‘Rationality And Cognitive Biases’

Score: 5/5

Daniel Kahneman
£7.69

I finally finished this book! It took me a long time.

I started this before we went to New Zealand in 2015. I decided not to bring it on holiday there, and that pause made it difficult to get back into it. I still picked it up every now and then, but it never really grabbed me.

That’s a shame because it really is a good book. Evidence-backed descriptions of irrationality and biases in common patterns of thinking, detailed by the man who won a Nobel prize for the research.

It’s been a few years since publication though, and it turns out there are a few problems with the book contents. It’s still a remarkable book, and worth reading. Just don’t take as long over it as I took.

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‘Forecasting Seems Hard Work’

Score: 4/5

Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner
£6.99

There’s a lot to like in this book. It shows how some folks who have disproportionately good results when forecasting actually go about creating their forecasts.

A lot of it focuses on a similar theme to Thinking, Fast And Slow, a book I started over a year before I started this book but I still managed to finish this one first. Maybe that says something about their relative readability. Or my ability to stick with things.

Anyway, this book also discusses rationality and biases, and how particular people in particular circumstances have ways to overcome those biases. It provides the basis of a toolbox for the reader to follow along and learn to overcome their own forecasting biases.

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‘Series Finds Its Stride’

Score: 5/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£4.99

This is the fourth in the series and I think it’s found its stride now. This was well-paced, had a nice plot of its own, but also carried the series forward.

More like this please!

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‘Nice, But Occasional Wankery’

Score: 3/5

Douglas Lain
£10.99

There’s a nice enough story in here, but the occasional descents into meta-fictional wankery is annoying. It doesn’t seem to add to the experience, it just looks like it’s there to show us how clever the author is.

Maybe I’m just not smart enough to be impressed.

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‘More Fun, Charming Adventures’

Score: 5/5

Dana Simpson
£6.99

This is the fourth book in the Phoebe And Her Unicorn series, and I've loved them all. They certainly do have charm and character, and if you like Calvin and Hobbes and haven’t yet checked them out, you can see the strips online.

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‘More London Magic Fun’

Score: 5/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£7.99

I enjoyed this more than the previous book in the series, Moon Over Soho. I’m not entirely sure why - whether it’s down to pacing, character, plot, or what. Probably a combination of everything. I don’t particularly want to analyse it all, so I’ll just go with the enjoyment factor.

It’s the same setting as before, many of the same characters, the same arc, but as usual with an individual story of its own. There’s not a great deal of character development going on in this one, but maybe that’ll pick up in the next.

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‘Wonderfully Wacky Adult Commentary’

Score: 4/5

Jason Hazeley, Joel Morris
£3.49

This was a lovely Christmas Day surprise from SWMBO. I hadn’t even heard of these books, but apparently there’s an entire series.

The basic idea, I think, is that someone went through the back-catalogue of pictures in children’s Ladybird books and added new captions or commentary for certain themes.

It’s a lovely idea. It’d have been even better if the book was a bit longer - it felt very short when I read it in one short sitting on Christmas Day.

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‘Bit Out Of Date’

Score: 2/5

Johnny Long, Bill Gardner, Justin Brown
£32.99

This book is a bit out of date, which is a shame. It's a 2016 edition (Third Edition, copyrighted 2016 although Amazon says ‘9 Dec 2015') but some of the content expired years ago. There are also plenty of instances of referring to something in the images that isn't there now, as if the images were updated and the text not, or maybe the other way around.

To give the most blatant example, the first chapter talks about Google keywords and says to use a '+' in front of a search term to make it mandatory. I remember the debacle when Google stopped using the '+' sign so they could use it for Google+ usernames. In 2011.

That's not to say the book is worthless. There's some interesting stuff in there, and many of the mistakes in the book could be cleared up by better proofreading and a revalidation of all the images/figures with their respective captions and mentions.

None of this is the authors' fault, of course. This all happens after they've done their work, and they could be unhappy with how their work has been treated too. Still, publishing this as a '2016' edition with so little effort put in to making a well-edited 2016 edition left a bad taste in my mouth so I won't be rushing to buy a Syngress-published book again.

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‘Great, But Wanted More’

Score: 5/5

James Gleick
£14.01

I suppose I’ve been spoiled by some of James Gleick’s other works - like The Information or Chaos - but I anticipated a lot more science in this book than is actually there.

I like it - it’s a great book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just that the focus is primarily on time travel in literature and popular culture rather than the science of time. It’s not that there’s no talk of what time is, because that’s there. There’s even discussions of some of the philosophical thinking behind it (even my favourite, McTaggart, gets a mention). Just that there’s less of that than talk of time travel in books. Maybe it’s because time is such a nebulous label and that we have such basic questions about it that are still unanswered by current science.

(Yes, I’d probably have known better what to expect if I’d read the blurb and read reviews, but I stopped reading things like that after the cover of War Of The Rats - a book about a duel between snipers - gave away the outcome. So I don’t read blurbs any more, I avoid reviews and I generally just want to be left alone to read a book on my own.)

Anyway, here is a snippet from ‘Time Travel’ (starting from page 137 in my paperback) to give you a flavour of the prose:

We have a tendency to take our words too seriously, which happens (paradoxically) when we are unconscious of them. Language offers a woefully meager set of choices for expressing what we need to express. Consider this sentence: “I haven’t seen you for a [?] time." Must the missing word be long? Then time is like a line or a distance - a measurable space. The language forces this upon us. Who was the first person to say time “passes” or time “flows”? We are seldom conscious of the effect of language on our choice of metaphors, the effect of our metaphors on our sense of reality. Usually we give the words no thought at all. When we do, we may well wonder what we’re really saying. “I’m terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I ‘do’ anything or not," Philip Larkin wrote to his lover Monica Jones. The words lead us in a certain direction.

In English and most Western languages, the future lies ahead. In front of us. Forward. The past is behind us, and when we are running late we say we have fallen behind. Yet this forward-backward orientation is neither obvious nor universal. Even in English, it seems we can’t agree on what it means to move a meeting back one day. Some people are certain that back means earlier. Others are equally certain that it means later. On Tuesday, Wednesday lies before us, though Tuesday is before Wednesday. Other cultures have different geometries. Aymara speakers, in the Andes, point forward (where they can see) when talking about the past and gesture behind their backs when talking about the future. In other languages, too, yesterday is the day ahead and tomorrow is the day behind. The cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, a student of spatiotemporal metaphors and conceptual schemas, notes that some Australian aboriginal communities orient themselves by cardinal direction (north, south, east, west) rather than relative direction (left, right) and think of time as running east to west. (They have a strongly developed sense of direction, compared to more urban and indoor cultures.)...


I hope you can see what I mean about how good a book it is. That’s less than 2 paragraphs but look at how much it covered!

There’s a density to this work that made me read a bit, pause to think, then read a bit more. And it was all the more enjoyable because of that. Much as I wish it had covered more of the latest thinking in wormholes, or dwelled more on Lee Smolin or Julian Barbour or Kip Thorne, it’s lovely just the way it is.

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‘Didn’t Want To End'

Score: 5/5

Nick Harkaway
£7.99

I thoroughly enjoyed Nick Harkaway’s first book The Gone-Away World. It was remarkable. 

Angelmaker, his second book, didn’t quite reach those same highs for me, but it was still excellent.

He’s back to brilliance with this one.

As with his other books, it’s really hard to try to describe what they’re about, the context or the characters. Suffice to say, this has all the richness of characters and textures of his previous works while having nothing to do with the worlds of those works.

I really didn’t want to finish the book. I’d have been happy to just read more and more.

I hope he writes another book soon.

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