Steven Kotler's A Small Furry Prayer is a three-hundred page answer to a question that seems deceptively simple: why be involved in dog rescue? Myth aSteven Kotler's A Small Furry Prayer is a three-hundred page answer to a question that seems deceptively simple: why be involved in dog rescue? Myth and mysticism, science and conscience, data and anecdote, all play their part in Kotler's thoughtful, multi-faceted response.
Enjoyment of this book probably depends on having the right expectations going into it. This is not a dog story. Yes, you'll meet dogs, learn their personalities, and likely smile and cry at their stories. But that's not the focus of this book. This is not a sweet, feel-good story about how a dog came into someone's life and turned that someone into a better person--though that does seem to happen to Kotler. This is not a story about what dogs can do for us humans--though that too is addressed in the book. The focus of this book is what we can do for dogs, and why, and the personal story of how one couple commits themselves, beyond what many people would consider reasonable, to dog rescue. It's an examination of what one form of biotic egalitarianism (in which all life is of equal worth and value) might look like in practice, and how a person might come to believe that such a theory holds merit and meaning.
I enjoy both popular science and philosophy, and I love dogs (starting with my own rescued dogs), so the intersectional focus of A Small Furry Prayer was right up my alley. I did find myself sometimes confused by the lack of a clear timeline, and by the way the book jumped, without much warning, back and forth in time while relating Kotler's personal story. His story, though, definitely was one I enjoyed, because he stumbled into dog rescue unintentionally, and he's no martyr or saint. He came across as both remarkably normal and bafflingly insane, a dynamic that strangely only made him all the more relatable. I questioned his sanity frequently, but I wanted to go on this intellectual journey with him.
The book is twisty, but its tangents go thoughtful, diverse places. It's kind of like a college course (The History, Ethics, Psychology, and Reality of Human-Dog Cohabitation) taught by a wild-eyed, possibly crazy professor who connects a range of fascinating theories and scientific studies with wisdom gleamed from his own life. The ideas and topics Kotler touches upon are deep and engaging enough to deserve books of their own, but he moves quickly from one to the next, which sometimes worked for me but sometimes left me unsatisfied.
This book is anything but pat or easy to swallow, but it has left ideas cascading through my head.
Note: I received a review copy of this book for free from the publisher via the First Reads program here at Goodreads....more
Grim and gripping; I stayed up late to finish it. What would cause a group of experienced mountaineers, in the midst of qualifying for the highest hikGrim and gripping; I stayed up late to finish it. What would cause a group of experienced mountaineers, in the midst of qualifying for the highest hiking certification, to flee from their tent--with inexplicably sudden urgency, without even shoes for protection--into the frozen, hypothermia-inducing night?
There is still no answer, but Eichar's theory is based in science and well-presented, and I was also compelled by his explanation as to why this phenomenon wasn't well-known until recently. No aliens, no in-group murders. Eichar's reconstruction of their hikers' final hours was terrifying and sad enough without the addition of anything salacious: just destructible humans pitted against the natural world.
The human aspect of this tragedy was also developed with care. I've read about the Dyatlov Incident before (before this book, I assumed the hikers had crossed paths with some Cold War weaponry experiment gone wrong), but this account incorporated a lot of in-depth personal accounting, and the grief for the unexplained loss of these nine friends pervaded the pages.
I did think that Eichar's narrative of his own 2012 journey and investigation didn't always add to the story as a whole, and that I would have wanted more cultural context at times. Overall, however, the book was strong and well-documented....more
Jonathan Weiner's eloquent and thought-provoking Long for this World looks at the historical and contemporary search for the science of immortality.
ThJonathan Weiner's eloquent and thought-provoking Long for this World looks at the historical and contemporary search for the science of immortality.
This book is not actually about the science of aging or anti-aging. It's about the search for the science of anti-aging: the myriad of ways we humans have comprehended aging, both inside and outside of science, and on the drive (particularly of one man, Aubrey de Grey) to fight the seemingly inevitable force of aging.
The science itself is presented clearly and elegantly, and Weiner's writing style is immensely readable: he conveys the scientific search for immortality in a manner vital and personal (to him, to us readers) while drawing the connection to the bigger, mythic picture. While de Grey remains the central character in this study (no one is as passionately evangelical as he is), the stories of other scientists and their specific research (Maria Rudzinska and her beloved Tokophrya, particularly) remain bright in my mind after having finished this book.
As a social scientist, I enjoy reading popular science to discover the what, how, and why behind our drive for scientific research, and what that says about us and our humanity. Long for This World delivered interesting reflections on that very matter. I would have appreciated more in the final chapters, where Weiner discusses the implications of both mortality and immortality, and how these forces shape ourselves and our lives.
Note: I received a review copy from the publisher through the GoodReads First Reads program....more
From personal experience, I can advise that this book isn't optimal bedtime reading, given how terrifying, sad, and gruesome some parts of this book cFrom personal experience, I can advise that this book isn't optimal bedtime reading, given how terrifying, sad, and gruesome some parts of this book could be, not to mention how long my thoughts lingered on some of the existential terror. But aside from that (or perhaps because of that), I found it very gripping, even if the narrative style--intensely personal and sometimes overdramatized--sometimes grated.
So, in A Series of Unfortunate Events, you know how there's the Great Unknown? And it's this shadowy question mark in the water? Where people go, andSo, in A Series of Unfortunate Events, you know how there's the Great Unknown? And it's this shadowy question mark in the water? Where people go, and we don't know what happens to them? That's what I was thinking of while reading The Wave, because it turns out (I didn't know!) that scientists actually know so, so, so little about our world's oceans. The oceans entire ARE the Great Unknown.
I struggled sometimes with the book's writing--like, all the personality descriptions of the scientists. If one scientist was pointedly described to have genuine enthusiasm for his topic, did that mean I should assume the others didn't? And was that even relevant? I mean, I did enjoy that it read like a long magazine article, with Casey being a very quiet observer trying to put us in her shoes, but it was also sometimes distracting from the information I wanted to learn. I was also a bit surprised by the focus on surfing, as I expected that I was going to read more about the science and, like, shipwrecks (and science and shipwrecks are a major part in the book, too!), but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised that the surfing parts formed the most compelling and personal dimension to the book....more
More about our society's relationship to psychopathy than psychopathy itself, The Psychopath Test is a clever and quick read. I'd never heard of RonsoMore about our society's relationship to psychopathy than psychopathy itself, The Psychopath Test is a clever and quick read. I'd never heard of Ronson before he guested on Answer Me This!, but I found him funny then (Worst. Character. Breakfast. EVER. That poor Pocahontas!), and I found him funny in this book. He's self-effacing and self-conscious of his anxiety, and I like the clear-but-tilted perspective this sort of tone gives to the narrative. It's not an in-depth explanation of psychopathy and what mental illness means for our society, but I enjoyed how he explores from multiple angles the relationship between society and mental illness, and while he leaves the bulk of the analysis and the point-making to the readers, but he raises enough thoughtful points that it was a worthwhile, interesting read....more
A meticulously researched account of the 1925 Scopes trial. I was expecting more about the last aspect of the subtitle (the continuing debate over sciA meticulously researched account of the 1925 Scopes trial. I was expecting more about the last aspect of the subtitle (the continuing debate over science and religion), so this history wasn't what I was specifically looking for, but I still appreciated how Larson smoothly depicted the nuances of the cultural context of the trial. His account was quite balanced while still depicting clearly the passions of all sides of the debate. The writing was always clear, but the immense amounts of quotations without additional analysis and the nature of the trial (repetitive, sides arguing past one another) often dragged the reading down for me.
While the very painstaking depiction of the trial was necessary, I still vastly preferred the final chapters of the book that analyzed the immediate reactions as well as the emergent mythos of the trial. The Scopes trial didn't merit notice in my high school history class, and I've never seen Inherit the Wind, but I'm familiar with it being a cultural sticking point, so I appreciated the depth to which Larson was able to trace how and why misconceptions evolved (yeah, yeah, pun intended).
I had mistaken expectations about the extent of which the book got into the continuing debate alluded to by the subtitle, and I was a little irritated when cultural changes in regard to how fundamentalism's stand against evolution manifested were only analyzed in terms of the Scopes trial. I know, I know, that's the focus of the book, but still, for example, I wanted to know about the other contributing factors that led to a shift from fundamentalists protesting the teaching of evolution in public schools to abandoning public education for home schooling or private Christian schools. What were the economic and broader social changes that went into this? For example, did racial integration play a part? I completely understood why the book focused on just putting this in the context of antievolution, but it still felt like a pretty superficial analysis to make a point of pointing out this shift but only explaining it in the antievolution context....more
This isn't my favorite edition of this anthology, but while I could have done with less medical articles (personal preference), there were quite a fewThis isn't my favorite edition of this anthology, but while I could have done with less medical articles (personal preference), there were quite a few unique and engaging pieces in this collection. My favorites and the ones I found most thought-provoking:
"Manifold Destiny," by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber, originally published in THE NEW YORKER, about the unintended controversy surrounding the Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture, and the consequences of this for the field of mathematics.
"Truth and Consequences," by Jennifer Couzin, originally published in SCIENCE, about a group of graduate students who discover potential data falsification in their professor (and lab adviser)'s work.
"Butterfly Lessons," by Elizabeth Kolbert, originally published in THE NEW YORKER, about the myriad of variables that go into predicting the consequences of climate change on different species of plants and animals.
"In Ancient Fossils, Seeds of a New Debate on Warming," by William J. Broad, originally published in THE NEW YORK TIMES, reviewing (in too short of space!) the scientific debate over the relevance that fluctuating carbon dioxide rates throughout our planet's long history has for the study of global warming.
"Schweitzer's Dangerous Discovery," by Barry Yeoman, originally published in DISCOVER, about a paleontologist's unexpected findings of tissue in dinosaur bones--and the controversy that popped up around this quiet and unassuming evangelical Christian scientist....more
Engaging, with both good science storytelling and clear assistance in how to apply this knowledge to personal life. I was sometimes a bit skeptical ofEngaging, with both good science storytelling and clear assistance in how to apply this knowledge to personal life. I was sometimes a bit skeptical of how wide the author cast his net for habits, but in general, it was a quick, straightforward, and useful read....more
Immensely readable, but it manages to be both short and unfocused. It's the biography of the invention of frequency hopping (SO COOL) more than an accImmensely readable, but it manages to be both short and unfocused. It's the biography of the invention of frequency hopping (SO COOL) more than an account of Hedy's life (I was left puzzled by threads that remained dangling. Like, did her mother ever immigrate to the U.S.? And why did she and her first son become estranged? I AM A NOSY PERSON, YOU CAN'T JUST MENTION THESE THINGS AND NOT ELABORATE. Excuse me while I go to Wikipedia for my answers!). There was soooo much focus on the earlier influences/lives of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, however, that the latter part of the book, actually discussing their "secret communication system" and the patent process and later technological developments, rushed by so quickly. That part, though, was really awesome and exciting and I wanted more of THAT....more