This is an engaging book, although it seems to be overloaded with too many statistics, without a corresponding set of insights. Lots of interesting trThis is an engaging book, although it seems to be overloaded with too many statistics, without a corresponding set of insights. Lots of interesting trends. This book is exactly the opposite of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. This book by Mark Penn explores what happens to trends before they reach the tipping point.
There are some very interesting microtrends that I would never have expected. For example, the trend for married couples to live apart. The trend for many children to become vegetarians or vegans (yay!). The trend for couples to vote differently. The increase in left-handedness. Knitting is growing in popularity.
This is a fun book, but not terribly enlightening....more
This is a wonderful collection of essays about science. Here, the word "science" is loosely defined, and includes a grab-bag of topics, all absolutelyThis is a wonderful collection of essays about science. Here, the word "science" is loosely defined, and includes a grab-bag of topics, all absolutely fascinating.
Here I learned that the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig was not the worst aspect of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster was worsened by BP's actions; cover-up, and terrible clean-up operations that worsened the disaster instead of mitigating it. BP used a chemical called Corexit to disperse the oil in and above the water, despite being ordered to stop. While both oil and Corexit are toxic to life, oil treated with Corexit is even more toxic! Then they set out boom, which does exactly the opposite of dispersal, so the clean-up actions conflict with each other!
I learned about the use of LSD in psychopharmacology. I learned about people who are obsessed with hoarding. I learned about the sad story of people who like to be cruel to animals. I learned of underground seams of coal that are burning all over the world, releasing toxins and polluting groundwater. I learned about a very bad computer virus, the so-called Conficker worm, that remains a mystery. I learned why many TV weathermen are of the strangely of the opinion that the global climate is not warming; some even think that it is a scam!
There are many more topics, all engaging and never dull. While most of the essays are doom and gloom, there is a fun essay about the longest-range baseball home run that is physically possible; 748 feet from home plate!...more
This is a wonderful collection of essays about mountain climbing. I greatly enjoyed Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount EvThis is a wonderful collection of essays about mountain climbing. I greatly enjoyed Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, and Eiger Dreams is just as good. Each chapter is an essay on some facet of mountain climbing. The first chapter is about climbing the Eiger. Other chapters are about climbing Mount Blanc and K2. Another chapter is about bouldering, and another is about the experiences of a bush pilot in Alaska, transporting mountain climbers to a glacier at the base of Mount McKinley. One chapter is about ice climbing, while another describes the experience of living in a tent for days on end, while a storm makes it impossible to get out.
A small stream of dry humor runs throughout the book. You have to have a sense of humor to engage in some of these dangerous, sometimes mind-numbing activities. One chapter describes how a team of doctors spend their summers on the slopes of Mt. McKinley. They study the effects of altitude sickness, and has saved numerous lives. All on their own dime. Krakauer asked one of the doctors "why they volunteered to spend their summers toiling in such a godforsaken place."
"Well," he explained as he stood shivering in a blizzard, reeling from nausea and a blinding headache while attempting to repair a broken radio antenna. "It's sort of like having fun, only different."
While describing the heavy human toll among climbers of K2, a troubling question gets asked: "Should a civilized society continue to condone, much less celebrate, an activity in which there appears to be a growing acceptance of death as a likely outcome?" During one summer, one out of five climbers who attempted the mountain did not come back alive.
When Krakauer told Coloradans that he intended to climb the Devil's Thumb (in Alaska) solo, they thought he had been smoking too much pot--they thought it was a "monumentally bad idea". But when he told Alaskans, they hardly reacted at all. They just wondered how much money there was in climbing such a mountain.
I am not a climber, but I find that Krakauer's writing style is ridiculously engaging. He puts you, the reader, right there on the mountain and lets you know how it feels. For a collection of non-fiction essays, this book is a real page-turner. Highly recommended....more
Some of the essays in this book are excellent, while others are just boring. For example, Shermer takes 19 pages to report on the "Bright" episode inSome of the essays in this book are excellent, while others are just boring. For example, Shermer takes 19 pages to report on the "Bright" episode in his life. He coined the word "bright" to mean skeptics, or non-believers. Most people reacted critically to the name, and he eventually was forced to drop it. But Shermer organizes page-long lists and tabulations of statistics on the issue--this was a big yawn for me.
Another 22-page essay was about a controversy dealing with a few anthropologists who studied the Yanomamo people of the Amazon. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Another big yawn.
