Risk by Dan Gardner

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This book is all about putting a realistic twist on all the big risks everyone thinks the world holds – zillions of people terrified of terrorism and the like. The only problem for me is that I’m already a numerate sceptic who explains to others that the risk of, oh, their kids being abducted by paedophiles or similar, is vanishingly small and takes all use of statistics in news stories with a huge pinch of salt. So I wasn’t sure how much I was going to get out of it.

The good news is that it’s a good read and did tell me plenty of things I didn’t know. Which just gives me more ammunition for playing the numerate sceptic role in future. Hah, fun.

The bad news? Well, the book covers the phenomenon of “confirmation bias” where you tend to take away from a story only the bits that backup what you already think and disregard the rest. So I think I’ve probably done that even with this book… how do you counter that? The author mainly wants to play down people’s fears of what they consider to be big dangers but doesn’t really get into what the biggest risks we face in our comfortable first world lives are. We obviously all make bad decisions about them preferring to fixate on removing some minor environmental hazard before taking exercise.

The point to take away is that we’re fortunate to be about the healthiest, safest and longest lived humans who have ever walked the planet which is nice to have confirmed. (And don’t believe any interpretation of statistics you hear in the news. Hmmm, the author’s a journalist…)

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 1st September 2009.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

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One of Anita Shreve’s pseudo thriller-ish books. When I first read Shreve I liked stories like The Pilot’s Wife with a mystery background to them more than the perhaps more literary or historical ones. I changed my mind somewhere and didn’t like this as much as I might have done a few years ago.

This is a series of accounts of events surrounding a sex scandal at a private school in New England. I found it difficult to get my head round what happened being such a huge scandal – partly because the blame in the story was obviously not with the characters it was being given to but some of it felt like a geographic divide – I’m not sure the scenario in the book would have been a big deal in the UK. I might be missing the point there. If you go along with the story it works and I like the device of telling the story through disjoint accounts, the sum of the parts being greater than the whole… kind of thing.

All in all a good read but not a fabulous one.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 28th August 2009.

The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale

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This looks to be the sixth of Patrick Gale’s books that I’ve read in 15 months since discovering Notes From an Exhibition. As you can gather from that I’ve been enjoying them a lot. I’ve been spacing the back catalogue out rather than gorging on it.

This one isn’t back catalogue – it’s a new release – and I didn’t like it as much as the older stuff. It’s not as sweeping in it’s scale as some of the books and I guess the author fancied something different as this book limits itself, as the title suggests, to taking place on a single day. This isn’t as limiting as it could be as the characters do plenty of recollecting and reminiscing and if the day long constraint hadn’t been prominently signposted both inside and outside the book’s covers I could have missed it.

The central characters are Ben, a doctor treating HIV patients, and Laura, a freelance accountant, who first met at college and encounter each other again in their forties. I thought they were both well drawn and their relationships with their tangled families were believable. I did think the story was careering towards an obvious ending – and I won’t spoil it as to whether it went where I thought it was heading – but I ended up thinking Gale did a good job of ending the tale.

Overall it’s not at all bad and I’ll certainly be reading more by the author.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 15th July 2009.