Proofiness – Charles Seife

Proofiness is a look at how numbers are falsely used to manipulate public opinion and sway judicial decisions. He looks at accuracy, rules of statistical error, cherry picking and misleading calculations.

Throughout examples are used, often from headline stories, showing how misleading statistics have changed decisions. Many of the stories are (unsurprisingly for a New York academic) American, but the case we studied in statistics at university of Sally Clarke was included as a classic miscarriage of justice due to bad statistics.

A call for numerical literacy in media, this reads well.


Confessions from Correspondentland – Nick Bryant

Bryant has had an interesting career, shuttling between war zones and first world politics, filing regular reports with the BBC the whole way. He’s been on the sidelines through lots of key events through the last couple of decades, and spends much of this book discussing American policy: from his position as a Washington correspondent, then a war correspondent during the War on Terror.

Although Bryant is a good writer, his style is (probably unsurprisingly) fairly episodic. He writes a few pages of absorbing text, but then that section is wrapped up neatly without a strong “hook” to the next section. This continues for 400 pages.

This disjointedness is worth enduring through however. We see people’s lives close up as wars progress, and the interplay between correspondents and the rest of their teams.

An enlightening book

The News: A User’s Manual – Alain de Botton

This thoughtful little book discusses how the news is chosen, and how this affects our world views. Taking topics by turn, the general theme is that light-touch headlines cause us to be less, not more, aware of the realities of the world around us.

I loved how it looks at good intentions of sharing important information can lead to a bias in how we view the world, and how news cannot allow depth of studying of decisions, but only outcomes.

It certainly has helped break me of my headline-watching habits, and after a couple of weeks I don’t think that is a bad thing. Instead I check a weekly news review, and don’t feel less aware of the world for it.

Every Man in This Village is a Liar – Megan Stack

Stack is a green journalist when the Twin Towers fall. She just happens to be in Paris and well-placed to send to the Middle East and this is an opportunity she grasps to try and understand

We are then taken on her journey, as a woman reporter in the Middle East. She intertwines the wars, with the dangers she is in and the impact this has on her family, and her changing attitude to violence. She sees the people of Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon war, not as Hesbolla insurgents but as the poor and trapped who are becoming radicalised by endless violence from Israel and an uncertain future.

She also is tied up in seeing people both as sources, and as people whose lives can be destroyed by talking to an American journalist. She sees hopes and dreams and ambitions. And how a bomb can tear all that away in an instant.

Ultimately she comes to the futility of it, how the circular nature of war means that all it ever begets is more chaos and war, and that the US is more deeply enmeshed that she knew, with tear gas cannisters “made in the USA” and an acute awareness that the bombs being dropped around her are funded by her own country.

This offers a powerful view of war, and is well-worth reading.

Minor note: the cover of this book jarred every time I picked it up. My mental image of Stack is of her being driven fastĀ in sedan cars full of smoke. The cover is a horse and cart filled with people in traditional Islamic dress. If we must steer away from the true subject matter, at least keep it in the same tone as the book!

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden – Jon Crace

I must have moved to a safe seat, because I haven’t really noticed much in the way of election fever this year. But I noticed it in the bookshop the other week in the form of a stand of political books. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden struck me as perfect: a cynical look back at the last five years of coalition government and how it has played out.

Crace definitely delivers on what the cover of this book promises, an informed look at what was pledged on a sunny afternoon in the Rose Garden and how that has developed over this parliament’s term. He is unforgiving of all parties, not simply those in power, and undertakes an examination of where the balance of power has lain.

The big issues that have dominated this parliament are all examined, from Scotland to immigration to the Big Society (BS) to austerity along with how changes have been driven. But the message is impartial, other than to extol that everyone should use their vote.

Has anyone else been reading political books before the election?