The Week In Books, No. 33

Having enjoyed Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s first book, “Fooled by Randomness” (read my review here) I decided to read his latest work, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
. In this book, Taleb further explores the problems of probability, uncertainty, and overconfident idiot savants. His focus, and the origin of the book’s title, come from his analogy of the black swan. A lot of impressive-sounding statistics and metrics and soundbytes on MSNBC can be overridden by one highly improbable event, Taleb says, in the same way that you can observe a million white swans, but the presence of ONE black swan invalidates your theory that all swans are white. I’m probably doing a bad job of explaining that, but feel free to read the book if you are looking for further clarification. I do enjoy Taleb’s writing style, although again I found him a little snarky. Snarky can be funny though, especially when he pokes fun at economists and political scientists and intelligence analysts (since I fall/fell into two of those categories myself, and know many people who fall into the third, I feel I am entitled to laugh).

On our honeymoon Josh and I saw a family of black swans swimming in a moat. I have pictures, but I don’t feel like scanning them. I was surprised. They were U-G-L-Y (and they ain’t got no alibi) but distinctive. And that is my personal anecdote for the day.

Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal
is a lot like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as Lisa O remarked in the comments. Despite being similar in structure, Visser’s book covers some different foods, so I didn’t feel as though I had read all of it before. I learned a great deal about salt, butter, rice, lettuce, olive oil, lemons, and ice cream. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Hoo boy, I can hardly wait to learn about SALT” but really, it’s fascinating to find out the history of foods and how people’s tastes changed over time. For example, did you know that “chili con carne” was a popular flavor of ice cream back in the day? Back in WHAT day? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. Ha ha! Now I’ve got you where I want you!

This is my favorite quote from the book, in which one Sydney Smith from the early nineteenth century waxes rhapsodic about salad:

Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
‘Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he’d turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad-bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
“Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.”

Currently Reading:
Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Luke, Revelation
…can’t decide which book to start next…

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