The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates - Peter T. Leeson. Princeton University Press, $25.
It’s Freakonomics meets Pirates of the Caribbean. Jack Hirshleifer meets Jack Sparrow. Fischer Black meets Blackbeard. Adam Smith meets Captain Hook.
I could go on.
George Mason University professor Peter Leeson claims, “A pirate ship more closely resembled a Fortune 500 company than the society of savage schoolchildren depicted in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.” And by the end of the book, he had me convinced of it. Leeson argues that, like Mick Foley, the pirates of the 1600s weren’t really as crazy or lawless as they made themselves out to be. They simply wanted other sailors to think they were so that they (the other sailors) wouldn’t attempt resistance or negotiation. Surrender your booty and be gone!
I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President - Josh Lieb. Razorbill, $16.
Twelve-year-old Oliver Watson both attends seventh grade and secretly controls the world. He isn’t evil with a capital E (he doesn’t take pleasure in killing people); he’s evil the way Newman from Seinfeld is evil (i.e., “I take a special joy in giving [my father] the stupidest ties I can find every Christmas and Father’s Day. I would enjoy it even more if he didn’t like them so much.”)
Daily Show executive producer Josh Lieb’s novel might be intended for “young adults,” but that doesn’t mean you should skip it. If you do, Oliver Watson might have you killed.
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures - Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company, $28.
You might have overlooked this one, as it came out less than a year after Gladwell’s more-popular Outliers. Too bad; What the Dog Saw is Gladwell’s best book. It’s a collection of the author’s favorite pieces from his 13 years at the New Yorker. Reading through the essays, you can see how Malcolm Gladwell got to be Malcolm Gladwell.
The guy’s got a counterintuitive (and seemingly correct) take on everything from plagiarism (not so bad in all cases) to the homeless (buy them apartments) to teaching (let anybody with a college degree give it a try) to criminal profilers (worthless). And he writes really well. His diction is as fresh as his arguments: (e.g., “Moskowitz is a man of uncommon exuberance and persuasiveness: If he had been our freshman statistics professor, you would today be a statistician.”)
If you read Gladwell’s book, you might grow up to be a journalist.
Behind the Bell - Dustin Diamond. Transit Publishing, $25.
Look, Dustin, just because you had a bad experience with Saved by the Bell doesn’t mean you have to try to ruin it for the rest of us. Luckily for us SBTB fans, in trying to destroy the memory of Saved by the Bell, Diamond only destroys himself.
The book is filled with botched paragraph indentations, spelling/grammar/diction errors (“Fuck fame. Allow me to tear down your allusions”) and hilariously phoned-in chapter titles: (“Putting the Kapow! In Kapowski”).
Behind the Bell’s got more double hearsay than a game of telephone. Example: “Apparently it was common knowledge that (producer) Peter (Engel), in his former life, had done a ton of blow and even nearly suffered an overdose.” Put another way: Dustin Diamond heard that other people heard that Peter Engel didn’t suffer an overdose. How scandalous!
The book is filled with non-accusations like that one. Re: Mario Lopez: “I don’t know if he had plastic surgery for it, but I do recall him going away for a while and when he returned his manboob conundrum had improved dramatically.” Re: Tiffani Thiessen: “I don’t recall her ever actually saying, ‘All you bitches best avoid me when I walk into the room or I’ll have you fired!’ but I suspect she was thinking it. Put it this way: If she had said it, I wouldn’t have been shocked.”
If you, like me, would prefer straight talk, let me give you some: Dustin Diamond is an insecure, desperate, unfunny hack, and he wrote the worst book of the year.