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Snorri



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
Posts: 10878
Location: hiding the decline.

PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 4:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vox Raucus wrote:
What are the best non-fiction books you've read?

I get five months of (paid) parental leave starting the end of January, and one of the things I'm planning to do is read more seriously. I already read a fair amount of fiction, and I like to learn and stuff, so I figured I would focus on the non-fiction.

EDIT - I'm asking in this thread because I'm too lazy to comb through the book thread.


The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Debt (the first 5,000 years) by David Graeber (bit longwinded)
some of that real Malcolm Gladwell shit (dubious but engaging)

man a lot of non-fiction I've read is dutch. aside from biographies and philosophy and, like, Christopher Hitchens and such.
(actually I'm going by what's in my library at the moment, I've read a bit more but can't come up with the titles or authors.)

check out the three I gave though. And if you find others report back because I'm now realising I could read some more too.
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Snorri



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 4:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm reading End this Crisis Now by Paul Krugman at the moment but I don't know if I should recommend it...


because I can sum the entire book up with: "austerity now is dumb, governments should be spending!" repeated over and over. It is thoroughly agreeable, he is totally correct but there is little else to the book. (unless you really like laughing at all the guys who are wrong.)
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Sam



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 5:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't want to end up the resident gladwell apologist but really Gladwell is ultimately unlike the Freakonomics dudes. His shit stands the test of time, to the extent that his journalistic observations are at the forefront of the future collapse of american football, and he created an era of redshirting compliments of his statements in Outliers.
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Snorri



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 5:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sam wrote:
I don't want to end up the resident gladwell apologist but really Gladwell is ultimately unlike the Freakonomics dudes. His shit stands the test of time, to the extent that his journalistic observations are at the forefront of the future collapse of american football, and he created an era of redshirting compliments of his statements in Outliers.


Well I didn't recommend Freakonomics, did I? Razz

I like him. But one should be more doubtful while reading his books than one might be with others. Contrasted for example with Bad Science's author Ben Goldacre: Goldacre maybe takes on an easy target but he has a scientific thoroughness (whereas Gladwell has the journalistic thoroughness) that explores and explains the research behind his claims. He's a scientist, a doctor, he knows what to look for such.

Gladwell is a very good journalist. But he's not a scientist and he simplifies where someone more prudent might not. Also, he's American and damn those books are American. Not that that's bad, but a lot of the time I thought "wait, we do that?" and then realized it was the case in the US but not here.
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Dogen



Joined: 10 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 7:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not anti-Gladwell, but I don't put much stock in his work either. Mainly because he depends on a lot of anecdotal evidence and tends to oversimplify material, sometimes to the point of making things seem more cut and dry than they really are (that certain things always/never happen, happen a certain way, etc). I think Outliers was my least favorite, in terms of oversimplification. But it obviously appeals to a lot of people, so I may just be pedantic.

Random books I like (bearing in mind where my interests lie...):
Seven Sins of Memory by Daniel Schacter, is a great book about how memory works, and the processes behind everything from losing your car keys to false eyewitness testimony. Memory is really cool, and a lot different than most people think.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by my personal hero Daniel Kahneman, about how thinking works, depicting the brain as two characters, one slow, logical and methodical, the other fast and lazy. The two appear seamless, but a lot (sometimes a majority) of our thinking is done by the fast and lazy system, which is why people often suck at logic problems, jump to irrational conclusions, or act emotionally. Ten pages in and you'll recognize every time you switch to the slow system (it feels effortful).

Sway, by Ori and Ram Brafman. The subtitle says it all: "The irresistible pull of irrational behavior." Why we so frequently find ourselves compelled to make irrational decisions, even when rational ones are easy.

The Mind's Eye, by Oliver Sacks. He has lots of good books, all essentially the same style. He presents unusual medical conditions as case studies, showing you how real people cope with things like prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces) or losing the ability to read or speak. He writes compassionately and light on jargon.

A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, by V.S. Ramachandran. Like Sacks, but more steeped in the neuroscience, for those who like the science behind behavior.

Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin, about the evolution of the human body, including common characteristics between people and fish (and worms and...)

All of these have the benefit of being written by experts in their fields - psychologists, neurologists, Harvard brain researchers, paleontologists, Nobel prize winners, etc. Only the best for me!
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Usagi Miyamoto



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 8:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gladwell's work is fascinating, but the more I know about the subject he's writing about, the more problematic I find his essays. He's got lots of interesting, non-obvious insights, and does some really valuable journalistic work, but he's a serial criminal in his statistical intuition, even when he's writing about statistical intuition. Stephen Pinker coined the term "Igon value problem" to describe the kind of shallow, facile metaphorical understanding conveyed by Gladwell in his review of What the Dog Saw. Ever since, I've noticed that follow-up reporting on areas that Gladwell reported on first, seem to behave like a common problem in science generally, where the first results in some area appear significant, and the subsequent results seem never to hit those same peaks.

