Explains so many everyday 'true' observations, and ties them into a logical structure through the concept of 'essentialism'. So many ideas about why we value certain things, how we spend our time, what motivates and incentivises humans, that this book will become part of the permanent furniture of my mind long after I've forgotten the name Paul Bloom.
As I started listening I thought the book was a disaster because it seemed to be a rehash of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. But then it offered rather more compelling evidence that Gladwell - such as the huge proportion of top British table tennis players coming out of Reading (one small town) and interesting take on the placebo effect (including religion) in sport. The end was a disappointing treatment of genetic influences in sporting prowess (Syed is keen to deny their existence completely), but he seemed to have forgotten that in just the previous chapter he was tentatively arguing for allowing athletes (and other humans) to experiment with genetic enhancements, such as resistance to cold viruses and raising intelligence. He does not offer any convincing explanation as to why certain groups of east africans dominate endurance races, and Jamaican do the same for sprints. It is facile to say that statements such as 'generally blacks are superior at sport' are false. Of course they are. But there is something to explain when only one white man (Lemaitre) has run 100m in under 10 secs. Syed's answer is 'stereotyping'. Hmm. Still, well worth reading.
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.
It certainly did for me. Not only is the subject matter very interesting, there are no difficult equations in here, probably pythagoras being the most complex, or even the equation of a circle. But even then you do not need to work with them, just listen as he uses them to illustrate some astonishing things.
This rekindled much from my graduate days, and leaves you thinking - if only I had known that then.
Some chapters could be easily expanded to be books in their own right and I hope the author revisits the subjects of probability and odds in regard casino gambling, or the golden ratio and goes into greater depth.
You don't need the paper version of this, but if they did do an illustrated version it would be worth owning, as the history unravelled is new and refreshing. Its not just about the history of maths and mathematicians, but about human nature and how numbers and number systems came into being that really make you think.