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Archive for December 10th, 2010

Book Mini-Reviews to Clear a Boundless Bibliographic Backlog!

Friday, December 10th, 2010

I have too many books that I have read that I would like to review that, realistically, I will never get to post on in conventional fashion. A fair number belong with Summer Series which seems ridiculous as it is two weeks to Christmas! Therefore, brace yourselves, as I commence the first, and hopefully only, Mini-Reviews post:

Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, MD

Dr. Stuart Brown, scientist and psychiatrist, has written a short tome on the nature and cognitive value of play. While there is plenty of child social development information and “pop”self-helpish type chapters, ZP readers wil gravitate to the chapters on play’s vital role in creaivity and innovation ( which are not the same thing), scientific discovery and work. Also of interest are the spectrum of “play personalities” and the “dark side of play”. Not an academic book but a reasonable read on a deceptively complex subject.

The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter

A superb academic book, previously featured and reviewed in the blogosphere by John Robb and Joseph Fouche, The Collapse of Complex Societies embarks upon a critical examination and partial de-bunking of theories that purport to explain the “sudden” fall of great empires, such as Rome or the vanishing of the Mayans. With caveats, Tainter settles on declining marginal returns from increasing societal investment in complexity as a rough proximate cause capable of subsuming a ” significant range of human behavior, and a number of social theories” under it’s rubric. Highly recommended.


The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll

A biography of the Bin Laden family, this book does not come close to matching the impact or importance of Coll’s previous instant classic, Ghost Wars. There are many interesting trivialities about the divergences between the “religious and the hard Rock Cafe wings” of the Bin Laden families, and intriguing nuggets about political matters such as the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque and the connections between the Bin Ladens and elite figures inside the beltway but anyone looking for insight into Osama bin Laden will be disappointed. The most infamous member of Saudi Arabia’s dominant non-royal business clan is a subdued figure in this biography. Coll’s superior skills as a wordsmith and reporter manage to make the book a pleasant page turner.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

Conservative education scholar and historian Diane Ravitch lays out the demise of the movement for high curricular standards in public education that she once championed and it’s transmogrification under NCLB into a punitive system that is slowly imposing an unprecedentedly narrow and dumbed down national curriculum focusing on basic math and reading skills, featuring gamed  test results, highly paid lawyer-consultant insiders and perverse incentives for public and charter schools alike. A depressing but important read.

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