Friday, November 24, 2017

100 Notable Books of 2017

The NY Times posts its 100 Notable Books of 2017. As usual, it is mostly fiction and biography, with only token attention to science.
THE EVOLUTION OF BEAUTY: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us. By Richard O. Prum. (Doubleday, $30.) A mild-mannered ornithologist and expert on the evolution of feathers makes an impassioned case for the importance of Darwin’s second theory as his most radical and feminist.

THE GLASS UNIVERSE: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. By Dava Sobel. (Viking, $30.) This book, about the women “computers” whose calculations helped shape observational astronomy, is a highly engaging group portrait.

THE UNDOING PROJECT: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. By Michael Lewis. (Norton, $28.95.) Lewis profiles the enchanted collaboration between Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, whose groundbreaking work proved just how unreliable our intuition could be.
I haven't read these, so maybe they are great, but I doubt. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne trashes the first one. The second is obviously just a silly and desperate attempt to credit women for scientific work. I think that the third is mostly biographical, but it probably also describes Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is mainly a lot of examples of how decision making can be biased and how intuition can deviate from probabilistic models. Some of this work is interesting, but it is overrated. It seems as if you could read it to make better decisions, but it doesn't help at all.

That's all for science in 2017. Didn't anyone write any good science books? Is science really that dead?


  1. I was disappointed by Kahneman's book. Early on, he talks about priming... and how people in this experiment acted older when they were hearing words having to do with age. I remember being skeptical of this. The study later got trashed. I wonder what other things Kahneman has done that will not replicate.

  2. Yes, a bunch of priming studies turned out to be wrong. He also touts "hot hand" research that turned out to be wrong.

    It is funny for him to make a big deal out of research that disproves our intuition, and then others show that the research is wrong and the intuition was right after all.

  3. The novel is a complete absurdity in the digital age but was an absurdity not long after the printing press. Nothing serious is conveyed in books these days and there is a good reason: filler. The novel-sized book is bloated and wordy garbage made for effeminates and the soft-headed literati. I did read a fairly descent book on the history of love by Simon May recently but I can't recommend many books past 1900. Even the classics are largely overrated fluff. American literature was completely unmasked by Leslie Fiedler and Christopher Lasch. Loquacious liberals are ditzes. I did read a decent and short book about John Harrison by Dava Sobel. Many people could learn from her style. The novel is dead to intelligent people. The very class of people making many of the books these days are flakes who have not read widely. I read 800-page books and learn nothing new! It's like idle chitchat. It's infuriating when you always know more than the author.