But I still read him. He's fascinating. I just keep my skeptical glasses on.

I will enthusiastically second Dogen's recommendation of Thinking Fast and Slow.

And if you haven't picked up Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel yet, it's really interesting reading.
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 5:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm a compulsive non-fiction reader but I have a hard time picking favorites out of anything, especially if I haven't been reading it in a while.
- I'll second Your Inner Fish (inb4 "I'll second YOUR inner fish!") and Guns, Germs, and Steel.
- Anything by Carl Sagan that you haven't already read.
- I haven't read Goldacre's Bad Science, but a book in a similar vein is Voodoo Science by Robert Park. Remember when the Science Channel used to actually cover science, and they had these brief 3-minute segments in the commercial breaks where Cigarette Smoking Man would tackle some pseudoscience? Park was frequently featured in those little featurettes, debunking things like homeopathy and magnet therapy.
- If you want a break from all the science and skepticism you're getting bogged down with, Infinite Worlds by Vincent Di Fate is an excellent examination of commercial sci-fi art over the last century+. It helps that Di Fate is himself a decorated sci-fi art veteran who clearly loves the history of this field and brings his own insight as a professional, a fan, and semi-historian. After the brief run-down of sci-fi literature and art history, the rest of the book is devoted to mini-bios of the important artists with plenty of their work on display, accompanied by commentary. A little light on the reading side, but gorgeously packed with examples of art from every era and major artist, in all kinds of print media. Kind of coffee-table-bookish, but worth your while.
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ShadowCell



Joined: 03 Aug 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett is worth a read. it's an evolutionary perspective on religion, and as far as atheist treatments of religion go, it's a lot gentler than the likes of Richard Dawkins.

The McDonaldization of Society is also interesting.

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle is also pretty fascinating. it's a graphic novel about a French-Canadian animator's time in a studio in North Korea, and the bizarre farcical experience of guided tours and such from his state-approved guides and translators.

and Harry Frankfurt has a neat little essay called "On Bullshit."
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Martian Kyo



Joined: 12 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2013 10:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ShadowCell wrote:
Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett is worth a read. it's an evolutionary perspective on religion, and as far as atheist treatments of religion go, it's a lot gentler than the likes of Richard Dawkins.


Is it good? I don't care I'll read it. Smile
Daniel Dennett admitted himself he is not as extreme as Dawkins, his is one of the better interviews on atheism tapes
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krrHc01EZck
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Mr Gary



Joined: 30 Apr 2009
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 12:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't read any of Goldacre's books but his journalism & tv appearances are always great.
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Vox Raucus



Joined: 31 Oct 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 5:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome suggestions, thanks guys! I'm compiling a list and checking out what's available at the local library. I'll start with Thinking, Fast and Slow as it's in at the local branch and I won't have to wait for it.

I think that Usagi expresses my feelings on Gladwell nicely.
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Dennis J. Squidbunny



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 5:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been reading Homicide by David Simon and its a fucking incredible, heart breaking, thrill ride mostly centred around typing.
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Samsally



Joined: 10 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 6:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lol, oh god, me and books lately.

Okay, so my favorite non-fiction books are all basically instruction books for various crafts with the exception of my all time favorite. Not actually gripping story-wise, but I fucking love them anyway so there.

Stitch 'n Bitch by Debbie Stoller. It's the only thing that actually got me to learn how to knit (despite having been taught by like three different people, apparently I'm a visual learner).

Patterns for Theatrical Costumes; Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915 by Katherine Strand Holkeboer. I'm not even going to pretend, this book is like 85% pictures. BUT THEY ARE USEFUL PICTURES you can use them to make awesome costumes.

And last, my favorite, The Unfashionable Human Body by Bernard Rudofsky. Basically good luck finding this one, I got it from a professor who was retiring and wanted her books to keep getting read. It's older than dirt and full of really bizarre information about fashion through out history. The author is cynical as hell and often kinda sarcastic about it.
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Mr Gary



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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 11:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Denno, avoid The Corner mate.
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Dennis J. Squidbunny



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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 12:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I started watching some of The Corner but it didn't grab me. I seriously can't recommend Homicide enough though. I'm a huge fan of The Wire and just recently watched the first season of Homicide the TV show and really enjoyed it.

David Simon is just really fucking good.
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