Thursday, 17 December 2009

Where the books aren't

The Associated Press visits the community which soon is to be the largest city in America without a bookstore, quotes a colleague, and gets the name of my employer wrong.

But at least we’re getting a snow park!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

There's your problem

Laredo’s population: well over 200,000.

Number of bookstores in Laredo, effective January 2010: zero.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

I am now Scalzi-complete (I think)

I finally got around to ordering John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars and read it last night at the hotel in Dallas. Agent is an eminently enjoyable read, and it does for Hollywood what The Android’s Dream did for government bureaucracy (which is to say, skewers it mercilessly). Definitely strongly recommended.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Le Weekend

How did I not know about the upcoming Texas Book Festival until today? I guess I now have a possible destination for my first “regaining my sanity” roadtrip of the year.

þ: Tom Vanderbilt.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Syllabi: creating excuses for professors to read what they need to read

Our book orders were due ridiculously early, so I didn’t slip in everything I probably should have added from my “to be read” list, but at least I got in The American Voter Revisited, The End of Inequality, and Partisan Hearts and Minds between my graduate political behavior course and the senior-level course I’m using to shoehorn political behavior, parties, and interest groups into our (radically in need of some overhaul) undergraduate major.

Now I have to make up some fake syllabi for two courses I’m unlikely to ever teach—but since I put in the proposals for our new graduate methods sequence, writing the syllabi for the curriculum committee is my job even though I’ve deferred to a PA person and a sociologist to teach the sequence regularly (which lets me focus on undergrad methods, which the PA person doesn’t want to teach and which I’d rather teach than the graduate sequence).

Friday, 29 August 2008

Revisiting the archive

Jason Kuznicki gives further consideration to the theme of “psychohistory” in Asimov’s Foundation series—although, I have to say that Asimov himself seems to have basically stopped taking the concept itself seriously by the end of Second Foundation (the, uh, third book), so I’m not sure how seriously the reader can take it either.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

QotD, Bill Clinton has jumped the shark edition

Taylor Owen of OxBlog, on an unfortunate recent reading choice:

I just finished listening to an abridged version of Clinton’s autobiography (I just couldn’t commit to the full thing). There are two things that are glaringly clear. First, it’s all the evil “far right’s” fault. Everything. It is never Clinton’s fault. Second, and more relevant here, is that in 1992, Clinton was running a VERY similar campaign to Obama. Had Hillary been in the race, there is no doubt that he would be have mocked her as the establishment candidate. He would have been right, and he would have won. He would have done so using words, which he was at one point pretty good at. And he would have argued that a new generation was ready to have a turn in Washington. Sound familiar?

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Condorcet and Borda go mainstream (kinda)

Via my Facebook friends feed, I discovered this New York Times book review by Janet Maslin of William Poundstone’s Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair. Money grafs from Maslin’s review:

Mr. Poundstone’s book asks one overriding question: “Is it possible to devise a fair way of voting, one immune to vote splitting?” The answer requires some historical context: a brief history of elections gone terribly awry.

Mr. Poundstone’s chronicle of spoilers concentrates on presidential elections that delivered the opposite outcome from the one most voters seemed to prefer. This goes from explaining how abolitionist vote-splitting in 1844 put the slave-owner James Polk in the White House to showing how a consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, helped to elect “the favored candidate of corporate America,” George W. Bush, in 2000.

Since at least 5 out of 45 presidential elections have gone to the second-most-popular candidate because of spoilers, Mr. Poundstone calculates a failure rate of more than 11 percent for our voting system. “Were the plurality vote a car or an airliner,” he writes about this traditional method, “it would be recognized for what it is — a defective consumer product, unsafe at any speed.”

Any book that earns a favorable blurb from Ken Arrow is probably worth a read.

Friday, 25 January 2008

A Textbook Study

IHE reports on a new study appearing in the January 2008 edition of PS which “examine[s] to what extent African Americans are integrated into the study of American politics.” Or at least American government textbooks, the modal example of which is a pile of flaming crap that has more to do with high school civics than political science.

