Category Archives: What I’ve been reading lately

What I’ve been reading lately #5

Everyday Survival by Laurence Gonzales was a random selection from the library new book shelf. Actually I picked it up, looked at it, scoffed at the topic, and put it down. Then I couldn’t help myself and ran back over to pick it up.

The object of the book is describe what goes on in your brain when you do stupid things. There are a lot of authorial anecdotes, many of which are when he was in “vacation mode” and not really paying attention in a normal way, like getting lost in a small area while hiking, or mistaking a real snake for a fake snake. With each anecdote I was able to fill in my own personal experience of when I too was that dumb.

This is a very freeing book. Every page I have to say “Oh my god, I thought I was just stupid when I did that. I didn’t know it was hard-wired into humans!” Now many of you (I think just Mike) feel that my love of evolutionary psychology is misguided, but I just can’t help myself. Falsifiability be damned! Certainly this book is very compelling, even if it is a series of just-so stories. I will add, however, that the author started out as a rock-and-roll novelist, and also writes about travel and aviation. So I can’t vouch for the science in this book, only for the story-telling.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately #4

Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski

Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski

My mother bought this book for me at a booksale, and it floated around from place to place before it landed somewhere near my bed. I wasn’t feeling so great that night, and the Christian Science Monitor said its prose was like a down blanket, so I picked it up. It immediately sucked me in, but I like this sort of thing. I took a class on the history of the English country house in college, and definitely did all my reading for that class. In fact, while reading Home I wondered why we hadn’t read this book as well for that class.

Home, written by a historian of architecture, tells the story of how houses became homes, and on its way delves into the history of private life and the rise of the bourgeois (true story, I have never once been able to spell bourgeois correctly. Spell check told me I was wrong this time.) I asked Mike if he’d ever thought about not sitting in chairs or even not knowing what chairs were. He found that question preposterous, but if you find that question worth pondering, try this book.

Short takes

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

This bestseller finally explain statistics and probability in a way that even I manage to understand it and can’t put down. The author is a mathematician and screenwriter, and is heavy on the anecdotes. This is generally ok, since this is a quick read.

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott

It’s kind of silly and dramatic, but if you are a Chicagoan or are interested in Chicago history, this is a fun one. Similar to Devi in the White City with its sensationalized real history, this book tells about the most famous brothel in Chicago’s history.

What I’ve been reading lately #3

Ghost Map It’s no secret that I enjoy books about terrible diseases, and so it’s not surprising that I would pick up a book about the 1854 London cholera outbreak with some gusto. I also have liked other books by Steven Johnson, but I contend that his books are not good audio books. Why? Because he goes on and on and on with the same point, and throws in some seeming crazy irrelevancies from time to time. In book form it’s easy enough to skim, but in audio form it can be a bit much.

This book starts with the story that we all know and love. Broad Street is struck with a massive outbreak of cholera, and Dr. John Snow sees it as a possible test to his theory of cholera as a waterborne disease. So he does some detective work, and despite initial skepticism, convinces the parish board to remove the pump handle to the Broad Street well. What this book also does is talk a lot about the sociology of being wrong, and also a lot about information design. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s interesting, but leads to a very long epilogue that talks about urbanism and map-making that felt like a completely different book.