Do You Believe in Magic, The Woman in the Dunes, Who Fears Death, The Round House, Three Felonies A Day

I love Paul Offit, the author of Do You Believe in Magic, and I disliked this book. Offit was a co-inventor of the rotovirus vaccine, and is an powerful advocate for vaccination. His book “Deadly Choices” is one of the best things I’d ever read about the anti-vaccination movement. However, “Do You Believe in Magic?” which is his book on more traditional pseudoscience and non-science based medicine is just not as strong as his vaccination work. He handles vitamin megadosing very well, but some of the other topics, including homeopathy, chiropractic aren’t as great. The book is sometimes too specific and conclusory, and can be hard to get into. Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre, or anything Steven Novella has written online is a better explanation of the same topics.

The Woman in the Dunes is by Kōbō Abe, the same author as Secret Rendezvous, which long time readers may remember as one of the books I read back in February and absolutely hated. Despite that, I decided to give Abe another try, mostly because my friend Mako felt bad about how much I disliked Secret Rendezvous. And lo and behold, Woman in the Dunes was SO MUCH BETTER. It gets at a lot of the same ideas as Secret Rendezvous, but without the rape and nonconsensual kink, which seriously squicked me. Not much to say about this book without spoilers, other than it’s fascinating, and Kafka-esque, and a quick read that keeps you thinking.

Who Fears Death is a fantasy novel set in a dystopian future version of the Sudan. It’s good, but not great, with solid storytelling and some interesting handling of contemporary issues, including weaponized rape and female circumcision.

The Round House is another book by Louise Erdrich. Covers many of the same themes as her previous work, but I liked the storytelling in this book a bit better. 

Three Felonies A Day is Harvey Silverglate’s study of the intersection between ambiguous federal law, prosecutorial overreach, and harsh sentencing. Post Aaron Swartz’s death, this book is especially poignant, but Silverglate doesn’t quite make a compelling argument. The book is repetitive, using the same examples over and over again, with unsympathetic key figures. Also, it doesn’t even try to live up to the title claim that Americans are committing “three felonies a day” - unless you’re a Wall Street trader. I would love to see an update to this that discusses the current state of the CFAA, which presents a number of much more compelling examples.