Nonfiction Roundup February 2007

It’s been months since I’ve done book reviews, so I’ll just wrap up a bunch of quick summaries of things I’ve finished recently. Alas, I still have many books that I am about 100 pages into that I’m not sure when I’ll finish, not because I don’t find them interesting, but just because I don’t have the brainpower to read them right now.

Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan

Subtitled “Undressing the Dismal Science”, this is a breezy overview of economics and why it matters from a correspondent of The Economist. It covered everything from unemployment rates to why the Federal Reserve matters in an accessible, easy-to-read way. I’d recommend it to anybody looking for an overview of macroeconomics, and how the tools of economists can be applied.

Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I’d been thinking about buying this book for a while before seeing it at the library. I like the main thesis that our brains don’t handle probability very well, and seek to ascribe stories and reasons where they may be none. For instance, he points out that if you have a million stock traders flipping coins to make decisions, some of them will experience phenomenal success and some of them abject failure, despite their decisions being made completely randomly. Yet because we hear about the success stories, we try to pick out their traits so that we can emulate them when it may have been no more than luck. There are a lot of good examples along that line, but it got a bit repetitive.

However, the book was inspiring in a completely different way. Taleb is not an academic or an author by trade. He’s a stock trader who had an idea that he felt needed wider dispersal, so he wrote a book on it and got it published. Admittedly, he did a lot of research and had expertise in the field of market trading to give him credibility, but he made it happen. Now I just need to find a field where I have credibility. Hrm.

The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen

Despite widespread popular acclaim, I was not able to get through more than the first 50 pages of The Corrections the one time I picked it up from the library. So when I saw this short book of essays from Jonathan Franzen at the library, I figured I would give it a try to see if it enticed me into trying the bigger book, much like I did by first reading David Foster Wallace’s essays before tackling Infinite Jest. Alas, I was unimpressed by the essays – they were reasonably well-written, but didn’t have any defining characteristics, such as the dazzling wordplay of Wallace or the humor of David Sedaris. So I’ll move on to other authors.

Finding Serenity, ed. Glenn Yeffeth, Jane Espenson

I’m a sucker for overly intellectual analysis of pop culture, especially TV shows I like, as evidenced by my collection of Buffy books, so I figured I should give the Serenity one a try. There were some interesting takes on the series, but nothing really stuck with me. Mild distraction, at best.

3 thoughts on “Nonfiction Roundup February 2007

  1. I’m definitely going to check out Naked Economics. It’s been on my list for quite a long time, but I chose to read the Hazlitt book (Economics in One Lesson) instead. It seemed to be endorsing an ideology (libertarian) rather than just focusing on the subject matter.

    Thanks for putting the idea back in my head!

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