The Best Books I Read in 2013

by eric

Following the 2011 and 2012 editions, here are the most interesting books I read this year:

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God
T. M. Luhrmann
How do evangelical Christians in modern America come to believe that God speaks to them directly, as individuals? A tour de force of scholarship, synthesizing history, anthropology, and psychology, with much to offer skeptic and believer alike.

A Grand and Bold Thing
Ann Finkbeiner
A perceptive history of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, perhaps the most successful astronomical project of all time.  Finkbeiner’s unsentimental rendering of its difficult birth is a clear reminder that science is above all a human endeavor.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t
Nate Silver
Why are forecasts better in some fields than in others?  Silver draws examples from a wide range of fields to highlight the importance of rich data, regular feedback, and underlying causal mechanisms and the dangers of out-of-sample predictions and overfitting.

Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity
Emily Matchar
A balanced examination of why affluent, well-educated young women today are dropping out of the workforce and canning, growing chickens, making meals from scratch, and parenting intensively.  Aptly captures the appeal of the back-to-basics lifestyle (and the role of the Internet in promoting it) as well as potential risks for individual women and communities.

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
Michael Sandel
Argues that the proliferation of market solutions and economic thinking is leading us astray in addressing some moral questions better determined by community deliberation.  In an age of inequality, markets do not neutrally allocate goods, and in some cases applying market logic undermines other values we would like to encourage.  Attempts to persuade gently using many real examples; some are more compelling than others.

Seven Days in the Art World
Sarah Thornton
A deftly composed series of vignettes exploring the sometimes rarefied spheres of contemporary art: auctions, art school “crits,” art fairs and biennales, studio visits, and museum prize exhibitions.  Surprisingly candid interviews with minor and very major players give perspective on the politics but also the pleasures of life in the art world.