Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Book: The Big Questions by Steven E.Landsburg

The Big Questions is not the type of book that will appeal to everyone. It is heavy on mathematical emphasis (but not on mathematics itself), extremely broad and almost meandering in its subject matter, and it's written by an intellectually minded economist who puts forward his views and beliefs with no reservation and with a fairly righteous tone (unlike Tim Harford, say, who manages to convinces through economic reasoning in a friendly conversationalist style).

On the plus side, The Big Questions is packed with food for the grey cells and is is written strikingly clearly with few wasted words. Also, while the hotch-potch of ideas may distract, it does make for a book that can be easily dipped in and out of. Overall then, here is a smart book, that may (will) rub you up the wrong way but will also get you thinking. Afterall, what good are such books if you already agree with everything they have to say?
My favourite sections of The Big Questions included a discussion around the potential informational content of a repetitive argument (e.g. two people repeatedly stating that their favoured team will win the championships this season); thought experiments around saving or killing people for the common good (e.g. would you kill one innocent person to prevent a billion people suffering from a mild headache for an hour?); and career choices (it's better to try and be a clown than it is to try to be an Olympic athlete).

I'm giving the book three and a half stars because I skimmed a couple of chapters and wasn't particularly interested in the deep mathematics, but I do think it is definitely worth reading because it is packed with interesting thoughts and thought experiments that will lead you to ask deep questions of yourself.

*** 1/2

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