What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Powder, and Residue by Beth A. Bechky

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Updated 22 January 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Powder, and Residue by Beth A. Bechky

The findings of forensic science — from DNA profiles and chemical identifications of illegal drugs to comparisons of bullets, fingerprints, and shoeprints — are widely used in police investigations and courtroom proceedings. While we recognize the significance of this evidence for criminal justice, the actual work of forensic scientists is rarely examined and largely misunderstood. Blood, Powder, and Residue goes inside a metropolitan crime laboratory to shed light on the complex social forces that underlie the analysis of forensic evidence, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Drawing on 18 months of rigorous fieldwork in a crime lab of a major metro area, Beth Bechky tells the stories of the forensic scientists who struggle to deliver unbiased science while under intense pressure from adversarial lawyers, escalating standards of evidence, and critical public scrutiny. Bechky brings to life the daily challenges these scientists face, from the painstaking screening and testing of evidence to making communal decisions about writing up the lab report, all while worrying about attorneys asking them uninformed questions in court.

What We Are Reading Today: The Invisible Gorilla

Updated 04 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Invisible Gorilla

AUTHORS: Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

In The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, creators of one of psychology’s most famous experiments, use remarkable stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.

Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. We’re sure we know where we were on 9/11, falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity. We spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement.

 The Invisible Gorilla reveals the myriad ways that our intuitions can deceive us. Chabris and Simons explain why we succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects.

What We Are Reading Today: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod

Updated 03 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod

When Hugh MacLeod was a struggling young copywriter living in a YMCA, he started to doodle on the backs of business cards while sitting at a bar. 

Those cartoons eventually led to a popular blog — gapingvoid.com — and a reputation for pithy insight and humor, in both words and pictures.

MacLeod has opinions on everything from marketing to the meaning of life, but one of his main subjects is creativity. 

How do new ideas emerge in a cynical, risk-averse world? Where does inspiration come from? What does it take to make a living as a creative person?

Ignore Everybody expands on MacLeod’s sharpest insights, wittiest cartoons, and most useful advice. 

For example: Selling out is harder than it looks. Diluting your product to make it more commercial will just make people like it less. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether. There’s no point trying to do the same thing as 250,000 other young hopefuls, waiting for a miracle. 

After learning MacLeod’s forty keys to creativity, you will be ready to unlock your own brilliance and unleash it on the world.

What We Are Reading Today: The Chief by David Nasaw

Updated 02 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Chief by David Nasaw

David Nasaw’s magnificent, definitive biography of William Randolph Hearst is based on newly released private and business papers and interviews. 

For the first time, documentation of Hearst’s interactions with Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, and every American president from Grover Cleveland to Franklin Roosevelt, as well as with movie giants Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, and Irving Thalberg, completes the picture of this colossal American. 

Hearst, known to his staff as the Chief, was a man of prodigious appetites. By the 1930s, he controlled the largest publishing empire in the country, including twenty-eight newspapers, the Cosmopolitan Picture Studio, radio stations, and thirteen magazines.  In Nasaw’s portrait, questions about Hearst’s relationships are addressed, including those about his mistress in his Harvard days, his legal wife, Millicent, ; and Marion Davies, his companion until death. 

Recently discovered correspondence with the architect of Hearst’s world-famous estate, San Simeon, is augmented by taped interviews with the people who worked there shed light on the private life of a very public man.

What We Are Reading Today: Raceless by Georgina Lawton

Updated 01 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Raceless by Georgina Lawton

Raceless is an exploration of a fundamental question: What constitutes our sense of self? 

Drawing on her personal experiences and the stories of others, British journalist Georgina Lawton grapples with difficult questions about love, shame, grief, and prejudice, and reveals the nuanced and emotional journey of forming one’s identity.

The book “is a must-read for any racially integrated family, especially with children,” said a review in goodreads.com.

“This is a book written fiercely, scorchingly, with evident painful honesty. It is extremely well written and thought provoking,” it added.

“Raised in sleepy English suburbia, Georgina Lawton was no stranger to homogeneity. Her parents were white; her friends were white; there was no reason for her to think she was any different. But over time her brown skin and dark, kinky hair frequently made her a target of prejudice,” said the review.

The author expresses her journey so well that others can relate and hopefully start their own if needed. “The combination of research and her personal journey, made this a fascinating read. Her story was very raw, and she held nothing back,” said the review.

What We Are Reading Today: Promoting Peace with Information by Dan Lindley

Updated 28 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Promoting Peace with Information by Dan Lindley

It is normally assumed that international security regimes such as the UN can reduce the risk of war by increasing transparency among adversarial nations. 

The more adversaries understand each other’s intentions and capabilities, the thinking goes, the less likely they are to be led to war by miscalculations and unwarranted fears. But how is transparency provided, how does it actually work, and how effective is it in preserving or restoring peace? 

In Promoting Peace with Information, Dan Lindley provides the first scholarly answer to these important questions, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Lindley rigorously examines a wide range of cases, including UN peacekeeping operations in Cyprus, the Golan Heights, Namibia, and Cambodia; arms-control agreements, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and the historical example of the Concert of Europe, which sought to keep the peace following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. 

Making nuanced arguments based on extensive use of primary sources, interviews, and field research, Lindley shows when transparency succeeds in promoting peace, and when it fails.