Tag Archives: politics

America: The Book by Jon Stewart

America (The Book) by Jon Stewart and the writers of the Daily Show: A satirical take on your standard US history textbook. It’s a bit dated, having been published eight years when we were in the thick of the Bush administration, but there are still plenty of funny bits. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the founding of America. Some of the modern references fell a little flat, but I’m not really big on political humor in the first place. If you are, then you will almost undoubtedly get a kick out of this.

Give Me a Break by John Stossel

Give Me a Break by John Stossel: This is a quick read. I enjoyed Stossel’s conversational tone and his no-nonsense way of addressing the issues. And in general I agree that government needs to shrink, lawsuits need to be reduced, and there’s no virtue in being a victim. His anecdotes were a mixture of humorous and maddening, as most stories of government stupidity are. Unfortunately, I don’t see this book as convincing anyone with firmer beliefs than the most tenuous of fence-sitters. As a reporter, Stossel knows how to break down complex issues into bite-sized chunks. Unfortunately, that means his evidence is a collection of soundbites from interviews rather than papers and studies you can go look up yourself. Interviews are a good source of information, but I am always wary of nonfiction books lacking a bibliography or at least a “further reading” section.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman (unabridged audiobook read by Oliver Wyman): This book, while a reasonably interesting discussion of globalization, is way too long and repetitive. I can summarize it in a few bullet points:

* Outsourcing grunt work saves money and frees up Americans to be innovative and specialized. It also improves the standard of living in the countries receiving the new jobs.
* The internet = teh awesome.
* Collaboration benefits everyone.
* OMG they have computers in Asia!
* Americans need to buckle down in science and math education or they will be left behind.
* Change is difficult but inevitable.
* Knowledge-based work is like an ice cream sundae.
* Sometimes companies in one country have employees in other countries, or they work with companies in other countries.
* Terrorists have access to the same technologies we do.
* The world is flat. The world is flat. The world is flat.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a tad flip. This was probably far more groundbreaking when it came out in 2004 and the off-shoring/outsourcing panic really started picking up speed. Though I didn’t come away with any major new insights, I did enjoy a lot of the little nuggets of information, like the Indian school for untouchables and JetBlue’s housewives in Utah. And there was certainly no shortage of anecdotes.

Basically, if you’re new to the globalization game and want a general overview with lots of specific examples, this is a good book for you. However, if you’re already reasonably familiar with just how multinational your average multinational corporation is, you might want to look for something more in depth.

One final note: the narrator was okay, but it was a little strange how he gave everyone he quoted a subtle Indian accent.

Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer

Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer: I came away from this book with rather tepid feelings. It didn’t feel like it flowed very well from point to point, and each point made felt glossed over, with a couple of bare sentences with a footnote. Shermer’s survey of evolutionary biology was often unclear, but when he was in his element – that is, the psychology of belief and religiosity – the tone became smooth and easy to read. I especially liked his discussion of the evolution of morality and the Genesis revisit at the end. However, I found his discussion of logical fallacies fell flat, his responses to Intelligent Design arguments felt unsatisfying even to an evolutionist like myself, and he spent so much time referring to other books that I started to wonder what purpose there was in reading this one. I am not sure what the target audience of this book was, but I don’t think I was part of it. Still, I do want to pick up some of Shermer’s other works that fall closer to his own field of study.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel

Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel: The famous 20/20 anchor takes on a large number of commonly held beliefs and discusses whether or not they are true. I learned quite a bit about a broad range of subjects, and Stossel’s straightforward writing style is immensely readable. However, I have a feeling that if I was a die-hard believer in any of the myths covered here I would have left unconvinced and unimpressed. The trouble with this book is that there are too many topics discussed with not enough depth. Most of the myths are covered in a page or two, with a couple of general statements, maybe some statistics or interviews, and an example to illustrate his point. Unfortunately, the plural of anecdote is not data, and I suspect many people dismiss Stossel’s words out of hand because of it. That’s not to say people should avoid this book on the grounds that it doesn’t dig very deep; some of the myths are covered quite thoroughly and even with the ones that weren’t I still came away with a lot to think about and some stuff I’d like to look into further. I just think Stossel’s message would be more effective if he wrote a book with a narrower focus and a lot more detail.

The Death of Common Sense by Philip K. Howard

The Death of Common Sense by Philip K. Howard: This is not a good bedtime read. It’s frankly aggravating, but I knew that coming in. This is, more or less, 287 pages of stating the obvious, but in ways that continue to amaze and infuriate anew. In short, there are too many laws, and more specifically, too many highly detailed universal regulations that don’t actually apply to anything in the real world. It was a little upsetting how this book reminded me of all the things I don’t like about my job: the idiotic paperwork and endless mandatory procedure that goes along with basically everything. This book simply gave me more reasons to roll my eyes. Sure, I didn’t quite see eye to eye with the author on everything – I am not quite as enamoured of the New Deal as he, for instance – but he makes enough valid points to give me plenty of food for (frustrating) thought. There is, luckily, a marginal amount of hope offered in the last chapter. I think the author’s purpose here was mostly to point out the inanity of the current climate, to show us just how far down the slope we’ve slid. I doubt we are quite as close to the authoritarian, death-of-democracy dystopia as he implies, but there are unquestionably problems with the way things are being done. This is a book more people need to read, especially those who work as bureaucrats and special-interest advocates.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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