International Book Digest

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz (Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. 2010)

This new book about what it means and how it feels to be wrong is both “insightful and delightful.” Shulz wonders why it feels so good to be right, even when what we’re right about has negative consequences (predicting the end of a friend’s relationship is an example given in the book). The first half of the book deals with the “origins” of our fondness for being right; the second half with the “experience.” According to reviewer Daniel Gilbert, what Schulz, a journalist, lacks in specific expertise, she makes up for in breadth, and her voice is: “a warm, witty and welcome presence who confides in her readers rather than lecturing them.” Gilbert doesn’t accuse Schulz of being wrong about anything, but he does lighten the intended impact of the read: “Compelling points are not assembled into necessary conclusions, and so her book ends up being the sum of its parts, but not more.”

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor (Harper. 2010)

Reviewer Andrew Higgins cites the popular belief that, “China may do lots of things Westerners don’t like, but at least it has dumped communism in all but name,” but in this new book, Richard McGregor, a reporter, argues that, in spite of presenting all the trappings to the contrary—Starbucks—China still runs on well-hidden “Soviet hardware.” Higgins’s initial wonder at how a book on the Communist Party can be at all fresh soon becomes further evidence of McGregor’s central argument: that the Chinese government has, throughout modern history, valued “secrecy as an inviolable principle.” This book provides some new insight into a mysterious world, thanks to McGregor’s connections. Even still, Higgins is impressed by how tight-lipped the interviewees are. But, between interesting “nuggets” and intelligent analysis, McGregor manages to “adds flesh” to the story, exposing “what has become the Chinese Communist Party’s only real ideology: its own survival.”

What Women Want: The Global Marketplace Turns Female-Friendly by Paco Underhill (Simon & Schuster. 2010)

Retail consultant Paco Underhill attempts, with this new book, to explain what women want to fellow marketers (and perhaps some curious men). Among female desires when shopping are “cleanliness, control, safety and considerateness,” and some acknowledgement of the rigorous demands on the modern woman’s time. Reviewer Lisa Bonos thinks it falls a little short: “The mass marketplace is all about generalizations, and he makes plenty of them.” Eventually Underhill concludes that, as consumers, the main difference between men and women is that women are “more demanding.” But, he assures, men also like improvement. They just need women to get it for them.

The Great Silence: Britain From the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson (Grove Press. 2010)

In her recounting of Britain in the wake of World War I, Juliet Nicholson—the granddaughter the British aristocrat, Vita Sackeville-West—“excels at ferreting out revealing details,” most of them heart wrenching. And though the gruesome reality depicted in her book is now taken for granted, it runs in stark contrast to the forced revelry that, at the time, Britain fitted like a too-small bandage over its giant war wounds. Reviewer Miranda Seymour applauds Nicolson’s focus on physician Harold Gillies, who, in the years following the war, performed more than 11,572 reconstructive surgeries on soldiers who had come close to being killed, and would have been destroyed were it not for the hope Gillies offered. But Seymour has one major qualm with the book: perhaps because of her lineage, Nicolson’s “emphasis is on a privileged class whose sufferings sound trivial in comparison” to that of the ordinary soldier, returned to his family, in Nicolson’s words, as a mass, “no larger than a Sunday roast.”


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