"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics," said Benjamin Disraeli (according to Mark Twain, anyway), in what has become one of the most well-known quotations in the English language, and certainly the only one most of us know about statistics. And yet...in practice many of us continue to be misled by them on a daily basis. In The Data Detective (called How to Make the World Add Up in the UK), British economist Tim Harford tries to equip us with tools to take on the latest misinformation.
How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok, Professor of English and founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College, is a lively attempt to glean what we can learn about teaching by thinking about William Shakespeare (1564-1616). It's part of Princeton University Press's Skills for Scholars series, "books designed to equip scholars, students, and academic leaders with the resources needed to build and communicate knowledge today."
Anne Applebaum's latest book, Twilight of Democracy, is part polemic, part memoir, and tracks how and why so many people she knew (eg Viktor Orban, who has been prime minister of Hungary for the past decade) abandoned liberal democracy and became far right populists. Applebaum was a foreign correspondent in eastern Europe at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and continued to cover the region for many years.
Many of us aspire to mastery in our area of specialism. But how does one get there? It’s not always clear. Roger Kneebone, a former trauma surgeon turned Imperial College London professor and ‘expert on experts’ has spent years joining the dots between various professions to build a model of how one might advance to the levels of skill to become a true master.
Indian journalist Taran Khan’s wanderings through Kabul offer a rare glimpse of daily life in the city far beyond the glare of headlines and rolling news. From forgotten tombs to hushed libraries that survived the Taliban regime, to the beauty salons and the bright-lit wedding halls where Afghan women shed their inhibitions in privacy, Shadow City wanders the streets of an “amnesiac city” repeatedly remade by war, but still bearing traces of the past should one take the time to notice.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price is a must read book for anyone interested in the history of the book and its place in society both in the past and today, according to our review.
Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities is the latest book by Vaclav Smil, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba. A lifelong interdisciplinarian, in Growth he examines a wide variety of phenomena, "from microorganisms to megacities”, taking in plants, crops, animals, humans, energy sources, manufactured goods and more along the way, looking at all of them in just one particular dimension – how they grow.
The result is a thought-provoking analysis of some of the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, such as energy transition and population growth. He also uses this approach to raise questions about cherished economic objectives, such as the quest for constantly high GDP growth. He argues that in a finite material world such growth must, necessarily, have its limits. Smil makes no attempt to cast the implications of this in a positive light. The book is a sobering as well as a fascinating read.
The Math of Life and Death, by Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, is an excellent popular math book, demonstrating the many times math plays a critical role in our daily lives—often without us even knowing it.
Kit Yates chose the Best Math Books of 2019 for us. Is math really a matter of life or death? He spoke to us about his book in a Q&A.
"Life is hectic," writes labour economist Daniel Hamermesh at the beginning of chapter 13 of Spending Time: The Most Valuable Resource. In the book, he explores why this is so, in what way it is so and what, potentially we could do about it.
How to Think about War by Johanna Hanink, a classicist at Brown University, is a translation of key speeches from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War as well as an introduction and explanation of what it's is all about.
Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis is an authoritative and highly readable biography of the Irish-born playwright and wit Oscar Wilde (the last biography was published 30 years ago). In 2019, Oscar: A Life was shortlisted for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.
"I yield freely to the sacred frenzy"—Johannes Kepler, 1619. Infinite Powers: the Story of Calculus is a popular math book, written for a general audience. In it, mathematician Steven Strogatz not only takes us through the history of calculus, from Archimedes to the present day—pointing out its extraordinary contribution to modern life along the way—but also conveys some of the excitement of doing math.
How do countries deal with crisis? In Upheaval the author, geographer and historian Jared Diamond examines how six countries he has lived in have dealt with crisis—and looks at the challenges facing his own country and current home, the United States.
The Cockroach by distinguished author (and Five Books interviewee) Ian McEwan is a political satire about Brexit, the shorthand used for the decision of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union following a referendum in June, 2016. Critical response to The Cockroach in the UK has been predictable: those who support Brexit hate it and those who oppose Brexit love it.
The audiobook, read by the British comic actor Bill Nighy in his customary lugubrious tone, is very, very funny.