This is an outstanding collection of various key documents in the history of our understanding of global warming. It provides both an informative view...moreThis is an outstanding collection of various key documents in the history of our understanding of global warming. It provides both an informative view into the history of the science behind global warming and a broad collection of responses to this reality, which makes this book both extremely gripping and very useful as a reference.(less)
The Diamond Theory of primary historical forces is a very compelling way to understand the way in which some cultures arrive at the ability to dominat...moreThe Diamond Theory of primary historical forces is a very compelling way to understand the way in which some cultures arrive at the ability to dominate others. These forces can be summarized as follows:
1. Access to domesticable plants and (large) animals
2. Ease of intercourse with other cultures
3. Sufficient cultural diversity to allow for natural selection of dominant cultural traits
While developing this theory, Diamond includes a rich and fascinating analysis of these points and also provides a very useful summary of the broad topography of human history for the entire world. I particularly liked his analysis of how plants and animals came to be domesticated, in a sort of co-evolution with humans, and also why some plants and animals select more naturally for domestication than others.
Diamond's presentation does get repetitive at points, but this repetition serves to reinforce the reader's understanding of the core of the theory proposed. Diamond's presentation of his theory also lacks any moral analysis until the very end of the book, but it is easy to skim that off like so much cloying icing, leaving a very objective core analysis that the reader can combine with her own moral understanding for a richer synthesis.(less)
Part popular review of science, part history, and part biography, "Quantum" provides an intimate look into how quantum physics was developed, starting...morePart popular review of science, part history, and part biography, "Quantum" provides an intimate look into how quantum physics was developed, starting in the late 19th century, by following the physicists who investigated the mysteries that first led to quantum theory and which that theory then presented as it matured. Along the way, this book works to help us understand the broad strokes of that theory and invites us to ponder the beautifully strange results of over a century of research.
Manjit Kumar, the author, succeeds in arousing a desire to understand the meaning behind the theories of quantum physics, although I am predisposed to an interest in science. Instead of a comprehensive textbook, we discover physics in "Quantum" by tracing its initial discovery historically. Kumar presents a fair summary of many of the key developments of quantum physics, and watching the progression of these developments helps us get caught up in the flow and the thrill of their discovery, which in turn helps us to understand them as they are revealed.
Perhaps some of the weaknesses of Kumar's text will also reveal this strength. While Kumar provides interesting and compelling descriptions of a number of the thought experiments that these scientists used as reasoning devices, such as Einstein's box of light and Schrödinger's famous cat, as well as several of the often mysterious theories of quantum physics, such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the conceptual origin of these theories is very murky. Kumar tells us who, when, and often where, but only hints at how these scientists derived their key ideas.
This may be asking too much of a book of this scope, but nonetheless a gaping mystery surrounds the creative process that actually led to many of these theories. It certainly would require far more mathematics than Kumar includes, and we simply may not know how a particular scientist connected the dots in many cases, but it might have made for a compelling appendix to allow the reader to try to dive deeply into one of these theories. (Even without such an appendix, this book is scientifically useful for the rich list of references that it includes, allowing for further study.) In addition to those theories that he does explain, Kumar tosses out several important theories without any motivation at all, including Einstein's famous equation linking energy and matter: E=mc². In the end, though, it may weigh for the book that after working through it, the reader hungers to understand the nature of reality even more deeply.
This book is about the process of science and the lives of scientists at least as much as it is about the particulars of quantum physics. It is impressive to see how these researchers worked in spite of the onslaught of two world wars, and deeply sad to note how they were still affected by those wars. Although Kumar is strictly formulaic in his summary of the lives of the scientists who feature prominently in this history, this book still successfully humanizes these scientists, whom we so often look at with a certain independent awe. We see how they competed fiercely with each other, struggled with understanding outstanding problems, doubted their own abilities, and successfully built on ideas from other scientists. To their deaths, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr disagreed about the fundamental interpretation of quantum physics, and scientists (and civilians) still struggle with this question.
What does it mean that the functioning of the universe seems to hinge on observation at a core physical level? Whatever the answer, life goes on, or at least until it doesn't.(less)
Herein lie some lovely artwork and several beguiling tales, but nothing with too much meat on it. The tales provide some useful background for a numbe...moreHerein lie some lovely artwork and several beguiling tales, but nothing with too much meat on it. The tales provide some useful background for a number of the fables in Fables, but, contrary to Willingham's insistence in the introduction, they are not deeply interesting apart from the larger corpus of Fables. Although the panels are splashed with bright color, the stories they illustrate continue in the same vein: dark and sad.(less)
One of the differences between the genres of fantasy and science fiction is that fantasy asks its readers to discard their assumptions about the way t...moreOne of the differences between the genres of fantasy and science fiction is that fantasy asks its readers to discard their assumptions about the way the world works, whereas science fiction asks its readers to build on, and perhaps add to, those assumptions. In fantasy, the replacement assumptions are usually called magic, and fantasy authors use this new framework to build completely distinct worlds from ours. Do not be fooled; science fiction often imposes essentially magical elements, justified as the undiscovered or the incomprehensible, but because science fiction progresses from where we are now, we cannot escape, and the magic, once discovered, becomes mundane. It is an important distinction, because of its effect on the reader, but it is nonetheless amusing to see how both genres crave this novelty.
