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Well, over 3 million actually. So it’s hardly surprising that a new wave of pop-economics books have hit the shelves.

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The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford is no Freakonomics but it is an interesting companion. It starts pretty slowly, spending a couple of chapters exploring a few tortured metaphors for Supply and Demand, but gradually becomes an insightful and useful analysis of how modern life is so fully affected by economics. Most importantly, it’s a readable book that brings what can be a tedious science to life.

And maybe that’s the critical thing. The lessons in books like this and Freakonomics are real and applicable. The lame struggles that GCSE Maths exams and the like go to in order to appear relevant are effortlessly surpassed in these well-written pop-Science books. In fact I’d go a step further, it would not be the worst decision in the history of the National Curriculum to add these and similar books. (A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson comes to mind) As exercises in education, they are refreshing and an extremely pleasing modern phenomenon.

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When England won the Rugby World Cup final 4 1/2 years ago, it was one of the best mornings of my life. I think it was a pretty good afternoon too, but I can’t remember much beyond talking to some lacrosse girls during a Bath game, trying to get a 6 year old to swear and falling asleep in Pizza Express. It was the culmination of 6 years of England Rugby under Clive Woodward – and the transformation of an amateur organisation to the most professional of its type in the world.

There were a lot of peaks and troughs before the final zenith (50 points on Wales, France, Ireland and South Africa, first wins in Australia and New Zealand┬ábeing the former, being drop-kicked out of the RWC ’99 by South Africa and losing successive grand slams to Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland being the latter), but there’s no doubting that a definite progression was made from 1997 to 2003.

cw

Woodward wrote most of this book just after the world cup, but it has been revised and updated until just before the Lions Tour to New Zealand (for some reason there was no push to revise it after that). I’ve only just got around to reading it (picked it up at the airport if you must know) and, sadly, I don’t feel like I’ve missed much. The problem is that Woodward pitches it as a business book more than a rugby memoir, but all the interesting stuff comes from the memoirs. As part of his pledge to his players, it’s completely lacking in gossip – admirable perhaps, but very dull. Woodward is also a very poor writer, he’s very unfocussed and there’s no clear flow between chapters – apart from the constant refrain of “oh and if you weren’t aware, we did win the world cup” – like anyone who bought it wouldn’t already know that.

I can see what he’s trying to do – and he deserves a lot of praise for the progress he acheived. Sadly, the book is full of lessons that were failed to learn. One of his main concepts is to do 100 things 1% better than everyone else – 100 Critical Non-Essentials. Yet as late as the later group games in the RWC and the Quarter Final vs Wales, he’s bemoaning that they forgot to scout the hotels properly. After the 2001 Lions tour he had a poor run with England, and he comes to the (accurate) conclusion that he shouldn’t have picked people based on their form before the tour, but rather focus on their preparedness and form now. Fair enough. Sadly, that’s exactly the same mistake he made when coaching the 2005 Tour – picking players who had won him the world cup and ignoring the current form.

Woodward should be praised for creating an environment that allowed the likes of Johnson, Dallaglio, Greenwood and Dawson to acheive so much. But it is those players, Johnson especially, who should take the credit for the successful return to Britain, Webb Ellis trophy in tow. And, incidentally, Johnson’s memoir is a far better written and more interesting one too.

mj

A couple of things strike me when reading “Affluenza” by Oliver James.

OJ

The first is that I probably wouldn’t have bought the book if I’d thought it was a self-help book (the subtitle of “practical ways of how to survive the modern world” is hidden inside the book and not referred to until the final section of the book). The second is that I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I’d known the name of the author’s other books – e.g. “They F**k You Up” – anyone who quotes Phillip Larkin on their book covers deserves a slap.

There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of issues with this book. The quality of writing is pretty shoddy, the study section is pretty unscientific, James consistently makes himself out to be a perfect father while criticising others off the back of a few minutes analysis. On top of this, he makes regular political criticisms, which don’t really fit here, and his lack of practicality is only matched by his idealistic naivety (he gives a pretty good impression of thinking that Communism’s a good idea).

All that being said, his points are pretty interesting. The slavish materialism of (esp. English-speaking) western society does not appear to lead to any semblance of happiness. The richest people are often the nastiest and least content. James makes very interesting points about the influence of a primary carer for a consistent early age (0-2 years at least). The hypothesis is that if a mother doesn’t feel that for personal reasons she can be a full-time mother (i.e. needs to get out, needs to work etc.) that it’s crucial to use a single consistent carer (either a nanny or a personal relative – often the grandmother in China). James links this directly to an increase in mental distress in later life – greater risk of depression, great need of material things, diminished emotional maturity.

He describes a series of ‘vaccines’ against his ‘Affluenza Virus’. A lot of these could be classed as common-sense (and a few as hippy crap) but the message is clear and simple.

  • The importance of nuture has been widely underestimated in recent years – espeically until 2-3 years
  • Individual care for infants is critical, if it’s not the mother than a Nanny or relative should be preferable before day care.
  • We should wholly analyse our own goals and motivations. Materialistic goals are far less dangerous if our reasons for them are intrinsic and reasoned. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ motivations rarely lead to happiness.

The majority of these points are interestingly analysed by comparison between different behaviours worldwide – from New York, Singapore, Shanghai, Moscow and Copenhagen. So an interesting, in somewhat flawed, book and well worth the read.

I’m sure I’m not the first to compare Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

SIWBI

and The Hooziers ‘Goodbye Mr A’ off ‘The Trick To Life’

Hooziers

One’s a goodtime fun book, mildly satirical without being actually cutting or funny, about Superhoeroes and Villains, t’other is a great modern indie single, with a catchy chorus. Both are my picks to make it good and big in 2007.

(Technically it’s 2008 now. But I’m trying to look cool and authoritative. Let’s just keep this between you, me and the datestamp on this post)

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