A lively compendium of fun and facts.



Lucid answers to a wide variety of topical questions.

Standage (Go Figure: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know, 2016, etc.), deputy editor of the Economist, gathers posts from that magazine’s blogs, conveying facts, charts, tables, and theories in pithy responses to more than 100 quirky and often genuinely perplexing questions. Organized into 10 sections, the posts focus on global habits (why the exorcism business is booming in France, for example); love, sex, and marriage (attitudes to same-sex relationships around the world); food and drink (how wine glasses have gotten bigger over the years); science and health (what people want at the end of life); technology (what do robots do all day?); games (why tennis players grunt); language (how the letters of the alphabet got their names); holidays (why Easter moves around so much); and, not surprisingly, economics (does longevity always increase with national wealth?). Some of the answers are surprising, others self-evident. Why are Chinese children born in the year of the dragon more successful? Those born in the dragon years “are thought to be destined for success,” so “parents believe in them,” making success “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Why does Boko Haram prefer female suicide bombers? Shock value. Why are yurts going out of style in Mongolia? Mongolians, it seems, “are heeding the siren song of modern living.” What’s the easiest way to get rich in America? Be born to extremely rich parents. Many responses distill solid research and convey interesting information, such as the complex genome of wheat and the causes and consequences of Swedes’ predilection to overpay taxes. As to the question about tennis players’ grunts, it seems that “the speed of their serves and ground-strokes increased by 4-5% when they groaned,” most likely caused by “the extra tension created in the athlete’s core muscles by the grunt.”

A lively compendium of fun and facts.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61039-993-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Outstanding in every respect.



When the Supreme Court declined to accept the appeal of a 1963 rape case, Justice Arthur Goldberg published an unusual dissent questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty. From this small beginning, Mandery (John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Q: A Novel, 2011, etc.) skillfully traces the building momentum within the country and the court to question the legality of a punishment the Founding Fathers took for granted.

Indeed, by 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the court struck down death penalty statutes so similar to those in 40 other states that executions nationwide came to a halt. Disagreement among Furman’s 5-4 majority—was the death penalty “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Eighth Amendment, or was its arbitrary application a violation under the 14th?—and a forceful dissent hinted at a blueprint for states to rewrite their capital-sentencing schemes. By 1976, 35 had done so. In Gregg v. Georgia and its companion cases, the court approved the revised statutes, opening the door to 1,300 state-sponsored executions since. Relying on interviews with law clerks and attorneys, information from economists, criminologists and social scientists, arguments from political and legal scholars, a thorough knowledge of all applicable cases and sure-handed storytelling, Mandery focuses on the strategies of the Legal Defense Fund, the remarkable attorneys who led the charge for abolition, to cover virtually every dimension of the capital punishment debate. The author is especially strong on the individual backgrounds, personalities and judicial philosophies of the justices, the shifting alliances among them and the frustrating contingencies upon which momentous decisions sometimes turn. Even those weary of this topic will be riveted by his insider information about towering figures, lawyers and judges.

Outstanding in every respect.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-23958-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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Shallow and woefully clichéd.



Hackneyed reflections from an Australian journalist who spent about a year-and-a-half in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma).

Although he was there in 2003–04 to train reporters for the rigidly censored English-language newspaper, The Myanmar Times, Olszewski, former editor of Australian Playboy and leader of the Australian Marijuana Party, has chosen to write about Myanmar from a nonpolitical perspective. His memoir concentrates on “ ‘ordinary’ people” and “the ‘Chestertonian’ trivialities of life” (the author’s arch use of quotation marks is just one of his irritating traits). In a country ruled by a brutally repressive military regime, Olszewski led a privileged expatriate existence: attending parties and opening nights of cultural events, gossiping in cafes and bars, bemoaning the lack of electricity and hot water, learning to chew betel nut, drinking hash beer and snake wine, eyeing the passing women. His worst experience was undergoing surgery for gallstones in a Yangon hospital that had no painkillers containing opiates. The author describes local festivals and Buddhist ceremonies; extols the beauty and demeanor of Asian women, whom he clearly admires; and rants against other expats, whom he sees as arrogant and ignorant. As Olszewski tells it, Myanmar is colorful and romantic, and its people—who just happen to be mostly very poor and singularly repressed—are delightful, charming and filled with a joyous zest for life.

Shallow and woefully clichéd.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-74114-507-4

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

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