Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University, director of the Applied Statistics Center, and also the founding director of the Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences program.

His latest book is Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've been reading Personal Days, by Ed Park, which based on the reviews (and the first couple of chapters, which is what I've read so far) is a remake of Joshua Ferris's Then We Come to the End, last year's hilarious and claustrophobic satire on office-cubicle life. Ferris's and Park's books read like a cross between Geoffrey O'Brien and Don DeLillo, only funnier. Or like a fast-forward Richard Ford without the smugness. I'm impressed how novel-writing technique has improved in recent decades. John Updike was pretty slick, but Ferris and Park (and, for that matter, Ford) really seem in total control of their material, even in comparison to the masters of the previous generations. Sure, there was Nabokov (and, in his own way, James Jones), but that's about it from back then. Now there seem to be a lot of novelists who really know what they're doing in this way. (I think Jonathan Coe could have total control of his material too, if he really felt like it. He seems like Mailer or (Martin) Amis in his desire to shatter his own smooth surfaces.)

I'm also reading Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941, by British historian Ian Kershaw. He goes into the historical evidence on how the leaders of Germany, Japan, the United States and the other WW2 participants made some of their seemingly inexplicable decisions. In addition to giving background on the historical personalities involved, Kershaw's book is fascinating in how it focuses on the decision-making process within each country. In the writing style as well as in content, this book reminds me of A. J. P. Taylor's classic Origins of the Second World War.
Visit the official website for Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State.

Learn more about Andrew Gelman and his work at his website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue