Book roundup: Clive James, Charles Perrow, Nassim Taleb

Clive James - Cultural Amnesia

Clive James – Cultural Amnesia (2007)

I put away this collection of essays on half-forgotten artists and intellectuals four years ago, because it put more books on my to-read list than I knew what to do with.  Now I try again, better than I was before at dealing with the pressure of unread books.  My plan was to continue where I left off, halfway, but I got sucked in and read it all over again.  This is a fantastic survey of cultural pillars, the informal kind that one moment evokes the lost café culture of pre-Anschluss Vienna, and the next distracts itself with the implausibility of Richard Burton’s hairdo in Where Eagles Dare.

Recommended: Hell yes.

Charles Perrow – Normal Accidents (1984/1999)

Perrow’s warnings about the dangers of nuclear power haven’t held up too well, but his overall point has: That complex systems suffer complex failures, where parts interact in unpredictable ways.  A sufficiently complex system can never be safe.  Nassim Taleb has taken this idea further by encouraging systems and behavioral patterns that are designed so that unexpected events benefit us instead of harm us.

Read: 200 pages.

Recommended: No.  The subject is interesting, but the treatment dry.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Bed of Procrustes (2010)

The tweet-length maxims collected in this book are made from four parts wisdom, one part self-aggrandizement.  I forgive this from the author of perhaps the most important book of the previous decade, but I also forgive the reader who wonders why they should be made to watch.

Recommended: Weakly, for the less self-obsessed moments.