Monday, January 23, 2006

Three Good Books

Over the winter break, I was actually able to get some real reading in for once. It was such a pleasure just to sit on the sofa for a few hours and read something really absorbing.

The first book of my vacation was Blink by Malcom Gladwell. This time, Gladwell is interested in the power, and danger, of snap judgments. First he lays out the frequency with which people make sudden decisions about things. For example, an art curator can often spot a fake in the first moment. She doesn't analyze and think it out carefully; she just seems to "know." There are many other examples of such judgments, but they are not always a good thing.

The second books was Spook by Mary Roach, and it appealed to me right away because the author is a self-confessed skeptic. The basic premise is that the author's mother passed away, and so the author thought she should investigate all the spiritual/religious claims about what comes next. She tries, really tries, to get excited about mediums, angels, reincarnation, ghosts, and the physical weight of sheep souls (you'll just have to read for that story). Her story is hugely entertaining as long as you have a sense of humor about such things.

The last of the three was Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Now, I have learned from long experience that you should take whatever an economist says with the proverbial grain of salt. However, this author has some very interesting points to make about how life actually works from a numbers perspective. Levitt looks at everything from the link between legal abortion and reduced crime to how realtors behave differently when selling their own houses to the power of names. It's a mishmash of topics, but his main message is about putting aside "common sense" and looking at the actual statistics. Fascinating, disturbing (in spots), and especially good when read along side the first book.

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