Book Review: ‘Them’ by Jon Ronson

Them: Adventures with ExtremistsThem: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t like conspiracy theories. I think the notion that even a powerful group of individuals can control world events is absurd, given how inherently unpredictable people are.

But….
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Book Review: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human SocietiesGuns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Diamond’s approach to history: look for patterns, and apply the scientific method as much as possible, achieved here to its fullest degree with linguistics and archeological findings, and a robust side dish of evolutionary biology.

That said, I’m so biased in favor of this approach, because it’s exactly the one I like. I happen to hold a degree in biology, with a minor in Classical Civilizations and a second almost-minor in Political Science (it would have been a full minor if my school allowed classes to be counted twice for minors).

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Book Review: ‘The Ocean of Life’ by Callum Roberts

The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the SeaThe Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea by Callum Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Many people think of the oceans as a remote and incidental feature of our world. Their importance is felt in a physical sense, but people don’t realize how much we all owe to life in the sea…. Humanity is in retreat all over the world.” Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Hydrogen’ by John S. Rigden

Hydrogen: The Essential ElementHydrogen: The Essential Element by John S. Rigden

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

At the start of this book, I thought it was geared at a more general audience. I think that might have been the aim, given the frequency of well-written summaries at strategic points in the text—shortly before the focus shifted to a new principle, usually—but I wouldn’t recommend this one to someone who didn’t take any physics in high school at the very least. Although I can’t imagine why you’re interested in this book if you don’t have any background in physics whatsoever. This is a lot heavier on the hard science than the more philosophical vein of physics books. (A good litmus test: do words like “partial differentials” scare you?) Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Gulp’ by Mary Roach

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary CanalGulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed everything else by Mary Roach I’ve read—she tends to focus on the unsung heroes of science, the ones that explore the weird niches that are either not glamorous enough for media attention (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void) or that explore areas affected by societal taboos (Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, this one). Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Welcome to the Urban Revolution’ by Jeb Brugmann

Welcome to the Urban RevolutionWelcome to the Urban Revolution by Jeb Brugmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You should read this book for the perspective alone. Unlike a lot of the nonfiction I read, Brugmann isn’t a reporter coming at the topic as an outsider. Instead, he’s bringing decades of experience in the profession of urban planning (I think that’s the term) to this book, and a lot of his sources are primary, based on interviews and people he spoke to. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization’ by Steven Solomon

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and CivilizationWater: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by Steven Solomon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Any book that takes a mere thirty pages to mention Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ probably has a strong economic angle. I wasn’t surprised to see that Solomon writes for economy/business publications: this book is very centered around economic gain and exploitation. It’s not an unexpected view, but if you were looking for something entirely around the use of water in an engineering, ecological, social, or other scientific context this isn’t the book for you. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The House of Wisdom’ by Jim Al-Khalili

The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the RenaissanceThe House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance by Jim Al-Khalili

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As you may have guessed, this book is about how the Arab/Muslim groups (really Arabic-speaking, something Al-Khalili explains early on; a number of the luminaries in this book had little to no Arab blood) did a lot more for science and the Age of Enlightenment than simply pass on some translated Greek texts. It’s a view that deserves more consideration, and he does a great job of giving it relevant context in the last chapter, which discusses what modern Muslim/Arabic-speaking countries should do to foment more scientific progress. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The Mind’s Eye’ by Oliver Sacks

The Mind's EyeThe Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a neuroscience major, what I really read Oliver Sacks for is the case studies approached with an academic bent. So basically presentation of the condition and then a discussion of what could be causing the symptoms/underlying problems/all that good stuff.

The systems neuroscience professor who first recommended him to me rolled his eyes a little before mentioning that Sacks doesn’t consider himself an academician, really—and he does mention it at the beginning of this book, he mainly thinks of himself as a physician. This book is pretty focused on the clinical stuff, though. Continue reading