Sunday, June 2, 2013

May Books

What is the value of a college degree if it leaves you with few job prospects in a tough economy and buried in debt?

College (Un)bound asks the burning question on every prospective student, parent, and new grad's mind. Student-loan debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion mark in 2011. To say that the cost of a four-year college education is inflated on many campuses would be an understatement—and that education bubble is about to burst.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor at large for The Chronicle for Higher Education and senior fellow at Education Sector, argues that America's higher education system is broken and that the great credential race has transformed universities into big business. In the wake of the 2008 recession, colleges can no longer sell a degree at any price as the ticket to success in life. Brand-name universities like Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Stanford will always find students and families willing to pay the sticker price because of their institution's global prestige, influential alumni networks, and considerable endowments. But the campuses that the vast majority of Americans attend, where some students go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt for degrees with little payoff, will need to adapt fast to the changing job market and new technological breakthroughs.

As an industry insider who has covered higher education for more than 15 years, Selingo offers a critical examination of the current state of affairs and the pressing issues faced by students and parents. He also seeks out institutions like Arizona State University and the University of Central Florida that are leading the way into the future. Selingo predicts that the class of 2020 will have a college experience that is radically different from the one their parents had, and the college of the future will be personalized, leaner, and better able to arm students with the hard skills they need to enter the workforce of tomorrow. College (Un)bound will be a great resource for prospective students, but more important, it will change the way you think about higher education.

More people and institutions chasing more people and more dollars, demanding results that are less than assured. Something’s gotta give. Doesn’t it?

James Gleick - 2011

James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos and Genius, now brings us a work just as astonishing and masterly: a revelatory chronicle and meditation that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality—the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world. 

 The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanishes as soon as it is born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long-misunderstood talking drums of Africa, Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the brilliant and doomed daughter of the poet, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the creator of information theory itself. And then the information age arrives. Citizens of this world become experts willy-nilly: aficionados of bits and bytes. And we sometimes feel we are drowning, swept by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading.
Heathcliff comes to the brooding mansion of Wuthering Heighths as an orphan child. Cathy is the daughter of the wealthy family that takes him in. They are drawn together from the moment they meet, their love consuming, destructive, and full of desire. They cannot be together, and yet they cannot stay apart. The consequences will haunt generations.

Heathcliff comes to the brooding mansion of Wuthering Heighths as an orphan child. Cathy is the daughter of the wealthy family that takes him in. They are drawn together from the moment they meet, their love consuming, destructive, and full of desire. They cannot be together, and yet they cannot stay apart. The consequences will haunt generations.
This is the chilling story of two people who experience love and all its intense complications. It is a story readers will never forget.
Yet these hard-wired shortcuts, mental wonders though they may be, can also be perilous.   They can distort our thinking in ways that are often invisible to us, leading us to make poor decisions, to be easy targets for manipulators…and they can even cost us our lives. 
The truth is, despite all the buzz about the power of gut-instinct decision-making in recent years, sometimes it’s better to stop and say, “On second thought . . .”  
The trick, of course, lies in knowing when to trust that instant response, and when to question it.  In On Second Thought, acclaimed science writer Wray Herbert provides the first guide to achieving that balance.  Drawing on real-world examples and cutting-edge research, he takes us on a fascinating, wide-ranging journey through our innate cognitive traps and tools, exposing the hidden dangers lurking in familiarity and consistency; the obstacles that keep us from accurately evaluating risk and value; the delusions that make it hard for us to accurately predict the future; the perils of the human yearning for order and simplicity; the ways our fears can color our very perceptions . . . and much more. 
Along the way, Herbert reveals the often-bizarre cross-connections these shortcuts have secretly ingrained in our brains, answering such questions as why jury decisions may be shaped by our ancient need for cleanliness; what the state of your desk has to do with your political preferences; why loneliness can literally make us shiver; how drawing two dots on a piece of paper can desensitize us to violence… and how the very typeface on this page is affecting your decision about whether or not to buy this book.   
Ultimately, On Second Thought is both a captivating exploration of the workings of the mind and an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn how to make smarter, better judgments every day.  

From talking drums to machine readable code and DNA; The instructions that every thing seems to contain appear to be as important as what they actually are, if not more so.

