Friday, January 14, 2005


Latest read: Blink (excerpts here, here and here) by Malcolm Gladwell, with it's intriguing subtitle "The power of thinking without thinking". Written in the same lucid style as his previous book The Tipping Point, Blink is a convincing exploration of what Gladwell calls "thin-slicing" - our ability to make rapid decisions that bypass the normal (systematic and slow) decision-making processes. When you look at something and just know that it's right or wrong, or when you look at someone and come to an immediate impression of them, that's thin-slicing. Blink operates on two assumptions: that knowing how thin-slicing works, and how powerful it is, can help us to trust our intuitions more, and that knowing how thin-slicing fails (when it is prejudice, for example) can help us avoid its mistakes. Good read, and fast as well, so good on all counts by my criteria.

Other stuff on the reading front:

Am now within hairs-breadth of finishing Herodotus. It's taken me far, far longer than I thought (and I've read something like 3 books in the meantime) but I've just got past the battle of Plataea, and will soon reach the end of the Histories.
One of the other books read in the meantime was Long Way Round, by Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman, chronicling their motorbike journey across the world (well, most of it: the European, Asian and North American continents were covered with the exception of stretch by rail in Siberia, and oceans, obviously). Not a bad read, and (as with most contemporary travelogues) better for its revelation of the gritty and pragmatic, rather than romantic, elements of a journey. The list of their gear in the appendices reads like a geek's wishlist, worth reading just to see the stuff they carried.

Another recent read is The Making of Alexander, by Robin Lane Fox, the same historian who wrote Alexander the Great, which I read a few months ago. Fox got himself a good deal: as official historical consultant for the film, his one request was to be in the front 10 riders of every charge Alexander's Companion cavalry made. He got his request (a "non-negotiable" requirement in exchange for his help with the movie, according to him) so if you watch the movie, remember that there's an Oxford don somewhere in that charge at Guagemela. The book itself is refreshing change from the usual "The Making Of" books than accompany movies - externally, it looks like its peers, but reading it shows a completely different perspective on the movie-making process. Most "Making Of" books divide themselves into predictable sections - one on the Big Stars, one on Special Effects, one showcasing Storyboards and Artwork, etc. As an outsider to the movie industry however, Fox brings with him both a common man's surprise at some things movie-makers probably take for granted (how much food a film crew consumes on location, the cinematographer's challenging task of matching lighting conditions, the extremely long conceptualisation process needed to establish a simple "look" or "feel" which the averaege viewer will never consciously appreciate) as well as a historian's objectivity (more precisely, a historian's ability to write as if objective) to his record of the film-making process.

1 comment:

Tym said...

Gah, I need to raid your bookshelves, for the Norrell/Strange book, as well as Long Way Round now. Before you go to Calgary, 'k?