Books on writing

Academic writing is often a real challenge for both undergraduate and graduate students. It is an absolutely necessary skill.

Here are some useful books,

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style is probably the best known.

Joseph M. Williams’ Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace is also very good.

A personal favorite is Thomas & Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose.

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Review of Lomborg’s new book

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook reviews Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming,

One man who was not rooting for Al Gore to win the Nobel Prize was Bjorn Lomborg. The smiling Dane is the anti-Gore. Unimpressed with An Inconvenient Truth , his new book challenges many of that film’s alarming statements about global warming. Mr Gore and his admirers are paying no attention, needless to say, and that is a pity.

Lomborg’s capacity to anger his opponents is limitless. Of course, he disagrees with them, an outrageous affront in itself. He says that the state of the environment is not dire. He also argues that cutting greenhouse gas emissions should not be the world’s top priority, another scandalous provocation. He makes it worse by being pleasant and reasonable (not to mention Danish), turning up in T-shirt and jeans all the time, supporting his arguments with too many footnotes and acting in other ways designed to offend. Continue reading

Summer reading: non-fiction books

Here are some recent non-fiction books, suitable for summer reading,

Peter L. Bernstein, Capital Ideas Evolving.

Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.

Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Niall Ferguson reviews the book here.

Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist.

Chris Dillow, The End of Politics: New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism.

Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China.

Bernd Heinrich’s new book

On Radio Open Source, Christopher Lydon interviews Bernd Heinrich. This is one interview that didn’t work. Christopher Lydon is all over the place, and he comes across as someone with a serious attention deficit problem. However, after listening to the interview, one thing is clear in my mind. I want to read Heinrich’s new book, The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology.

I have previously read his Why We Run: A Natural History. It was excellent.

What we need now is an interview with Bernd Heinrich without so many interruptions, e.g. following the format on BBC’s The Interview.

The Myth of Inevitable Progress

A review of Indur M. Goklany’s The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet by James Surowiecki.

The core message of Goklany’s book is that economic growth and technological change are the keys to improving people’s lives. But the success of China and India suggests that no one really knows how to bring these achievements about, which makes Goklany’s wide-eyed optimism about the future seem misplaced.[…]

The fact that every country’s experience is different does not mean that there are not deeper truths to be uncovered by looking at the experience of the world as a whole. But the truths thus far uncovered are relatively few in number and often limited in impact. So, yes, free trade is a good thing, subsidies to agriculture and official corruption are bad things, and so on. And policymakers should be aggressive in implementing those practices and policies that there is a good reason to think will work. But they also need to be cautious about taking theoretical pronouncements for reality, and they should be pragmatists rather than evangelists. After decades of misplaced certainty, it may be time to recognize the limits of our own knowledge — at least if we want the state of the world to continue improving.

Falkenstein on Taleb

Who looks well-fed, sports a beard, and has an exaggerated idea of his own contribution to intellectual life? No, I am not thinking about Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, but Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan).

Tyler Cowen wrote a generally positive review of The Black Swan. He did say,

Taleb is a talented writer, and often offers up a brilliant sentence or a clever, darting aphorism; he has a harder time developing a systematic message that is not only true but also original.

Taleb (over)reacted with a Brief Discussion of Empirical and Logical Mistakes in Tyler Cowen’s Review of The Black Swan in Slate (pdf).

Now on Mahalanobis, Eric Falkenstein sets out to demolish Taleb. As hatchet jobs go, it is pretty good.