The last couple of weeks have been amazing, reading-wise. One good book after another. In the order in which I ripped through them:
1. Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. I'd heard of this book because of the article by her in the Wall Street Journal that went viral. The book itself is less controversial than those excerpts. It appears that Chua is a hard-driving woman, her kids are even more driven (even the supposedly rebellious younger kid gets superenthused about tennis) and her parenting method has worked well for them. The asides that have all of America riled up ("Chinese parents want their kids to do well in math and music; Western parents want their kids to do well in sport") are humorous more than anything else. In fact, it appears that Chua's parenting style arises more out of fear than out of arrogance. Early on in the book, she talks about her (Jewish) husband's and her differing paths to the Yale faculty. Things came easy to him -- he loves the law (she doesn't care), and comes up with innovative ideas all the time. He landed up in Harvard Law after a couple of years trying to become an actor. She, on the other hand, plodded her way in. Her first interview at Yale went badly and she had to go teach at Duke, away from her husband. She is afraid that her children, like her (she claims), have no native talent and consequently, she pushes them hard. Of course, I would aver that someone capable of writing award-winning books and teaching law at Yale (whether you get the job after one interview or two) is way beyond the ordinary. Her daughters, too, it turns out are extremely talented. The work ethic she inculcates in them comes in handy too. We could never raise our children the way she does, but only because we do not have her motivation and drive.
2. This Time is Different by Carmen Reinhart: a data-rich listing of sovreign debt defaults around the world. She points out that countries declare bankruptcy and stiff their debtors all the time. The markets don't really punish such behavior all that much. Engrossing reading, but after a couple of chapters, I got the idea and moved on to the next book in my list. This book would have been better as a magazine article -- it's about 400 pages too many.
3. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, by Karen Armstrong. This lapsed nun and scholar of religous history points to how central compassion ("treat your neighbor as yourself") is to all the major religions and points out that extending such compassion to people outside one's clan/tribe is relatively new and came about only in the Axial Age. She points out that the Jews who returned from Babylon -- Hillel among them -- essentially reinterpreted much of the Old Testament. The Buddha, of course, upended Hinduism with a similar insight. As did Christ and Mohammed. A nice book, although the 12-step plan on which Armstrong hangs her book is a little too cute.
4. Long Time Coming, by Robert Goddard. This is one of the best mystery/thrillers I have read in a long time. The bad news is that I had never heard of him before. The good news is that now I have six more books of his to read. Highly recommended.
5. How to read your opponents' cards, by Mike Lawrence. This book is a bridge classic and deservedly so. I kinda knew all the stuff he talks about, but have not systematically incorporated them into my declarer play. If you are a bridge player, you ought to work your way through this book.
6. 1001 Cranes, by Naomi Hirahara. A coming of age novel of a third generation Japanese American in California. Like most such books, this is a sweet, nostalgic look based loosely on the author's own childhood. Highly readable.