This is a light romp through the psychic world and the scientists who think about this phenomenon (or believe it is false). The author comes off enter...moreThis is a light romp through the psychic world and the scientists who think about this phenomenon (or believe it is false). The author comes off entertaining and a bit of a nebbish at times but his good intentions shine through as he meets with each person. Each chapter is another visit with someone (or several people at once) as he explores the world of psychic phenomena and those who believe (or don't). My favorite chapter was with the physicist exploring whether we could go back in time. I occasionally winced as I saw my younger self in many of the characters in this book but he treated everyone as equally fascinating human beings. It is nice to read a book that looks for the good in people.
This is beach reading or reading when all of life is crazy and demanding too much of one. This book demands very little and offers light entertainment. I enjoyed it.(less)
The book was highly biographical and while it was a good look inside one astronomer's life and work, I felt that there wasn't enough science. It was e...moreThe book was highly biographical and while it was a good look inside one astronomer's life and work, I felt that there wasn't enough science. It was entertaining, though.(less)
I don't give many 5 star ratings to books. They pretty much have to be transformative in some way. They have to lead me to new insights and new paradi...moreI don't give many 5 star ratings to books. They pretty much have to be transformative in some way. They have to lead me to new insights and new paradigms. This one does. He describes the effects of the a period of global warming called the Medieval Warm Period, which transformed Europe and the Arctic in beneficial ways but brought devastation to the American Southwest, South America, Asia, Africa, and much of the rest of the world. His treatment of the topic is well-researched and well-written and ultimately frightening in the implications it has for us as we move into our own period of global warming. Although this book could be said to be both history and science, it reads more like a science book than a history book.(less)
A very good book that evokes and explains the environment that created early modern humans, focusing especially on Europe. He covers the Neanderthals...moreA very good book that evokes and explains the environment that created early modern humans, focusing especially on Europe. He covers the Neanderthals early in the book and uses them to make comparisons throughout. The book drew me in with a clever use of small vignettes depicting the probable lives of particular people in the prehistoric world. In all cases he explains why scientists think the interpretation he is giving is correct. Where there is disagreement in scientific circles he deals with it briefly and then explains why he thinks one side of the other is the correct one. I have never felt so close to my early human ancestors as I did while reading this book. I was ready to do my part making obsidian blades and needles for my Cro Magnon band. Highly recommended.(less)
Another guilty pleasure. Neil deGrasse Tyson always writes well. This time he is less concerned with science education than he is with describing the...moreAnother guilty pleasure. Neil deGrasse Tyson always writes well. This time he is less concerned with science education than he is with describing the shared cultural mania that resulted from rebranding Pluto a plutoid.
The story begins with the fallout of the exhibit he put together at the Hayden Planetarium in the new Rose Center for Earth and Space. His team presented the planets as members of families of object with similar properties rather than as orbs to be memorized. Pluto was firmly placed amongst the Kuiper Belt objects.
This exhibit launched a rancorous debate on whether Pluto should be designated as a planet or something else after a headline in the New York Times read: "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York". Surprisingly the public took sides in the debate and he received hate mail about his contribution to the discussion from elementary school children and others around the world. He reports that he was "branded a public enemy of Pluto lovers the world over".
It is a very entertaining read and laugh-out-loud funny in spots. He describes the history and discovery of Pluto, what is known about the planet itself, and he describes the viewpoints of the various sides in the scientific and cultural debate quite well. He quotes headlines, comics, and cites other sources that illustrates the zeitgeist surrounding the demotion of Pluto.
My favorite bit comes toward the end of the book:
"Meanwhile, those people in society who would credit or blame the cosmos, and not themselves, for their financial affairs and love life were split on what impact an official statement to demote Pluto would have on their horoscope casting. The day after the IAU vote, a story in the Wall Street Journal by Jane Spencer appeared, under the title “Pluto’s Demotion Divides Astrologers.” The widely reprinted article cites the American Federation of Astrologers and the Astrological Association of Great Britain as standing firmly by Pluto, asserting that the icy orb is a full-blown planet, maintaining a powerful pull on our psyche, despite the IAU vote to the contrary. Then comes my favorite line:
"'Whether he’s a planet, an asteroid, or a radioactive matzo ball, Pluto has proven himself worthy of a permanent place in all horoscopes,' says Shelley Ackerman, columnist for the spirituality Web site Beliefnet.com.
"The article goes on to quote Ms. Ackerman criticizing the IAU for not including astrologers in its decision. It further quotes Eric Francis, of Planetwaves.net, which represents a subgroup of these medieval prognosticators known as minor-planet astrologers: 'This is a moment that I’ve been waiting for for a long time,' Francis remarks as he welcomes Ceres, Eris, and Charon to the ranks of dwarf planets, granting horoscope charts extra ways for believers to cede control of their lives to the universe."
I cannot see reading the book again. It's really not the sort of book you plan to go back to, but I don't regret a minute of the enjoyable time I spent with it.(less)