Egads! The New Horizons mission (on its way to Pluto right now! and led by principal investigator Alan Stern co-author of this book) is cool, space exEgads! The New Horizons mission (on its way to Pluto right now! and led by principal investigator Alan Stern co-author of this book) is cool, space exploration is cool, science is cool — this book though...Whew, it's pretty tedious and the writing style, aimed at making this more accessible, employs some annoying metaphors and turns of phrase.
This is all the science that they don't show in movies: The long slog of discovery before getting to the end result. Seems like writing a novel, in process a lot of desk work, before the exciting (hopefully) end result. Do you really want to peer behind the curtain?
If you do and you want to know about Pluto and Charon, in all the nitty-gritty detail, this is the book.
This is a great book with a smart premise. But you're not going to like it. How to be great at doing good? The answer: crunch the numbers. Nick CooneyThis is a great book with a smart premise. But you're not going to like it. How to be great at doing good? The answer: crunch the numbers. Nick Cooney advocates taking a data-driven approach to charitable giving.
The idea is that the point of giving is not to feel good, it's to make a difference — save lives and prevent suffering. In that case, it makes sense to try to give and volunteer in such a way that you are helping to save the most lives and prevent the largest amount of suffering.
"If we are smart, calculated, and committed in our approach to charity, we can do a truly incredible amount of good: sparing hundreds of people from blindness or sparing tens of thousands of animals from a lifetime of pain are just two examples."
This sounds great until you realize that this means giving to Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, the Make a Wish Foundation, your local theater group or college or the organization you volunteer for might not make the cut.
You're probably not going to like hearing this and may be very resistant to the ideas in this book. And that's too bad.
"Compassion and kindness will accomplish relatively little on their own. Only when we add in self-awareness, critical thinking, and mental discipline will we be able to truly succeed at bringing about the change we want to see. "
As the effective altruism movement, rooted in a philosophy of practical ethics, gains more traction, receptiveness to this way of thinking about charity will increase.
What this idea needs right now is: more data. Imagine a Kickstarter type project where you could see how much money was being raised toward a specific goal: the amount of money needed to save a certain number of animals or people or, miraculously, a big goal to actually end hunger or poverty. If people could see that they were making a difference and track how much progress, they would be more inspired to make the sacrifices this book suggests.
Pairs well with:The Most Good You Can Do (2015), by Peter Singer and, forthcoming in August, Doing Good Better, by William MacAskill.
A fun story of planet hunting! Astronomer Mike Brown narrates his account helping map, discover and name our galaxy.
As someone with only passing familA fun story of planet hunting! Astronomer Mike Brown narrates his account helping map, discover and name our galaxy.
As someone with only passing familiarity with the objects and events described, it was fun to get an up close account of their discovery and the earthly events surrounding them. It was informative, but not overly technical. Great storytelling.
With apologies to everyone who liked the movie Interstellar because of "the science," I much preferred and could relate to Brown's description of what I think of as a more realistic description of science: a guy staring at the stars, staring alone at night on a mountain into a telescope, staring hunched over at his desk at photographs (the same photographs that some other guy has already stared at), and doing a lot of meticulous grunt work and grind to find things that no one else thinks exists (and maybe don't!).
There's the excitement of discovery too: "A planet. I had discovered a planet!"
I also liked how, unexpectedly, this book contained a bit of a love story: that of a father for his newborn daughter. The author's daughter, Lilah, was born during his searches and she fascinates him as much as — even more than — the stars. From his description of her fetus, "It looks like the Venera lander pictures of the surface of Venus." to teaching her to look for Jupiter as it wanders across the sky — it adds a delightful and dear perspective.
Quotable: "In my scientific life, most of the discoveries come as the result of seeing something for the first time."
"She is exceptional, because early childhood development is about the most exceptional thing that takes place in the universe. Stars, planets, galaxies, quasars are all incredible and fascinating things, with behaviors and properties that we will be uncovering for years and years, but none of them is as thoroughly astounding as the development of thought, the development of language. Who would not believe that their child is exceptional? All children are, compared to the remainder of the silent universe around them."
Writers, read this for: a well done memoir, and also to note and enjoy the parallels between the process of writing a novel and the work of looking for planets. Lots of risk and skepticism, dubious or no rewards, it takes a lot of "bum glue" and even a successful hunt may not yield the sought-after results. But it's an irresistible quest!
Notable: • Can't wait to find out the size of Pluto when New Horizons flies by this year (2015)!
• Because planets are named after creation myths (from around the world): planetology meets mythology. You could write a book like Neil Gaiman's American Gods set in space — Milky Way Gods.
