I only had time to read two books in October, but they were both interesting and well worth my time. One was fiction and one was non-fiction. Check out my reviews from past months here.
SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance – Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner. SuperFreakonomics is a great follow up to the Stevens’ first effort, Freakonomics. If you enjoyed Freakonomics, you will love SuperFreakonomics. They tackle all sorts of problems with data, which you hardly ever see in most other walks of life. Ever since I read Freakonomics, I’ve been fascinated with the way they look at problems and issues and I’ve been reading the Freakonomics blog in the New York Times daily. In SuperFreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner tackle emergency room safety, the efficacy of child car seats, prostitution and most controversially, global warming. They also present some amazing history about this history of vaccines, car seats and health care in their trademarked, data driven, but still humorous style.
I won’t ruin any more of the book for you, but there has been a huge outcry from the global warming establishment about SuperFreakonomics’ take on global warming. Dubner and Levitt say that global warming has become a “new relgion complete with dogma and good and evil.” They have been proven right because they were immediately criticized by the global warming establishment when the book was released. I liked the way they tried to bring reason and science back to the global warming debate and move it away from political, religious debates that it has become, but was suprised that they advocated so hard for geo-engineering.
Levitt and Dubner (and I) love to point out that most of our problems come from unintended consequences of well meaning policy decision. Many times, these unintended consequences could have been predicted ahead of time, but weren’t looked at for a variety of reasons. They advocate geo-engineering the planet, but don’t take any time to talk about the potential unintended consequences. There may not be many (but I doubt it), but I was expecting them to address the issue at least a little bit. That said, SuperFreakonomics is entertaining, informative and well worth reading.
Absurdistan – Gary Shteyngart. Not many books can make me laugh out loud. I was on a flight to NYC, reading Absurdistan and trying not to laugh out loud and failed fairly miserably. Absurdistan is the fictional story about a young, Jewish, fat, son of an oligarch, Russian immigrant to New York City and his trials and tribulations going between Russia, the US and Absurdistan, a fictional country located near Iran. I read it on the advice of of someone who likes many of the same books I’ve read and wasn’t disappointed.
Shtyngart’s writing is really fun. He mixes in hip hop references with geopolitical feelings musings that would only occur to a Russian who moved to the US. One of my favorite parts is about how people in the 3rd world applaud whenever a pilot safely lands a plan “as if it were some kind of miracle”, whereas in the West, people complain about being late and rush to get off. The section on a Holocaust Museum in Absurdistan is brilliant writing and worth reading on its own. The books is a scathing critique of just about everything from Russian politics, American foreign policy, fat people and corporations. While a little slow in places, each chapter has at least a gem worth finding. I recommend reading this book if you like history, politics, different cultures and good writing. As a bonus, after reading Absurdistan, Oscar Wao and The White Tiger, I now know how to say a certain part of the male anatomy in Russia, The Dominican Republic and India.