Book Reviews: The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow

Author: Leonard Mlodinow
Title: The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
Publication Info: Your Coach In A Box (2009), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 1596592796

Previously Read By Same Author: Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life

Summary/Review:  Mlodinow explores the role of randomness in our lives and probability and how the brains of human beings are unskilled at detecting such things.  In addition to a lively and richly illustrated discussion of statistics there is a considerable amount of the history of mathematics and science, which the history geek in me enjoyed.  A good book with a good message I’m sadly certain I’ll soon forget.

Recommended booksThe Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics by Alan Schwarz, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, UnSpun : finding facts in a world of disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Rating: ***

Book Review: Origins of the specious by Patricia T. O’Conner

Author: Patricia T. O’Conner
Title: Origins of the specious : myths and misconceptions of the English language
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2009.
ISBN: 9781400066605

Summary/Review:  This is a great book about all those rules about English grammar, pronunciation and etymology.  Many of them are based on false premises such as 19th-century Latinists trying to make English fit the rules of Latin grammar.  Others thought to be long-time steadfast rules are actually recent innovations.  So go ahead and use “they” for both singular and plural just the same way we use “you.” If your pedant friend insists on Latin plurals for certain words tell them there’s a long history for “octopuses,” “stadiums,” and “forums” and that they’re perfectly acceptable.  And start a sentence with a conjunction, there’s no reason not to.   Nor is there any reason for not to boldly split those infinitives.  The best part of this book is that it recognizes the evolutionary and crowd-sourced aspect of language that is always changing.  It’s a democracy where everyone has but one vote and what is correct is what is best understood.  As O’Conner puts it “It’s better to be understood than to be correct.”

Recommended booksEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, and Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Silver Stallion by Ahn Junghyo

Around the World for a Good Book selection for: South Korea

Author: Ahn Junghyo
Title: Silver Stallion
Publication Info: New York, NY : Soho Press, c1990.
ISBN: 0939149303 :

Summary/Review: This unsettling book is set during a time that most American readers like myself will be familiar with, the Korean War (and that mostly from watching many episodes of M*A*S*H).  A remote village, relatively unaffected by previous wars – including the Japanese occupation – finds itself adjacent to the encampment of the “World Army” of United Nations troops sent to fight the war.  As the novel begins a pair of predatory soldiers scour the village and rape a young widow named Ollye.  Following the lead of the village elder, none of her neighbors offer their aid or sympathy but instead ostracize her.  Ollye is forced to make ends meet by joining the “Yankee Wives,” local women working as prostitutes for the UN troops.  Much of the novel is seen through the eyes of Ollye’s son Mansik who is shamed by his mother and shunned by the other boys in the village.  Yet Mansik also finds himself willing to debase himself to once again be able to accepted by the other boys.  Parts of this novel strike a false note, especially the climax where Ollye confronts the villagers with a speech played up for dramatic effect, but mostly I was overwhelmed by the stark reality of the cruelty of humanity.  This is a dark novel about the affect of war on community and human nature.

Rating: ***1/2