What We Are Reading Today: Numbers Rule by George Szpiro

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Updated 06 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Numbers Rule by George Szpiro

  • The book explains how mathematical paradoxes and enigmas can crop up in virtually any voting arena

Since the very birth of democracy in ancient Greece, the simple act of voting has given rise to mathematical paradoxes that have puzzled some of the greatest philosophers, statesmen, and mathematicians. Numbers Rule traces the epic quest by these thinkers to create a more perfect democracy and adapt to the ever-changing demands that each new generation places on our democratic institutions.

In a sweeping narrative that combines history, biography, and mathematics, George Szpiro details the fascinating lives and big ideas of great minds such as Plato, Pliny the Younger, Ramon Llull, Pierre Simon Laplace, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John von Neumann, and Kenneth Arrow, among many others. 

Each chapter in this riveting book tells the story of one or more of these visionaries and the problem they sought to overcome, like the Marquis de Condorcet, the 18th-century French nobleman who demonstrated that a majority vote in an election might not necessarily result in a clear winner. 

Szpiro takes readers from ancient Greece and Rome to medieval Europe, from the founding of the American republic and the French Revolution to today’s high-stakes elective politics. 

He explains how mathematical paradoxes and enigmas can crop up in virtually any voting arena, from electing a class president, a pope, or prime minister to the apportionment of seats in Congress.

Numbers Rule describes the trials and triumphs of the thinkers down through the ages who have dared the odds in pursuit of a just and equitable democracy.


What We Are Reading Today: Scientific Parallel Computing

Updated 28 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Scientific Parallel Computing

Edited by Larkin Ridgway Scott, Terry Clark, And Babak Bagheri

What does Google’s management of billions of Web pages have in common with analysis of a genome with billions of nucleotides? Both apply methods that coordinate many processors to accomplish a single task.

From mining genomes to the World Wide Web, from modeling financial markets to global weather patterns, parallel computing enables computations that would otherwise be impractical if not impossible with sequential approaches alone.

Scientific Parallel Computing is the first textbook to integrate all the fundamentals of parallel computing in a single volume while also providing a basis for a deeper understanding of the subject.


What We Are Reading Today: Microfinance and Its Discontents by Lamia Karim

Updated 26 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Microfinance and Its Discontents by Lamia Karim

In 2006, the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh won the Nobel Peace Prize for its innovative microfinancing operations.

This path-breaking study of gender, grassroots globalization, and neoliberalism in Bangladesh look critically at the Grameen Bank and three of the leading NGOs in the country.

Amid euphoria over the benefits of microfinance, Lamia Karim offers a timely and sobering perspective on the practical, and possibly detrimental, realities for poor women inducted into microfinance operations.

In a series of ethnographic cases, Karim shows how NGOs use social codes of honor and shame to shape the conduct of women and to further an agenda of capitalist expansion, according to a review on goodreads.com

These unwritten policies subordinate poor women to multiple levels of debt that often lead to increased violence at the household and community levels, thereby weakening women’s ability to resist the onslaught of market forces.

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What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya

Updated 12 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya

This was a beautifully written book that everyone should have on their shelf.

This book invites thought, compassion, reflection, and consideration, both for one’s own life and the lives of those around us.

In this profound and personal book, Kieran Setiya shows how philosophy can help us find our way.

Setiya skillfully gives readers the information and context they need as he goes so they do not have to have a background in philosophy to understand and enjoy this book.

The way he ties it all together is poetry and his humor adds levity to some deceptively deep and heavy topics. He shares his own experience with chronic pain and the consolation that comes from making sense of it.

Drawing on ancient and modern philosophy, as well as fiction, comedy, social science and personal essay, Life is Hard is a book for this moment — a work of solace and compassion.

“This book makes no attempt to sugar coat life,” said a review on Goodreads.com.

“Once we accept the fact that we and others will always have troubles life will become more bearable and enjoyable.”

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What We Are Reading Today: The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U

Updated 30 October 2022

What We Are Reading Today: The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U

For nearly two decades Western governments and a growing activist community have been frustrated in their attempts to bring about a freer and more democratic Burma only to see an apparent slide toward even harsher dictatorship. What do we really know about Burma and its history?

In “The River of Lost Footsteps,” Thant Myint-U tells the story of modern Burma, in part through a telling of his own family’s history, in an interwoven narrative that is by turns lyrical, dramatic, and appalling, according to a review on goodreads.com.

The book is a work both personal and global, a distinctive contribution that makes Burma accessible and enthralling. Thant Myint-U, educated at Harvard and Cambridge, has served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations, in Cambodia and in the former Yugoslavia, and was more recently the head of policy planning in the UN’s Department of Political Affairs. He lives in New York City.


What We Are Reading Today: On Every Tide by Sean Connolly

Updated 29 October 2022

What We Are Reading Today: On Every Tide by Sean Connolly

In On Every Tide, Sean Connolly tells the epic story of Irish migration, showing how emigrants became a force in world politics and religion.

Starting in the 18th century, the Irish fled limited opportunity at home and fanned out across America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

These emigrants helped settle new frontiers, industrialize the West, and spread Catholicism globally.

As the Irish built vibrant communities abroad, they leveraged their newfound power — sometimes becoming oppressors themselves.

Deeply researched and vividly told, On Every Tide is essential reading for understanding how the people of Ireland shaped the world.

Connolly’s writing is lively and light enough on its feet not to get bogged down in the statistics he deploys so effectively, Fiintan O’Toole said in a review for the New York Times.

Connolly has a healthy allergy to sentimental and heroic myth-making, remaining clear-eyed about the capacity of the Irish to inflict on others the oppression and belittlement they themselves suffered at home and abroad.