Wednesday, September 2, 2009

books

A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias - This book was absolutely beautiful. I'm not usually fond of fiction and skim through as much extraneous description as possible, but I savored every single sentence in this book. It is autobiographical, and reads strongly as such despite the third-person pronouns and adamant subtitle "A Novel", but if anything that only enhances the integrity and genuineness of the story and writing.

The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouak - This was admittedly many leagues better than On the Road. However, while I hated On the Road for its complete lack of substance and senseless careless rebel-without-a-cause attitudes of the characters, I still hated a lot of the substance of Dharma Bums for being utter self-evident nonsense. I appreciate the sentiment, I can somewhat empathize with the broad goals of the characters, and a few nuggets of wisdom did sneak through, but overall the main character, who is autobiographical, is such that I am not at all surprised to find out that Kerouak switched back to Catholicism and died of liver failure (I swear every other sentence is something like "we drank some wine and things got crazy") while living with his mom at age 47.

Also, it is hard to fully enjoy Kerouak's writing as a woman due to the fact that the only role females play in these people's lives is as objects of momentary inauthentic passion that they can trade around or dispose of at will. I know they participated willingly, and that was partly just the culture of the time, but hey, if it gets under my skin of all people's it's obviously significant.

Foundations of Human Sociality, by Henrich et al. - I just read this collection of cross-cultural studies of experiments designed to measure fairness and cooperation norms because it is closely related to a project I'm working on, but I highly enjoyed it. (And am self-admittedly very biased since this is the collaborative project that Jean Ensminger at Caltech has been working on, which was got me interested in economics in the first place.) If you have any illusions that any universal human norms exist, read this.

I also enjoyed it in the context of it being a collection of anthropology studies, and standards of research and writing and evidence are quite different between that field and economics. Economists are usually quite smug and superior about their quantitative methods and rigor, and I certainly think those are worthy priorities, but I frankly love reading this anthropology stuff much more than economics papers just because you get so much more contextual information and story telling and they hypothesize wildly and offer anecdotal evidence and statistically very weak evidence without apology, and while that isn't proof of anything, it is still extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and good for guiding future research among scientists who didn't have the privilege of physically being there and acquiring that circumstantial knowledge. Intuition and anecdotes can be very misleading and we should certainly be wary of that, but at least they point in interesting directions to pursue, whereas editing that out for the sake of rigor offers nothing at all.