Quick Read

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
By Dan Ariely
If you liked "Freakonomics," you'll love this smart entry in the burgeoning field of what might be called popular behavioral economics. Dan Ariely, a Duke professor with a background in psychology and economics, combines insights from Sigmund Freud and Milton Friedman to suss out why people feel better after taking a 50-cent aspirin but continue to complain of a throbbing skull when they're told the pill cost a penny. Ariely has enlisted students in studies of everything from how much they'd pay to listen to him read poetry to how decision making changes when they're in a state of arousal. The takeaway: context, expectations and emotions greatly influence economic decision making.
By Daniel Gross

The Making of Second Life: Notes From the New World
By Wagner James Au
With its own convertible currency, a growing population and an effortlessly improvable infrastructure, the 3-D Web-based "metaverse" known as Second Life could be the ultimate emerging market, a limitless bonanza for savvy entrepreneurs. Simultaneously it also sometimes feels like a dorky, vaguely pathetic exercise in escapism. Technology journalist Au does a fine job explaining how founder Philip Rosedale and his start-up Linden Lab created this peculiar institution, and his status as a longtime Linden contractor gives him a perspective. But too often the reader craves a nonvirtual reality check that Au never delivers.
By John Sparks

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures
By Dan Roam
In this compact volume, graphic designer turned management consultant Roam rehabilitates one of the dustiest clichés by demonstrating how a picture can be worth a thousand words. Drawing (sorry) on neuroscience, information architecture and his own experience as a consultant to the likes of Google and the Navy, Roam shows that even the most analytical right-brainers can work better by thinking visually. By learning when to sketch rather than to speak, Roam tells us, we can all not only communicate more effectively, but also solve knotty problems and convince others of the brilliance of our own ideas.

By John Sparks