Monday, May 30, 2005

Review 3: A Short History of Everything

A short history of nearly everything
by Bill Bryson

This book should be a must-read in every school. Bill Bryson describes the history of Science in such a compelling and funny way you wouldn't have imagined possible. For me, as for a lot of other people I guess, sciences always were something rather dull and grey. Apart from geeks and nerds who could possibly have any interest in such weird theories and concepts as the Big Bang, evolution, gravity, tectonic shifts, microbes, cellular structures and the like? Oh, how wrong I was!

Mr Bryson not only explains the scientific concepts in a very understandable way, he also tells us who the scientists behind these discoveries were, how they made them and especially how excentric a lot of the men were! They were certainly, in a sense, crazy compared to the regular people, but this 'craziness' was needed for their accomplishments. Or would you have told yourself: Well, let's just find a way to measure Earth!?

The book is a quest to understand everything that happened from the Big Bang to the rise of the civilization. It really is an eye-opening journey that reveals the world around us in a way that most of us probably haven't seen before. And for someone like me who likes to understand why things are or happen the way they do it was pure delight. Of course the book doesn't contain the answers on everything, some things are probably unknowable. But reading, and realizing, the marvels of Nature and Existence itself and Man's quest to decypher them is just overwhelming. We usually live our daily life and take more or less everything for granted when in fact we're part of something huge, incredible, mysterious, weird and despite all problems, beautiful. And this book helps you discover that.

Hm, I think I got a bit carried away there ... so here's now finally my rating: 9/10.

Some information about the author: Bill Bryson was born in Iowa in 1951 and now lives in Great Britain. He's the bestselling author of A Walk in the Woods, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, In A Sunburned Country, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Bill Bryson's African Diary, and A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Review 2: Crimes against Logic

Crimes against logic
Exposing the bogus arguments of politicians, priests, journalists and other serial offenders
by Jamie Whyte

Although I don't exclude the unseen per se, I'd say I'm a rather rational-thinking person. So the title of this book lured me into buying it. Of course I succumbed and did exactly that. Luckily, it didn't disappoint me.

The author sees it as his mission to expose the multitude of logical fallacies we're confronted with, and even committing ourselves, on a daily basis. He's convinced that in the daily battle for our hearts and minds, the truth is very often the first casualty. Killed by, among others, statistics, weasel words and prejudices. Therefore he uses his ultra-rationalism to systematically analyze typical statements, slogans or beliefs and then, after having proven they've been built on sand, or even outright lies, invalidates them.

And the range of subjects he's confronting is vast: politicians, talk-radio hosts, op-ed columnists, advertisers, self-help gurus, business thinkers, priests, etc. He's not primarily judging the moral value of their opinions, he's just dissecting them to see if they hold up at all or if they're just hot air.

The book is fast-paced, very
funny and extremely enlightening . Though at times the author might seem slightly arrogant and a bit too over-confident, especially when reasoning about God's existence (something which in itself can't be proven or disproven). But usually he is right on!

My rating: 8/10

Some information on the author: Jamie Whyte is a past lecturer at Cambridge University and winner of Analysis journal's prestigious prize for the best article by a philosopher under 30. He lives in London.

>buy the book<

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Review 1: Freakonomics

A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

If you're into this kind of books, you've probably already heard about this one or even read it.

But here's nevertheless my take on it: Being always intrigued as to why things happen the way they do or what the origins of social events or movements are, this was a very revealing and interesting book for me. And if you too like to look behind the curtain to see how our world and societies work, you'll be delighted!

The chapters of the book are self-explaining and just reading them made me curious:
- What do school teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common?
- How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents?
- Why do drug dealers still live with their mom? etc

And of course the most controversial one:
- Where have all the criminals gone?

Controversial because the authors argue that the Roe vs Wade law (which legalized abortions in the US) is one of the main reasons the crime rate fell so dramatically in the early 1990s. And has more or less stayed at that level.

For all their chapters the authors have extensively analyzed huge amounts of data to detect the hidden patterns. So they can really backup their claims. Unlike many other people who pretend to have detected some 'spectacular' findings.

The only negative points would be:
- the title: It's not really about economics, it's rather about analyzing social data
- the volume: the 207 pages were not enough to satisfy my curiosity!! But luckily the authors have their own Freakonomics blog where they continuously present new 'freakonomic' examples :)

So I'd give the book a

Some informations on the authors: Stephen D. Levitt teaches economics at the University of Chicago and recently received the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every 2 years to the best american economist under 40. Stephen J. Dubner writes for the New York Times and The New Yorker.

>buy the book<

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