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« September, 2006 »
More Damned Lies and Statistics

More of the same. The author, who is good with math, looks at people who use statistics who are not so good at amth. Along the way he explains why some things that we thought were true about the world are not true and why some things we thought were not true, are. If you liked the first book, this one is almost as good though seems a little scanter on interesting original topics and instead looks at the math behind some standard stats we’ve heard but never really known the backstory on.

The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime

Riveting! This guy works for the Atlantic and the quality of his writing is just terrific. He wrote an article on shipbreakers, the men who beach out of commission ships on Indian beaches and then take them apart using welding rigs and block and tackle systems. This book has several chapters on different similar topics of lawlessness and oceangoing vessels, from ferry wrecks to flags of convenience to the face of modern-day piratry. He explains how the moddern shipping system evolved as a lucrative business for rich people who didn’t ask too many questions about the regulations and standards of their industry as long as the money kept rolling in. This book has a lot of research including inspection of the minutia involved in trying to assign blame and legal responsibility in the case of an Estonian ferry disaster that claimed the lives of 853 people.

The Sinnner

The dead naked woman splayed across the cover of this book kept me away from it for a while. I enjoy the medical part of Gerritsen’s medical mysteries but she sometimes crosses the line into too gross and too gory for me. So, I thought that this story about a mudered nun might be icky. And it was, a little. However, it was also a very subtle and engaging whodunit including two strong female characters dealing with their own personal issues as well as the complicated issues of this case. It had more depth and less timeworn mystery cliches than some of her other books and the interplay of characters -- most of whom are interesting, even the minor players -- meant that it was an engaging read from start to finish.

Exploring Stone Walls: A Field Guide To Stone Walls

This book is supposed to be a bit of a field guide to Northeastern stone walls. It sort of reaches that goal, but it’s stronger as a rumination of the nature of stone and the interplay between man and nature in New England over the past 400 years. As a field guide, it’s lacking clear photographs of described wall and rock types, and the classification scheme that he has created is great but shoved into an appendix. It may be that I don’t have enough training, but some of his descriptions were not evocative enough for me to get a clear idea of what he was describing, though it was clear that he knows this topic inside and out. My favorite parts were his descriptions of what you could learn by a community or builder by loking at their walls; the anthropological aspect of his work and his enthusiams for the subject shine through on every page. There is an appendix listing some of his favorite walls in New England as well as some that he finds notable for one reason or another.

The Meaning of Everything

For anyone who has read The Professor and the Madman and thought “that was a little nice reading, but I would like to know a ton more about this whole project” this is the book for you. Winchester can be a little precious in his vocabulary choices in that “I’m writing about a DICTIONARY” way but this recouting of the eighty year projects that resulted in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is without peer. The stories range from in-depth looks at the personalities who ran the project to little examinations of the thousands of volunteers who sent in scraps of paper with etymologies on them.

And oh the scaps of paper! Just housing them was a project in and of itself, a system that access to computers and digital storage will render forever unecessary. Despite the fact that this project wrapped up the 1930s, the first fascicles came out in the 1890’s and the entire project has this quaint Victorian tinge to all of it, from the old boy network of the men involved to the dearth of ladies anywhere in this story. If you’re a fan of turn of the century engineering type projects, this should go on your “to read” list.