Thursday, September 30, 2021

Mythos - Stephen Fry

Reading list. Item #25
I’ve read this book on a trip to the Greek Dodecanese archipelago. How appropriate.
You can find references to Greek mythology pretty much everywhere in Greece: names of islands, cities, restaurants, drinks, hotels, temples. Even the world renowned Greek hospitality has been interpreted as an Olympian sacred rule, any breach of which is punished by Zeus with mighty thunderbolt attacks.
If you wanna learn (or refresh your memory of) the sequence of events that led from chaos to the basic elements of nature and from there to Titans, Olympian Gods, countless other kinds of immortals and finally to human beings, and you don’t feel like reading Homer, Hesiod, Ovid or some boring handbook for lazy students or shallow tourists, you might want to give Stephen Fry’s book a try.
What is more fascinating about the Gods of the Greek mythology - as compared to the almighty God of the main monotheistic religions or the elusive Asian divinities - is how similar they are to us: jealous, vengeful, vane, narcissistic, even pathetic at times.
Stephen Fry doesn’t try to interpret, explain, or shed light on Greek myths: he just tells them. And his book reads like an engaging novel. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Talking to strangers - Malcolm Gladwell

Why are we so bad at understanding whether a stranger is telling a lie? And why is misunderstanding or misinterpreting among humans so frequent? Why do we jump at hasty conclusions about others yet think of ourselves as complicated beings that deserve effort, empathy and lengthy analyses to be properly understood?
Malcolm Gladwell explanation is an intricate mix of three fallible (yet often useful) human tendencies: 1. default to truth (we believe what people say until the evidence against it is overwhelming), 2. transparency (we think we know what people think or feel based on stereotypical behavioral patterns, mostly learned from novels, movies or TV shows) and 3. coupling (people don’t necessarily do certain things just because of the way they are but also because of where and when they happen to do those things).
The wonderful array of examples used by the author to make his point includes: Ponzi schemers, people who committed suicide, dictators, spies, sexual assault perpetrators and victims, murder suspects and police agents.
One of the reasons why I like Malcolm Gladwell is that in his books he often tries to relate some major social issue to a pattern, so that by working on that pattern the situation can be improved and the world can become a better place.
This is the closing line of "Talking to strangers": “Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger”. Isn’t it true?


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

“A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.” That’s how Steven D. Levitt defines himself and his work. He’s one of the most famous economists in America and yet he admits knowing little or nothing about micro and macro economics, political economics, econometrics and all the other typical branches of the subject. What he’s good at and what he likes to do is asking any sort of interesting questions and using the best tools economics provide in order to find good answers to those questions.
Examples: Which is more dangerous: a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? The answers are often surprisingly counter intuitive, though backed up by solid facts and data.
Levitt has been doing this kind of research all his academic life and yet, when asked to write a book about it, he had doubts, he didn’t feel like writing it by himself. Then he met Steven J. Dubner, a journalist who was writing a profile on Levitt for The New York Times Magazine. They liked each other and decided that they would co-author the book.
One of those interesting reads that might redefine one’s own worldview.