There are true wonders, and terrors, dispersed liberally throughout this story, but they are mere flavoring, never enough; the author, and his characters, constantly want more, and this is precisely where the book opens, and what provides its driving force. There is much that is familiar in this, and so even planted within such an exotic setting, we can still telepose ourselves into this shiny future. And when we do, we find out that ... but, well, that would be telling, and one of the great sources of fun in this book is the many layers of revelation (heh, yes, I did go there) that it peels back as it presses inexorably forward.
As with much science fiction, this book raises interesting questions of identity, awareness, life, discovery, and yes, even of the nature of civilization. I appreciate all of those, although the book doesn't actively consider any of these questions that it poses. There's a lot of action and intrigue, but it feels carefully scripted, in more ways than one. Even with such a dramatic plot, the book seems like a prologue for stories to come. Still, it is a promising prologue.(less)
Towards the end of June (last week, as of this writing), I learned that Howard Zinn died this year, on January 27. Nearly four months after his death, seeking a rich presentation of history, I would start reading A People's History of the United States. Two days after learning of Zinn's death, I finished this book for the first time, and as I then closed it, I nearly wept. Both Zinn's book, and the fact that he is no longer fighting with us, are deeply moving.
As one might expect, when I learned that Zinn had died, I sought out the history of the man behind the history. He learned the horrors of violent warfare directly during World War II. It would appear that he then spent the rest of his life fighting in a war against oppression perpetrated by the United States, using as weapons the following: direct action, personal testimony, and the development of books such as A People's History. If you do not understand the urgent need for waging this war; or if you want to better understand the devastating scope of this oppression; or if you could benefit from the lessons learned, at great cost, about how to fight this war; then you need to read this history book.
The title alone is more provocative than I had expected it to be when I first started reading the book. I was glad for every opportunity that appeared whenever a friend or potential friend would ask me what I was reading. Some would ask what the phrase "A People's History" meant, and there is a very useful and concise (and, of course, biased) answer to that question on the back cover of my edition:
Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History of the United States is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers.
Not having been indoctrinated with a heavy amount of anti-Communist propaganda, I didn't react strongly to the Communist association with the template "people's anything", but it seems like others did. My Dad was clearly taken aback when I showed him the title of the book, and after expressing curiosity and then reading just the first page, my Mom commented grimly, "this doesn't say very good things about us". My response to her then serves well as my response now: neither does the rest of the book. It is, however, a truth that we ought to know, and it is an empowering truth. I am grateful that this book has stimulated many lively and truthful discussions thus far, and I hope that it will contribute to many more in the future.
The war against United States oppression clearly continues. The foundation of the war effort is information, and so the war not only targets ongoing oppression, but it must also address past injustice. In reality, shaping the understanding of history is critical to all war efforts, so it should come as no surprise that this war, too, must account for both past and current conflicts. History itself teaches many lessons about what is necessary for successful resistance, although sadly those lessons are mainly demonstrated by a litany of tragic defeats. We must construct a victory using what we have learned from these defeats, and in this book Zinn provides us with a critical historical framework for doing so.
Some of the lessons that it contains include the following. The enemy is very powerful and broad; in fact, the enemy is rooted in an unjust culture, so to the degree that we contribute to that culture, the enemy is us, and so we must first build a new internal culture. Oppression draws its power from the economic activity of the oppressed, which actually implies that the oppressed can wield that power themselves, although doing so requires working together. Resistance requires general unity; many acts of resistance were defeated due to energy (and lives) wasted on discord (generally because of some form of unjust discrimination). Any resistance must be sustainable, which means it needs to provide its own basic resources, including food and shelter. It is clear that all of these are extremely difficult challenges. We need to contribute work at a variety of levels for the resistance to succeed, and we need to work together. We don't know exactly what measures are sufficient—because injustice still rages throughout the world—although history presents us with some very powerful theories. While Zinn has died, as will we all, his contribution lives on, and it is up to us to choose whether we embrace and build upon that contribution.
This colorful book provides an approachable introduction to the interrelated problems of resource consumption, environmental degradation, and pollutio...moreThis colorful book provides an approachable introduction to the interrelated problems of resource consumption, environmental degradation, and pollution. A friend of mine dropped it in my lap after we had finished watching "The Cove" and started talking about sustainability and respect for nature, and I think it does an admirable job of sketching out the bigger picture with broad strokes. The resolution is rather abrupt, which risks misleading readers about the intensity of the analogous problems implied by the book.(less)
I found the ideas presented in this book to be quite compelling. Chip and Dan Heath take on the problem of changing undesirable behavior; they provide...moreI found the ideas presented in this book to be quite compelling. Chip and Dan Heath take on the problem of changing undesirable behavior; they provide colorful case studies and back up their ideas with cutting edge psychological research. The book is very readable, and when I had finished it, I felt like I had a better understanding for how people act the way they do. The authors emphasize that their approach is a heuristic, and not a magic bullet for manipulating people, which I think is wise and healthy. I haven't had a chance to meaningfully test their framework, but I look forward to trying to apply their tools to an actual situation.
After reading the book, the following outline of their framework becomes even more clear. I include this outline here because I think it is a useful resource for everyone. (At the very least, it helps me recall the important details.)
How to make a switch:
1. Direct the rider: reproduce and build on what's working (the bright spots); provide a specific, targeted change; provide a clear and worthwhile goal
2. Motivate the elephant: use tools to motivate people's instinct, emotion, and gut reaction; break a change down into manageable pieces; weave the change into the identity of those needing the change
3. Shape the path: change the situation to make certain behaviors impossible or others extremely easy; build up habits(less)