A revealing look at the numbers, how they’re derived and interpreted, and how they sometimes fail us. Timely reading for the...

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WHERE DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER?

A POLLSTER'S GUIDE TO MAKING SENSE OF THE WORLD

The inside dope on how polls work—and don’t work—from CBS’s News Director of Elections and Surveys.

When the phone rings and someone asks for your opinion on a political matter, writes Salvanto, kindly take the call and give an answer. Polls are imperfect measures, but perhaps less imperfect than we think—especially, writes the author, if we disagree with the result. They differ, of course, and they can be errant in giving an impression of certainty when they indicate only probability; think of all the polls showing that Donald Trump had no chance of winning the last election. There is a vast difference between certainty and possibility, and while a good poll will indicate a range of possibilities and not a single outcome, we dislike guesses. “The very idea of expressing things in probabilistic terms is to express uncertainty,” Salvanto writes, “but too often everyone just wants to express things in quite the opposite fashion: as either yes or no.” Of those yes-and-no matters, there are many. The author looks closely at polls of gun owners and other putatively single-issue voters to find many points of agreement (“background checks, to rule out criminals and terrorists, find nearly universal favor, in principle, because they take action against bad actors rather than the weapon”) but also extremely broad areas of disagreement that often devolve into hatred. Conservatives agree on many points with liberals, but they’ll tell you that liberals are evil all the same, and vice versa. Salvanto notes that polling indicates that those who are most committed to a political party are most likely to characterize their opponents as enemies, even as, say, conservatives step away from traditional Republican ideology to say that government should do more to help solve economic problems.

A revealing look at the numbers, how they’re derived and interpreted, and how they sometimes fail us. Timely reading for the coming midterm elections.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7483-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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