This week I read two books (one was short), and recommend them both. Thomas Friedman's Longitudes and Attitudes is very informative, insightful, and reflective about Middle East politics, globalism, and American foreign policy. He is a regular columnist for the New York Times, travels frequently around the Middle East, and has interesting things to say. His liberal vantagepoint comes through (which I don't mind, except when he briefly discusses religion and tries to tell me how various religions should modify their belief systems to be more ecumenical, a clear sign that he still doesn't "get" the possibility that some reasonable people could still believe in divine revelation), but the book was finished before we invaded Iraq - and it is really interesting to hear how a prominent liberal was talking back in 2002 about what we should be doing there. Open-minded conservatives may feel vindicated when they read it (close-minded people usually already feel vindicated, I've found), but there is still plenty of material to challenge anyone to rethink some of their ideas. I really found it thought-provoking.
The book(let) I was really excited about, though, is The Cognitive Style of Power Point by Edward R. Tufte. He articulates many things I've been feeling intuitively for some time, but for which I could not find the right words (actually, I simply don't possess his expertise in cognitive theory and design, so I could offer nothing more than amateur hunches). I think I may never use Power Point again. He has a convincing argument (I thought it was, anyway) that Power Point purges 80% of the important content in a presentation, and bores the intelligent people in the audience, just so speakers feel less jittery because they have a colorful outline to read from during their talk: "The short-run convenience for the presenter comes at an enormous cost to the content and to the audience." The real treasure of Tufte's book, though, is not his sound bites, but the intense graphical examples he uses, dissecting classic slide presentations from meetings at NASA, sales conventions, etc., and explaining how they distort the information and generate shallow group-think. He has me worried about students who like it. You can get an idea of Tufte's arguments by visiting his website, www.edwardtufte.com.
"Power Point allows speakers to pretend they are giving a talk, and audiences to pretend they are listening."