Tim Harford gets better and better, now with a whole thoughtful book exploring the concept of evolution as applied to markets and other complex systems. He is really becoming the UK's Paul Krugman with his colourful analogies that bring to life economic concepts for the lay person - Coco bonds as airbags and 'economic Bulldogs' for the unintended consequences of well intended policy. So why only four stars? Well, most unfortunately, Tim (who, as we all know, is himself a highly competent presenter, well able to read his own book) delegated this task to some actor who decided to deliver various lengthily quoted passages in the supposedly appropriate accent. So Adam Smith appears with a rich scottish burr, and various Americans with a transatlantic drawl. This is irritating and unnecessary (and probably inaccurate) but tolerable. It becomes unbearable when we have third world economists such as Muhammad Yunus (founder of the Grameen bank). The narrator can't actually face the horror of putting on a faux-Bengali accent so he does a sort of 'humble peasant voice' instead. Made me squirm. Tim - read your own books - please.
Mr Gladwell has collected an interesting set of anecdotes loosely connected to short time spans and pulls them together without much logic or structure and with many internal contradictions. Sometimes experts are people who have analysed their topic (e.g. food) so that they have access to their sub-conscious whereas non-experts flounder around with holistic impressions, sometimes experts have such finely tuned intuitions that they can instantly say that, for example, a statue is fake, but they have no access to the (highly trained) sub-conscious that tells them this. Ignore pedants like me, Mr Gladwell's amiable muddle-through will provide entertainment and food for thought (especially about prejudice) for any reader.
This book isn't really about science, but about its misrepresentation. It is particularly topical as the NHS is currently mopping up the damage caused by the MMR scandal and scam of 2002-2005. Was it all done just to sell newspapers? Basically, yes, even though children may (this year) die as a direct result.
I got a bit tired of Ben Goldacre's polemical style, and overuse of adjectives such as exquisite and spectacular. The problem is that Mr Goldacre does not really understand rhetoric. He criticises humanities people for not understanding science (bravo) but he could do with understanding the rules of rhetoric better himself. He actually goes out of his way to alienate his scientific readers (by assuming that his reader knows less about e.g. statistics than himself, which will not always be true) as well as non-scientific readers who are bound to find him unsympathetic. Who did he want to appeal to? The first rule of rhetoric is to get your audience to identify with you, to feel that you are one of them. No one wants to identify with Mr Superior and Mr Outraged. You could blame the narrator for the constant and fatiguing tone of moral outrage, but I think he is genuinely reflecting the tone of Dr Goldacre's writing. Lighten up, laugh, you will communicate better!
So, Mrs Picky Moaner, why did you give the book five stars? It is a cracking tour of a fascinating subject, there is much thoughtful content, I was gripped throughout, and I didn't want to put anyone off audioing this illuminating tome.
Oliver James examines the relationship between affluence, self-esteem and happiness. He does this principally by recounting stories of people who he's met who represent one or other end of the spectrum of happiness/affluence.
My principal difficulty is that he reaches extraordinarily certain opinions based, seemingly on these cases alone. He makes a lot of assumptions about the people he talks about. I actually think he is correct about most things, but there's precious little evidence included (much like this review...) I have however changed some aspects of my life based on this, so I must have been happy enough with his conclusions.
I like books narrated by the author, but Oliver James' voice can become rather wearing after a while - not so bad that I couldn't listen, but not my favourite narration