What We're Reading Now

man reading at RAND

A year ago, PRGS faculty recommended ten books to change the way you think. This year we're asking them — as well as PRGS alumni and students — what they're reading now, and why.

Each week, we'll be posting a new review to Facebook and adding it here as well, as an ongoing archive. Feel free to let us know what you're reading now, and what you think of our faculty's suggestions.


What are you reading now?

 

Statistics

book cover: The signal and the noise

By Nate Silver

Penguin Press, 2012, 544 pages

Sharply written examples show the advantages of Bayesian predictions in fields such as political elections, climate change and baseball. Author is the political statistics guru for the New York Times.

Emmett Keeler, Professor of "Cost Benefit and Cost Effectiveness Analysis," and "Decision Analysis"

Economic History

book cover: How China Became Capitalist

By Ronald Coase and Ning Wang

Palgrave MacMillan, 2013, 272 pages

Abounds with insights. It is tightly written and swept relatively clear of excessive economic jargon, [but] it isn't easy reading. The book is crammed with facts, data, cross-references and 21 pages of carefully crafted endnotes. Yet patient readers will be rewarded with a better and deeper understanding of the most extraordinary transformation in modern economic history.

Charles Wolf, Professor of "Governance in Three Domains: Public, Corporate, Non-profit"

(Not-So-)Ancient History

book cover: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Edward Gibbon

Originally published in 1776; now available free on many websites

A classic for many good reasons. First, the content itself is fascinating. The interaction of the Senate, Praetorian guards, "barbarians," and some of the lesser known emperors is riveting. The many examples of well-meaning but ultimately fallible individuals is grist for countless policy case studies. Second, the lucid prose and skillful use of primary source citations is an example to any writer trying to reconcile scholarly precision with robust and occasionally moving narrative. Finally, the illustration of a thoughtful 18th century Englishman's perspective on Rome adds another level to the narrative. How did England, near the height of its own powers, perceive the decline of another great empire? What lessons were drawn? The resemblances to our own age are unmistakable, if subtle.

James Anderson, Faculty Affiliate and Social Scientist

Culture

book cover: Together

By Richard Sennett

Yale University Press, 2012, 336 pages

Richard Sennett's book discusses the importance of learning from and working with others, particularly others with different perspectives. Sennett compares empathy to sympathy, subjunctive to declarative statements, dialogic to dialectic discussion, and borders to boundaries. He makes a powerful argument that people are being de-skilled, that they are mastering superficial tasks while losing their ability to do complex tasks — especially to deal with insurmountable differences.

The book is not a blind attack on American culture today or on technology; for example, Sennett describes how online social networking has allowed young, urban migrants to maintain strong ties with relatives in rural areas at the same time as it has encouraged narcissism and withdrawal. The book is a slow read and is fairly academic. It doesn't directly relate to my project work at RAND, but this book has made me rethink everything from my interactions with friends to the tone of my RAND reports.

Kenneth Kuhn, Professor of "Empirical Analysis I: Probability and Statistics"

Social Science

book cover: Better Angels of Our Nature

By Steven Pinker

Viking, 2012, 832 pages

A reviver of hope for those who are dismayed by all the current conflicts (many of them of the incongruously named "civil" variety) around the world. Pinker marshals evidence from history, economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology (and not to mention, peppers his monumental book with stomach churning descriptions of violent acts from the past) to argue violence has actually declined over the centuries thanks to civilizing and humanizing processes. Humanity — crooked, wretched, with our warts and all — take a bow, for evolving to this most peaceable of times. This is social science writing at its very best.

Krishna Kumar, Professor of "Economic Development"

Policy Analysis

book cover

By Alice Rivlin

Brookings, 1971, 150 pages

Alice Rivlin's Systematic Thinking for Social Action is just as relevant today as it was forty years ago.

— Peter DeLeon, alumnus (cohort '71)

Psychology

book cover

By Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang

Bloomsbury USA, 2012, 336 pages

Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang's Welcome to your Child's Brain presents a readable but comprehensive review of the latest information on child development, from prenatal stages, through infancy to adolescence.

While the book is targeted towards parents focused on supporting their child's healthy development, each paragraph introduces vital public policy issues relating to healthy development of children and families.

This text should be of interest to public sector leaders, health providers, educators or policy researchers, as well as students of public health, social work or public administration. Plus it's a fun read!

— Elan Melamid, alumnus (cohort '92)

Decisionmaking

cover of Surprise!

By Dave Baiocchi and D. Steven Fox

RAND, 2013, 106 pages

Dealing with surprises is an important part of many professions. They happen every day and we became curious about how different professions prepare for and respond to surprise. We decided to ask a diverse group of professionals what they believe creates surprise, how people respond to it, and how the effects of surprise can be mitigated. We were looking for strategies that are common across specialties, as well as how and why some strategies differ between professions.

— the authors (Baiocchi is a PRGS professor and Fox is a student, cohort '09)

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