>> Saturday, August 20, 2011
TITLE: Answer Me This!
AUTHOR: Helen Zaltzman & Olly Mann
Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann present a weekly podcast that's fast become one my absolute favourites. The idea sounds a bit dull: people send them questions and they answer them. But nope, it's the farthest thing from dull you could possibly imagine. Helen and Olly (and Martin the Soundman, musn't forget him) are hilarious, and the most unpromising questions have a way of turning into comedy gold.
The book is basically a spinoff of the show, questions and answers divided by theme. It's not as fantastic as the podcast, but then again, I didn't expect it to be. To be honest, the main reason I bought it was because this free podcast has given me many hours of fun and I thought the people responsible for it deserved some of my money. Still, it was pretty good fun. I expected to dip in and out, reading one or two at a time, but ended up going "oh, just one more" again and again. And yes, I did read most of it on the loo -I felt I had to!
MY GRADE: A B+.
TITLE: Moonlight Mile
AUTHOR: Dennis Lehane
The writing was fine and the plot that was being set up sounded interesting. The problem was I was being asked to sympathise and root for a narrator whose last couple of cases as an investigator had involved: a) helping a rich family make sure that their asshole son got away with paralysing a young woman, b) helping a company continue to fake pollution tests, by completely ruining the life of an employee who was gathering evidence to turn whistleblower. Sure, the narrator hadn't liked doing this, even felt guilty about it, but he'd still done it, because he needed the money. Call me moralistic, call me an unsophisticated reader, but I'm out of there. I've no interest in spending any more time with him.
MY GRADE: DNF.
TITLE: Future Babble
AUTHOR: Dan Gardner
No description needed, Future Babble's subtitle says it all: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe Them Anyway. This is another slightly work-related read for me, as although I'm not usually involved in doing much forecasting myself, I do often need to make use of predictions and have always felt a bit queasy about it.
Like Gardner's previous book (Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear), Future Babble provided much food for thought. Most of it wasn't particularly surprising, like the characterisation of experts as foxes and hedgehogs, and how we tend to prefer the more confident hedgehogs, who are more often wrong. There was one thing, however, that I'm really going to have to look into a bit more. That's Gardner's discussion of scenario analysis. We tend to use that quite a lot in my work, and I have always assumed it to be a good way of dealing with the difficulty of predicting certain things, but Gardner makes some excellent points regarding the problems it might also bring in.
It's a very readable book, entertaining as well as interesting, packed full of examples illustrating the different points. My only issue in this area was the repetition of one particular example pretty much in every chapter. By the end of the book, I felt that if I heard about Paul Ehrlich one more time I would scream.
MY GRADE: A B+