Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Non-fiction mini-reviews: Super Freakonomics and Under the Banner of Heaven

Super Freakonomics

Written by: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Published: 2009

My thoughts: If you've watched Orange is the New Black you'll remember the scene where Big Boo comforts Pennsatucky about the children she aborted by citing a study which linked the Wade V Roe case on abortion with the drop in crime 20 years later. I first heard about that link when I caught a snippet of the Freakonomics documentary and after rewatching it with Tom last year I decided I should read the actual book. We don't own the first Freakonomics book, but for some reason we do read the second (which was probably for the best since I hadn't heard of any of the studies/stories that were in this one). The book really is fascinating and super-consumable - I finished it in one afternoon only breaking to run over to Tom and tell him about the latest chapter. I found the "why suicide bombers should buy life insurance" pretty problematic because it seemed like it was essentially just racial profiling with the fancy guise of economic patterning thrown over the top, but the other stories - especially the creative approaches to global cooling - were all creative, funny and fascinating.

Under the Banner of Heaven

Written by: Jon Krakauer

Published: 2003

My thoughts: I'm conflicted with how I feel about this book. On the one hand I really love the way Krakauer writes, he has drawn me into so many stories that I don't know I would necessarily find interesting or engaging otherwise. And when he writes about the Lafferty brothers, two brothers who killed their other brother's wife and child because of a 'calling from god', I felt that same sort of pull in his writing. However amidst the story of the Laffertys Krakauer sets out to tell the history of the Mormon church and explain why there are so many fundamentalist splinter groups. This is where I struggled. I am sure there are people who will find this interesting but the history sections, whether it was the content or Krakauer's writing I don't know, just bored me. That said, I am glad I read this book. I have never really known much about the Mormon faith and the short and turbulent history Krakauer paints really lays the ground for the extremist fundamental Mormon groups that spring up every so often. It also gives a side of American history that I don't often hear, and it's amazing to think how lawless* the US was until recently. So read it? I really don't know if it was that Krakauer was tackling too big a project for a book this length and his writing suffered or if the subject just wasn't enough to engage me. If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you thought.

*In the sense that there wasn't a great deal of unification or concrete army/police forces which led to a lot of chaos,


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