Progress--one page at a time.

In Over My Head with “The Mathematics of Life”

This book was tricky. If you read the first few chapters, you’ll start to wonder that you’ve made a mistake and picked up a book that’s going to be TOO easy to read. You’ll start with the history of the microscope and the “structure of DNA,” and re-read things you learned in high-school biology like the structure of a cell or how plants and animals are classified into various orders or kingdoms.

After being lulled into a false-sense of security, you’ll learn about how the spirals in the head of a sunflower grow at an exact rotation of a specific degree of angle, or how leaves on plants bud at common and predictable angles, or why 137.5 degrees is the golden angle and how nature uses it to produce beautiful displays of art.

At this point, you might think, hope even, that the book will tell you all of nature’s mathematical secrets—and in a way, Ian Stewart does. But with each successive page, the depth of his examples made me feel less and less adequate to take on such a book. By the end, I was hopelessly clamoring to understand everything he was telling me, but finding myself unable to do so.

This is a book that will take more than one reading—and most likely research on the side—to understand. Stewart has a great writing style and a slew of other books that compliment this one, I’ll be reading more of him soon.

The Review and Confession about the Book, “Blink”

I’ve now finished each of the Malcolm Gladwell books, and of the four major works, I would say this is the third-best. Blink deals with the science, psychology, and mechanics of people making snap judgements—mostly subconsciously—without even a thought (in the “blink of an eye”). As always, Gladwell provides excellent, concrete examples of real-world situations in which people either make extraordinary decisions or behave in ways that only someone with an incredible amount of experience can. In fact, he attributes the ability to make these blink-of-an-eye decisions not to divine providence, but exactly because their brains and motor skills have an enormous amount of learned-data from which to pull.

I rank this third of his four mostly because of my personal attraction to the statistics of Outliers and his novel approach to examining trends in The Tipping Point.

And now, for my confession: I’m easily persuaded. A friend of mine, upon hearing I was about to read Blink, told me he hated it and I probably would too. I overcame his objections, but I can’t say that if he hadn’t said that to me that I wouldn’t have ranked this book higher. What I DO know is that If you enjoy his other works, you will enjoy this one.

The Best Review About The Terrible Book, “Super Crunchers.”

"Ian Ayres", let’s not forget this name.

Let’s forget about his book, Super Crunchers, and forget about his elementary writing style and re-hashed ideas that were none of the following,

  • Original
  • Inspirational
  • Thoughtful
  • Educated
  • Insightful

One of the worst things you could do is let this author form any opinions for you. You’d be better off just reading the books he ripped off to make this one. 

The Review of the Taleb Book, not the film, “The Black Swan”

The big-brother to Fooled By Randomness, The Black Swan is a uniquely-crafted look the unexpected catastrophic events (or, “black swans”) that shape our lives and economy. Taleb, as reviewed earlier, writes with a pompous pen—but with a pomp that can only come with being as educated (and vindicated) as he is. IF you can get past his disdain for the Nobel prize or the bell curve, AND you have any interest at all in the subjects of philosophy, randomness and its affect on markets, or even French scholars, you’ll like what he’s done here.

What I really liked were the “thought experiments” he proposes throughout the book. They help to solidify the concepts he attempts to explain in each chapter. He also takes great care to break down the characteristics of what makes a black swan and adorns a few chapters with large tables to help the reader grasp the difference between two schools of thought (mediocristan and extremeistan) that each treat black swans differently. In an interesting twist, he even tells the reader that they can skip a couple of his technical chapters, as they are not pertinent to his story.

For me, The Black Swan, was a tougher read than most books—it took four days to read less than 300 pages—but now that I’m through it there are definitely parts I want to read again—and that, as even he says, is the sign of a good book.

The Unfortunately Short Review of “Fooled By Randomness”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is arrogant, close-minded, off-putting, and ridiculously brilliant. In Fooled By Randomness, the reader is treated to the thoughts and ideas that are the genesis of his magnum opus, The Black Swan. Taleb relays true-life experiences that almost seem to be hyperbolic parables of brokers and traders who have been lulled to sleep by the Siren-like rhythms of stock-market trends, only to be awoken to the nightmare that is a random and catastrophic event.

On the Book “The New New Thing”

Remember when Toto pulled back on the curtain in the Wizard of Oz to reveal the Wizard? It reminds me now of two things: 1) the dog could’ve used an “I’m the alpha male session” with Cesar Millan from Malcom Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, and 2) this book isn’t at all what I thought it would be.

Michael Lewis hooked me with Moneyball, and there’s no denying he’s a fantastic story-teller—but the book was presented as a look at one of Silicon Valley’s giants, Jim Clark—but ended up about being mostly about Jim Clark and his super yacht, Hyperion. I think a more-apt title would’ve been Jim Clark: Eccentric Person. Boring, but more appropriate to the content of the book.

My expectations had been about how Jim Clark, engineer, brought about a revolution in Silicon Valley with SGI and Netscape, and to its credit, The New New Thing does cover that. But sadly, Lewis writes more about Jim Clark, wanna-be-sailor, and his sloop’s massive computer system, or its mast, or Clark’s attempt to sail the world—and writes it with more flourish and passion then he does the epic story of Clark’s scorched-earth battles with the inept CEOs, managers, and Microsoft.

In summary—the book is well written, but misleading. I’m still a Michael Lewis fan, but I’ll be reselling this book instead of keeping it on my bookshelf.

The Review About “The Tipping Point”

Like most Gladwellian newbies, my first introduction to Malcom Gladwell began at The Tipping Point. It took me a few days to read it, and although that was only a few weeks ago—my memory of it is now blurred, having consumed 4 other books since then.

What I do remember is that I liked it—it wasn’t one of those ridiculous self-help charlatan books like The Seven Habits…blah blah blah or The Millionaire Next Door, it was a collection of brilliantly composed examples of the origins of ideas, trends, and beliefs—and how a single person or event, seemingly innocuous on its own, can literally spawn a trend, movement. or even a revolution—by itself.

What I liked: Short enough—roughly 275 pages in paperback form, broken into easily manageable chapters. 

What could’ve been better: Less (or shorter) footnotes—which, maybe due to my inability to focus on the story tended to make me lose the pace that Gladwell intended his readers to have.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”

—   Abraham Lincoln