Funnily enough, the report says that Landy and Milkis’ American Government text (which they single out for praise) was not published in a second edition, yet I just got mailbombed† by Cambridge* with two adoption review copies of the second edition. A brief review: personally I find the American political development approach Landy and Milkis employ to be uninteresting in its own right, and I’m exceedingly unlikely to adopt a textbook that spends nearly as many pages on the bureaucracy as it does on mass political behavior (per the authors, “public opinion and political participation”). That said, a skim suggests the book is somewhat better than the median, with the inclusion of a chapter on political economy being something of an interesting novelty and ditching the endless parade of Supreme Court cases that characterizes most treatments of civil rights and liberties in intro texts being a step in the right direction, not to mention its effort to at least allude to the fact that Woodrow Wilson was a white-sheet-wearing sleazebag (even if it weasels out of giving him the “credit” for bringing Jim Crow to the federal government and D.C.). So if APD is your thing, or you like to tell stories in your intro classes, you could do far worse.

I’ll be sticking with Kernell and Jacobson myownself, though; yes, you have to get the kids over the hump of understanding collective action problems early on, but really any college student should be able to handle that—if not, they’re not going to understand the material on interest groups or political parties either (or, for that matter, the bureaucracy and the judiciary—see regulatory capture and agency loss) unless it’s thoroughly dumbed-down.

† Not literally, but Cambridge seems to send me 2–3 unsolicited copies of everything they publish, usually arriving on the same day.
* Incidentally, Cambridge publishes both PS and the Landy and Milkis text. Left hands and right hands and all that.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Pogue reviews Kindle

In Thursday’s New York Times, columnist David Pogue gives a pretty favorable review to’s new e-book reader, the Kindle. Certainly the idea of having a tablet on which I can carry around all the journals and books in my office is pretty darn appealing—if the content were there, for either Amazon’s offering or Sony’s Reader. Thus far, though, the offerings seem to be targeted more to bookworms than people who read hundreds of pages a week because they have to.

I guess a mix of Google Scholar, Google Books, an e-Reader, and affordable access to content—I’m not going to pay good money to read articles and books that I’m entitled to free or inexpensive access to already as an academic researcher—combined with the convenient access to content in Kindle is what I’m looking for. Maybe Amazon can deliver that for academics in the future; until then, I’ll probably be taking a pass.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Duke lacrosse book review

As promised, the review is up at OTB. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the book, although I’d imagine that those less familiar with the case would think it was better.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Overdue book reviews

The Elephant in the Room by Ryan Sager is an interesting examination of the issues facing the Republican “big tent” coalition in the run up to the 2008 election. The book is well-organized and the writing is clear and concise, advancing a logical argument that the social conservative right and what I might call George W. Bush’s “Christian Democratic conservatism” have alienated the libertarian west, placing the GOP back in jeopardy of returning to permanent minority status in Washington. Definitely a must-read book for anyone wanting to understand the contemporary Republican party—although one would be interested in Sager’s explanation for the continuing popularity of Rudy Giuliani, even with the GOP base.

Boeing Versus Airbus by John Newhouse ought to be a more interesting book than it is, but falls short in a number of irritating ways. Newhouse is an incredibly repetitive writer, and the narrative structure is frustratingly almost-but-not-quite linear. Newhouse introduces one key Boeing executive by thoroughly trashing him, but then spends the next 200 pages apparently forgetting he ever said anything bad about him. As one Amazon review points out, Newhouse never clearly explains why Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas outright instead of just waiting for it to go bankrupt and getting the parts it actually wanted; nor does he address other baffling decisions, like Boeing canning the Boeing 717 (the last iteration of the DC-9) just as it was proving to be a success with Airtran, as most of its competitors were commercial non-starters, and as major carriers were looking to replace their aging DC-9s with more modern aircraft. Newhouse also includes bizarre segues to complain about the Iraq war that don’t seem to have anything to do with Boeing, Airbus, the aviation industry, or anything else on-topic. The occasional insight—for example, that Airbus’ decision to go ahead with the A380 was based largely on the misunderstanding that Boeing made more money from the 747 than other aircraft—is lost in the narrative. Nor does Newhouse spend any time talking about the emergence of competition from below by up-and-coming entrants like Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier, who are successfully attacking Boeing and Airbus’ real cash cows, the narrow-body 737 and A320; instead, he devotes a whole chapter fretting about the potential rise of East Asian manufacturers, who have yet to become a factor. There’s an interesting book about the contemporary aviation industry to be written, but Boeing Versus Airbus isn’t it.

