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Original Essays | September 17, 2014

Merritt Tierce: IMG Has My Husband Read It?

My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »


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Igal has commented on (3) products.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
The Confessions of Max Tivoli

Igal, May 23, 2007

It's not often we get a second chance at something important, but protagonist Max Tivoli, born in the latter half of the 19th century, gets three tries at Alice, the love of his life, first as a stand-in for her deceased father, then as her husband, and finally as her adopted son. This is because Max has an exceedingly rare condition: his body ages backwards. Max's obsession with Alice and his desire to keep his secret obliterate everything else in his life. Family, friends, other lovers, the idea that he might do something with the time allotted to him than pursue this one woman, and many of his other needs, all must suffer to make room for the one insatiable need to be with Alice.

Greer does veer into melodrama and purplish prose in his account of how wisdom is not necessarily granted to anyone by default, no matter what their experience of the world, but this is a first-person account and so we are experiencing Max's sentimentality, Max's oddly apolitical soul, and Max's simplistic and sometimes blind approach to life. Some of Greer's writing is absolutely beautiful and moving, literature in the best sense, and a little will make you cringe, but that may be the intended effect.

Overall an original and worthwhile novel.
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Remembering Santa Fe
Remembering Santa Fe

Igal, December 28, 2006

The woodcuts are wonderful, but it's the easy-going memories of Willard Clark that make this book so worthwhile. Remembering Santa Fe is about a time before electronics ruled our lives, before clock and car and superhighway of one kind or another crowded out the figurative and literal open spaces in our lives. But Clark's firsthand graphic and verbal depictions of a bygone era are never sentimental; he obviously loved the life he led in pre-WWII Santa Fe, and we can see why. It was a sweet, authentic life, lived close to nature, close to the people around him, and with art. Generations passing along the secrets of their arts and crafts; fishing in a nearby stream; preparing simple but flavorful food; playing guitar with a friend in the moonlight; working in a field; going visiting; building adobes; all are part of the Santa Fe life that Clark's so lovingly and convincingly recorded. It makes me want to find a time machine and join him there.
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(1 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki
The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations

Igal, September 20, 2006

Can a bunch of strangers out-think a team of focused experts? Under certain conditions, according to this intriguing book, yes. Author James Surowiecki cites numerous experiments and real-life situations to illustrate how a group of diverse people who cooperate in the attempt to solve a problem, and whose efforts are coordinated without compromising each person's independence, will come up with a better answer than even its most intelligent members working alone.

For example, in an attempt to locate a missing submarine, a hastily arranged team of people with very different skill sets came up with coordinates good enough for the military to find the sunken vessel! They had nothing to go on but some facts that had left rescuers clueless, and yet when their answers were averaged, an uncanny precision emerged. Convincing examples like this are provided throughout the book.

Surowiecki's hypothesis is most convincing when he writes about the solutions to specific problems, supporting his arguments with historical fact or known results. Average the guesses to how many jellybeans are in a jar, and you'll almost always get the most accurate answer.

He also hits the mark when he discusses market theory, and how individuals with self-interest make the market work like a smart crowd, sometimes even a wise one. He supports these notions by referring to numerous published studies, famous experiments, and some solid arguments.

It's important to remember that much of the talk on economics cites highly controlled studies, or very limited real-world studies. Life doesn't necessarily work as advertised, and that's why we have laws, regulations, courts, and lots and lots of lawyers.

Surowiecki's thesis also gets a little shaky when he ventures into the smoky world of politics. After all, a roomful of politicians doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the wisdom of crowds (though it does bring to mind the word wiseguys). And didn't a group of "experts" known as the Supreme Court decide an election supposedly meant to be left in the hands of a wise crowd known as the American voters?

Democracy, voting, ideology, these are big, hairy topics, and Surowiecki senses that he won't do them justice in his short book. In the end, he simply repeats a truth that we the public, as a wise crowd, know: Democracy is far from perfect, but still the best system of government we know of. And that, perhaps, is the wisdom of the crowd at work.
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