- Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer
- Publisher: Crown
- Year: 2011
- Pages: 352
There must be something about Dan Gardner that coerces me to read his topics in pairs. When I read Gardner’s last book, The Science of Fear, I immediately read Physics for Future Presidents as well, which had a fair amount in common.
Now Gardner’s latest book, Future Babble, is largely a sociological study, and what should I read immediately afterward but another sociology book, with no small amount of overlap. In fairness, Watts’ book ends up being the superior of the two.
- What the Dog Saw
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
- Year: 2009
- Pages: 410
I’ve read all three of Malcolm Gladwell’s previous books before; in order from most to least recent, there’s Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point. I’ve said in each review that I believe Gladwell’s books have generally improved as a function of time; as a columnist, his ability to adapt to a longer form of writing (where his point must be sustained for several hundred pages without diverting into obscurity) has evolved noticeably with practice.
But Gladwell has been writing for the New Yorker for about fifteen years now, and in that time amassed a much larger collection of short (the word here is relative) pieces than he has larger themed works. In a move designed both to make money (I’m sure) as well as disseminate his best work to those without the benefit of access to the New Yorker‘s last fifteen years worth of archives, Gladwell collected his favorite pieces from that rag into a big, this time without concern for an overarching theme. It’s a collection of essays, though given Gladwell’s polished narrative style, it feels often more like a compendium of short stories by a particularly pedantic fabulist.
- The Tipping Point
- Publisher: Back Bay Books
- Year: 2000/2002
- Pages: 301
I read Gladwell’s latest non-anthology, Outliers last year, and his sophomore effort a few months later. It appears that I am working backwards, having just finished his debut book, The Tipping Point. My review of Outliers was more favorable than Blink; this was due in part, I think, to Gladwell’s progression as a writer and thinker. Sadly, it also means that The Tipping Point being his first published book and now a decade old, is the weakest offering yet.
Steven Pinker has a new op-ed in the New York Times where, ever the gallant hero of relativism in the way that most linguists and social scientists are, he defends new forms of mass and social media from their loudest detractors. His two salient examples are Powerpoint and Twitter. While the former has been a fixture of academic or professional communication for well over a decade, the latter is a relative newcomer and currently receives the same mix of pointed dislike and frenzied exuberance usually reserved for the novel.
Let it not be said that I am discomfited or alarmed by new forms of media; that I’m posting this to a blog after finding the article on Facebook, cross-posted from Twitter itself, may say something about my attitude toward the new and the popular. At the same time, I am extraordinarily distrustful of smiling cretins who like to whitewash the tendency of pop-culture to both reflect and encourage those things about ourselves which are ultimately damaging—the execrable Everything Bad is Good For You is a good example of just how facile such attempts can be.
- Publisher: Spectra
- Year: 1951/2008
- Pages: 272
In what has become an unofficial theme for my reading selections this year, I’ve chosen yet another classic or important piece of science fiction; Asimov himself is considered, if not the father of science fiction (that title is usually reserved for Verne), then at least one of its major players during the genre’s ascension in the middle half of last century (along with Heinlein and Clarke). Foundation is the first book in the eponymous trilogy (and later an even longer series), and arguably his most popular and important book. Though parts of it have aged poorly, it’s easy to see how the book propelled its genre into orbit.