Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

My Swiss fellow just passed me The Logic of Life by Tim Harford. Quite an interesting book about rational choice theory. I’m often wary of this kind of easily-accessible ‘popular science’ book, because I just assume everything will be oversimplified and glib, but I like the way the author is trying to get his readers to reconsider a lot of their conventional thinking about why people do the things they do.

He begins with a hot issue – teenage sexuality – and argues that when teenagers change their sexual behavior, it is the result of rational decision making and not necessarily deteriorating morals. The example he uses to illustrate the idea comes from evidence that teenagers nowadays engage in more oral sex than say twenty years ago, a statistic that many people find absolutely horrifying. Well, Harford argues that faced with the greater risks of contracting HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, teenagers have collectively changed their sexual behaviors to avoid those greater risks. They’ve worked out that the cost of engaging in regular sex is actually higher, and so they make the trade.

He uses the same theory to look at a myriad of other issues, including drug addiction, crime rates, love and relationships, and workplace behaviors. It’s important to note that Harford defines a ‘rational’ choice as something resulting from a process of cost/benefit analysis…so a seemingly insane decision can be rational. It is an interesting book and he is careful to point out that his theory applies to groups, but when used on an individual basis can break down. Human beings, individually, are more complicated than rational choice theory. I like that. I look forward to reading through the rest of his examples…


My Blog Stats page tells me that the other day someone made their way to Inc. Logo. by googling “Nancy Huston and Marie Vieux Chauvet”. My curiosity is now so aflame, I can’t stand it. Is Nancy Huston working on something that has to do with my favorite Haitian writer? I know that Huston was near New York City in the seventies (for university) and I know that Vieux Chauvet spent her final few years in New York…did the two ever meet? But Huston moved to Paris in 1973 and Vieux Chauvet died in 1973 so maybe they just missed each other.

Could I be even more geeky?


My mother-in-law passed my Swiss fellow and me a book last week called Lettre à D, Histoire d’un Amour by the French social philosopher/writer André Gorz (pen name Michel Bosquet). I haven’t finished it yet but plan to this evening. As the title suggests, it’s a love letter, written by Gorz to his wife. In the opening pages he writes that he was shocked to realize one day that of all the writing he’d done over the years, he’d never written the story of their love, which he says was the greatest and most important story of his life. A lot of what he writes is particular to a writer / nonwriter relationship. Gorz and his wife committed suicide together in 2007, after she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Here is a generous excerpt from the publisher Editions Galilée. There is an English version (Letter to D.) which was published last May, translated by Julie Rose.


7 Responses to “Friday reading notes”

  1. Anthony

    Gorz’s Letter to D. is stunning. It lead me to The Traitor which is also a powerful book.

  2. Stefanie

    Letter to D sounds good but a book that must be read with the tissue box handy. Adding it to my TBR list. The Logic of Life sounds pretty interesting too.

  3. Lilian Nattel

    It’s good to hear of research indicating that decisions are more rational than expected, as opposed to be influenced by all sorts of other factors outside our awareness and not rational at all!

  4. CarrieRayLitchfield

    Just ordered Letter to D! I always know where to look when I need a new read! I’m going to have to come up with some snappy acronym or something for you that reflects how much I value you as a reviewer!

  5. verbivore

    Anthony – I’m also really interested in getting The Traitor now, and seconded by your recommendation, it must be good.

    Stefanie – I was worried about that, but so far the book is just a lovely retelling of their early years together. I’ve got about 30 pages to go and so far no crying, but the end must be tough. We’ll see. I thought of you for The Logic of Life, since I know how much you enjoy interesting non-fiction.

    Lilian – That’s how I felt, it’s nice to see that humans are much more logical and rational than otherwise expected. Of course, he’s good to point out (especially in the Addictions section) that the cost/benefit analysis is entirely personal…therefore, emotional.

    Carrie! I love it when you leave me comments. Hope all is well and I’d love to know what you think of Letter to D when you get it. It is such a short, intense, really beautiful little book. Hope all is well – hugs to all of you!

  6. Dorothy W.

    I’m suspicious of popular science books too, and yet if it weren’t for popular science books I probably wouldn’t read any science at all (as it is I don’t read much), and a bit of oversimplification is probably necessary to make the books readable. I get uncomfortable when experts tell me how wrong the popularizations are, though — it’s quite a dilemma actually!

  7. ds

    “Human beings, individually, are more complicated than rational choice theory.” Hallelujah! I was getting worried. There are far too many pigeon holes cropping up in this world–too confining (and then of course out pop the theorists who try to confine those that don’t fit into the pigeon holes, viz. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Why does every action require a theory?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: