The decisions, choices, and estimates made by crowds--i.e. by aggregating or averaging their selections--can be better, more accurate, or more reliable than the selections of their smartest members. For example, averaging the selections of a crowd can result in a selection that none of its constituent members actually made, and can nevertheless be the best selection. One big takeaway from this book, however, is that crowds work best when they contain true diversity of thought. A crowd may look diverse, in color, gender, or whatever; but if the thinking of their members follow the same grooves, it reduces the wisdom of the crowd.
McPhee's focus is the formation of California, but the scope of Assembling California is nothing less than the formation of all the continents, islands and oceans as understood by modern geology.
Just as quantum mechanics and relativity transformed Physics, just as the concept of brain plasticity transformed Neuroscience, just so the theory of plate tectonics transformed Geology. John McPhee explains the transformation of the science, and the transformation of the Earth's surface in fine prose. He quotes dialogs with geologists--mainly Eldridge Moores--gives analogies, and uses anecdotes drawn from personal experience to convey the concepts.
Assembling California works fine on the printed page, but has a few too many technical terms to work entirely well as an audio book.
Nevertheless, this is a well-written and well-read book that conveys the outline of modern tectonic geology to the layman.
Surprisingly, this doesn't read like a government report at all. It's a good piece of journalism, a story of meticulously-planned terror well-told. It enlightens about the ways Al Qaeda, and our own government, operate. Many conclusions can be drawn from it, but a few are tragically unavoidable: when it came to Al Qaeda our government--under both party administrations--and its agencies were, at best, half asleep at the wheel for the 9 years leading up to the disaster. This applies to all levels of government, from national to local, responsible for our defense and safety.
I'm now listening to the part that describes the events inside the Twin Towers and in NYC's emergency services'responses to them, from the plane crashes to the collapse of the buildings. Despite real heroism by hundreds of individuals: fire fighters, police and civilians, the emergency preparedness was poor and the interagency coordination there was horrible. These definitely resulted in hundreds of deaths in NYC that could have been prevented, just as the whole attack could have been prevented by better policy, deployment, and coordination between agencies at the national level.
I'm a late-comer to this book, but find it compelling even now, after almost five years have elapsed since the attack. If you haven't read it or heard it I highly recommend you do.
Also, you might visit Google Video's collection of 9/11 videos.
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