Reading #59: Statistical Wizards, Revelations, and Vampires


Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of RevelationRevelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation
by Elaine Pagels

This is a general introduction to the Book of Revalation, the historical contexts in which it was written and later understood, and what current scholarship has to say about it. I’m not particularly literate in the Bible (nevermind biblical scholarship), so quite a lot of it was over my head. I was left largely with an urge to correct those shortcomings, rather than specific thoughts about Revelations.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don'tThe Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t
by Nate Silver

The 538 guy talks about predictions. This is basically a book-length polemic in favor of Bayesian statistics and against frequentist statistics, which should make it pretty dry. Silver is an excellent storyteller, however, and builds his argument with a nice series of stories without getting too cutesy.

Anyone who deals with predictions in their work–and that means basically all of us who build digital products–should read this. Those with a statistics background might find some of it basic (and those who like frequentist inference might get a little cranky), but there’s something useful in here for everyone.

Monoculture: How One Story is Changing EverythingMonoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything
by F. S. Michaels

Oh man, I really wanted to like this book. I’m amenable to its core argument–that public culture at any given point in civilization tends to have a dominant narrative, that that narrative can drive out alternative ways of looking at the world, and that the current dominant narrative is an economic one. So far so good. In my perfect world, that would have been chapter one, and then we would have gotten on to something interesting. (E.g. what are some emerging alternatives? How might we change a dominant narrative?) But no, that’s pretty much the whole book. It is a short book, but in this case I found brevity unhelpful.

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New PlanetEaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben

Another disappointing book! Once again, I’m amenable to an argument like that which McKibben makes, but I’m not persuaded by his specifics. In this case, as one of the early people to warn us about climate change, he comes with a great deal of credibility. And when laying out the bad-to-worse case for the impact of climate change, he makes a lot of sense.  His preferred solutions, though, all seem to fall very short of the mark. He advocates a move to a very local-based  economy, and is suspicious of large-scale interventions (whether through policy or technology). I’m all in favor of more localized economic activity (though for other reasons) but there’s just no way we can get out of the climate fix we’re in without national, and international, policy changes.


'Salem's Lot‘Salem’s Lot
by Stephen King

I’d somehow gotten to 2013 without reading some of the classic King works, and I’m aiming to rectify that. (I’m not a big horror fan, but I do like King’s small-town life narratives, and I’m happy to have a monster or three in the middle of them.) As expected, this was a completely satisfying vampire novel set in small-town Maine.

Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, #1)Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1)
by Saladin Ahmed

Nominated for a Hugo! It’s lovely to see a fantasy series inspired by Arabian mythology and 1001 Nights rather than the more common European mishmash. And as first-in-a-series novels go, it’s a good one. Solid plot, interesting choice of primary characters, and plenty of ghuls to slay.

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1)
by James S.A. Corey

Space opera which is in space, and suitably operatic. Things explode, things happen to planets, and then more things explode. Satisfying.