Astute advice for businesspeople and educators.

MAKING NUMBERS COUNT

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF COMMUNICATING NUMBERS

A unique popular math book.

Most writers in this genre proclaim that math is fun or warn that math can fool you, but Heath, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and science writer Starr have another fish to fry. Even though “nobody really understands numbers” and most efforts to talk about them fail, the authors do a good job showing otherwise. In 22 short chapters, they deliver a painless, ingenious education in how to communicate statistics and numbers to people who find them confusing. One of the authors’ most striking examples of statistics in action shows that, in one test, 34% of White and 14% of Black job applicants without criminal records received a callback. When applicants revealed a drug felony conviction and prison term, 17% of Whites and 5% of Blacks were called back. It takes a second, write the authors, to realize the real significance of those numbers: White job applicants who have served jail time are more likely to get a job than a Black applicant with a clean record. The nearest star is 4.25 light-years away from Earth, a number comprehensible only to astronomers. As the authors show, comprehension is easier with a picture: “Imagine shrinking the solar system down to the size of a quarter. You leave a quarter at the goalpost of a soccer field and walk toward the goalpost at the other end of the field. When you reach it, drop another quarter to represent the solar system of our nearest neighbor.” With comparisons, the more bizarre, the better. That livestock produce 14.5% of global greenhouse gases is a boring statistic. Instead: China and America are No. 1 and No. 2 in gas production. No. 3 is represented by all of the world’s cows. Packed with tables, anecdotes, and amusing facts, the narrative makes math accessible.

Astute advice for businesspeople and educators.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982165-44-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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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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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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