Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What I Didn't Read This Summer

In my last entry I commented on the stack of books that did and did not quite get read. Since yesterday marks the traditional American concept of summer, it's time to note what didn't get read in a more actively not read manner. Two books stick in the mind.

I tried to read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but quickly found myself skimming the pages & then not doing even that. Perhaps it was my state of tiredness or something else, but I just found the book grating. The contrast with How Doctors Think is striking: both deal a bit in the area of dealing with unusual or unique situations, and in neither case did I find myself consistently in agreement with the author. But, whereas Groopman comes through as humbled by the challenge & thoughtful of the issues, to me Taleb was obnoxious & arrogant. If someone found the book enjoyable, I'd love to hear why -- not because I want to argue, but maybe it would give me the incentive to try again. His previous book, Fooled by Randomness, was referred to me by a trusted source (actually, even loaned to me), but I never cracked it open. Debating whether to revisit that as well.

A more active avoidance was Michael Behe's latest Intelligent Design opus, The Edge of Evolution. I actually read his previous work & emitted a review, so I can do this. But it's kind of like a colonoscopy -- you know you should get one periodically but there's nothing pleasant about the thought of it. I have actually been challenged in a social situation to defend evolution -- a hazard of being known as a professional biologist (another is being asked to critique crank books & far-out 'alternative therapies' & nutrition schemes). On the one hand, it is appropriate to read what you might wish to criticize. On the other, there's only so much time for reading: why not spend it on the subset of books likely to be some combination of enjoyable & informative?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Fooled by Randomness" was somewhat insightful but definitely had a bit of an arrogant tone to it. I think you can summarize its points in a few phrases - basically, (1) markets don't behave with a normal distribution, (2) people are lulled into thinking that markets follow a normal distribution and so they underestimate the effect of massive dislocations, and (3) speculators are further lulled into thinking they are good at picking stocks when they are really just lucky.

I bought "The Black Swan" based on my liking the previous book, but I fear it's just going to be a rehash. I'll keep you posted.