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Recent Reads

25 Jan

I haven’t been around the chapel much lately, partly because I’ve been reading some good books. You may find the following items interesting.

The book I finished last night was Nate Silver’s, The Signal and the Noise. Citing examples from such diverse fields as climate science, baseball, Texas Hold ‘Em and elections forecasting, Silver explains statistical analysis in an interesting, informative, and even entertaining way. The book is a bit long (500+ pages), so you probably won’t read it in one sitting. But, if you’re willing to take a bit of time each night over several nights, you’re likely to learn quite a lot about gambling, earthquakes, and – yes – statistics.

Another book I finished a couple of weeks ago was, Damned Good Company, by Luis Granados. The author selected twenty pairs of contemporaneous historical figures – one secular versus one religious (i.e., Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan) – and contrasted ways in which their views intersected, clashed, and influenced the world around them. I’m somewhat surprised this book hasn’t gotten wider circulation because it is very well researched (over 1,100 endnotes) and is quite a good read. Granted, Granados doesn’t write like Hitchens, but he’s more readable than many other better-known authors. Perhaps the lack of publicity is a consequence of being published by The Humanist Press rather than Harper & Row.

The final book I’ll mention, which I read after Granados’ and before Silver’s, is J.K. Rowling’s debut in the world of adult fiction, The Casual Vacancy. Having read and enjoyed the entire Harry Potter series with my sons, I had to see how Rowling would handle adult literature. She did quite well, but don’t take that to mean that The Casual Vacancy is anything like Harry Potter for grown-ups. Unlike the world of Hogwarts, most, if not all, of the characters in this book are not likable people, so it’s likely that readers won’t readily align themselves with any of them. It’s not even easy to choose one to hate more than the others because they’re all equally loathsome. Nevertheless, the story is engaging, especially for anyone who is intrigued by politics, and one can’t help wondering how the issue of the unexpectedly open seat on a small town’s council will be resolved. I enjoyed the book, and I’ll admit that the ending makes a tragic sort of sense; nevertheless, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the final scene played out. If you want to know any more about that, you’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself whether I’ve got that right or missed some profound meaning and symmetry. In my mind, the meaning and symmetry are almost, but not quite, there.

And that, dear friends, is some of what I’ve been doing lately. Have you read any of these books? If so, let me know what you think in the comments. Do you have any other books to recommend? Write a comment. I’m always open to suggestions.

- – the chaplain

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7 responses to “Recent Reads

  1. Paul Sunstone

    January 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Damned Good Company sounds great! And so does Silver’s book. If you don’t mind, Chappy, what was the most interesting thing you took away from reading Silver?

     
  2. the chaplain

    January 27, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Paul – One of the best things about Silver’s book was his repeated emphasis that statistical analysis, particularly as enhanced by technology, is a tool; it is only as powerful as the creativity and imagination of the people using it. Stats only take us so far in addressing real world problems; the deepest part of our solutions lies in our brainpower and willpower.

     
  3. ubi dubium

    January 28, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I’ve also read “The Casual Vacancy”, which you probably already saw my review of. I agree with your thoughts on it.

    Nate Silver’s book is one that I’ve been meaning to read. My husband has been following Nate’s blog for years, long before it got so popular.

    Recently I’ve been listening to books on CD while I commute, because it’s much more intersting than the radio when I’m stuck on I-66. I’ve recently listened to “Tale of Two Cities”, which I expected to really like but didn’t, “Great Expectations” which I did really enjoy, and “Heart of Darkness”. I was disappointed in “Heart of Darkness” because it violated that classic piece of writing advice “Don’t tell me, show me”. It spent tons of time telling me about all the darkness and horror, but the plot didn’t really contain much of it. I think “Apocalypse Now”, which was based on it, was actually an improvement over the original.

    Hard copy, I’ve just read a novelization of the lost Dr. Who episode “Shada”. The original script was by Douglas Adams, and finished in a huge hurry after the release of “Hitchhiker’s Guide”. Filming was begun, but stopped because of a strike, and the episode was never completed. Adams was apparently not happy with the script and was just as happy for it not to be finished. The author who put together this version, who was working from the shooting scripts, says that the original starts off brilliantly, but then ends too abruptly without winding up all the plotlines. So he attempted to create a novelization that includes Adams’s original material, and then resolves the plot the way Adams would have if he had had the time to do it properly. Overall, I think he was pretty successful, and it’s some good light reading.

    Right now, working on Volume III of Song of Ice and Fire,

     
  4. the chaplain

    January 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I’m reading Anna Karenina now. Over the past couple of years I’ve been reading classics now and again. I can’t recall offhand who translated the version I have (it’s a Kindle freebie), but whoever it was did a great job – the prose flows beautifully.

     
  5. Ahab

    February 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I’m almost finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here”, a dystopian novel about the U.S. succumbing to totalitarianism in the 1930s. The parallels between the totalitarian government in the novel and some of the ideas on the far right are unsettling.

     
  6. the chaplain

    February 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    I’ll have to add that to my list, Ahab.

     
  7. Spanish Inquisitor

    February 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I have the Silver book on my iPad, and I plan on reading him soon…but sometimes life intrudes. What piqued my interest in his book is that he got the recent election predictions so right. He stuffed it in the faces of the Republican pundits like Karl Rove, who was just flabbergasted on election night when they called Ohio. If he’s that good at what he does, then what he says about the subject should be read.

    I recently finished “Bailout” by Neil Barofsky. He was the Bush appointed (though Democratic) Inspector General in charge of oversight and prosecution of the TARP program. He was only there for about two years, but he was there from the beginning, and he relates a fascinating account of the infighting between his office and the Department of the Treasury, which was handing out all this money to “save” these companies deemed too big to fail. In the end (my take) all the money did was perpetuate a rotten system. The people who really got fucked were the people that got suckered into those mortgages because of the greed of the banks, then lost the homes they couldn’t afford, and had their credit ruined, yet the banks walked away scott free, bigger and badder than ever. It’s not a long book, and written for the layman, so you might enjoy it.

     

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