Wednesday, November 5, 2014

October Books

The full 2014 list is here. I hit my annual goal of 50 for the fourth time, since I started counting in 2011, but I am on track for the lowest total yet. In my defense, I did read War and Peace this year.

Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences

Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended ConsequencesIn this perceptive and provocative look at everything from computer software that requires faster processors and more support staff to antibiotics that breed resistant strains of bacteria, Edward Tenner offers a virtual encyclopedia of what he calls "revenge effects"--the unintended consequences of the mechanical, chemical, biological, and medical forms of ingenuity that have been hallmarks of the progressive, improvement-obsessed modern age. Tenner shows why our confidence in technological solutions may be misplaced, and explores ways in which we can better survive in a world where despite technology's advances--and often because of them--"reality is always gaining on us."  For anyone hoping to understand the ways in which society and technology interact, Why Things Bite Back is indispensable reading.  "A bracing critique of technological determinism in both its utopian and dystopian forms...No one who wants to think clearly about our high-tech future can afford to ignore this book."--Jackson Lears, Wilson Quarterly


Interesting look at the unanticipated consequences of dramatic change over time. A little slow at the beginning, but it gains momentum. More back injuries after the elimination of much back-breaking work.


KimKim is set in an imperialistic world; a world strikingly masculine, dominated by travel, trade and adventure, a world in which there is no question of the division between white and non-white.

Two men - a boy who grows into early manhood and an old ascetic priest, the lama - are at the center of the novel. A quest faces them both. Born in India, Kim is nevertheless white, a sahib. While he wants to play the Great Game of Imperialism, he is also spiritually bound to the lama. His aim, as he moves chameleon-like through the two cultures, is to reconcile these opposing strands, while the lama searches for redemption from the Wheel of Life.

A celebration of their friendship in a beautiful but often hostile environment, 'Kim' captures the opulence of India's exotic landscape, overlaid by the uneasy presence of the British Raj.
Waffled between two and three stars for my review . The descriptions of colonial India are evocative, but I found the story a little disjointed and the ending unsatisfying--it struck me as an adventure book for young people that ended before the climax. I also found the characters a little one-dimensional and the hero a trifle too resilient and indefatigable to believe. Would not recommend unless you are fascinated by the setting and the era, and, if so, I suspect that there are better titles.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon


The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn't content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that's never been cracked. Until now. Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. Compared to tech's other elite innovators--Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg--Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.

THE EVERYTHING STORE will be the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read.


More missteps and happy accidents than I would have expected, but I guess that is the result of extensive experimentation. Looking forward to explaining to my grandchildren how it all started, or perhaps, what it was back in the day. Not sure which is the story I'll be telling.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
In Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the bestselling authors of Made to Stick and Switch, tackle the thorny problem of how to overcome our natural biases and irrational thinking to make better decisions, about our work, lives, companies and careers.
    When it comes to decision making, our brains are flawed instruments.  But given that we are biologically hard-wired to act foolishly and behave irrationally at times, how can we do better?  A number of recent bestsellers have identified how irrational our decision making can be.  But being aware of a bias doesn't correct it, just as knowing that you are nearsighted doesn't help you to see better.  In Decisive, the Heath brothers, drawing on extensive studies, stories and research, offer specific, practical tools that can help us to think more clearly about our options, and get out of our heads, to improve our decision making, at work and at home.


Maybe better as an article or a Kindle Single, but easy to read and full of good advice for overcoming biases. Always try to prove yourself wrong. Imagine different possible outcomes. Try not to be human.

Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas

Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous IdeasThe nation's most-cited legal scholar who for decades has been at the forefront of applied behavioral economics, and the bestselling author of Nudge and Simpler, Cass Sunstein is one of the world's most innovative thinkers in the academy and the world of practical politics. In the years leading up to his confirmation as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Sunstein published hundreds of articles on everything from same-sex marriage to cost-benefit analysis. Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas is a collection of his most famous, insightful, relevant, and inflammatory pieces. Within these pages you will learn: 

  • Why perfectly rational people sometimes believe crazy conspiracy theories 
  • What wealthy countries should and should not do about climate change 
  • Why governments should allow same-sex marriage, and what the right to marry is all about 
  • Why animals have rights (and what that means) 
  • Why we misfear, meaning get scared when we should be unconcerned and are unconcerned when we should get scared 
  • What kinds of losses make us miserable, and what kinds of losses are absolutely fine 
  • How to find the balance between religious freedom and gender equality 
  • And much more . . . 
Cass Sunstein is a unique, controversial, and exciting voice in the political world. A man who cuts through the fog of left vs. right arguments and offers logical, evidence-based, and often surprising solutions to today's most challenging questions.


Interesting takes on various issues of the day. I didn't always agree with the author, but he makes you think about things you take for granted.

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the MenuWhy do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.

Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.

From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

Engaging and informed, Jurafsky's unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.


Fun book, although the writing is a little chummy. Did not realize that the language of our cuisine owes so much to the Middle East.

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