Monthly book roundup – 2015 April

Books finished in April:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence (2014) by Laurence Steinberg. Importance of self-regulation and self-control. The age of puberty is creeping downwards, documentable from things like when girls develop breasts and get their period and when boys’ voice starts to crack. The reason is not better health, rather lack of sleep, more body fat, more light exposure that triggers melotonin production, various chemicals. For boys this development is not necessarily bad, but for girls it is, since when they mature physically before mentally and emotionally, they will often orientate towards older peers without being able to handle the corresponding challenges. A key is that the pre-frontal cortex, which handles self regulation and control do not develop earlier. The brain does develop substantially is adolescence, though, so there may be much to gain from interventions and guidance in this period. Perhaps by exploiting that the adolescent brain is particularly tuned to pleasure (which may be why memories from that period are so vivid)? Much in the book’s later parts is common sense advice, but overall it is an interesting read.

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2011) by Tim Wu. Goes through the modern “information” businesses in the US – telephone, radio, television and film, and internet. A recurrent theme is how upstarts become (power-abusing) empires. The communication network determines who gets heard. Bell vs Gray controversy over the invention of the telephone. The Bell company exploiting its monopoly and sabotaging competitors. Broadcasting and sports. Modern mass media is sometimes accused of weakening local communities, but Wu claims that at least radio had the opposite effect. Tinkering and voluntary sharing important in the early days of radio, but less and less, like internet and computers today. Hollywood censorship code possible to implement because of centralization of power. A second recurrent theme is “the utopia of openness vs the perfection of the closed system.” Will today’s information giants be different from before? Do not bet on it.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014) by Michael Lewis. Makes a compelling case for the waste of resources in zero-sum games and manipulation of parts of the finance sector. Great read like most of Lewis’ books, but much is hard to evaluate, and I feel that there is still much that I do not know.

Ratings and old books are in the library.

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