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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

Gladwell and Chabris, David and Goliath, and science writing as stone soup

The only thing is, I’m not sure who’s David here and who is Goliath. From the standpoint of book sales, Gladwell is Goliath for sure. On the other hand, Gladwell’s credibility has been weakened over the years by fights with bigshots such as Steven Pinker. Maybe the best analogy is a boxing match where Gladwell […]

Chris Chabris is irritated by Malcolm Gladwell

Christopher Chabris reviewed the new book by Malcolm Gladwell: One thing “David and Goliath” shows is that Mr. Gladwell has not changed his own strategy, despite serious criticism of his prior work. What he presents are mostly just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior, but what his publisher sells them as, and what his […]

The it-gets-me-so-angry-I-can’t-deal-with-it threshold

I happened to be looking at Slate (I know, I know, but I’d already browsed Gawker and I was desperately avoiding doing real work) and came across this article by Alice Gregory entitled, “I Read Everything Janet Malcolm Ever Published. I’m in awe of her.” I too think Malcolm is an excellent writer, but (a) […]

On blogging

From 1982: The necessary conceit of the essayist must be that in writing down what is obvious to him he is not wasting his reader’s time. The value of what he does will depend on the quality of his perception, not on the length of his manuscript. Too many dull books about literature would have […]

Edgar Allan Poe was a statistician

Antony Unwin writes: Rereading Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue” reminded me of his astute remarks on analysis. For instance But it is in matters beyond the limits of mere rule that the skill of the analyst is evinced. He makes, in silence, a host of observations and inferences. and and the difference […]

Debutante Hill

I was curious so I ordered a used copy. It was pretty good. It fit in my pocket and I read it on the plane. It was written in a bland, spare manner, not worth reading for any direct insights it would give into human nature, but the plot moved along. And the background material […]

New words of 1917

I happened to come across a little book, “Current Glossary: Words Coined Since the War.” Here are some of them: as’pi-rin, n. A white compound used as a drug in the cure of headaches and rheumatism. bob’go, n. A kind of antelope in Africa; its meat is good for food. cat’ta-lo, n. A cross between […]

“How big is your chance of dying in an ordinary play?”

At first glance, that’s what I thought Tyler Cowen was asking. I assumed he was asking about the characters, not the audience, as watching a play seems like a pretty safe activity (A. Lincoln excepted). Characters in plays die all the time. I wonder what the chance is? Something between 5% and 10%, I’d guess. […]

Prose is paragraphs, prose is sentences

This isn’t quite right—poetry, too, can be in paragraph form (see Auden, for example, or Frost, or lots of other examples)—but Basbøll is on to something here. I’m reminded of Nicholson Baker’s hilarious “From the Index of First Lines,” which is truly the poetic counterpart to Basbøll’s argument in prose:

A Structural Comparison of Conspicuous Consumption in China and the United States

David Jinkins writes: The objective of this paper is to measure the relative importance of conspicous consumption to Americans and Chinese. To this end, I estimate the parameters of a utility function borrowed from recent theoretical work using American and Chinese data. The main parameter of interest governs the amount that individuals care about peer […]