Lately I've got about 5 books started at all times and I largely read them in parallel (unless I like one too much to let it out of my hands before I finish it). This seems to be an excellent strategy against getting "too much" of something in a short while and eventually deciding to drop it too soon (which, by the way, you should not shy away from doing anytime if you really--but really-- do not seem to find any merit in reading a particular book). Below some brief impressions on some of the books started by end '07-beginning '08 that I've finally finished:
- Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World. How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare". This is a book once suggested to me by my good old friend Daniel, probably the only person in the world who can read even two-three books a day :-). You'll learn more about Shakespeare (both life and creation -wise) than you've ever known before. Greenblatt, probably best known as father of the New Historicism, combines his comparative advantage as literary critic with a great biographer intuition and manages to almost deliver Will Shakespeare in person (I strongly doubt one can do better than this, based on the current, scant evidence on Shakespeare's life etc.). A book you should not miss.
- "Why beautiful people have more daughters [with too long of a subtitle...]" by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. I once had a post related to research covered in this book, which was also when I decided that I had to read it. One good point is that you'll find out about a number of extremely interesting fertility or demographic empirical facts that you might have not known. For explaning most of these facts the authors try to fit an evolutionary psychology story. Unfortunately, there's also where you should be extra cautious: although they seem to be careful with presenting clearly the conclusions reached scientifically versus others that might be speculated upon, but cannot be given clear scientific backing, my opinion is that the book is still not satisfactory from that point of view. In fact I am very curious whether this is an opinion solely of people acquainted with scientific research/statistics/econometrics or it holds more generally. For those of you who'd like more details, some of the explanations in the book are simply taken over from several articles published in, e.g., the Journal of Theoretical Biology by one or the other of the two co-authors (Kanazawa most often), which have been already criticized on several grounds, see for instance the 'statistical' criticism by Andrew Gellman, published in the same journal. Somehow both the book and the previous articles on which the research therein is based, try to oversell, without always giving proper scientific foundations (though this does not mean the given explanations can be invalidated). This is not to say that you should ignore this book; once again, it can fill you up with facts you had no clue about (tip: facts that can be used in most colloquial discussions, since people seem to particularly like such topics: now you know which book to read if you want to get in the center of attention every time).
- Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope". Steven Levitt was the one who convinced me to read this book, as I've mentioned before (post in Romanian, with links to Kakutani's review of the book in NYTimes and to Levitt's admission that he "was blown away at how well written it is"). While I am far from being "blown away" after having read Obama's book, I agree that the book is well written, perhaps unexpectedly so for an active politician. One of its strong points is that pretty much all of the author's ideas are conveyed in parsimonious, common sense language; this is essential for a politician aiming to engage and completely clarify his position in front of a mass audience (with electoral power, where applicable). For those of you who want a shorter version, you can watch on YouTube the two parts (part 1, part 2) of Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech (the book extends and expands on the themes touched on in this address). This was the talk that essentially launched Obama as a key player in US politics. Whether you'd eventually like this fellow in the White House or not (hopefully that decision would not be solely based on the most appealing book written by the candidates), you will only gain from reading his book.
More to follow soon. Meanwhile, you can also check my "books" blog-category for other books I've read and/or talked about in previous posts.