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Sprightly written, despite its sobering message.

A short course in how politicians, lawyers, advertisers and others use numbers to deceive.

Seife (Journalism/New York Univ.; Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking, 2008, etc.) starts with Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s claim that 207 communists were working in the State Department. The number changed over the following weeks, but once it was out there, people bought it—the apparent precision made it credible. The misuse of numbers and statistics is commonplace in our society, as the author demonstrates with plenty of absurd statistics that collapse under even the slightest examination. “Potemkin numbers”—those invented to sell a preconceived idea—are just one variety of abuse; the inherent inexactness of measurement yields many bogus numbers. The 98.6 degrees “normal” body temperature is an average based on readings of armpit temperature, rarely used by modern medicine. Similarly misleading are wild extrapolations from current data. One journal published data showing that female marathoners would at some future date post faster times than men. But women began to run the race only recently, so their records reflect a much smaller sample. Extrapolated further, those same numbers show that women runners will eventually break the sound barrier. Polls are especially subject to error, writes Seife, due to the very nature of sampling. The vaunted “margin of error” is widely misunderstood, and can hide inaccuracies the pollsters would rather not admit to. Even elections are subject to miscounting, especially in close contests such as the 2008 Minnesota senatorial race. Stacking the deck—for example, gerrymandering election districts—can also yield results that defy the popular will. Seife favors no party, giving examples of how all segments of the political spectrum deal in bogus numbers when it fits their agenda. While nothing is likely to stop the merchandising of misleading statistics and Potemkin numbers, readers of this book will at least have some protection when the next slick huckster tries to bamboozle them with fancy figures.

Sprightly written, despite its sobering message.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02216-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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