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

Link

‘Reach for the stars’ in Nature Futures

I’m going to go on record as saying this restores some of my science cred. It’s got citation info attached and everything. Free online to read 😀

Before you freak out about that cool new Parkinson’s treatment, this is a lot more about applying to med school than deep brain stimulation. I was tempted to throw in an apology to the professor at our school who’s done some awesome research into it, but I couldn’t remember his name exactly; it’s long and Greek. (I’m not vaguely the sort who would fit in to a medical program. Kids, don’t listen to your parents.)

Book Review: ‘Redshirts’ by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Important note: I don’t like metafiction. Last time it came up I thought it was because the protagonist wasn’t a BAMF, but I liked the protagonist in this one. Anyway, the point is that I’m not wholly the target audience for this, and if you do like metafiction you will like this a lot more than me. (The only time I’ve even liked fourth wall breaking was in ‘Deadpool.’ Violence makes everything better.) 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: ‘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

Book Review: ‘The Universe Within’ by Neil Shubin

The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and PeopleThe Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People by Neil Shubin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like most books that focus more on breadth rather than depth, if you know any particular field in here in detail you’ll find this a rather superficial read. In particular, I studied biology and skipped all the extremely high-level overviews of basic evolutionary biology and chemistry. At the same time, though, I’m not much familiar with paleontology or extensively familiar with geology (amusingly, Shubin cites one of the other books I’m currently reading—The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future—as a more detailed look at the mechanisms behind seasonal change and so on; I’m sure Alley was the source for the information about Milankovitch) and since that’s what Shubin’s focus is, it worked out okay. Also, Shubin brings a lot more personality to the table. He’s a fun writer. Continue reading