Robert Tavernor, Smoot’s Ear : The Measure of Humanity – This is an interesting, albeit dry, history of measurement in Europe, starting from the Greeks and Romans, more or less, up through the development of the metric system. It’s chock full of interesting little facts and also highlights the real problems that arise when there is no standard as well as when trying to define a standard.

Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk – The first in Mahfouz’s masterpiece trilogy, this novel follows a very traditional family of an Egyptian merchant, who spends his time partying every night while terrorizing his family during the day. It’s set during the end of the British occupation at the end of WWI and the protests against the British that start at the end of the novel seem eerily relevant today.

Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People – This is a popular history of theories of race, beauty, and intelligence and how they became entwined with skin color, head-shape, and other measurable quantities. It was an interesting read but felt a little incomplete somehow. Also, she uses the work “pride of place” too many times. It was distracting!

Vivek Borkar, Stochastic Approximation : a Dynamical Systems Viewpoint – This slim book gives a concise, albeit very technical, introduction to the basic methods and results in stochastic approximation. It’s fairly mathematically challenging, but because it’s to-the-point, I found it easier going than the book by Kushner and Yin.


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