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reading]

« May, 2006 »

Bag Men   book icon  
by Mark Costello (2003)

read: 25 May 2006
rating: [+]
category: fiction

This book was great. Then again, I had no expectations. My sister knew a guy who knew the guy who wrote it. She lent it to my boyfriend to read who then lent it to me. I enjoyed it. It’s a gritty cop story from Boston in the 50s and 60s, so while I recognized some of the settings, I didn’t recognize the culture at all. In fact, a major plot point revolves around the fact that Boston is NOT San Francisco and things that are obvious to any teenager now were unknown to cops even back then. The plot is straightforward cop story, and had a feel to it much like The Wire with a bunch of characters coming in and out of it at various points. For a short novel, a lot happens.

Harvest   book icon  
by Tess Gerritsen (1996)

read: 21 May 2006
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Better than her last novel but not as good as the first novel of hers I read, which I fear may have been her best book. This novel explores a potential seamy underbelly of organ donation politicking without resorting to tired cliches of poor people waking up in bathtubs of ice without their kidneys. The plot moves along. The main character is Abby DiMatteo the doctor we will continue to see in more of Gerritsen’s medical thrillers. In this book she is an internist asked to serve on the prestigious transplant squad whose medical reputation is too good to be true, almost.... You can sort of see where the book is going as soon as it opens up with scenes of children being removed from an orphanage in Eastern Europe, but again Gerritsen manages to make it a human drama, not filled with overwrought cliches.

Trunk Music   book icon  
by Michael Connelly (1998)

read: 14 May 2006
rating: [0]
category: non-fiction

I’ve been reading these in stupid order instead of the order they were written in, so this book shows the main protagoinist meeting the woman that I know he later has a tempestuous relationship with. This book was less compelling than the newer ones. I think Connelly has really improved his writing plot-wise over the past decade or so.

Blink   book icon  
by Malcolm Gladwell (2004)

read: 11 May 2006
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

Gladwell’s last book which grew out of a New Yorker article read like an overlong New Yorker article. This one does now. The loose premise is that many people make decisions much more quickly than they feel that they do, and that they rely on much less information to make them. Gladwell argues that, counter to our preceptions about quick decision-making, these decisions can often be fairly sound and useful ones. He guides us through a few examples of this process in action and discusses the idea of “thin slicing” whereby smaller and smaller amounts of information are being accessed (quick glimpses of people, small snatches of sounds) and yet the decisions people make ("do I know that song?" "does this person like the other person?") are often just as valid, sometimes more valid, as if they had more time to think it over.

Gladwell discusses the upside as well as the downside of this phenomena, discussing how people’s preconceptions of things like race may effect their snap judgments in ways they aren’t even aware of. He uses as an example the Implicit Association Test which tests people’s reaction times when they have to group positive and negative words with images of white or black people. Gladwell, who is half-Jamaican himself, was suprised to note that even he had a tendency to group negative words with images of black people, not consciously, but subconsciously. This book has the interestingness and research of Gladwell’s other writing along with the length and breadth of other books describing how we know what we know.

Freakonomics   book icon  
by Steven Levitt (2005)

read: 1 May 2006
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

Levitt is supposedly an economical genius. I know that because I read the article in the New York Times magazine about him. This book is written by the same guy. Or, rather, it’s co-written by that guy and Levitt himself. It’s like a longer version of the newspaper article. It has a lot of inteersting economics examples giving you real numbers behind some of the things we take for granted about the way money works. Think drug dealers make a lot of money? Think again. Levitt has access to some of the numbers and shows how drug dealers, except for the highest eschelon, aren’t pulling in too much money and by and large live with their families. Then again the hope that you’ll make it big as a drug dealer seems slightly more realistic than the hope that you’ll eventually be president, so the slog is worth it.

My only exposure to Levitt and his ideas has been via this writer who is obviously fond of him. This book can seem a bit haigiographic at times. I’m sure the guy is really smart. I’m sure his ideas are novel and interesting, the way he looks at social problems through a lens of pure money. On the other hand, they don’t seem that out there. Once you realize that there was a drop in the crime rate when abortions became legalized -- or rather when the generation of children whose mothers had access to abortions grew up -- the question for me is “Then what?” If it’s true, can’t you use that bit of information to affect social change? Maybe? Levitt is also the only economist I’ve read who says that Head Start programs don’t really work. He calibratesHead Start attendance with childrens' future test scores. This really goes against conventional wisdom about Head Start (mainly of the “Head Start works!” variety) and I’d like to hear more about it. In short, the book brings up a lot of good ideas and good research by Levitt, but the answers he discovers aren’t as useful in the pure science-y air of economics as they would be being put to good use outside of academia. After reading this book, I’d like to know more.

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