Following the triumph of his predictions of the 2012 US election results in the face of massive right-wing criticism, Nate Silver could have easily chosen to write a book about that experience and it probably would have been pretty good. Luckily, though, he chose instead to write a much better book about the art and science of prediction in general, using contemporary examples of successful and failed predictions in many different fields. Spoiler Alert: it all comes down to Bayes’ Theorem.
Why do human beings have anxiety, why are there so many different kinds of it, and what is to be done? The book presents the author’s comprehensive theory on the evolutionary origins of human anxiety, how anxiety can be made better or worse by modern civilization, and the best current ways of treating it. The central thesis is that most if not all human anxiety is social anxiety of one form or another and that anxiety, at least in its milder forms, is how evolution got us all working together in the first place.
If only Zweig, who committed suicide with his wife in Brazil after being driven from his native Austria by the Nazis, could have summoned the energy to continue for a few more years he could have witnessed the downfall of Hitler and the rebirth of his homeland. But perhaps seeing his beloved Europe descend into madness twice in one lifetime (he also lived through World War I) was simply more than he could bear.
In this memoir he recounts the ways of Vienna and Europe at the close of the Hapsburg Empire, World War I, the peace between the wars, and the coming of World War II. He knew an amazing array of the greatest writers of the time and portrays them in loving detail.
Of his own life he tells very little, so I suppose the book fails as a true memoir. But as a window into a lost world it is magnificent.