The Lost Man is a family saga located in the middle of Australia, on cattle ranches where temperatures soar above 110 degrees and each drive requires lugging water and other survival gear, just in case. The death of one of three brothers eventually resolves into a tale of family violence, with the landscape a haunting character. (Jane Harper also wrote The Dry, a mystery located in a small town and with many more actors, and just as remarkable.)
The central idea in The Accidental Homo Sapiens: Genetics, Behavior, and Free Will, that exploring genetics with an on/off switch approach is reductive and misguided, is welcome and helpful. Since most behaviors occur on a spectrum or bell curve, research needs to be more nuanced and requires big data–and the public needs to realize that Mendelian results are unlikely to emerge.
That said, I felt that the book meandered and fell short from providing a commentary useful to a layperson.
Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America mixes memories of the author’s father, a complicated man who eventually left the family, and the author’s own life as a adult. His father’s life made for the most compelling parts of the book, I thought. A smart man living in blatantly racist times, he had to fight for everything: his good government job (until Reagan fired all striking air traffic controllers), housing, and education for himself and his children. The author’s life, centered around his alcoholism, seemed a bit too navel-gazing, although there were some funny moments, as when he is asked to join a televised intervention for his alcoholic brother and wonders how he can be fit to do that.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men is, unfortunately, a bit of a messy book. The less interesting parts are a litany of standard sexist practices, which are sadly quite well-known and not (IMHO) related to any invisibility of women, such as the unequal distribution of domestic chores, all delivered on an unregulated tone of outrage.
The best bits expose processes and decisions that inadvertently create sexist outcomes, from snow-clearing schedules, the location of bus stops, automated recruiting algorithms, misguided distribution practices of stoves designed to fight indoor solutions, and the complete lack of testing of car safety features for the smaller bodies of women. Sadly but hopefully, there is a simple solution to these problems: include people in decisions of all kinds.
Under the Midnight Sun is a very dark, long story of murder (many murders!), rapes, child abuse, interspersed with lighter, almost amusing viewed from today, crimes of software piracy and ATM scamming. As is always the case with Higashino, we also have the dedicated detective who never gives up, and a female psychopath or two.
Especially after the recent college admission scandals, we are well aware of how much easier it is for the children of high-income parents to get into elite universities as compared to the children of low-income parents (even when the rich parents are not cheating outright!). What is less well-known is how low-income students fare once they have been admitted. The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students looks at the lives of students in an anonymous East Coast college, comparing rich ones to poor ones. It finds many awkward situations.
Some are caused by the startling obliviousness of the rich kids (Who raised these children? Have they never thought about anyone but themselves?). Others are caused by badly designed processes (Who decided to have a separate line for students on financial aid? Fortunately the college can, and did, change some of those). And others are caused by the natural awkwardness of economic inequality, whereby the low-income students worries about their parents being evicted and the $50 winter jackets stand out in the crowd of $750 winter jackets. I did not agree with all of the authors’ concerns, but it’s clear that colleges must help low-income students make better use of their college years, they must remind their staff, professors and otherwise, that not all students come from privilege.
And one more: can we immediately eliminate legacy admissions?
Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age describes the lives of older women, who are, perhaps surprisingly, very happy. It does well in that regard. It also trie to give advice to said older women, which often translates into bromides such as “set limits”. Surely we have had many decades to learn such basic skills?