Congress at the Grassroots by Richard F. Fenno, Jr. is one of the books I assigned in my Congress class this semester. If you want to understand how the nature of congressional representation has changed in the past 40 years, this is as good a place to start as any. From a social scientist’s perspective, I’d have liked to have seen more evidence that these two representatives were typical of their time and place, and thus we can arrive at generalizable knowledge from these two cases, rather than simply an assertion in the concluding chapter to that effect. But overall I think it was a very good book… and if I didn’t already have a bazillion readings in my southern politics course, I’d add it there too.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Light reading

I picked up the current issue of Critical Review at Borders while I was on my book quest—I was trolling the shelves and happened to notice that “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics” by Philip Converse was listed as the first article, which struck me as a little strange (for the uninitiated, it was published first as a book chapter in 1964). The rest of the articles look pretty good too. If I could afford it, I’d buy up a dozen copies and hold onto them until the next time I teach public opinion or voting behavior. (Who am I kidding? I’m going to be working at an Arby’s next fall…)

That, however, I won’t be reading on the plane. Instead, for distraction from the mortal terror and physical pain associated with hurtling through the air at 500 mph with 18-inch buttocks squeezed in a 17-inch-wide seat, I picked up a copy of ESPN The Magazine with an article by Bruce Feldman chronicling Ole Miss’ football signing period, no doubt laced with Orgeron-speak; Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, because I enjoyed The Tipping Point; and A Practical Handbook for the Boyfriend by Felicity Huffman and Patricia Wolff, because hope springs eternal (and it was on sale).

Friday, 23 February 2007

Why I should never buy books to read on a plane trip

My copy of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War from was on my doorstep when I got home at around 1:30. It was read by 5:00—and that included interruptions to eat lunch and to make arrangements for Yet Another Phone Interview.

This compulsive behavior on my part creates two immediate problems for me: I now need to find another book to read on the plane Monday, and I will probably have to pay retail for it.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Mini-review: Inside the Machine

I recently finished reading my copy of Ars Technica editor Jon “Hannibal” Stokes’ new book on computer architecture, Inside the Machine; overall, I’d say it’s a pretty good semi-technical introduction to the field, but there are points at which Stokes seems to gloss over important details. Two examples: in one chapter he discusses “SPRs” without ever seeming to define the term, and there is no reference to the term in the index; he also seems to underplay the register-starved nature of the x86 ISA (which lagged behind its CISC contemporaries, the Motorola 680×0 series, much less the PowerPC RISC processors that competed with the Pentium and beyond) and the degree to which the Pentium and its successors had to work around that limitation. There are also the requisite number of typos and goofs for a first printing of a book. But overall, I enjoyed the book, which after all is aimed at the typical Ars Technica or AnandTech reader more than the budding computer engineering student.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Tufte lust

Like Megan, I like much of Ed Tufte’s work—heck, I own a reprint of Data Analysis for Politics and Policy, which nobody has read in 20 years, in addition to The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and its successors Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations. But I apparently don’t like him as much as she does.

Thursday, 16 March 2006

The way things ought to be

University Diaries, on the increasing interest in Loren Pope and Colleges that Change Lives, his guide to 40 of America’s great liberal arts colleges:

As more and more Americans realize how many excellent colleges there are—many of them in settings more inspiring than New Haven—the Ivies run the risk of becoming drab asylums for the status-obsessed.

Run the risk? I’d say they’re mostly post-shark already.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Saddam lied, people died

Sunday’s New York Times returns to its recent modus operandi of serving as an advertising platform for its reporters’ books with an article revealing Saddam Hussein’s thinking on the eve the U.S. invasion of Iraq, derived from Cobra II by reporter Michael Gordon and army Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor (Ret.).

