This book is the ur-nerd tome. There is no pretending: you either are the sort of person who is mathy enough, physics and astronomy-obsessed enough anThis book is the ur-nerd tome. There is no pretending: you either are the sort of person who is mathy enough, physics and astronomy-obsessed enough and all around nerdy enough to find this fun...or you aren't.
To give an example, most days, because I'm busy being a doctor, I spend a lot of time pretending that I'm not a nerd. But recently, I joined a lab where my boss is about as nerdy as I am. So comparing weekend notes, he says: I spent the weekend solving a Rubik's cross. And I said: I spent the weekend reading the new What If XKCD book. I won that competition.
To be honest, I'm not particularly motivated to write much of a review: if you're that nerdy of a person, you've read the webpage version of what-if xkcd and understand the joy that is Fermi Problems (and probably the annoyance that happens after you do a Fermi problem and you spend the rest of the day unable to stop doing Fermi problems), absurd questions about nuclear physics, random statistics and clever stick-figure illustrations.
The key points are these: I religiously read What If XKCD every week, and have read every single one published on the web. The book still had plenty of new things that I had never seen before. There are some extras in the book: one line answers to particularly weird questions. I was anticipating a major drawback of the book to be the loss of hover text and footnotes that appear in the online version; this is replaced by captions and the old-school form of footnotes (i.e. footnotes). However, this is not a great book to read far apart from the internet: it's impossible to get through the whole thing without having strong compulsions to google side questions.
P.S. The worst part of this book is in the acknowledgements when he says he already has an expert on genetics. Note to self: scheme to take out previous genetics expert and become Randall Munroe's personal brilliant geneticist......more
Shilts' contemporary account of the advent of what is now HIV/AIDS is truly a classic. Shilts takes an unbiased, journalistic approach to the scienceShilts' contemporary account of the advent of what is now HIV/AIDS is truly a classic. Shilts takes an unbiased, journalistic approach to the science surrounding the discovery of the "GRID" complex, the underlying virus, the epidemiology required to figure out how the disease was spread as well as the international politics limiting the closing of the bathhouses, treatment, testing of the blood supply and delaying the correct taxonomy of HIV.
Interspersed with this, Shilts shows the ready a very personal view of the stories of individuals affected by HIV/AIDS and their personal struggles both as patients and as advocates. These interspersed narratives are touching and strong, and completely unfictionalized.
Although it would be easy for these one of the many different components of the narrative to become overwhelmed by the vastness and intricacy of the story that Shilts is telling, he handles each of these components deftly, making the 600 page book a manageable and entertaining read.
Although And the Band Played On is now over 20 years old, it was the first comprehensive account of the advent of HIV/AIDS, it was an instant classic in its time and its contemporary nature lends an honesty to the homophobia, politicking and counter-productive maneuvering on all sides that would likely be glossed over in a modern telling....more
I thought this book was beneath me: I could give an hour lecture on the problems facing the women's right movement today; this book was for women whoI thought this book was beneath me: I could give an hour lecture on the problems facing the women's right movement today; this book was for women who didn't even know that they're feminists.
For years, as a woman doctor, I shied away from Women in Medicine groups, because having been a female computer scientist and facing the very overt sexism that occurs in the C.S. world, I thought that there was nothing to complain about in medicine. But the further I got in medicine, especially once I had my daughter, I realize all of the subtle ways that its there: the encouragement to leave before you leave; the lack of high-powered female mentors, and the overall relative dearth of women in leadership and highly academic positions. So I joined a national committee on women in medicine and science and at the same time I read this book.
And it's amazing. Sheryl Sandberg gives easy language for the problems I know we face: "sit at the table" for the confidence issues that professional women have; "lean in" and "don't leave before you leave" for the self-selection that occurs. She talks about the seductive message the feminism's work is done that leads to increasing amounts of this subversive sexism (which is the temporal equivalent of the same illusion I fell under switch from C.S. to medicine.) She addresses the hard issues: the linguist quirks that make women seem less confident and the social norms that prevent women from being assertive, both of which put women into a damned if you do/damned if you don't position.
