Very brief reviews of recently read books

One short-cut I use to judge how much I enjoyed a book is the extent to which I thought it was too long. At some point in my reading of most books, I check my position in my iPad’s Kindle app. If a book is very good, I’ll be nearly done before I do that. If a book is a chore to read, I’ll only be 10% or 20% in. It’s pretty common for me not to even finish a book if I’m already checking how much is left before I’m even one-third done.

By this metric, below is what I thought of some of the books I’ve read recently but not yet commented on in a post. Key: *** = Didn’t check position until at least 70% through (i.e., excellent). ** = 35%-69% (mediocre). * = < 35% (poor). I’ve also included one quote from some of the books. You can, of course, click through or Google for more information.

*** The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande

Then we asked the staff one more question. “If you were having an operation,” we asked,” would you want the checklist to be used?”

A full 93 percent said yes.

Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?, by Billy Crystal

** Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, by Nic Sheff. The writing was far less impressive than I expected (see quote below). The story from his father’s point of view was of greater interest to me. I also recommend David Carr’s account of his own battle with substance use disorder.

My heart is beating a little bit. Actually, it’s kind of slamming against my chest and collarbone and whatever.

*** Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, by Joe Simpson

The House of God, by Samuel Shem

*** Hippocrates’ Shadow, by David Newman

When I was in medical school a neurosurgeon once told me he didn’t believe in back surgery. Given that we were scrubbing and prepping for a back surgery that he was about to perform, I found this slightly disconcerting. I asked why we were doing the surgery. He shrugged. “It’s good practice.”

** The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, by Eric Greitens

They had promised me that in college we would learn how to shape the world, but they wanted me to do it with math.


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