• This is one of the few books I've read for pleasure that says some interesting things about my profession (media relations) i.e. the timing and writing of press releases. I really enjoyed the part where Brown prepared four different versions of a press release to prepare for a news announcement and press conference.
A bibliomemoir about the effects of reading a classic on one's life. An enjoyable way to learning more about George Eliot who began Middlemarch at ageA bibliomemoir about the effects of reading a classic on one's life. An enjoyable way to learning more about George Eliot who began Middlemarch at age 51, her contemporaries, her meliorist philosophy ("The conviction that, through the small, beneficent actions and intentions of individuals, the world might gradually grow to be a better place.) and how she worked on and revised her work. Insightful how her relationship with George Henry Lewes ("They read widely, wrote copiously, talked endlessly.") affected her fiction and hearing how an earlier line of Middlemarch compared with the revision.
My quandary now: Which Eliot to read next: The Mill on the Floss, Silas Mariner, Adam Bede, Daniel Deronda? Or re-read Middlemarch instead?
Quotable from Middlemarch "That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil -- widening the skirts of lights and making the struggle with darkness narrower."
"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Quotable from My Life in Middlemarch: "Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself."
"Her best work began in being beloved, while middle age granted her an expansion rather than a diminishment of possibility."
"Her aspiration was not for literary immortality — although she got that — but for a kind of encompassing empathy that would make the punishing experience of egoism shrink and dwindle. She believed that growth depends upon complex connections and openness to others, and does not derive from a solitary swelling of the self. She became great because she recognized that she was small."
Oh dear, this book just did not sit well with me, on three counts:
1. While a faithful account of a man's life and his notable achievement, even nonfi
Oh dear, this book just did not sit well with me, on three counts:
1. While a faithful account of a man's life and his notable achievement, even nonfiction (perhaps especially nonfiction!) ought to have some storytelling involved to hone the narration. Instead, it reads very like a spoken account where a person recalling their life might linger on certain details and emphasize certain events without context, intent or thought to the listener. 2. With the book written as though for family members, friends or, certainly, contemporaries of Joe Rantz, I felt frustrated as a reader. In some places, the book assumed knowledge I didn't have (i.e. significance of Olympic athletes of the 1930s). In others, it seemed to ignore knowledge I did have (historical significance of Nazi Germany and events and atrocities that occurred). It was weird and often creepy and eerie reading about this man's life with little context or acknowledgement of the larger stage. 3. Ultimately, my biggest issue was that I felt my response to be strongly at odds with the author's intent. While this book focuses on the story of a poor man succeeding in a quest by focusing on harmony, accommodation and unwavering trust with his brothers in pursuit of a single goal, it read to me as a cautionary tale. Myopically focusing on a goal (or the back of the neck of the boy ahead of you) and missing the larger picture all around you costs and ruins lives. In fact, it seems a caution for the continued unworldliness of the United States where we focus on our own friends, families and localities instead of expanding our circle of compassion overseas and saving lives with inexpensive vaccines or deworming medication. Horrifically, the book almost seems to support a similar "fall in line" message to the one that led Germans so far astray. Toward the end, the book talks about the British coxswain John Noel Duckworth and recounts his heroism during the World War II and, I'm thinking, well, there's your story!
I appreciate that the book is well researched and I appreciated the Seattle-setting and history lesson.
However, in retrospect, it seems clear from the book:
• We should boycotted those Olympics! And Sochi?! Repeating mistakes?!! • Gosh, crew (while fun sport and cool) isn't very relevant these days. • Sport can be a horrible diversion while lives are being destroyed. The 1936 Olympics were totally used for propaganda. And it worked! Crap!
It does make me curious to read Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit or Unbroken for comparison. It also made me think of dear Anne Frank and want to reread her diary. Also, hats off to Jamie Ford for his novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, set in Seattle in the 1940s.
Writers, read this for: an example of the perils and rewards of research
"...and when the entire nation all but shuts down for a virtual national holiday on Super Bowl Sunday, it's hard to fully appreciate how important the rising prominence of the University of Washington's crew was to the people of Seattle in 1935." Yep.
"You will eat no fried meats. You will eat no pastries, but you will eat plenty of vegetables. You will eat good, substantial, wholesome food—the kind of food your mother makes." Favorite.