But this is not just a book on contextualization. Sandberg gives concrete advice to women that is useful for women in all fields. She focuses on helping women become top business officers, but its helpful advice to anyone. And she does this without ignoring the importance of being a parent for women who want to parent -- and I think this part gets lost among the rhetoric for a lot of people. One of my close friends hates this book, because she says that Sandberg doesn't believe in the importance of mothering, but that's not a correct assertion. Sandberg spends many pages talking about how she decided to take from 5:30-bedtime off from work (offline, off everything) almost all nights because that's what's right for her family. She talks about a woman who joined the Biden administration but on the condition that she goes home for dinner every single night. This is advice on how to set your priorities and then make them happen -- dropping the hysteria that comes from assuming that in order to be successful, you have to make sacrifices on someone else's terms.
Sandberg makes it clear that you can't "have it all," but you can choose what you get to have, and I think that's the best message possible. ...more
Final Exam is a beautiful, moving piece of non-fiction. Both scholarly and intensely personal, Dr. Chen's first book is a concise but thorough descripFinal Exam is a beautiful, moving piece of non-fiction. Both scholarly and intensely personal, Dr. Chen's first book is a concise but thorough description of her own experiences with death and dying throughout her medical training and the effect it has had on her professional and personal relationships with the dying. Her experiences are largely universal -- her descriptions of her first patient whose death she felt responsible for echoed -- and she backs them up with citations from the medial literature about the exposures trainees have to death and their reactions.
Despite the fact that I am well-versed in the palliative literature and had read many of the articles Dr. Chen cited her personal experiences lend a depth and character to the discussion that is priceless. Dr. Chen's strength is that she is brutally honest. She describes unflinchingly her avoidance of patients that were dying and her regret of being too terse at times. She discusses events that other medical non-fiction would gloss over.
My only grievances with the book is the end-notes. The book is rife with them (at one point there are three end notes corresponding to a single sentence) and they are not marked at all in the main text, although they are designed to refer to particular sentences in the main text. The end notes are written in a different style than the main narrative, and detract from the flow. By and large they fall into three categories: those that are essential to the text and directly related to the main text; those that are essential to the text, but not directly related to the main text and those that are not essential. The first two categories should have been integrated into the narrative and the third should have been eliminated....more
This is Mary Roach at her best, with all of her classic points: a one-word, evocative, title a subject matter dancing just on the edge of the taboo liThis is Mary Roach at her best, with all of her classic points: a one-word, evocative, title a subject matter dancing just on the edge of the taboo line, dealt with in one part investigative journalism, one part completely unsquashable curiosity and one part a mix of stream-of-consciousness and "I just can't help but share" anecdotes.
Those who disliked Roach's previous works will hate Gulp, and those who liked her previous works will love it. The dislike largely stems from her highly present narration, and that is out in full force here. Doctors that she has known with hilariously apropos names, completely tangential stuff she found while doing research, boilerplate responses from Oster regarding an e-mail inquiry about their blenders being used for fecal transplate and much, much more abound in the frequent footnotes (average density seems to be about 1.5 footnotes/page.) New sections are usually introduced with commentary about what made Roach reach out to this particular person and how she feels on meeting them. The narration in fact is so present in Gulp, even compared to her previous works, that honestly, it skirts memoir territory. I consider that a win, your mileage may vary, as they say.
Meanwhile, Roach again makes the lowest of lowbrow topics palatable (sorry -- couldn't resist!) if not downright classy. For a book with an entire chapter on flatulence, it's entertaining, funny and interesting even to those of us who wouldn't dream of laughing at a fart joke. You didn't know that you wanted to know why some animals eat their own feces, the history of gastrocutaneous fistulas, the science of the chemical composition of farts, or what human tasters think of cat food and why, but Roach's curiosity is contagious and she can make any subject matter fascinating. ...more
It goes without saying that "popular statistics" book is mostly an oxymoron. On the one hand, statistics is largely a very dry field. On the other hanIt goes without saying that "popular statistics" book is mostly an oxymoron. On the one hand, statistics is largely a very dry field. On the other hand, those of us who do understand statistics (and even freaks, like my husband, who enjoy statistics), find any attempt at popular statistics largely too elementary to be interesting. Nate Silver doesn't just walk the fine line in the middle, he eliminates it and writes a completely novel statistic book that is appealing to both the mathematician and the math hater: this book fascinates.
Nate Silver focuses on the forecasting in areas that are difficult to predict: weather, climate, earthquakes, poker, politics, chess and sports. Each of these areas is individually interesting -- I had never spent much time considering online poker, for instance, and the chapter focusing on poker is not just mathematically-focused, but also an expose on the world of online poker and the life and times (or at least the two year subset thereof) of Silver's 6-figure gambling career. In addition, his overall thesis, which seems to be that we should use Bayesian analysis to think probabilistically about the world and continually evaluate our probabilities both builds naturally and has far-reaching applications.