Clearly, Shermer is a big fan of Stephen Jay Gould. There are many references to him scattered throughout the book, and an entire essay is devoted to Gould. I enjoy reading Gould's books, but Shermer's essay is weighed down by tabulations and statistics of Gould's literary output; just not very interesting.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the short essay about sports psychology. And, the chapter about "Mutiny on the Bounty" was absolutely fascinating. The story told in the movies is a complete falsehood. William Bligh was not a tyrannical monster, who unleashed punishments on his crew for little reason. Instead, Bligh was a relatively enlightened captain, who cared for the well-being of his crew. Shermer goes into some detail, trying to unravel the true reasons for the mutiny.
Shermer seems to be intrigued with the whole idea of "contingencies and counterfactuals: What Might have been and what had to be." In other words, if some key historical action or coincidence had never taken place, would history have developed any differently? For example, what would have happened if "Neanderthals won and we lost?" Or, "what if there had been no agricultural revolution?" What would have happened if General McClellan had not fortuitously gotten a hold of General Lee's battle plans during the Civil War, during the Battle of Antietam?
I thought that the best essay in the book is about the concept of intelligent design. Shermer puts forward ten of the arguments that believers in intelligent design use to rationalize their beliefs. Then, Shermer tears these arguments apart, and does not leave a shred of their arguments unturned....more
This book is a set of interviews with 36 contemporary scientists. Some of the scientists are well known to laymen; Daniel Dennett, Joan Goodall, RichaThis book is a set of interviews with 36 contemporary scientists. Some of the scientists are well known to laymen; Daniel Dennett, Joan Goodall, Richard Dawkins, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Jay Gould, Paul Davies, James Lovelock, Lisa Randall, and Edward O. Wilson, for example. Many of the other scientists are not as well known, at least to me. So, in several pages per interview, I got an inkling--just an inkling of an idea of what each scientist is about. A brief biography on each scientist, and a reading list are featured at the end of the book.
Almost every interview was enjoyable, but I sometimes felt cheated--the interviews are so short, that I got the feeling that we were just skimming the surface, and not penetrating in depth into any particular subject. The vast majority of the interviews were with biologists and psychologists. Only six scientists work in the physical sciences, and most of them are not well-known. So, I felt that the bias of the editors showed through their selection, and again, I felt a bit cheated.
Several of the interviews were particularly fascinating to me. For example, Daniel Gilbert talked about the "Science of Happiness". When people try to predict how happy they might be in some particular vacation, they prefer to read brochures rather than ask others about their experience on the same vacation. They often make the wrong decision about the vacation, because humans have an "illusion of uniqueness". People do not believe that the experiences of others can help them decide, because they we feel we are unique; we know our own thoughts and feelings, and we don't believe that the experiences of others are relevant.
James Lovelock's interview was fascinating. The interview did not explicitly bring up Lovelock's "Gaia" hypothesis, but he had lots to say about the origin and preservation of life on Earth. When asked about how humans might prevent the demise of life, Lovelock declared that it is important to overcome our fears of nuclear power, as it is the only energy source that does not harm the atmosphere. He talked about the pressures that humans put on the Earth's ecology, and some of the misguided efforts of environmentalists.
I loved Eugene Chudnovsky's interview--he is quite a character. I enjoyed his response when he was asked,
"But do you believe in cyborgs, in those half-machine, half-organism hybrids?" "Of course I believe in cyborgs."
There is a famous story about Chudnovsky, when he was young, attending a lecture by the world-famous Soviet Professor Lysenko. Unfortunately, Lysenko believed in Lamarkism, and he had a lot of influence in the Soviet Union. Lysenko said,
"If we cut the ears off calves when they were born, generation after generation, after some time cows would be born without ears." "Professor Lysenko," timidly asked the young Chudnovsky, "if it were true that by systematically cutting off cow's ears, generation after generatation, they would end up being born without ears, how do you explain that all the young women of the Soviet Union continue to be born virgins?"
This book is not good as a comprehensive guide to the sciences. But it is an excellent way to be exposed to some very interesting, prominent scientists and a wide range of ideas. Think of this book as a "teaser", and you will be well rewarded. ...more
This is a delightful book of short essays on a diverse set of topics. The collection of essays serves as Chabon's memoirs--not chronological, not compThis is a delightful book of short essays on a diverse set of topics. The collection of essays serves as Chabon's memoirs--not chronological, not comprehensive, but fun and funny. Each essay begins in a simple manner, but then starts to delve into heavier matters--all while maintaining a light-hearted style.
