Monday, July 25, 2011

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse and Cecil delight once again! Yet another in the Jeeves and Wooster series that I enjoy and I was not disappointed. The audio presenter J. Cecil is spot on and I had missed Wodehouse’s words in Bertie’s mouth, as well as the situations he ends up in. Jeeves, as usual, is smart from all the fish, helps Bertie out of the soup and, as such, stands alone. :)
I think I liked this one more than the last because the story was more straightforward (fewer characters) and it had been a longer duration between Wodehouse works.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Company of Strangers by Paul Seabright

Intelligent and well-sourced, The Company of Strangers presents a decent overview of economic issues mixed with evolutionary & historical perspectives. The main theme, stated in the title, is that everyday we trust our lives to strangers and we have (mostly) made peace with this. In fact, our tendency to do so is so great that we don’t even notice the myriad ways in which we live in, and depend upon, the company of strangers (e.g., traffic, food preparation, health care). This “trust” isn’t entire (as we know there are cheaters) and we still have caution in many situations, but Seabright does an excellent job at highlighting this phenomena.
The downside of the work is that it was too much of an introduction (to me). Additionally, the work is more a collection of related essays than a sustained argument, which detracts from persuasion.Each chapter seemed like it would explore an interesting economic concept as it related to policy or personal issues, but the exploration was usually too shallow to satisfy. That said, there were interesting pieces of information throughout the pages, such as the examination of the recent financial collapse, the lives of various people in various times, and how we end up in competition with each other. At times I found it quite an enjoyable read, at others the writing was uneven and there were not enough new ideas for the length (not enough “useful thoughts per minute”).
Decent with some excellent points and an important perspective, but neither captivating nor extensively detailed. You might like it but, looking back, I probably needn’t have read it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Cornel West

Everyone can complain, but few do it as well as Cornel West. For example, speaking about democrats caving to republicans [in the early 21st century] instead of following their conscience and the will of the American people:

“Unlike their idol Bill Clinton - a masterful neoliberal communicator, who subordinated his conscience to the exigencies of re-election strategies but was able to conceal his opportunism with his charisma - the vast majority of democratic party elites are rendered impotent in their timidity, and paralyzed by their cupidity, their courting of corporate donors.”
Democracy Matters is West's critique of various democratic failings and his sincere appeal for greater awareness and action. The broad-ranging work examines deep democracy and race in America, Israel-Palestine issues, Christian identity and the importance of engaging youth culture (i.e.,  hip-hop/rap).  West is a master rhetorician, not sophist, that delights with his deconstructions, denunciations and deliberations on our deep democracy deficit.

West is a very knowledgeable man and advances interesting theses like the tripartite necessity of Socratic challenge, Jewish prophetic wisdom and tragic comedy for democracy to persist in America. He is very persuasive but there is so little objective data to actually evaluate, such is the nature of the humanities, I would have to explore the issues in much more detail to feel confident in his assertions (despite their plausibility upon reading). That said, I enjoyed the examination and I appreciated his pro-Palestine AND pro-Israel stance, his notion and actualization of what it is to be an intellectual and hearing his side of the Larry Summers issue - a saddening event all around.
I experienced this by audio and his personal presentation likely had a lot to do with my enjoyment. Oh, and I don't think I've heard the term 'plutocratic elites' so often in one book.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

What an enjoyable book! I say that because I truly enjoyed this autobiographical comedic work. I find Fey intelligent and endearing. I liked her self-deprecating style and enjoyed the behind the scenes info about Second City, SNL and 30 Rock. It was also useful to have her perspective on women in comedy.
Was it great? Hard to say. Would people who don’t know Fey’s work get much out of it? Perhaps, but a lot less than those who know her and watch 30 Rock or SNL. Personally, it was a wonderful break from the more serious content I tend to consume. I laughed out loud more than a few times. :)

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

(To be revised)
An excellent book that provides insight and rigor regarding the lives of the poor and interventions designed to assist them. This broad work by two developmental economists covers malnutrition, health, employment, microcredit, microsavings and many others. The general approach is to p. 252 and I couldn’t agree more. They prioritize randomized control trials and think good intentions are not enough. This book covers very similar ground (even many of the same published studies) as More Than Good Intentions which came out within days of each other. This makes sense as one of the authors of Poor Economics was the mentor to Karlan. As I had just read More than Good intentions it was impossible not to contrast them. Poor economics provided more depth and detail, but at the expense of readability. Both works present stories of the lives of those in extreme poverty, but More Than Good Intentions seems to have better narratives. I think the two works were trying to achieve similar things but also slightly different things. Poor Economics made a greater contribution to the Sachs v. Easterly (and Collier and Moyo) debate while More Than Good Intentions tried to make things as accessible as possible. In both books the chapters on microfinance flow the best, likely because the content is closest to their economic background. Also, microfinance started More than Good while it occurs later in Poor Economics.
Yes, but if you are a layperson just read More Than Good Intentions. Alternatively, if you want a little more depth, only read Poor Economics. If you are in the field, you should probably read both but can likely get away with just Poor Economics.

pretty stellar supporting website

Monday, July 04, 2011

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth

A quirky and interesting 'picture novella' about a cartoonist in search of a cartoonist from the past with an emphasis on introspective musings and observations about the human condition.  A quick and endearing read, although intermittently lugubrious, that tries to find the light in a darkened perspective.

Recommended (while at the same time realizing this won't be for everyone).

Saturday, July 02, 2011

And Another Thing by Eoin Cofler

For the 30th anniversary of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Eoin Cofler (of Artemis Fowl fame) was commissioned to write a 6th instalment of the trilogy. Given the delightfully, unique zaniness of Adam’s originals and the massive cultural impact of the work it was definitely a tall order to fill.
Does Cofler succeed?
I would say he does, in that the work feels a lot like Adams, and if you have missed the characters and adventures you will be happy to see them once again; Arthur seems like Arthur, Ford Ford and the others act similarly. There are some nice twists and winks and many throwbacks to the prior content. The overall story is decent and perhaps just as probable as any of the others.
It isn’t flawless though, but it isn’t entirely easy to pinpoint just where things go wrong. I felt there were too many “Guide note” asides for one thing. Another might be the Cofler’s book is almost twice as long as most of the original five books, so it is understandable if things felt a bit more drawn out. Finally, it has been years since I read the originals and we know memories are fallible so nostalgia and vague smirks of intellectual happiness might be all that remain and it really isn’t fair to compare something to that.
Do I recommend it? (See your category below)
For fans: yes
For die-hard fans: you’ll probably never be happy so you needn’t bother unless you want to complain about it on a message board.
For the unexposed: go read the originals first.