In a world dominated by analytics, algorithms, and models, this is a welcome call for reclaiming our common humanity.

THE EYE TEST

A CASE FOR HUMAN CREATIVITY IN THE AGE OF ANALYTICS

How did we get to a society where numbers drive everything? This fascinating book provides helpful insight and a possible course correction.

Do the math. Crunch the numbers. Follow the model. Analytics has become the secret machinery of the modern world, grinding away behind the curtain. Once hailed as the answer to any number of social ills, analytics has become a pathway to dislocation, inequality, and outright weirdness. Jones, a former writer at large for Esquire and winner of two National Magazine Awards, began his journalistic career as a sportswriter in the era when quantitative analysis was taking over professional sports. While providing plenty of useful information, the method also took away much of what made a game interesting, including tension, surprise, excitement, and even joy. Once the idea of the math model was established, it infected everything, from the making of movies to the stock market. Algorithms appear to be based on impartial science, but they seek to predict the future by looking only at the past and are unable to handle variation, complexity, and outliers. Jones has a good time recounting examples of things going wrong, and he does so with a dry sense of humor. However, the topic becomes far more serious when analytics is applied to government and law enforcement. Facial recognition software, for example, has great difficulty reading Black faces (women even more than men), and the picture gets even darker when data is used to fit a narrative rather than reveal the truth. The author makes a convincing case that we should trust our intuition and creativity and treat others as individuals instead of mere aggregations of information. Yes, analytics and algorithms are useful in many ways, but ultimately, they should remain subordinate to a person with a stock of lived experience, empathy, and wisdom.

In a world dominated by analytics, algorithms, and models, this is a welcome call for reclaiming our common humanity.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-3067-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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