"As Royal Brougham climbed into the train, he noted that he had never seen a crew leave town "with as much cheerful determination and optimism. These lads feel it in they're bones....they're practically shaking hands with Hitler right now." No, no, no! ...more
Applause! Applause! A fantastic collection of seven essays on feminism by a thoughtful and hopeful activist author and lovely writer. Yes, you can reaApplause! Applause! A fantastic collection of seven essays on feminism by a thoughtful and hopeful activist author and lovely writer. Yes, you can read much of this work online and a lot of it at tomdispatch.com, but it's a delight of a book interspersed with images by artist Ana Teresa Fernandez. Spend some time with it in your hands. Read the pieces all together. Enjoy it on the shelf in your writing room. Pass it around to friends....more
Rebecca Solnit is my author crush of the year. Wanderlust does not have the lyrical inventiveness of The Faraway Nearby. It's a straightforward nonficRebecca Solnit is my author crush of the year. Wanderlust does not have the lyrical inventiveness of The Faraway Nearby. It's a straightforward nonfiction read by someone who has nerded out on research — more along the lines of Solnit's "A Paradise Built in Hell," but it's fascinating nonetheless.
While I was reading it I kept wondering, "Could there really be this much to say about walking?" but there was.
And then, "Am I really interested enough to read more?" but I was (fervently highlighting passages, pausing to read Henry David Thoreau's essay "Walking" and making notes for further reading as well).
Best of all, Solnit makes a case that walking is a creative, revolutionary act. It's empowering.
If you like to walk and read and create and change the world, this book is fuel.
I've been taking a lot of long walks and my joy in them is increased since reading this book. The way I move through space, through my community, with my love — it's amazing.
"I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes, / with fury, with forgetfulness" — Pablo Neruda
Quotes: "Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in the conversation together three notes suddenly making a chord."
"Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains."
"So stories are travels and travels are stories."
"To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route."
"Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies." ...more
While there's nothing earth-shattering here, the book makes an excellent point that in order to relate better to our canine companions we ought to invWhile there's nothing earth-shattering here, the book makes an excellent point that in order to relate better to our canine companions we ought to invest more effort in thinking about how they perceive the world.
Perhaps that's the most surprising revelation here: how little scientific and purposeful thought we've given to how our dogs friends think and what makes them happy. While, dogs on the other hand, watch and respond sensitively to our every move and mood.
The book counters some conventional wisdom and wrong-thinking which has lead to misguided and harmful training techniques i.e. dogs do not behave like wolves. They do not need to be dominated and, in fact, this can cause them anxiety and fear.
This book is part of a growing and useful trend toward delving more into the emotional lives of animals, not in the sense of anthropormorphizing, but rather in perceiving the world in the way another species would. Dogs, for example, have a huge olfactory world available to them.
It's a helpful point of view. Bradshaw makes a strong case for the need to think about how to access and maximize the potential of the inner world of dogs to help them integrate and be our companions in modern society rather than simply breeding them to look a certain way - often to the detriment of their health and temperament.
The book ends on a pessimistic note about the fate of dogs, if their needs are not taken into consideration. As a dog lover, I have to feel more hopeful about the future of dogs. What would we do without them?
Loyal dog people will certainly read books like this and speak out to make changes (in training techniques, breeding, welfare) on the dogs' behalf. Won't they?
In the conclusion to the spring quarter 2013 class, Professor Banerjee made the point that policy against poverty (organization beyond occasional handouts) is very modern.
As such, "there is reason to be optimistic," that more informed research and development efforts aimed at eliminating poverty can make profound change.
Development strategies to help the poor have not historically been based on data and research scientifically conducted to pinpoint what works. This information can make a huge difference and highlight the best places to expend resources.
Some key takeaways:
Lack of cheap food (i.e. grain) is not the problem. "In terms of food availability, today we live in a world that is capable of feeding every person that lives on the planet." Nutrition, not hunger, is today's priority.
The poor make decisions on how to spend money (whether on food, small luxuries, preventative medicine, insurance, investment, savings) like everyone else — with a strong bias toward the present.
People, especially women, don't want to run small businesses. They don't want the risk and low reward of being self-employed. They would prefer stable, well-paid government jobs.
It makes sense for society to subsidize or enforce behaviors that have benefits for others i.e. vaccinations. Government and institutions play a huge role in individual well-being.
Wealthy peoples' real advantage comes from the many things that we take as given (clean water, toilets, banks etc.). Whereas, for the poor, these become daily struggles and decisions. For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis.
Making people richer and more educated can start a virtuous circle where good institutions will emerge. A little bit of hope and some reassurance and comfort can be a powerful incentive. It's hard to make the forward-thinking decisions that will ensure a brighter future without hope of one.
