Five Books I Wish I Hadn’t Read

Whilst I’m waiting for the new year to fumble around and then enter in a fanfare of bangs, flashes and general destruction of the atmosphere, and as I’ve just failed to do what I wanted with this post, I thought I’d get into the spirit of the age by writing an extremely long sentence that would end up explaining that I might as well follow Grrlscientist’s lead and write a five books I wish I hadn’t read meme. They’re all from the last year, so hopefully next year will be better…


1. Multivariate Bayesian Statistics by Daniel B. Rowe. OK, obscure stats stuff, but not how to do it. The writing isn’t great, and most of the book consists of turning the same handles to get a few equations. Actual use of the methods is relegated to some short examples. What was really frustrating was that one of the main reasons I wanted to read the book was to see how to deal with a problem called non-identifiability (in essence, solving xy=1 for x and y), but this was not even mentioned. Overall, the book is pretty useless.
2. In Defence of Christianity by Brian Hebblethwaite. I got 60 pages through this before giving up. I’ve been reading so much atheist stuff on the web that I wanted to read some “proper” apologetics. I wasn’t expecting to agree with what was written, but I was hoping to get some feel for the arguments. What I got was academic in-fighting. I couldn’t be bothered to continue.
3. Statistical Genetics: gene mapping through linkage and association by Neale et al. I was asked to review this, but I keep on finding I lack the willpower to continue reading. The first problem is that the authors seem oblivious to any organism other that man. So, all the useful plant and animal stuff gets ignored. Second, the statistical philosophy goes no further than evil p-values, so we’re apparently not meant to see how big an effect of a gene is. Third, it misses out all the exciting stuff (the word “Bayesian” isn’t in the index!). I have a few other grouches, but they may be because I’m hte wrong audience for the book.
4. Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome by John Sanford. This book caused a but of excitement in creationist circles, and it’s easy to see why. Sanford is a geneticist (he invented biolistics) who is now a Young Earth Creationist. His argument is that the human genome is degrading, and selection can’t do anything to stop it. The arguments are so awful that one reader, who studies rhetoric, disappeared for about 6 months, and still hasn’t fully recovered. I really should write a full review, just so that no one else has to. But I’d have to read it again first. If I disappear from NN for a month, you’ll know what happened. Please alert the emergency counselling services.
5. Evolution’s Eye Susan Oyama. I think she might have had some vaguely interesting idea, but I can’t remember what it was. Another one I gave up on. I guess the problem was that there was very little biology in this book about evolution – it was words which didn’t seem to go anywhere.
OK, folks. What reading did you fail to enjoy in 2008?

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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7 Responses to Five Books I Wish I Hadn’t Read

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    Bob, have you been at the New Year booze a bit early?

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    Nope, still sober. I was looking to see if some live blogging software would work in NN. The answer – no.
    I’ll replace this with a “proper” post later. Possibly. It is for readers to determine if this has happened.

  3. Kristi Vogel says:

    I wish I hadn’t read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire, because I just didn’t like it. As a child, I didn’t like the original Oz books, either, so why did I bother?
    I also wish I hadn’t read Kevin Phillips’ Bad Money, because it was depressing.

  4. Henry Gee says:

    I usually get something out of any book I read, however bad, but I agree that there are some you just can’t get into, or disagree with. I’m not a big reader of books (well, that it to say, I am big, and I’m a reader, but I am usually writing stuff or reading manuscripts) so the following do not necessarily come from the past year.
    The God Delusion by Lord Voldemort. I don’t care how many times PZ Myers tells me I don’t understand this book (without ever explaining his reasoning) – the initial premise is based on false logic and so the whole book falls down.
    Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman. I read this only because I’d been asked to review it for the Philadelphia Inquirer (who still haven’t paid me – what’s up, guys?). But as a read, it’s about as fun as crawling on one’s hands and knees across a thousand miles of broken glass (a nifty allusion I nicked from The Darkness), made worse by its ultimate fultility. Yes, the complexity and nonlinearity of the natural world are worthy of awe, but why should they be regarded as sacred? The one book that has all but destroyed any residuum of faith I might once have possessed. Some people might think that’s a good thing, but I saw the entire exercise as a waste of time. I wouldn’t have read this for pleasure.
    Avoid Boring People By James D. Watson. Do as the man says. Avoid this book. View with extreme scepticism any puffs claiming that in my review (for BBC Focus) I wrote that Watson is an engaging writer. Yes, he is, but the rest of the review should have made my feelings clear.
    The Children of Hurin by J R R Tolkien. Did anyone say ‘rip off’?
    Defending Middle-earth by Patrick Curry. If such as Patrick Curry claims to be one of Tolkien’s friends, then the great Hobbitmonger doesn’t need enemies. One of the few books that filled me with such fury that I had to restrain myself from flinging it across a room.
    To end on a happy note, 2009 will find me reading The Ode Less Travelled by the ever-excellent Stephen Fry.

  5. Bob O'Hara says:

    If nothing else this meme is great for getting the bile out of your system, isn’t it?

  6. Kristi Vogel says:

    I had a bad feeling about The Children of Hurin, so I didn’t buy it. I didn’t even check it out of the library. I’m conflicted enough about some of the History of Middle-earth volumes.

  7. Åsa Karlström says:

    There was that book “Genes and Genomes” (think it was called that) that I tried to read a few years back… this year I think I said oh no to “Solstorm” (Swedish crime) and the following two books. What can I say? I thought they were going to pick up but oh no….
    Other than that guess I either read too few books this year so none was bad, or I can not remember?!
    Fun post though ;) beware of books on statistics…..