I feel like I have spent years of my life trying to explain to medical students (and more advanced physicians who should really know better) why every time a paper is published with a p<0.05 we can't totally disregard all prior medical knowledge and dive after the new information. Silver's easy explanation of Bayes' theorem nicely summarizes why this is true - that alone should make this a must-read for anyone in an academic field....more
This was a truly fantastic -- spare, haunting, starkly illustrated, in turns innocent and worldly -- memoir, depicting the coming of age of a young, IThis was a truly fantastic -- spare, haunting, starkly illustrated, in turns innocent and worldly -- memoir, depicting the coming of age of a young, Iranian girl. Like the best of such memoirs, the author spends equal time on the political and historical events in Iran, the day-to-day life in such a regime and normal childhood experiences....more
Remember your favorite chemistry teacher? The one who always anthropormorphized chemical compounds and added drama and flavor to their lectures? ThisRemember your favorite chemistry teacher? The one who always anthropormorphized chemical compounds and added drama and flavor to their lectures? This book is a lot like that.
Okay, fine, chemistry is a substantial part of my livelihood, so maybe I have more fond chemistry-based memories than then average person. Nonetheless, The Disappearing Spoon should be as enticing to those who never took a science class outside of distribution requirements as well as those of us whose favorite class was organic chemistry.
To be honest, I was pretty nervous about this book; as a biochemist, it makes me a little uncomfortable to admit that there's anything interesting outside of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen (and a touch of phosphorus and sulfur.) But Kean's writing is the definition of compulsively readable.
Drama is brought by the often argumentative, usually eccentric and always genius scientists who founded the principals of modern chemistry. In addition, each chapter is riddled with historical anecdotes staring a particular element or two. But the real richness of the book comes from Kean's ease with the science itself, describing valence shells, chemical bonds, radioactivity, fusion and fission in accurate, accessible and extremely lively ways....more
This was the year of Mary Roach for me: I had always been hesitant about her books - Bonk seemed to flippant, Stiff irreverant and she was altogetherThis was the year of Mary Roach for me: I had always been hesitant about her books - Bonk seemed to flippant, Stiff irreverant and she was altogether too popular - always a sign that a pop science author doesn't know what she or he is talking about.
So I picked up Packing for Mars because one of my friends was insistent that Mary Roach was actually a great author, and by the title it seemed the least likely to offend, and, to be perfectly honest, there needs to be a new law of physics to describe the force that over time pulls me in to any book on astronomy.
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Roach is clearly a scientific writer, rather than a scientist, which is a niche in need of more authors: she writes with a fluidity that is lacking in some popular science books written by scientists, but more than that, she functions in this odd way as an audience surrogate - bringing with her the curiosity (sometimes scatological) of her readers and commenting along the way about her anticipation for meetings, her rationale for her questions and a description of how she finds out the information that she shares. It is a unique authorial voice and one that I enjoyed thoroughly. The content itself is a complete exploration into the NASA space program - short on hoopla and long on (sometimes scatological) details. Roach is complete, explaining, for instance, every type of food tried, the nutritional assessments, texture and composition of astronaut food, followed up by how it is actually eaten, including concerns about the ability to swallow in space, and which were substantiated and which were not.
Yes, she is a little long on the scatology, but I think that bothers me more than it does the average reader. And while there is a heavy dose of humor, it is mostly witty and tongue-in-cheek, more than gross-out humor. I've been converted: Long live Mary Roach!...more
A relatively succinct, yet comprehensive history of lesbian women in America, which also touches on feminism, civil rights and relations between the gA relatively succinct, yet comprehensive history of lesbian women in America, which also touches on feminism, civil rights and relations between the gay and lesbian communities. As far as I am aware this is the most comprehensive work on lesbian history available. Faderman did extensive research and the book is rife with footnotes and comprised predominately of interviews conducted for this book.
Faderman is upfront about her biases, although her disbelief in "congenitalism" may make modern readers uncomfortable. She does seem to view the 80's as a terminal point in lesbian history, and it would be interesting to see her characterize the 90's and 00's. ...more
I love this book -- a very concise and well-organized reference to biochemical genetics that is simple enough and focused enough on core principles toI love this book -- a very concise and well-organized reference to biochemical genetics that is simple enough and focused enough on core principles to be of use to the general pediatrician, but also contains enough detail to be useful for specialists....more