Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order

Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order (Steven Strogatz, 14:07) Delightful autobiographical account of a mathematical biologist's foray into complex systems that synchronize. Starting with fireflies, Strogatz covers a lot of interesting ground, including sleep cycles, small world network configurations, and the dynamical soup of Belousov-Zhabotinsky (I'm spelling that one from memory, from too much time whiffing Ilya Prigogine's fumes). How can you not love a book that encompasses so many of my previous intellectual fetishes: "Every decade or so, a grandiose theory comes along, bearing similar aspirations and often brandishing an ominous C-name. In the 1960s it was cybernetics. In the '70s it was catastrophe theory. Then came chaos theory in the '80s and complexity theory in the '90s." (p285) This book was published in 2003, and I learned that Strogatz had advised Duncan Watts, whose Everything is Obvious was a real treat to consume. If I were to compare the two, this book is a big idea book like James Gleick's Chaos, wherease Duncan Watts' dived into sociological issues, with greater perspicacity than Malcolm Gladwell, but a similar level of discourse.

Friday, June 22, 2012

How Pleasure Works (Paul Bloom, 7:06) Interesting enough, but for reasons I can't pinpoint precisely, I found the book to strike a pompous tone. Knowing that Bloom was a Pinker grad student made me deprecate his work as second-generation Pinkerismo; also, connecting Bloom to his colleague and aliefer, Tamar Gendler, didn't boost my enthusiasm for his theorizing. Still, it's better than mediocre.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (Heidi Grant Halvorson, 8:29) Not quite self-help, but psychology research reviewed as if it can help you lose weight, etc. Pretty good, in the Dweckian tradition, but for some reason, I wasn't smitten.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua, 5:54) I heard Ms Chua speak locally when her book first came out, and I was won over by her disarming charisma. Reading the book in its entirety, I still must admit that she is fairly honest and open about her prejudices/biases as a parent. The one thing that I grew to dislike was the explicit racist formulation, that Chinese is her shorthand term for whatever she finds praiseworthy. She is clearly a piece of work, with a real capacity for humor. I can't fault this book, even though it wore out its welcome by the time I'd finished.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Podcasts from the JCC SF I'm late to this party, but I batched up (thanks to AudioBook Builder) 30 of the more interesting events from the archives, and listened with sustained attention over the course of about a week. Irvin Yalom's Spinoza problem was fun, as was Nathan Englander & J. Safran-Foer talking to Lemony Snicket (the last speaker spoke of his aspiration to "raise his children to reject the same values that he & his partner rejected growing up.") Shalom Auslander was asked a memorable question by a GTU student. Julie Salomon's account of Wendy Wasserstein made me want to read her bio of Wendy & the Lost Boys. Undsoweiter.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Drop Dead Healthy (AJ Jacobs, 9:17) AJJ delivers another fun tour of miscellany. His organ by organ motif makes the book far more genial, and less totalitarian, than the 4-hour body. The fact that AJJ is friends with Tim Ferris reflects more on his geniality, rather than driving me to question Ferris's borg-like status. I have read, and finished, all of Jacobs' books, except for the first, on the Encyclopedia.