Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mini-Reviews of Books Read, October 2010

Mini-reviews of books I read last month...

1. "The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying
    Logic at Work and at Home" by Dan Ariely

This is a follow-up to Ariely's "Predictably Irrational", which expands
on research findings that show how people often behave irrationally.
There are some interesting and entertaining bits, such as how we tend
to overvalue our own work (the "Ikea effect"), the perils of online
dating, and the uses and misuses of revenge.  Everyday examples back up
the research and make it fairly easy to follow the main arguments.
According to the concluding chapter, if we accept the shortcomings in
our decision-making, we can improve how we "love, live, work, innovate,
manage and govern."

2. "The Scales of Justice" by John Mortimer

This is another in the "Penguin 70s" series, and features a couple of
short stories inspired by the "Rumpole of the Bailey" TV series, also
created by John Mortimer.  In the first story the main character tells
his wife and family that he wants to give up a secure legal career to
become a writer.  The second story is more in keeping with the TV
series, and shows a lawyer skillfully defending a client being framed
by a shady doctor.

3. "I sommersi e i salvati" ("The Drowned and the Saved") by Primo Levi

This is a collection of essays by Italian author and Holocaust survivor,
Primo Levi.  His first two books, "If This Is A Man" and "The Truce",
contained his first-hand experiences of his horrifying year in a Nazi
concentration camp.  "The Drowned and the Saved" was written three
decades later, and is the author's attempt to try to understand how it
could have happened, and consider if it happen again.  Obviously, the
subject matter is quite dark and heavy, but there are interesting
insights into the nature of memory, guilt and responsibility.  One
chapter, "The Grey Zone", looks at how things aren't always clearcut as
people make out: that there often isn't just "Good" and "Evil", but many
shades in-between.  Another interesting chapter contains correspondences
with Germans following the translation and release of "If This Is A Man"
in Germany.

4. "A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary" by Alain de Botton

In this brief book, philosopher-author Alain de Botton writes about his
week as the author-in-residence at the recently-opened Terminal 5 at
Heathrow Airport.  Despite being invited by the Terminal's management to
spend some time at the huge, he was given the freedom to give a warts-
and-all account of the mostly self-contained microcosm of modern life.
An eye-opening and though-provoking read.

5. "In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing
    Words Around the World" by Christopher J. Moore

A whirlwind tour of so-called "untranslatable" words from non-English
languages.  In some ways this book covers similar ground to the Tingo
series.  Like those books, it merely scratches the surface, but the
structure of this book arranges by language group, and has the benefit
of providing an index of the words featured.  Another difference of this
book is the suggested emphasis of culture on words and their meaning.
A quick and interesting read for people into different languages.

6. "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" by Haruki Murakami

This month's dose of Murakami is in the form of a collection of short
stories written in parallel to his more well-known novels.  There's
quite a bit of diversity in the styles of the stories, from the
conventional to the surreal.  One highlight is "Dabchick", which is
reminiscent in some ways of Kafka's "The Castle", but mercifully briefer
and "finished".  An entertaining collection.