There’s not much terribly new here if you were paying attention, and I’m not really sure it adds anything to arguments on either side of the conflict—although it does perhaps give further credence to the argument that intelligence agencies worldwide were obviously going to have a hard job figuring out that Saddam Hussein didn’t actually have WMD when he was trying his darnedest to make everyone think he did. Of course, the obvious followup question, left unanswered in the article, is why Saddam would dismantle his WMD arsenal while maintaining the fiction he hadn’t—wouldn’t it have been wiser for him to simply to keep the WMDs and stonewall the inspectors?

þ Orin Kerr.

Monday, 20 February 2006

Plane reading

On the plane trip back from Washington to Durham today, I started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (in my haste to pack for the trip, I forgot to bring any reading material for the return trip, so I had to make an excursion to Barnes and Noble in Washington to pick up something to read yesterday afternoon), and about 20 pages in felt tempted to exclaim out loud that this sounded a lot like Mark Granovetter’s American Journal of Sociology article on the strength of weak ties—a theory that is surprisingly underdiscussed in the public opinion literature, at least by political scientists. I only came across it in my graduate “classic texts in American politics” seminar taught by Bob Albritton, which I affectionately refer to as the Magical Mystery Tour.

Incidentally, Friday afternoon in my southern politics seminar I brought up another Gladwell theme by talking briefly about Tom Schelling’s work on how patterns of segregation spontaneously emerge from individual actions that aren’t strongly discriminatory on their face.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

Thought of the day

Why is it every time there’s a new Osama tape I think of Hari Seldon? Well, except for the “accurate predictions about the future” bit…

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Greetings from Florida

I’ve made it to Marianna, Florida, which means I’m most of the way between mom’s and dad’s on the Great Holiday Roadtrip. So far, except for getting caught in rush hour traffic south of Birmingham, it’s been a pretty uneventful journey.

Most of the Alabama portion of the journey was accompanied by Steve Martin’s Shopgirl on four unabridged audio CDs, a recommendation from my dinner companion a few nights ago, which I purchased at the Barnes & Noble in Hoover. Not having seen the movie yet, I am curious how well it makes the transition to the big screen, as Martin uses very little dialogue in the original novella. Thematically, it may be something of a companion piece to Martin’s 1991 L.A. Story, although that film was much more broadly comedic than Shopgirl—which, at least in book form, is more poignant and melancholy than laugh-out-loud funny.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Book learnin'

As should be pretty obvious by now, I’ve conceded the Fifty Book Challenge. I did get ten pages of Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist read while waiting for my car’s oil to be changed today in Collierville, but the ruthless efficiency of Mathis Tire and Auto (in and out in less than 20 minutes, including a tire rotation, for $17.50 or so) precluded any further reading. Except for the stuff I’m being paid to read, it may be a while before I get back in the reading groove.

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Well, I have friends

Virginia Postrel believes she lacks sufficient buzz to sell books. My remedy: ask you to buy a copy of The Substance of Style; I never got around to reviewing TSOS, but will say—for the record—it is very good, as is her earlier book The Future and its Enemies.

Your purchase probably won’t bring her back as editor of Reason, but it’s a worthy cause nonetheless.

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Reading, a novel concept

The only place I ever seem to get any reading done (beyond that essential for my scholarship and teaching) is on airplanes, so I finally read Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization on my last interview junket—actually, I had it read by the time I got to the Frozen Tundra; I had to settle for finishing my Economist backlog on the way back.

It’s an enjoyable enough read, and Foer has a good, clear narrative style. My major quibble: I’m not sure soccer “explains” much of anything in the book; at best, it’s an indicator or reflection of the phenomena that Foer discusses.

Monday, 24 October 2005

Guess the title of Clayton Cramer's book

It looks like Clayton Cramer has gotten himself a book advance. Anyone care to speculate on a title for this magnum opus? (Bonus points if you can work in more than one of Cramer’s obsessions.)