March 2004

Grisham, John. The King of Torts. New York: Doubleday, 2003. ISBN 0-385-50804-2.
A mass market paperback edition is now available.

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Lynn, Richard and Tatu Vanhanen. IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. ISBN 0-275-97510-X.
Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, said in April 2000 that intelligence “is one commodity equally distributed among the world's people”. But is this actually the case? Numerous studies of the IQ of the populations of various countries have been performed from the 1930s to the present and with few exceptions, large variations have been found in the mean IQs of countries—more than two standard deviations between the extremes—while different studies of the same population show remarkable consistency, and countries with similar populations in the same region of the world tend to have roughly the same mean IQ. Many social scientists believe that these results are attributable to cultural bias in IQ tests, or argue that IQ tests measure not intelligence, but rather proficiency in taking IQ tests, which various educational systems and environments develop to different degrees. The authors of this book accept the IQ test results at face value and pose the question, “Whatever IQ measures, how accurately does the average IQ of a country's population correlate with its economic success, measured both by per capita income and rate of growth over various historical periods?” From regression studies of 81 countries whose mean population IQ is known and 185 countries where IQ is known or estimated based on neighbouring countries, they find that IQ correlates with economic development better than any other single factor advanced in prior studies. IQ, in conjunction with a market economy and, to a lesser extent, democratic governance “explains” (in the strict sense of the square of the correlation coefficient) more than 50% of the variation in GDP per capita and other measures of economic development (of course, IQ, economic freedom, and democracy may not be independent variables). Now, correlation is not causation, but the evidence that IQ stabilises early in childhood and remains largely constant afterward allows one to rule out many potential kinds of influence by economic development on IQ, strengthening the argument for causation. If this is the case, the consequences for economic assistance are profound. For example, providing adequate nutrition during pregnancy and for children, which is known to substantially increase IQ, may not only be the humanitarian thing to do but could potentially promote economic progress more than traditional forms of development assistance. Estimating IQ and economic development for a large collection of disparate countries is a formidable challenge, and this work contains more correction, normalisation, and adjustment factors than a library full of physics research—close to half the book is data tables and source documentation, and non-expert readers cannot be certain that source data might not have been selected which tend to confirm the hypothesis and others excluded. But this is a hypothesis which can be falsified by further research, which would seem well-warranted. Scientists and policy makers must live in the real world and are ill advised to ignore aspects of it which make them uncomfortable. (If these comments move you to recommend Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, you needn't—I've read it twice before I started keeping this list, and found it well-argued. But you may also want to weigh the points raised in J. Philippe Rushton's critique of Gould's book.)

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Lewis, Sinclair. It Can't Happen Here. New York: Signet, [1935] 1993. ISBN 0-451-52582-5.
Just when you need it, this classic goes out of print. Second-hand copies at reasonable prices are available from the link above or through abebooks.com. I wonder to what extent this novel might have motivated Heinlein to write For Us, The Living (February 2004) a few years later. There are interesting parallels between Lewis's authoritarian dystopia and the 1944–1950 dictatorial interregnum in Heinlein's novel. Further, one of the utopian reformers Lewis mocks is Upton Sinclair, of whom Heinlein was a committed follower at the time, devoting much of the latter part of For Us, The Living to an exposition of Sinclair's economic system.

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Sacks, David. Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet. New York: Broadway Books, 2003. ISBN 0-7679-1172-5.
Whaddya gonna do? The hardcover is out of print and the paperback isn't scheduled for publication until August 2004. The U.K. hardback edition, simply titled The Alphabet, is currently available.

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St÷hlker, Klaus J. Adieu la Suisse—Good Morning Switzerland. Le Mont-sur-Lausanne: ╔ditions LEP, 2003. ISBN 2-606-01086-8.
This is a French translation of the original German edition, which has the same French-and-English title. The French edition can be found in almost any bookshop in la Suisse romande, but I know of no online source.

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McGivern, Ed. Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting. Clinton, NJ: New Win Publishing, [1938] 1975. ISBN 0-8329-0557-7.
This is a facsimile of the 1938 first edition, published to commemorate the centenary of the author's birth in 1874. Earlier facsimile editions of this classic were published in 1945, 1957, and 1965; copies of these as well as the first edition may be found at abebooks.com, but most are substantially more expensive than new copies of the 1975 reprint. Imagine trying to publish a book today which includes advice (pp. 461–462) on shooting targets off an assistant's head!

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Jenkins, Dennis R. and Tony R. Landis. Hypersonic: The Story of the North American X-15. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2003. ISBN 1-58007-068-X.
Specialty Press have drastically raised the bar in aviation history publishing. This volume, like the B-36 (August 2003) and XB-70A (September 2003) books mentioned previously here, combines coffee-table book production values, comprehensive historical coverage, and abundant technical details. Virtually absent are the typographical errors, mis-captioned photographs, and poorly reproduced colour photos which too often mar well-intended aviation books from other publishers. In their research, the authors located many more historical photographs than they could include in this book (which has more than 550). The companion X-15 Photo Scrapbook includes 400 additional significant photos, many never before published.

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Dyson, Freeman J. Origins of Life. 2nd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-521-62668-4.
The years which followed Freeman Dyson's 1985 Tarner lectures, published in the first edition of Origins of Life that year, saw tremendous progress in molecular biology, including the determination of the complete nucleotide sequences of organisms ranging from E. coli to H. sapiens, and a variety of evidence indicating the importance of Archaea and the deep, hot biosphere to theories of the origin of life. In this extensively revised second edition, Dyson incorporates subsequent work relevant to his double-origin (metabolism first, replication later) hypothesis. It's perhaps indicative of how difficult the problem of the origin of life is that none of the multitude of experiments done in the almost 20 years since Dyson's original lectures has substantially confirmed or denied his theory nor answered any of the explicit questions he posed as challenges to experimenters.

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