Monday, March 5, 2012

February Books Read

*Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel prize for economics, draws on an impressive stream of research to introduce his "machinery of the mind" model on human decision making to reveal the faults and capabilities of intuitive versus logical thinking—and how easily we slip away from our assumed rationality. He weaves threads of Charles Darwin, Adam Smith and Sigmund Freud and is “arguably the most important psychologist in history.” “Kahneman has reshaped cognitive psychology, the analysis of rationality and reason, the understanding of risk and the study of happiness and well-being .”

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta was a ‘notable book of 2011’ exploring a world after a “rapture” takes many people, some not even particularly deserving. The bewildered citizens of Mapleton have to figure out how to cope in an uncertain world where nothing is the same—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children. Some join “the Guilty Remnant,” a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence or follow sketchy prophets like “Holy Wayne.” An interesting hypotheses with some sharp satire, but, to me, it was someone of a one-note song.

Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer, “one of our most talented archivists of family life, with its hidden crevasses and unforeseeable perils,” doesn’t live up to her successes with The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Songs without Words. This collection of two novella and short stories suggests that Packer is a talented, insightful writer who wasn’t able to pull together a focused, single project in time to meet her publisher’s contract timetable.

The Silent Oligarch by Chris Morgan Jones has been compared to “the work of Deighton, Archer, and le Carré.” The story moves between London and Moscow, Kazakstan and the Caymans as private spy agencies duel for power and influence. A nondescript bureaucrat in a drab government agency secretly controls a vast business that dominates the nation’s oil industry, and enemies plot to bring him down. , Benjamin Webster, an investigator at a London corporate intelligence firm, finds the weakest link and brings down his quarry with wit and research rather than guns and bombs.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys' is a first novel offering a horrifying account of the forcible relocation of Lithuanians in the wake of the 1939 Russian invasion. For 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are painfully like a Nazi concentration camps. Simply, but well-written, this would be a great gift for middle or high school students.

Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter may be the worst book I’ve read in several months. Hunter won a 2003 Pulitzer for literary criticism so I assumed he would be thoughtful, insightful, excellent writer—bad assumption! The book is a series of compound clichés and predictable crises involving two almost super-human snipers trying to unravel a conspiracy deep in the heart of the intelligence community. The strongest part of the book is Hunter’s “hallmark accuracy on modern killing technologies.”


  1. Finally finished Franzen's Freedom. I just finished Masterpiece Theatre's four-part rendition of William Boyd's Any Human Heart. I found it very personally meaningful and age-appropriate. I wonder if you have read the novel?