Summer reading: Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of math destruction book cover

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Cathy O’Neil

After earning a PhD in math, a tenure-track teaching position at Barnard and, eventually, a lucrative gig as a Wall Street “quant,” Cathy O’Neil believed in the gospel of Big Data. The 2008 financial crisis changed all that. “The privileged,” O’Neil realized, “are processed more by people, the masses by machines.”

In a world gaga over Big Data, her book illustrates how Big Data in fields such as education, the criminal justice system, the workplace, as well as the insurance and advertising industries increases inequality and undermines democracy. In the workplace, for instance, efficiency (which can be measured in numbers) is valued over quality (which cannot). Similarly, in the area of criminal justice, arrests are easily measured while the trust built by community policing — not so much. In her own professional experience on Wall Street, O’Neil witnessed a blind faith in numbers and “a false sense of security leading to widespread use of imperfect models, self-serving definitions of success, and growing feedback loops. Those who objected are regarded as nostalgic Luddites.”

But all is not lost. The final chapter offers inspiring examples of how Big Data can be used to improve society: how a mathematical model can be used, for instance, to predict victims of child abuse; that model then provides information to humans who can step in to provide resources and tools to help these families avoid a cycle of abuse.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Library tours, August 21 – 28

Library tours August 2018

Join other students and get your bearings with a 3-in-one tour of the Doe Memorial Library, Moffitt Undergraduate Library, and the Main Stacks. See these central libraries and learn about the student services they provide. Tour starts at the north entrance of Doe Library.

Tour dates and times:

Tuesday 8/21: 2-3 pm
Wednesday 8/22: 10-11am and 2-3pm
Thursday 8/23: 10-11am and 2-3pm
Friday 8/24: 10-11am and 2-3pm
Monday 8/27: 10-11am and 2-3pm
Tuesday 8/28: 10-11am and 2-3pm


Summer reading: Protestants Abroad

Protestants abroad book cover

Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America
David Hollinger

Prof. Hollinger has had a distinguished career here at UCB bringing a nuanced understanding to the history of American multiculturalism, and in this new book he shows how Protestant zeal to spread the evangelical message often had the reverse effect of bringing the wider world’s perspectives back to American communities from abroad.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Reality is Not What It Seems

Reality is Not What It Seems book cover

Reality is Not What It Seems: the Journey to Quantum Gravity
Carlo Rovelli

This new book is fascinating, well-written, and, believe or not, a page turner. It is about the paradigm shifts that led to our current revolutionary moment in physics. The book provides an engaging, accessible history and explanations of an unbelievable story of innovation.

Carlo Rovelli is a ground breaker in Grand Unified Theory and a bestselling author with his previous book, Seven Brief Lessons in Physics.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: The Plover

The Plover book cover

The Plover
Brian Doyle

The Plover is a novel about a sailing trip but also so much more. Relationships, tolerances, personal challenges, hope for recovery, multiculturalism, emotions across the board, unlikely friendships, forgiveness, understanding of malicious activity . . . and the inflection and infusion of the wildlife that shares our planet, even in the middle of the ocean.

A reaction from another reader: “I love his slantwise way of looking at the world. He sees the threads that connect everything, and he chooses a seemingly random thread to explore a little fragment of interconnectedness, as though all paths are equally meaningful. Then he is off on another thread. One has the feeling he could spin a whole story from any fragment, and one wishes to hear them all.”

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: The Hacking of the American Mind

The Hacking of the American Mind book cover

The Hacking of the American Mind
Robert Lustig

Five years ago, UCSF pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert H. Lustig came out swinging with Fat Chance, a well-argued if polemical exposé of how the processed sugar industry has come to dominate food production (and consumption) with disastrous effects. Now he’s back with the even more compelling The Hacking of the American Mind.

Lustig’s thesis is that not one but several industries consciously develop products designed to foment addictive behavior, showing convincingly that the brain-signaling pathways implicated in substance addictions (drugs, alcohol) are the same as those implicated in behavioral addictions (addiction to social media, for example). He lays out in plain language how the dopamine stimulus mechanism works, how it can be abused to the point of permanent damage, how the serotonin production system mediates these reactions, and how some of the very same addictive behaviors actually thwart the behaviors that would promote serotonin production and a healthy balance between the two.

His wide-ranging assault touches on processed food, substance abuse, and most significantly for modern audiences, the profound new role of “attention addiction” — being unable to tear your attention away from social media.

As in Fat Chance, Lustig writes in an informal, direct, highly-readable, no-BS voice that makes it sound like he is in a classroom addressing a small group of students.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Barkskins

Barkskins book cover

Barkskins
Annie Proulx

Though it’s very long, I count it as inspirational in many ways. She inspires the reader to think about the research (the love of historical archival work and stories of the past, the enjoyment of discovery, a fascination with the lives of other people) involved in writing this kind of historical novel. She also leaves us with something like an obsession with trees, branches and leaves, and massive tree trunks and a longing for woods and forests. Though it’s partly a story of the ecological devastation of the forests of North America, it’s also a story of hope that we today will do some healing. It is also an honest and delicate exploration of relations between European settlers and Native American groups.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Climate Changed

Climate Changed book cover

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science
Philippe Squarzoni

Squarzoni’s graphic memoir recounts his experience in coming to understand the immensity of our changing climate. While he was finishing a previous book about politics, he realized he didn’t know much about climate change, and thus he started to investigate. That investigation led him to a whole new book, one he felt he had to write. Not only does the book inform readers of these enormous changes, it also illustrates how it is we come to understand new and life-altering ideas. One of my students said after reading Squarzoni’s memoir that she felt “changed.” Squarzoni provides no easy answers, but he does open our eyes to some of the most pressing concerns of our day.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Euphoria

Euphoria book cover

Euphoria
Lily King

This 2014 novel is based in part on the life of the famed/notorious anthropologist Margaret Mead. Set in New Guinea in the 1930s, this narrative full of danger and desire is propelled forward by the thrill — and the risks — of seeking out new knowledge. A reviewer wrote in the New York Times, “King’s signal achievement may be to have created satisfying drama out of a quest for interpretive insight.”

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon book cover

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I.
David Grann

Woody Guthrie sang that in his native Oklahoma, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.” This Western history reveals the full truth of this for the first time, and adds the point that for Native Americans fraud was sealed with multiple murders of the young and the old. Grann, a magazine journalist, has had an epic year with human catastrophes of a century ago. His book on explorers in the Amazon became the film, The Lost City of Z, and his visit to Antarctica, “The White Darkness,” was featured in The New Yorker in early 2018. The dusty oil patch in Oklahoma, it turns out, had healthier weather but many more tragedies. They will make you gasp as you become the explorer.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!