Stephen Crane

Henry Fleming leaves home and joins the army. He wants to be a hero! But what will he do when the battle starts? Henry and the other new soldiers are tested. They measure their courage against the enemy, their comrades, and themselves.

Lauded by many for its realistic description of civil war battles and soldiers’ behaviour and introspection; I didn’t buy it. I remember liking it when I was 12; this time, not so much.

 Emily Bronte's dark romance, with an introduction from best-selling author Alice Hoffman

I’ve always lumped Jane Austen and the Brontes together. No more; Brontes are wild and crazy. Never boring, but they do wander frequently into the incredible.

Jim Ottaviani - 2013
In this substantial graphic novel biography, First Second presents the larger-than-life exploits of Nobel-winning quantum physicist, adventurer, musician, world-class raconteur, and one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century: Richard Feynman. Written by nonfiction comics mainstay Jim Ottaviani and brilliantly illustrated by First Second author Leland Myrick, Feynman tells the story of the great man’s life from his childhood in Long Island to his work on the Manhattan Project and the Challenger disaster. Ottaviani tackles the bad with the good, leaving the reader delighted by Feynman’s exuberant life and staggered at the loss humanity suffered with his death.

Anyone who ever wanted to know more about Richard P. Feynman, quantum electrodynamics, the fine art of the bongo drums, the outrageously obscure nation of Tuva, or the development and popularization of the field of physics in the United States need look no further than this rich and joyful work.  

My second graphic novel. Left me wanting more. Fascinating guy.

The recent revolution in Egypt has shaken the Arab world to its roots. The most populous Arab country and the historical center of Arab intellectual life, Egypt is a linchpin of the US's Middle East strategy, receiving more aid than any nation except Israel. This is not the first time that the world and has turned its gaze to Egypt, however. A half century ago, Egypt under Nasser became the putative leader of the Arab world and a beacon for all developing nations. Yet in the decades prior to the 2011 revolution, it was ruled over by a sclerotic regime plagued by nepotism and corruption. During that time, its economy declined into near shambles, a severely overpopulated Cairo fell into disrepair, and it produced scores of violent Islamic extremists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atta. In The Struggle for Egypt, Steven Cook--a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations--explains how this parlous state of affairs came to be, why the revolution occurred, and where Egypt might be headed next. A sweeping account of Egypt in the modern era, it incisively chronicles all of the nation's central historical episodes: the decline of British rule, the rise of Nasser and his quest to become a pan-Arab leader, Egypt's decision to make peace with Israel and ally with the United States, the assassination of Sadat, the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and--finally--the demonstrations that convulsed Tahrir Square and overthrew an entrenched regime. Throughout Egypt's history, there has been an intense debate to define what Egypt is, what it stands for, and its relation to the world. Egyptians now have an opportunity to finally answer these questions. Doing so in a way that appeals to the vast majority of Egyptians, Cook notes, will be difficult but ultimately necessary if Egypt is to become an economically dynamic and politically vibrant society.

Mismanaged for decades, seemingly hopeless, despite its potential. I am not optimistic.

Brimming with gluttony, booze and lust, Roger Micheldene is loose in America. Supposedly visiting Budweiser University to make deals for his publishing firm in England, Roger instead sets out to offend all he meets and to seduce every woman he encounters. But his American hosts seem made of sterner stuff. Who will be Roger's undoing? Irving Macher, the young author of an annoyingly brilliant first novel? Father Colgate, the priest who suggests that Roger's soul is in torment? Or will it be his married ex-lover Helene? One thing is certain - Roger is heading for a terrible fall. Outrageously funny and irreverent, One Fat Englishman (1963) is a devastating satire on Anglo-American relations. 

Mean to everybody. Funny at times, although the satire often seems forced and the protagonist is a bit implausible, particularly his powers of seduction.

Our lives are composed of millions of choices, ranging from trivial to life-changing and momentous. Luckily, our brains have evolved a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to quickly negotiate this endless array of decisions. We don’t want to rationally deliberate every choice we make, and thanks to these cognitive rules of thumb, we don’t need to. 

More heuristics. Stop me, I’ve had enough.

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