Book reviews


The stress of her regard: Tim Powers (reading, Jan 2020)

When the earth had two moons: Erik Ian Asphaug (read Jan 2020)

An entertaining story weaving our current knowledge of planetary formation science together with anecdotes from the author’s life and career. I wonder how well it will age give the wild pace discovery in planetary sciences.

Killing Commendatore: Haruki Murakami (read Jan 2020)

I guess I just don’t like Murakami’s writing or perhaps his translation. As with 1Q84, I found it just readable enough to finish. I didn’t feel particularly attached to or interested in the characters. The magical elements seemed random and uncoordinated; it was just a bunch of stuff happening, with the serialized structure giving it some odd beats. I probably won’t read any more Murakami books no matter how well they’re reviewed. The one thing that stuck with me was a sort of tired sadness that also permeated 1Q84 and some other Japanes stories I’ve read and TV I’ve watched.

Medical Nihilism: Jacob Stegenga (read Dec 2019)

The book argues persuasively that most modern medical interventions aren’t insulin-like magic bullets, and rather are often weak or completely ineffective. Most new drugs, for example, have a small effect size that replicates poorly, and studies are biased to emphasize the positive effects and minimize the negative. Given the vast sums spent on drug development and drug purchases as well as the potential severity of side effects, this is appalling. The thesis is well argued and the writing, though academic, is often wryly humorous. Overall, I’m persuaded and I’ll be sure to review the literature carefully before I accept treatments, as it sounds like many of them are worse than useless.

Given the rapid worldwide growth in medical costs, this argument onsidered with Robin Hanson’s paper: “Showing that you care: The evolution of health altruism”, suggests to me an alternative model of medical care which is stringently evidence based requiring substantial replication but also addresses the social aspects of peoples need to feel cared for. Right now it seems that huge treatment expenditures are a proxy for people’s desire to feel cared for.