Counting Down

by admin on May 9, 2018

The countdown to my book’s launch is on in earnest now: only six more days! Such metaphors as “countdown” and “launch” seem very apropos to me, because I feel like an astronaut strapped in his chair, with only ten minutes to go until liftoff. There is nothing more I can do at this point to affect the mission, except to hope that I’ve done everything right up to this point.

For latecomers, the book is called The Book of Why, and it’s co-written with Judea Pearl. It’s a history and treatise on causation: why scientists have maintained such a diffident attitude toward causation even though understanding causes and effects is the whole raison d’etre of science. Judea has developed a mathematical framework for answering causal queries, and in this book we are introducing his framework to a general audience for the first time.

For chess players, I’m sad to report that there is no chess in this book. However, we do mention AlphaGo a little bit. (AlphaZero came along a little bit too late for us to include it in the book, although in my opinion it wouldn’t have changed what we said about AlphaGo.)

After 2½ years of writing, half a year of rewriting, and half a year of waiting, things are now starting to happen fast and furious. Here is a list of things that I know about.

5/9/2018: Brief review in the New York Times New and Noteworthy column.

5/9/2018: Capsule review in Nature‘s Books in brief column. Including the first not-quite-positive comment: “inevitably chewy narrative.” What does this mean? Is it good or bad? Sounds bad, although the word “inevitably” seems to exonerate us a little bit.

5/9/2018: The National Association of Science Writers published a short article I wrote on the back story behind the book, from my point of view. This was written with an audience of fellow writers in mind, but I think that other people will find it interesting too.

5/9/2018: An interview of Judea by Quanta Magazine was supposed to come out today, but it has been pushed back to May 15.

5/12/2018: An op-ed that Judea and I wrote will be published (prominently, I’m told) in the Wall Street Journal. Update on 5/10: This op-ed has now been pushed back a week, to May 19. Hmm, this seems to be a common phenomenon.

5/15/2018: Publication!

6/4/2018: I will give a talk, “Mind Over Data: The One Thing You Know and Machines Don’t,” at the Aptos Public Library in Aptos, CA. Of course there will be lots of time for questions, and books will be available for purchase and signing. I do not think that there will be much demand for me to do public events, because Judea is the star author (and deservedly so). This may be your one chance to see me talking about the book!

It will be interesting to see how the book’s rating progresses on Amazon.com… although I’ve learned from experience that Amazon’s numbers translate only roughly to actual sales. Two days ago it was #17,099. Yesterday it was #16,407. At this moment it is #10,705 (starting to move up due to the reviews?). Don’t worry. I am not going to obsess over this. I am not going to obsess over this. I am not going to obsess over this.

Oops, I’m obsessing over this.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Sorry about the off-topic post; I look forward to getting back to chess!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Kuhner May 9, 2018 at 5:46 pm

I personally find “chewy” to be a compliment, like “meaty.” Science books aren’t supposed to be made of meringue! Anyway, congratulations on incipient publication.

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admin May 10, 2018 at 8:45 am

I’m going to take it that way. I think that the reviewer is just trying to signal to readers that this book isn’t just light reading — you’ll have to think a little bit. And that is a perfectly reasonable thing to warn then about. Part of my issue was just not knowing what “chewy” meant in this context; I wonder if it might have slightly different implications in Britain. (Nature is a British journal.)

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Roman Parparov May 9, 2018 at 9:00 pm

by the way, have you read that little essay by Douglas Adams:

“Why’ is the only question that bothers people enough to have an entire letter of the alphabet named after it.

The alphabet does not go ‘A B C D What? When? How?’ but it does go ‘V W X Why? Z.”

From the Salmon Of Doubt, 2002 – I don’t think it’s available online in its entirety.

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admin May 10, 2018 at 9:00 am

Of course this is always a problem for me when people ask what is the title of my book. It sounds like “The Book of Y,” and they go, “Huh?” So I always go very slowly and say “The Book of … (pause) … H-w-y-y.” I think that the dramatic pause is actually a nice effect anyway, like a drum roll.

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