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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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