Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


I’ve read a few books in the past few months. It’s been awhile since I did a good book post, so why not today?

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Thoughts on “Fooled by Randomness”

I recently finished reading Fooled by Randomness, the second book I’ve read by Nassim Taleb. It was quite similar to (it actually predates) his other book The Black Swan, and it was written in a similarly amusing, “I know better than you” style that would be annoying if he were, in fact, correct much of the time.

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Thoughts on “Angler”

The previous two books I read were decent enough, but Angler is one that I can recommend heartily. All about the Cheney Vice-Presidency, it paints a picture of Dick Cheney as the evil genius: smart enough after decades in Washington to know how to use the levers of power to get what he wants, and then getting all sorts of things that ended up being not so great for the country. What was most interesting about the book was hearing about all the people who tried to stand up to Cheney and got steamrolled. There were apparently people in the Bush administration who stood up to Cheney on principles they didn’t think should be violated, something that was definitely not reported on at the time (mainly because these people unsurprisingly wanted to be team players: tell-all books can come after the election is over with). In the end, nobody comes out looking terribly great, but at the same time, the picture of Cheney as “puppet master” is also found to be untrue.

I’m the kind of person who read books in college about presidential campaigns for fun, so perhaps not everybody will share my interest in the book. But if you are fascinated by Cheney (and it’s hard not to be, given his career and how he became the most powerful Vice President in U.S. history), this book is going to tell you in inside story, and it’s going to hold your attention for all 400 pages. It’s no Harry Potter, but for a book about politics, there’s enough intrigue to make you want to keep on reading.

Thoughts on Innumeracy

I recently read the book Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. It’s a fairly short book about how mathematical illiteracy is so dangerous, although if you have been paying attention to the beliefs of the public and many of our elected officials during the recent budget crises at the state and federal level, it’s pretty obvious how common it is to have no sense of the realities of numbers. Still, it was a pretty decent book.

One area where it comes up short, however, is in terms of solutions. I can’t really fault him for this, because there is no easy solution. A drastic change in our math curriculum, focusing on real-world applications of mathematical concepts, would probably go a long way to help the problem (it does seem that most American adults struggle with fractions and percentages). Other than that, though, this isn’t the kind of issue that is amenable to instant fixes. If you do want some anecdotes about innumeracy, though, and you feel that you can handle the kind of dismay that books like these will generate, then give it a try.

Thoughts on “Fear Less”

Now that the bulk of my MSST program has concluded, I have time to start reading the books I’ve been adding to my Amazon Wish List for the past year or so. The first book I picked up from the library was Fear Less by Gavin de Becker, about terrorism, risk, and just how lousy we are at actually estimating the chances of terrible things happening to us. It’s a very quick book to read, with a few simple messages: humans are terrible at estimating risks, big scary things are much less likely to kill you than mundane things, and don’t listen to media fear-mongering. There’s also a list of resources for people who want more information that is objective, not inflammatory.

The book came out shortly after 9/11 and was rushed to completion to get on the shelves quickly, and this rushed feeling sometimes shows. Also, for me, it didn’t have much new information that I hadn’t already seen before through my studies and other authors like Bruce Schneier. However, it was an enjoyable book, and it’s a good place to start if you are looking for a book to calm your nerves during Shark Summer or Earthquake Summer or Kidnapping Summer or whatever it will be this month.

Book Review: Too Big To Save?

Finance is pretty fascinating to me, and the recent financial crisis is an incredible study into how financial systems blow up under stress (if only it were a purely academic study and not a disaster for hundreds of millions of people). Probably the best complete rundown of what happened, and what to do about it, is "Too Big to Save? How to Fix the U.S. Financial System", by Robert Pozen. Nothing I have read has been as complete and interesting as this book, and while I don’t agree with 100% of his proposed policy solutions, I agree with probably 98%. This should be mandatory reading for everybody in Congress.

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Book review: The Black Swan

I recently read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In a nutshell, it’s about how improbably events (“black swans”) can be completely unexpected by people who think that events follow typical probabilities, and the mess that results. I enjoyed it, although Taleb won’t be winning award for humility anytime soon.

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Review – What Americans Really Want…Really

The past few weeks I’ve been reading “What Americans Really Want…Really” by Frank Luntz, which I picked up using one of my many Borders gift cards I received for Christmas. It’s supposed to be a distillation of what famous Republican message man Frank Luntz has found about what Americans want out of all aspects of life, from his many, many focus groups. The book started off good, but by the end I found myself somewhat disappointed.

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I’m not typically a reader of fiction. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just that I prefer non-fiction for some reason. Recently, though, I was looking for a book to read on my bus travels and I was all out, so Julia suggested I read Middlesex, a Pulitzer prize-winning novel. Despite it being fiction, I enjoyed it. What I liked most about it was probably its historical content: it traces a family and its offspring from before the Greco-Turkish war, spending most of its time on that journey and only occasionally returning to the present. It read more like historical fiction than a typical novel, so I felt that I was indeed learning something. I’d recommend it.

I’m now back to my old ways and reading Influence by Robert Cialdini. So far a fascinating book.

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Thoughts on "The Power Broker"

I just finished reading “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography about Robert Moses (doing a lot of train/plane traveling on vacation certainly helped finish this monster of a book). It was a very good book, and one that was much easier to read than its length would suggest.

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