Books Read, January 2012
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. There's a level of genius that the rest of the world can barely follow, and you just have to trust the judgment of the few people who are smart enough to keep up. Above that, though, there's a level of genius that is contagious, explaining things in a way that leaves the world more comprehensible with every explanation. Kahneman is the latter kind of genius. Reading his book is not quite as enlightening as hearing him speak, but he still does an excellent job of laying down everything he's learned in the last several decades of studying human decision-making, and showing how it all fits together. I have it on good authority from my boss that this book is somewhat harder to follow for people further from Kahneman's field than I am, but is still clear and interesting. And my (chemist) boss did, then, go on to correctly identify an example of the anchoring heuristic in action at lunch. So there's that.
For those who don't know Kahneman's work, he founded the modern study of decision-making and irrationality, including behavioral economics. He won a Nobel Prize for his original work in the field, the first cognitive psychologist to do so. He's possibly the most cited living psychologist, and people in every sector of society are just starting to figure out how to apply his ideas--this is in fact why I have a job right now. This book covers a lot of that work, including the many other researchers who've explored these areas. It also fits that work into a sophisticated model of conscious and non-conscious thinking, and the advantages and disadvantages of both those methods. It's intended for the layperson, and particularly for the people trying to apply his work outside of psychology--every chapter ends with a few examples of how the work provides a richer vocabulary for talking about decisions, and making better ones, in everyday life.
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. I noticed, rereading this, that the characters in Tam Lin actually do talk in the overly literary, slightly stilted manner that makes me bounce off of some of Dean's other books. The difference is that, in Tam Lin, it works. The characters are all lit majors at a liberal arts college in the 70s (or ancient Fey, or Shakespearean players, or all of the above), and it not only makes sense for them to talk like that, but gets across emotion and characterization in a way that would not be as effective in any other setting.
Wicked Gentlemen, by Ginn Hale. This book sounded so good, where by "good" I mean, "hitting many of my narrative kinks." It takes place in a society where, several hundred years ago, a large population of demon lords made a deal with the Church, and left Hell in the hopes of finding redemption on Earth. Things didn't work out as planned, and their descendants are a downtrodden minority oppressed by the Inquisition. The book is a romance between an inquisitor and a man descended from demon lords. How the author manages to make the relationship flat, the conflict boring, and the potential emotional power collapse into eye-rolling angst, I'm still not entirely clear. Possibly it has something to do with neither character having a shred of the charisma you'd expect from the premise.
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Eye-opening in a "history repeats itself" sort of a way. The whole climate change denial movement? Not only looks a great deal like the denial of tobacco's carcinogenic properties, but has some of the same people working at the center of the denial efforts. Recommended, particularly for anyone who feels like the environmental movement is under unprecedented levels of attack. Seeing the precedents is useful, and even a little reassuring.
Other Media Consumed:
Doctor Who, Season 6, episodes 6-13. Oh, this came so close. But for me, it just didn't come together the way the last season did, and it started to make everyone and everything too much about the Doctor. And it's starting to fall into some of the same traps that Russell T. Davies fell into, where the other characters just orbit the Doctor and then he nobly drops them off somewhere else.
But then there were pterodactyls over London, and that was pretty awesome. So I'm not completely turned off. Just going into the next season a little more braced for disappointment than I was at the end of Season 5.
Total Books: 4
Recent Publication: 1/4
Recommendations: I don't think any of these were specifically recommended by anyone--although I certainly did a lot of recommending of the Kahneman afterwards.
New Music: none
New Media Produced: I don't, at this point, specifically remember what I wrote in January, so I'll just save this for when I catch up.