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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. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Puccini wins the prize for most-maligned great composer. In a fit of depressive self-deprecation, Puccini himself called his own music ``sugary,'' and the persistent popularity of his mature operas at box-offices around the world for nearly a century has too often provoked critical condescension, as if art so well-loved could not possibly be worth much. But that situation, thankfully, is changing, and this much-needed essay collection on Puccini by leading scholars of 19th- and 20th-century Italian opera is worth a good deal more than several new biographies. The volume ranges from a lengthy piece on Puccini's family by his granddaughter (one of the editors) to chapters devoted to Puccini's ``musical world'' and each of his operas by luminaries such as William Weaver, Harvey Sachs, Fedele D'Amico, Verdi heavyweights Mary Jane Phillips-Matz and Julian Budden, and William Ashbrook. A favorite: David Hamilton's expert investigation of the early Tosca recordings, especially the legendary ``Mapelson cylinders'' of live Metropolitan Opera performances from 1902-03, to see what light they shed on Puccini's original interpreters. The editors, perhaps hoping to attract non-musicologist admirers of the Luccan master, issue the disclaimer that ``this is not a work of scholarship'' (even though two of the chapters make a start on an accessible Puccini bibliography). They needn't have worried. Lovers of Puccini and Italian opera at every level of interest and knowledge will want this book. (Photographs—not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-393-02930-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1994

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Proves without a doubt that even masters of the universe sometimes lose their heads, and then their shirts.

Knowing inside account of the major media conglomerates’ efforts to embrace and profit from the ’90s boom.

As the New York Post’s first computer/Internet columnist, Motavalli had a ringside seat while Disney, Time Warner, News Corp., and others tripped over themselves to get on board the emerging Internet phenomenon. With little certainty about what the successful and manageable applications of the World Wide Web would be, media corporations and their leaders nonetheless rushed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars so as not to get left behind. They helped create the bubble of inflated salaries and unlimited expectations that burst so mercilessly in 2000–01. Motavalli, who admits being swept up like everyone else in the initial euphoria, narrates with an intimate feel for the year-by-year developments: the promises and glorious optimism of a dawning technological age, the maneuvering moguls and CEOs, the media executives who doubled their income by switching to the start-ups, and the chilling reality bath that awaited all. AOL’s Steve Case, Time Warner’s Bob Pittman and Gerald Levin, John F. Kennedy Jr. of George, Time magazine’s Walter Isaacson, and iVillage’s Candace Carpenter are among the many prime movers whose trajectories are analyzed here. Some big winners emerge (AOL, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo), but more common is the fate of one Internet-related stock that fell from $150 to just $3 per share. Motavalli sees this not solely as a tale of greed and ambition run wild, but a telling parable of the herd mentality; when it appears the wheel has been reinvented, everyone wants to go along for the ride, even though the ultimate destination is unknown. Well-researched and dense with names, dates, meetings, and numbers, the author’s recollections may provide more information than most will be willing to download, but he convincingly captures the boardroom machinations of this extraordinary era.

Proves without a doubt that even masters of the universe sometimes lose their heads, and then their shirts.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-670-89980-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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