Non fiction reading II

>> Monday, September 07, 2009

A few more non fiction reads...

TITLE: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
AUTHOR: Kate Fox

Fox studies the English like an anthropologist would study an obscure tribe, and the result is fascinating, funny, and for someone like me, who's only recently started living among them, quite illuminating. There's analysis of such disparate things as weather talk, and how it's not really about being obsessed with meteorological conditions, but about social awkwardness; the seven words that will tell you exactly how a person fits in the class structure; and exactly what that whole gardening thing is about. There's drinking, there's sex, there's house decoration and dog types, there's apologising when someone bumps into you (which I think was probably the first thing I started doing myself). Excellent stuff.


TITLE: The Bottom Billion
AUTHOR: Paul Collier

The subtitle of this book is, unsurprisingly, quite clear on what it's about: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Collier's thesis is that there are four types of problems that act as traps for poor countries, holding them back and preventing them from advancing when the rest of the world is (was?) growing. These are civil war, being landlocked, having a great concentration of natural resources when the country is not stable, and bad governance. It's not just a diagnosis, Coller (who is Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, and very definitely knows what he's talking about) has clear ideas on how to solve this. Very persuasive.


TITLE: Risk: the Science and Politics of Fear
AUTHOR: Dan Gardner

This is all about how we process different kinds and levels of risk, and why we make some of the very irrational decisions we make. It uses disciplines such as evolutionary biology to explore why we tend to consistently overestimate some sorts of risk and underestimate others, and it also explores exactly how this is exploited (knowingly or not), by politicians or the media. I read it mostly because it's very applicable to my work, but I'd say it's extremely readable and fascinating for the general reader as well.


TITLE: America Unchained
AUTHOR: Dave Gorman

Account of a coast-to-coast trip across the US, in which the author attempted to only buy things from independent businesses. It doesn't sound so hard at first, but on second thought, it means that he regularly needs to find independent hotels and worst of all, independent petrol stations. It was a fun read, and I developed a fondness for the narrator (who's an English comedian). He felt a bit too earnest at first, but I soon got into his style, and enjoyed his observations.

Note: A documentary was made during the drive as well, and Gorman's relationships with the camerawoman and cameraman who accompanied him are quite important in the book.



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