1. Freakonomics: Boy genius economist explains it all for you. The author is a Chicago economics professor who is young and energetic. He’s hired a ghost writer to talk about him in the third person at the beginning of each chapter, which is jarring. Past the hype and the odd structure of the book, I found it enjoyable. It reminds me of some really enjoyable undergraduate courses I had which mostly consisted of cool stories illustrating some point of the subject. He talks about baby names, and crime, and other quotidian interests and relates them to microeconomics, so even if you hate economics he tricks you into being interested in it. Unlike the good undergrad course, the book doesn’t impart any real knowledge, so it’s just all the fun stories from the cool young prof. It leaves you feeling really smart, but you really aren’t. Worth two hours. B-
2. The Men Who Stare At Goats: British journalist documents New Age insanity of the military. Documentary filmmaker and writer Jon Ronson has a good previous record at dealing with nut cases. This time he’s found a treasure trove. A Strangelovian assortment of military officers, including the chief of military intelligence for the U.S. Army, spent years trying to walk through walls, stop people’s hearts with their brains, locate enemies with psychic powers, and become invisible. Some of them believe they did these things. A gaggle of unfortunate goats spent a while being stared at by military personnel who were trying to kill them with the Force, or something. At one point a psychic goes into a trance attempting to locate Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and awakens with the important message: ASK KRISTY MCNICHOL! The latter part of the book gets more serious, as Ronson finds that some of the funny/silly New Age stuff has now been adapted into torture technique. One puzzled former Gitmo inmate relates attempts by his guards to drive him nuts with loud, bad music, and there are an assortment of similar psychological torments. Most of the book is for laughs, though, and he delivers. Another pretty good waste of two hours. B+ I strongly recommend Ronson’s previous book (and documentary TV series if you can find it) about extremists, with profiles of David Icke, Randy Weaver, and other nut jobs; it’s an A+. Engrossing and funny but tragic, and sympathetic to the kooks. Also, see Ronson’s own site.