Breathtakingly beautiful insights and composed sentences. So lovely. Solnit's The Faraway Nearby (2013), surpasses this, but there is a similar lyriciBreathtakingly beautiful insights and composed sentences. So lovely. Solnit's The Faraway Nearby (2013), surpasses this, but there is a similar lyricism and craft here. The books in her more straightforward nonfiction style are definitely worth a read too, if the subject mater compels you, i.e. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster (2009) and Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000).
"...to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery."
"And there's another art of being at home in the unknown, so that being in its midst isn't cause for panic and suffering, of being at home with being lost."
"The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita between lies a life of discovery."
"Lose the whole world, he (Thoreau) asserts, get lost in it, and find your soul."
Ease in the reader = blood, sweat and tears in the writer. Literally, in this case.
This is an effortless, breeze of a read that tells the story of theEase in the reader = blood, sweat and tears in the writer. Literally, in this case.
This is an effortless, breeze of a read that tells the story of the author's arduous physical journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (she hiked a great deal of California and across all of Oregon) and her mental trek over the loss of her mother.
It is not an ornate or lyrical book, but it is well told and thoughtful.
The point of view is atypical of outdoorsy nonfiction. This is not an authoritative hiker-to-hiker book, a mildly humorous adventure tale, or an explanation of Pacific Crest Trail as told by an avid outdoorsman, Eagle Scout, or gutsy broad.
It's the story of a troubled woman in her 20s with a messy life on an ill-advised trip for which she is grossly unprepared. If Strayed had written the book immediately after finishing the hike, it may not have been worth reading.
What makes it valuable is the reflection Strayed has done since the journey and the painstaking effort she has put into structuring her tale.
It is, uniquely, a young woman's guidebook on the nature of loss and healing.
Pairs well with: Books by adventurer — and gutsy broad — Helen Thayer including Walking the Gobi: A 1,600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair, and Polar Dream: The First Solo Expedition by a Woman and Her Dog to the Magnetic North Pole.
Read this, not that: Midway into A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail author Bill Bryson quits his hike and proceeds to lecture about the history of the trail whilst driving beside it. He begins his journey after being commissioned to write about hiking the trail and offers no reflection. Advantage: Wild.
Notable: Strayed does include some interesting facts about the Pacific Crest Trail including that Catherine Montgomery at the State Normal School (now Western Washington University) in Bellingham, Wash. is (sometimes) credited with first proposing the trail.
Writers read this for: a good example of memoir, a contained story, a focus on the telling details of a life as it relates to a particular story and themes
Personal note: my Auntie who lives in Truckee near the Pacific Crest Trail sent me an autographed copy of Wild — a lovely surprise!
The New York Times runs an essay contest on the ethics of meat eating. The judges are animal rights advocates and plant-based nutrition gurus. TheyThe New York Times runs an essay contest on the ethics of meat eating. The judges are animal rights advocates and plant-based nutrition gurus. They are all men.
Carol J. Adams wrote "The Sexual Politics of Ethics" and questioned the choice of an all male panel. Why wasn't a single female included (Karen Davis, Pattrice Jones, Lauren Ornelas, Erica Meier, Josephine Donovan, Greta Gaard, Lori Gruen, Marla Rose, Laura Wright, Kim Socha, Breeze Harper, Jasmin Singer or Mariann Sullivan for example)?
But the source of my "uh oh" was discomfiting de ja vu — when I'm not reading the women I'm missing out.
I bought the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and started reading. There are three prefaces — to the original book (1990), to the 10th anniversary edition, and to the 20th edition — and a foreword before the actual book begins.
The book describes the intersection between feminism, pacifism and vegetarianism (conversely male dominance, war, and meat-eating).
The early chapters such as, "The Rape of Animals, the Butchering of Women," link the consumption of animals and women. They are painful reading. Adams draws attention to gut-churning abuses that mirror modern news headlines i.e. Georgia Republican Compares Women to Cows, Pigs, And Chickens (His thinking: Pigs must carry dead fetuses to term and so must women. Sad, but that's life. Abortion is unethical).
It's reading a book about an atrocity during the atrocity — reading about the dystopia you inhabit.
When I read news like this I think, "We shouldn't treat animals like that either." and "If we raised the bar for how we treat animals, we'd treat ourselves better."
This idea of including animals "within the moral circle of consideration" is part of a vegetarian body of thought and literature. Vegetarians have been expressing this idea before the word vegetarian was coined in 1847 (They were called Pythagoreans before. The followers of Pythagoras had religious and ethical beliefs including metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls into the bodies of other animals, which excluded the eating of animals).
