects a theory when it is falsified by evidence which results from empirical inquiry. Moral repugnance is not a scientific criterion.

The other major flaw I found occurs at the latter part of the book, which, as Double Barrel dryly noted, descends into an advertisement for the author's consultancy and speaking services. Diamond makes some initial attempts to bring his analysis to bear on contemporary society, ignoring the fact that we have already been doing this for over 200 years. Not one mention of The Wealth of Nations or endogenous growth theory - inexcusable.

Finally, I should mention that I've read comments from others suggesting he tends to ignore or omit evidence that contradicts his grand vision. Despite these flaws, this remains an engaging read.


The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game
, Michael Lewis
Lewis' overriding strength is his flair for storytelling. Despite its subtitle, this book is not Moneyball for football; rather, it is primarily a touching human interest story regarding a disadvantage inner-city youth who improbably becomes adopted by a wealthy suburban family. There are a couple of sparse chapters regarding football strategy and tactics (the chapter contrasting Parcells and Walsh is worth the price of the book) but readers seeking a more analytical treatment of football should read The Sports Economist or articles such as this one by Eagle fan Mike Tanier at Footballoutsiders.com.

Stumbling on Happiness
, Daniel Gilbert
This is the best book I have read since Pinker's The Blank Slate (which, by the way, I highly recommend). Writing from the perspective of an experimental psychologist, Gilbert skilfully weaves the strands of cognitive neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics and philosophy to provide a detailed explanation of how and why we make systematic, predictable errors regarding our own happiness. For somebody who was raised on the assumption of the rational utility-maximizer, this is powerful stuff. Indeed, it is the type of book that really excites anybody who is interested in human behavior. Additionally, Gilbert writes in an entertaining, jocular manner which allows him to efficiently convey some subtle, complex concepts to the lay reader. The book's main conclusions deserve their own post, which I promise will come soon. Seriously, stop reading this silly blog and buy this book now.


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  • I'm Sunset Shazz
  • Living the dream in Istanbul, Turkey
  • I grew up in the hardscrabble streets of suburban Ottawa, Ontario, committing petty crime, insulting the elderly - basically the classic misspent youth. When I was 19, I moved to West Philly, where I put myself through the Wharton School by dealing crack and hustling. After stints in Paris and London, I eventually graduated and moved to San Francisco, where I put in eight years hard labor working for The Man. But now I pop bottles with models, deciding cracked crab or lobster - who says mobsters don't prosper?
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