As a PhD statistician, I love a good data-driven story. Increasing, people in politics, business, and academia are looking for decisions that are based on what the data say. Leavitt's research is engaging and accessible and I, for the most part, enjoyed this book.
HOWEVER, without exception, Leavitt presents his findings as gospel and continually fails to acknowledge the limitations of his methods and his data. He mentions his use of linear regression to obtain his results, but fails to mention the limitations of this method (e.g., results are probabilistic, results are based on model assumptions which may be entirely incorrect). His results obtained from this method sometimes also appear to tell too convenient of a story and seem to be cherry-picked. Moreover, all his results are based on single data sets and may not be as universal as he would like. Finally, he often takes one result (e.g., reading to your kids does not affect their standardized test scores) and makes huge, sweeping generalizations that lead you to believe that reading to your kids doesn't have any affect on any outcome of interest and that you're a bad (or naive) parent for even trying.
These are dangerous practices, though I can see why he does what he does - making all sort of caveats would water-down his findings and make his book less sensational. Nevertheless, he runs the risk of misleading his readers. Judging from the comments posted here so far from people who assume these conclusions are certain, I would say he's succeeded in this endeavor.
If you're into over-the-top sensationalism in your history books, then this one might be for you. I was hoping for something a little more reasoned and thoughtful, but I'm guessing that in the text, every sentence ends with an exclamation mark - because that's how the story is read. Either the narration or the writing - or both - is just so hyperbolic, it's hard to bear. Anyway, if you like A&E style documentaries instead of PBS style documentaries, then you might enjoy this one.
Several years ago I read Rand's Fountainhead and while I didn't completely agree with the underlying philosophy, I found that it was something to think about. Embarking on a cross-country trip, I decided to listen to Atlas Shrugged and was quite disappointed. The theme of the book is quite clear after the first chapter. The entire plot can be guessed after the second - at one point I accidently skipped ahead and missed about 2 hrs worth of content and I didn't even notice. Moreover, the characters are all one dimensional (good guys = angular faces, ice blue eyes, hard working capitalists; bad guys = soft squishy skin, lazy socialists). In short, even though I agree with some of Rand's tenents, I found myself skipping ahead and wishing the book would end.
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