Non-Fiction Weekend: Pop Culture Economics, Doctors in Training, and Pashtun Culture

This past weekend I veered off the usual trail and read three very different non-fiction books; I enjoyed all of them immensely. Here’s a bit of introduction and review of each one:

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: This super popular book doesn’t need much of an introduction, but here you go anyway;

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn the conventional wisdom on its head.

This was a fun, quick read. Some of the findings were pretty surprising to me but some of them were just sort of common sense if you took the time to think about it. If you like Freakonomics I highly recommend Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, whose work is mentioned briefly in Freakonomics. I borrowed Freakonomics from my roommate on a day where I couldn’t get myself interested in any other reading material.

Match Day by Brian Eule. This book was a gift from a friend who is now in medical school, something I’m interested in pursuing myself as well. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did! There were certain points in the book that I was actually sitting on the edge of my seat, sweating with anxiety over the decisions and conflicts faced by the doctors. Highly recommended even if you’re not interested in going into medicine–it’s just exciting and informative and understandable in general.

Every year, on the third Thursday in March, more than 15,000 graduating medical students across the country encounter the biggest moment of their burgeoning young careers. On Match Day, a computer algorithm pairs students with hospital residencies in nearly every field of medicine. The Match determines where each graduate will be assigned the crucial first job as an intern, and shapes the rest of his—or, in increasing numbers, her—life.

Match Day (St. Martin’s Press) is a dynamic, revealing look at three female doctors as they pass through this intense day and take on their first, turbulent year as medical interns.  With his girlfriend entering the medical profession, journalist Brian Eule provides an unprecedented look into both this process and the lives of these new doctors as they face pressure-packed decisions and try to balance any personal life with a profession that demands everything from them. Match Day provides a real-life drama that shows how each comes to learn what it means to heal, to comfort, to lose, and to grieve, all while maintaining a professional demeanor— and the incredible process by which doctors are made in this country.

Secrets from the Field: An Ethnographer’s Notes from North Western Pakistan by Benedicte Grima. I haven’t read too much anthropology or ethnography so I’m not exactly sure how to judge books on that subject. However, Grima’s book here is more of a personal memoir detailing her many varied experiences traveling both alone and with her infant daughter (!) through rural and tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. She’s also written a different, more scholarly/academic book regarding her work with the Pashtun culture. Grima’s experiences as written here were extremely interesting, and were detailed and clear enough that I felt like I had gotten at least a beginning, amateur understanding of the Pashto people, specifically the admonition that one does not just speak Pashto, one does Pashto. There is a very definite set of rules and expectations that govern the culture and Grima details both her blunders and her successes as she navigate her way through this world.

The personal accounts contained here, reveal the untold experiences and relationships of an ethnographer with the people she lived and worked among for over 10 years in northwestern Pakistan among Afghan refugees and tribal Pakistani Pashtuns. They are the everyday occurrences and personal experiences of a woman living alone, or with her infant daughter, secrets and blunders withheld from academic books. Friends and colleagues have asked what it was like to be a foreign woman alone in an isolated and strict tribal Muslim culture. They ask even more so now, piqued by curiosity about the culture that is said to be protecting Osama bin Laden. These stories herein answer many of those queries and reveal information complementary to other political and scientific books.


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: (From “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” So begins The Kite Runner, a poignant tale of two motherless boys growing up in Kabul, a city teetering on the brink of destruction at the dawn of the Soviet invasion.

Despite their class differences, Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, his devoted sidekick and the son of Amir’s household servant, play together, cause mischief together, and compete in the annual kite-fighting tournament — Amir flying the kite, and Hassan running down the kites they fell. But one day, Amir betrays Hassan, and his betrayal grows increasingly devastating as their tale continues. Amir will spend much of his life coming to terms with his initial and subsequent acts of cowardice, and finally seek to make reparations.

Commentary: This book has been on everyone’s mind since it was published (and subsequently made into a movie) but I actually read Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, first.

The Kite Runner did not disappoint me, even with all the hooplah surrounding it. Hosseini’s style is clear and emotional, everything is well-paced and descriptive. A good, solid read and great glimpse into Afghani culture and history.

Even with all the destruction and warfare and devestation throughout the novel, it retained a sense of hopefulness which I think is especially crucial. At times it was a little too wound up and weepy, but generally smooth and I recommend it.