Sprightly written, despite its sobering message.

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PROOFINESS

THE DARK ARTS OF MATHEMATICAL DECEPTION

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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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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