Reviews of books read last month: two novels and two non-fiction books on how our minds play tricks on us. 1. "Tigerman" by Nick Harkaway <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19322249-tigerman> <http://www.amazon.com/Tigerman/dp/0385352417> Mancreu is a former island colony of Britain facing an environment catastrophe. The island is a formerly dormant volcano, which has started discharging toxic vapours. Black marketeers, drug pushers and other shady types are taking advantage of the island's remoteness and precarious state. Middle-aged Sergeant Lester Ferris has been appointed to look after British interests, with a brief to merely observe and report. The brutal murder of Shola, his friend and local businessman, spurs Lester to defy his orders to "sit tight". With the aid of a street-smart and comic-obsessed local boy, he decides to find out why Shola was killed. Inspired by the boy's love of comic book heroes, Lester even wears a costume and takes on a superhero identity, Tigerman. The boy makes clever use of the internet to spread the mystique of Tigerman around the world. As I've come to expect from this author, some clever things going on here. The villains and supporting characters spice things up. While I did find the story interesting, it didn't quite work as well for me as the author's earlier novels. Maybe comic fans would enjoy this book more? 2. "Lexicon" by Max Barry <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16158596-lexicon> <http://www.amazon.com/Lexicon/dp/0143125427> In the near-future, almost the entire population of Broken Hill is wiped out by a mysterious incident. There are lots of conspiracy theories, but few people know what really happened. The lone survivor, Wil Parke, has been living in the US for a a couple of years. A secret society, who call themselves the Poets, has located him and want to interrogate him so they can find out what happened. The members of this society have learned how to use words as weapons. Certain words go beyond persuasion and can actually kill. Emily Ruff is also on the run from the Poets. She was one of the brightest alumni of the Poet training program, but she chose love over a career as a secret agent. This is another novel with some interesting ideas, but which didn't follow through in my opinion. If the writing style had included more humour, as in the style of Jasper Fforde or Douglas Adams, I may have been better able to suspend my disbelief. "The Rook" by another Australian author, Daniel O'Malley, did a better job of portraying a supernatural secret society. 3. "You Are Now Less Dumb" by David McRaney <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16101143-you-are-now-less-dumb> <http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Now-Less-Dumb/dp/1592408796> The author continues his examination of cognitive biases and self- delusion. Research studies and historical anecdotes are used to describe psychological phenomena such as the halo effect (your overall impression of someone impacts your feelings and thoughts about that person), the Ben Franklin effect (doing a favour for a rival makes you like them more), why hard to change minds of others (the backfire effect), ego depletion (self-control and willpower can run down, leading to lapses), enclothed cognition (the clothes you wear affects how you think and act). A worthy follow-up book to "You Are Not So Smart". By accepting our susceptibility to biases and self-delusion, we can learn how to overcome them. If this subject matter interests you, check out the author's blog and podcasts at: <http://youarenotsosmart.com/all-posts/> 4. "Mind Over Mind" by Chris Berdik <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13588409-mind-over-mind> <http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Over-Mind/dp/1591846579> Research shows how expectations, assumptions and predictions can play a large part in shaping what happens to us, both good and bad. The placebo effect was observed in medicine as early as WW2, when a shortage of morphine lead doctors to give some injured soldiers shots of saline instead. By making these patients believe their pain would subside, the onset of potentially fatal shock was prevented for many of them. There are various factors which determine whether or not placebos work. The book also looks at several other facets of life, including penalty kicks, wine tasting, phantom limbs, economic bubbles and gambling addiction. For example, being convinced that food is high in calories (when it actually isn't) can make our bodies respond as if we've eaten something fattening - in effect, food can have "placebo calories". I found this a very eye-opening and though-provoking book. By taking into account the importance of expectations, we can find new approaches to deal with problems and challenges.