A couple of late arrivals for our review of favourites from 2008.

J. Walker Smith, Chapel Hill:

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Let’s say you develop some idea of what the future is likely to hold. Do you then know what to do about it? That’s the question that University of Chicago law professor and prolific public intellectual Cass Sunstein tackles in his thorough discussion of planning for Worst-Case Scenarios. This has obvious relevance for the most frightful worries of our age like climate change, suitcase nukes, anthrax, avian flu and GMOs. But it is relevant as well to every policy action and business decision. Sunstein critiques the Precautionary Principle and Cost-Benefit Analysis to recommend an alternative that he believes better balances risks and benefits. This book is another must-read from Sunstein for anyone doing strategic analysis or scenario planning.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wasnick (Bantam Books, 2006) Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008′)mindless_eating_cover1

Behavioral economics is all the rage these days, and the bestsellers Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have helped popularize this branch of social psychology. But do we really understand how these classic psychology experiments and even the more recent work in economics apply to real life, particularly to business and marketing? Two recent books make this connection for eating and traffic. Brian Wasnick teaches marketing and nutritional science at Cornell where his lab has done pioneering work deciphering the workings of theTraffic. Wht we drive the way we do ‘mindless margin’ that lies between healthy and unhealthy food choices. Tom Vanderbilt is a science and culture journalist who embedded himself for three years with traffic researchers and engineers to answer questions like ‘why does the other lane always seem faster’ and ‘why are dangerous roads safer’ and ‘why do women cause more congestion than men.’

Larissa Persons, New York:

5x2b5×2 is the story of an unhappy marriage told backwards in five parts. It begins with the divorce. And it ends with the couple, Marion and Giles, meeting for the first time. Each of the five ‘chapters’ focuses in on a particular scene from their lives together. We see the couple hosting a dinner party while their young son sleeps. We see the birth of their child. We see their wedding. Each scene peels away another emotional layer and offers another insight into the individuals and their relationship.

Ozon exploits the construct of reverse chronology to the full. So the film is not about what happens – after all we know the end from the beginning – but rather is about why it happened. And by the time you get to the end (of the film) it is clear that the roots of the couple’s demise are there, plain for all to see, right from the start of the romance. You can see the drivers that created the future.

And while the construct turns the viewer into a clinical observer of the dissection of the marriage, the details revealed and the style of the narrative are almost disconcertingly intimate. This serves to ensure that you become intensely involved in the story itself and with the two main characters, rather than simply remaining an innocent bystander. The film therefore manages to be gripping, despite its removal of conventional suspense.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable 90 minutes, but I found 5×2 powerful and memorable. It’s also got an excellent soundtrack, courtesy of Philippe Rombi.

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