The book uses the word "amateur" from its title Manhood for Amateurs in two different ways. Chabon easily admits that he is an amateur in the sense that he is not an expert. He freely acknowledges that he has failed on numerous occasions as a husband and a father, but not for want of trying. In the other sense of the word, he "loves" being a husband and a father, and he clearly tries his best at both. He tries his best to understand his children, and in many ways they share his interests.
Each essay is imbued with an easy-going, self-deprecating, nostalgic humor. The book is full of references to pop-culture from the 1970's, as he grew up through childhood and adolescence. I recommend this entertaining book for any fan of Michael Chabon....more
Isaac Asimov wrote over 500 books, and was one of the most prolific authors of all time. While he is best known for his science fiction and popular scIsaac Asimov wrote over 500 books, and was one of the most prolific authors of all time. While he is best known for his science fiction and popular science books, his writings cover an extremely wide range of subjects. This book of short essays is a great sampling of his writings--just take a look at the bookshelf tags I've assigned to this book; astronomy, computers, essays, memoirs, politics, religion, science and technology. This amazing collection of essays was written in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Many of the essays are speculations about the future, so many seem rather "quaint" now. Nevertheless, it's fascinating to read Asimov's speculations, and to see that many of them have turned out to be true. For example, Asimov is responsible for coining the word "robotics". He foresaw that Pluto did not deserve to be called a planet. He foresaw the possibility of quantum computers.
On the other hand, some of his speculations have turned out to be really on the wrong track; for example, he worried about global cooling. He also was very very worried that the human race would destroy itself before the year 2000. After all, he wrote these essays during the height of the cold war. He also worried about over-population, famine, and the over-use of natural resources. Many of his essays start with something like: (paraphrasing) "... and here is my speculation on the future of technology in the next century--if humanity survives that long."
Asimov is still the voice of reason, of rational logic, common sense, and an innate sense of morality. This book contains essays about the future of transportation, communication, computers, space colonization, even of hotels and collecting--yes, collecting! Even though he speculated on a wide range of technological issues, when Byte Magazine asked him to write an essay about his experiences using a computer/word processor, he had to confess that he still used a typewriter! He was given a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer, and wrote a humorous essay about it, making himself sound like a real Luddite!
Some of the essays in this book are quite interesting; for example, an essay about the possibility of multiple universes, and another about the directSome of the essays in this book are quite interesting; for example, an essay about the possibility of multiple universes, and another about the direction of time. But the vast majority of the essays are boring. They just seem--irrelevant. Perhaps they would be interesting to someone who lived 50 or 100 years ago. Not just one, but two essays about a little-known novel, The Green Archer. An essay about Ernest Hemingway (my least favorite American author) and his lover, Jane Kendall. An entire section of essays about bad, disreputable psychics. A section of essays about forgotten, false messiahs. I used to love reading Martin Gardner's essays in Scientific American. I guess these are his essays that didn't quite make it....more
The concept behind this book is wonderful. Scientists and science fiction authors discuss the relationships between science and stories.
In practice, hThe concept behind this book is wonderful. Scientists and science fiction authors discuss the relationships between science and stories.
In practice, however, much of the book was boring. Some of the essays--the more philosophical ones--simply didn't make any sense to me. Many pages are devoted to a telling of the story of the "Three Little Pigs"; a side-by-side telling via cartoons and mathematical symbology, as if it were some sort of mathematical proof. I didn't really see the point of this.
The most interesting essay is about Einstein and how his theories of relativity were accepted--or not. At one point, Einstein suddenly became world famous, and he went on a world tour. Many critics sprang up; they didn't understand the concepts, and they thought that his theories were "pure math" or simply a new theoretical philosophy that didn't have any practical application or corroboration with experiment.
This book had been on my wishlist for years. Some of the authors are among my favorite science fiction authors. But the fact is, I'm not happy I read it....more
This is not an easy book to read--Gould's language and style are aimed at educated, but non-professional readers. Each essay is a gem in its own way,This is not an easy book to read--Gould's language and style are aimed at educated, but non-professional readers. Each essay is a gem in its own way, on a wide diversity of subjects. Gould sheds much light on how science is done, and the importance of the process rather than the conclusions. Highly recommended!...more