Adams dives into this discussion in the middle of the book and the chapter "The Word Made Flesh" where she talks about how, "Meat eating is a story applied to animals, it gives meaning to animals' existence." and the alternate vegetarian narrative. Instead of a hero's journey, she describes a "vegetarian quest" wherein dietary choices conflict with the dominant culture.
By the final chapters, I was wildly adding to my to-read list. In the last chapter, "Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory," Adams lists numerous works of fiction with feminist-vegetarian themes.
The book ends on a utopian note, "Feminist-vegetarian activity declares that an alternative worldview exists, one which celebrates life rather than consuming death; one which does not rely on resurrected animals but empowered people." and with a call for the "creation of vegetarian rituals that celebrate the grace of eating plants" and help counter patriarchal consumption.
Of note, some feminist science fiction and utopian connections: the chapter "Frankenstein's Vegetarian Monster" explores the Creature's vegetarianism and notes other works by Romantic vegetarians including Percy Shelley's Queen Mab (arguably the first feminist, vegetarian, pacifist Utopia, Adams says)
Fact: the average American eats 43 pigs, three lambs, 11 cows, four calves, 2,555 chickens and turkeys and 861 fishes in a lifetime
Pairs well with: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle; Percy Shelley's Queen Mab; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; "Eat Rice Have Faith in Women," Fran Winart
"It's a difficult task, o citizens, to make speeches to the belly which has no ears." — Cato
"The men were better hunters than the women, but only because the women had found that they could live quite well on foods other than meats. — Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar
"[The slaughterhouse] carries out its business in secret and decides what you will see, hides from you what it chooses." — Richard Selzer
"If the words which tell the truth about meat as food are unfit for our ears, the meat itself is not fit for our mouths." — Emarel Freshel
"As long as man kills the lower races for food or sport, he will be ready to kill his own race for enmity. It is not this bloodshed or that bloodshed, that must cease, but all needless bloodshed — all wanton infliction of pain or death upon our fellow beings." — Henry Salt
"May the fairies be vegetarian!" — Judy Grahn, "The Queen of Swords"...more
Should a real life disaster strike, consumers of fictionalized accounts from Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead to Cormac McCarthy's The Road may wellShould a real life disaster strike, consumers of fictionalized accounts from Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead to Cormac McCarthy's The Road may well despair for humanity's survival.
Watch any disaster movie and assume chaos and panic.
This book offers a welcome antidote.
"...human beings are at their best when much is demanded of them..."
"...human beings, and this cuts across all societies...rise to the occasion."
"...human beings respond with initiative, orderliness, and helpfulness; they remain calm; and suffering and loss are transformed when they are shared experiences."
Researching real life disasters from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, author Solnit examines how real people respond in disasters — and offers the phrase "disaster utopia."
It's an optimistic, but well-documented, assessment of the humanity, helpfulness, and calm people display when a crisis brings them together. People assist each other. Disasters uncover a sense of community and purpose and survivors often recall those times of earnest cooperation with pleasure.
Survivors of the San Francisco earthquake reported:
"Never in all San Francisco's history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror."
"While the crisis lasted, people loved each other."
Of course, disaster response is not all light and roses. Base impulses surface in a disaster as well as benevolent ones.
However, it's not usually the masses in the majority that cause the trouble. Solnit instead points the finger at those in charge. She explores the phenomena of "elite panic," in which those "in charge" do more harm than good by trying to keep control. She cites examples of authorities who hinder volunteers, further their own agendas, and who out of fear of "mobs" and "looting," brutally put protection of personal property ahead of the protection of human life.
Since our beliefs about how we will behave under stress influence disaster response, the field of disaster sociology's discovery that we can count on each other in a crisis is pivotal.
In a disaster, our first responders will likely be our neighbors.
There's an anarchist theme to Solnit's discoveries that decentralized, rapidly-formed communities frequently rise above bureaucracies and governments in a crisis. However, rather than forwarding the rather depressing idea that we need a disaster to bring out the best in us, the book leans toward the conclusion that the structure of our current day-to-day society breeds inordinate competition and isolation and restrains our social natures.
"The ruts and routines of ordinary life hide more beauty than brutality."
"...human beings are gregarious, cooperative animals who need no authority to make them so; it is their nature."
"...just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, so human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster..."
Pairs well with: Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature
Of note: • research by biobehavioral scientists Shelley E. Taylor and Laura Cousino Klein offers an alternative view to the fight-or-flight stress response "...women in particular often gather to share concerns and abilities...the 'tend-and-befriend' pattern."
• Sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, in more than 700 studies of disasters found, "cooperative rather than selfish behavior predominating" and few instances of panic.