One-Minute Book Reviews

June 18, 2009

Nicotine Patches Encourage Teenagers to Smoke – Late Night With Jan Harayda

Tim Harford’s The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World (Random House, 272 pp., $15, paperback) came out in paperback recently, and if the Food and Drug Administration gains power to regulate tobacco products as seems likely, regulators might learn from it.  William Grimes wrote in a New York Times review of the book:

“Nicotine patches and nicotine gum, intended to wean smokers from their dangerous habit, actually seem to encourage teenagers to take the first puff, for reasons that any economist might have predicted. Since there are now products to help smokers quit, it becomes less risky, as a purely rational proposition, to pick up the habit.”

Steven E. Landsburg makes a related point his entertainingly contrarian The Armchair Economist (Free Press, 1995), a book that with a catchier title might have become the Freakonomics of its day. In a chapter semi-facetiously called “How Seat Belts Kill,” Landsburg describes what happened in the 1960s when federal legislation for the first time required Americans to wear seat belts:

“The number of auto accidents increased. The reason is that the threat of being killed in an accident is a powerful incentive to drive carefully. But a driver with a seat belt and a padded dashboard faces less of a threat. Because people respond to incentives, drivers are less careful. The result is more accidents.”

Landsburg goes on:

“An interesting question remains. How big is the effect in question? How many additional accidents were caused by the safety regulations of the 1960s: The regulations tend to reduce the number of driver deaths by making it easier to survive an accident. At the same time, the regulations tend to increase the number of driver deaths by encouraging reckless behavior. Which effect is greater?”

In the mid-1970s, University of Chicago researcher Sam Peltzman studied the question and found that two effects were of about the same size and cancelled each other out, Landsburg says:

“There were more accidents and fewer diver deaths per accident, but the total number of deaths remained essentially unchanged. An interesting side effect appear to have been an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths; pedestrians, after all, gain no benefit from padded dashboards.”

“Late Night With Jan Harayda” is an occasional series of posts about books that appear after 10 a.m. Eastern time that may include commentary but do not include reviews, which typically appear earlier in the day.

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At Home With the Honorable and Rebellious Mitford Sisters – Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy, Pamela and Unity

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:01 pm
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“Class was a delicate matter, a subject for intuition rather than conversation, one of those ‘borderline’ subjects, deeply felt but never discussed,” writes Jessica Mitford in Hons and Rebels (NYRB Classics, 2004), a memoir of growing up in the storied upper-class English family that inspired her sister Nancy’s Love in a Cold Climate, reviewed earlier today. I haven’t read this one, but I admired Jessica Mitford’s landmark exposé of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death. And the NYRB site has a brief introduction by Christopher Hitchens and a reading group guide with more on this family of six gifted daughters and a son killed in World War II.

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Nancy Mitford’s Modern Classic, ‘Love in a Cold Climate’

Say what you will about the decomposing British class system, the follies of aristocrats have inspired some the finest comic scenes in Western literature. Few authors saw the excesses at closer range than Nancy Mitford, who drew on them for Love in a Cold Climate, a modern classic based in part on her storied and half-batty upper-class family. First published in 1949, this comedy of manners tells the story of the heiress Polly Montdore, an only child who flouts convention by marrying a middle-aged man who had been her mother’s lover. Mitford’s portrait of the young Polly sets the tone of a book that is witty and elegant without being aloof: “Polly was a withdrawn, formal little girl, who went through the day with the sense of ritual, the poise, the absolute submission to etiquette of a Spanish Infanta. You had to love her, she was so beautiful and friendly, but it was impossible to feel very intimate with her.”

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