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Dean Swift (Hertfordshire)

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Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance
Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance
by Atul Gawande
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compellling and brilliant., 18 April 2009
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A combination of gripping storytelling and insight. Gawande could write a great thriller or whodunit, but his purpose is the public good. The subtitle - a surgeon's notes on performance - is a modest nod at his grander objective, to understand the methods and attitudes by which we discover improvement in medical practice. On reading this smart, thoughtful book, you begin to feel that we should throw out the jumble of health-care initiatives and put everything into Gawande-type practice-based curiosity for a better medical mousetrap. The narrative examples are fascinating and often moving, the lessons that arise so fluently from them are clear and powerful. Brilliant.


How Many Socks Make a Pair?: Surprisingly Interesting Everyday Maths
How Many Socks Make a Pair?: Surprisingly Interesting Everyday Maths
by Rob Eastaway
Edition: Hardcover

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsurprisingly interesting., 2 Jan. 2009
There are a few everyday maths books out there nowadays, but not many are the equal of Eastaway's clever, curious, witty tour of the way it crops up just about everywhere. If you've read his others, there'll be nothing surprising about how interesting this one is (so, wrong subtitle, but you know what he means), or how accessible (it's beautifully clear), but you might be amused by the examples - I'll try to resist the temptation to give any away. And he smuggles in some serious ideas along the way, though you don't really feel the strain. Brilliant too, for those kids who either are, or aren't disposed to see much fun in maths. Those who do will consume it. Those who don't might be tempted to give it another chance after reading this. I'd been meaning to buy it since I heard him on the Today programme months ago. Should have done sooner.


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

13 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars yes but..., 13 Nov. 2008
Readable, passionate, but... if true, the latest financial crash would have seen another swift extension of market power. But does govt control or ownership of the banks, talk of aggressive new regulation or the 'end of capitalism' sound like capitalism making hay? Are we really seeing a retreat from govt or state activity in the face of recession?

On the contrary, this latest shock is widely described as a disaster for capitalism. The doctrine fails its first test. The former chairman of the Federal reserve - Alan Greenspan - talks about this shock as though it has fundamentally undermined the theoretical constructs of capitalism by showing the weakness of self interest. When the priests are becoming apostates, how can the shock be said to further their former creed? The conclusion has to be that this book is an aggressively selective reading of the evidence. As such, it might apply historically to some cases and is an interesting description of the manner in which some people find profit in any event, but does not come close to holding up as a doctrine. Overall, it strains far too hard and becomes less convincing with every doctrinaire assertion of its own. Having read the blurb about a methodical approach to data, I then read the the author's suggestion of an alignment of capitalism and torture with disbelief. This is not evidence, it is polemic, and occasionally whacky polemic at that. Spirited, but flawed.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2012 2:28 PM GMT


The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Edition: Hardcover

521 of 551 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars right, interesting, but extremely irritating, 28 Nov. 2007
Taleb has one good idea, a great idea even, and an infinite number of ways of talking about it. It is essentially the same idea as his last book, Fooled by Randomness: namely that life does not behave with regularity. Those who think it does, he says, will always be tripped up by the unexpected. Black Swan extends that idea, beyond the financial markets he concentrated on in Randomness, to just about all walks of life. He is a magpie for anecdote and stray pieces of supporting evidence wherever he can find them. He calls all this 'skeptical empiricism'.
The qualification is that his big idea is not original, though his numerous examples do help bring home its ubiquity. More problematically, he overstates its usefulness. For when it comes to calling your next move, the unpredictable and the unexpected are, by definition, not things we can anticipate. And though he is right that in the long run there will undoubtedly by high impact improbably events, it is also true, as Keynes said, that in the long run we are all dead: organising your life on the principle that something radical might come along doesn't solve the everyday problem of what to next.
In short, he exaggerates his own insight and the authority it gives him. That's a wicked irony, for the chief target of his ire is those with an exaggerated sense of insight and control over their lives.
Oh, and the tone... Taleb wants to be seen as a radical iconoclast. Every sentence drips righteousness and often irritation. He is the strutting, impatient sage, the rest of us blinkered morons. Apparently he doesn't like his editors trying to change this. A word of advice to the author: if you want your advice heeded, don't shout and sneer at your audience. For this reason, an interesting thesis, but in the end a wearisome read.
Comment Comments (20) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2015 8:35 AM GMT


Super Crunchers: How Anything Can Be Predicted
Super Crunchers: How Anything Can Be Predicted
by Ian Ayres
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars overconfident, but worth it, 16 Oct. 2007
What this book does well is to show how valuable numerical information can be if you know how to analyse it properly, and how unreliable human judgment can be compared to what the data can tell us. The examples are well chosen and telling. Where it goes too far is in expressing almost unqualified belief that the number stuff trumps everything else, all the time. Contrary to the title, not everything can be predicted. Specifically, the sudden turns of events, in markets or social behaviour (which are often what we are most interested in) are not predictable on the basis of past patterns. By defintion, surprises are not predictable. And there always has to be a human doing the modelling, working out the dynamics of any set of causal relationships. Sometimes, these people get it wrong. Then it's the old case of "rubbish in, rubbish out." But though he has pushed the argument too far, he is interesting, imaginative and persuasive that the balance could be tipped a little further than it now is, towards making better use of statistical data.


Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration
Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration
by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wise and wonderful, 29 Sept. 2007
Fernandez Armesto has breathtaking ambition and scope. His history combines a fine sense for what makes a great yarn with sure-footed scholarship. He tells it with a flourish, and what an epic collection of tales he has to tell. This is what history should be, great entertainment, a welter of fasincating detail, and a grand perspective.
-Mick.


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