Book Reviews

Plous, S. The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making

This book provides an excellent overview for anyone interesting in studying decision theory. It is easy to read, entertaining, and informative. Some of the references given at the end of this book will get the serious student started studying the classics in decision theory, and this book will give you the background to know where you want to go next. Most of the major theories in decision science are at least introduced, and many examples are used to illustrate Plous's points. Written by one of the leading scholars in social psychology, this book blends psychology, sociology, and probability, and leads to a better understanding of human decisions. (There is also a hardcover edition of this book, but it runs over $250, and is apparently out of print. I recommend the soft cover edition.)

Diamond, Jerod. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Whether you are a true student of human and societal development, or a novice that is interested in reading an excellent book, Guns, Germs, and Steel is a masterpiece. Equally appropriate as a reference for the serious student or as recreational reading, this book will have you hooked within the first few pages. Diamond takes you through human social development from the dawn of history to the current day, carefully explaining why western civilization ended up with so much "loot," while societies developed in areas that are also apparently fertile and rich in natural resources were so easily conquered by western invaders.

Diamond's engaging style makes it easy to learn about this fascinating topic, even if you haven't ever read anything similar before. The book is beautifully organized into small sections, and it is possible to digest the material slowly without losing your focus. For those already familiar with the topic, Diamond's unique approach carefully uncovers brand new theories, all backed up with credible evidence. In fact, this is the best example of "critical analysis and synthesis" that I have ever seen. Drawn from fields as diverse as biology, psychology, linguistics, history, sociology, and environmental science, the carefully crafted analysis is superb. It is no wonder that Diamond won top awards for this book!

Also see Jerod Diamond's other excellent books: Collapse, Why is Sex Fun?, and The Third Chimpanzee.

Hooper, E. The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS

This well researched book gives a totally different view from the classic viewpoint you have probably heard about the origin of AIDS. I was extremely skeptical when I first heard Hooper's hypothesis, especially since the mainstream scientific community has clearly tried to discredit him. However, his book speaks for itself, and I became a believer in his hypothesis after I read it. In addition to making his case, he is careful to admit to all the holes in his argument. Interestingly, several of the biggest ones have been filled in favor of Hooper's argument since this book was published. There is a fascinating video by the same name (The River) that has been shown periodically on the Sundance Channel, but I have been unable to find a copy of the video for purchase. Please contact me if you are able to find a way to purchase the documentary video.

Oshinsky, David. Polio: An American Story

Polio is something that we rarely think about now, but it was a major concern for the average American in the 1940's and 1950's. This seemingly irrelevant disease is the subject of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book in History, and is well deserving of the award. It makes both a fascinating story, and also gives an interesting perspective about the major, and little known politics that were involved in Salk�s breakthrough vaccine. All around, it is a fascinating read!

Baron, David. The Beast in the Garden: The True Story of a Predator's Deadly Return to Suburban America

Cougars, also known as the American mountain lion, were believed to be virtually wiped out in the western U.S. by sometime in the mid 20th century. However, nature had another idea about that when deer, the major food source for the big cats, began to multiply unchecked in the 1970's due largely to strict protection laws and "game reserve" areas. The few lions that had probably gone deep into the remaining wilderness began to rebound, much to the delight of conservationists. Interestingly, this good news has a dark side. The cats are now becoming a threat to humans and domestic animals from California to Colorado. This truly thought-provoking book is the story of what happens when wild nature meets modern man, and it will keep you up reading late into the night!

Balf, Todd. The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas

Todd Balf's well researched narrative of the true story of America's race to find the link between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean will take you back to the mid 19th century, to a time when adventure was all too real, and its consequences often fatal. The story of Captain Kevin Strain and his mission into the Darien (the small strip of land in Central American that divides the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans) reads like a novel, but is based entirely upon historical documents Balf dug up from the U.S. government, the descendents of the expedition's officers, and newspapers from the time. The geographical area in this book would eventually be the site of the Panama Canal, and this is some of its earliest history from the perspective of the United States government. It is an absolutely fascinating account of adventure on the high seas, wild jungles, flesh-embedding parasites, dangerous native tribes, tropical diseases, starvation, and true heroism.

Lewis, Michael, Moneyball

Moneyball is a great book whether or not you enjoy baseball. It is a book about small business, and about innovation in its best form. Before Billy Beane, baseball was a well understood game. Managers acquired and traded players based on comprehensive statistics that just about everyone thought identified the best players in the game. That is, that is what people thought until Billy Beane threw out the "manager's manual," thereby finding a brand new way to run his team. In doing this, Beane moved the Oakland A's from one of the last place teams, doomed to failure because of a hopelessly low budget, into one of the very best teams in baseball, beating even the team with the highest budget and the "best" players. The amazing thing about this transformation is that Beane did it with one of the lowest budgets in major league baseball! An eye-opening look into real critical thinking and creativity, this is a book for anyone who owns a business, hopes to own a business, or just wants to read a great success story. This story is proof that "business as usual" is not necessarily the best way to do business, and success can be achieved even by the underdogs.

Lewis, Michael, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

This is a great introduction to the problems that caused the 2008 meltdown. Besides that, it is a great read!

Shreve, Anita, The Weight of Water

If you love a good story, you'll love The Weight of Water. Part mystery, part character study, part historical novel, this book will keep you turning the pages late into the night. Anita Shreve's writing style is elegant, clear, and completely readable. This book explores the limits of the human psyche, and deals with adultery, jealousy, guilt, murder, grief, and more. (Also see the film The Weight of Water, starring Sean Penn, and Shreve's books The Pilot's Wife, and Sea Glass.)

About This Site

Welcome to the website of Dr. Terri Bittner. This website is intended to provide educational resources, inspire critical thinking, and provide a way to contact me and discuss educational issues.