I loved the title story, "East of the West" about the cross-river, Bulgaria/Serbia romance between cousins. Like the other stories in Penkov's collectI loved the title story, "East of the West" about the cross-river, Bulgaria/Serbia romance between cousins. Like the other stories in Penkov's collection, the focus was squarely on the idea of ethnic identity and a changing world. In this case, each character felt the effects of ethnic identity and borders, even though they themselves were ambivalent and even unsure about their own identity as either Serb or Bulgarian. The other stories raised issues like immigrant Bulgarian identity in the US and the forced Bulgarianization of Muslims during the socialist period. All of the stories are worth reading, though none rose to the level of the first. I always enjoy gaining a slender bit more insight into the lives and thoughts of those in other places, and for that this book served me well....more
This is just the kind of exciting, accessible and provocative science that I like to read about. For the most part.
Cochran and Harpending's book presThis is just the kind of exciting, accessible and provocative science that I like to read about. For the most part.
Cochran and Harpending's book presents the argument that human evolution has increased in pace over the last 10,000 years. This is in contrast to a more standard view which argues that, due to the ability to culturally and technologically reshape our environment, modern human beings have less of a need to evolve biologically in response to environmental pressures. He begins with a few basics of populations genetic which support the likelihood of an increased rate of evolution in recent times. Among these are the increase in human population numbers; more people equals more chances for mutations to develop. Also important is the fact that our diets have changed more in the past 10,000 years than had hominin diets for the previous several million years. This would have introduced significant dietary pressures on us, and those who could tolerate or process certain foods (such as lactose) would be more evolutionarily successful. 10,000 years ago is a key starting point because it corresponds with the advent of agriculture, which introduced larger populations, new diets, crowded living, and more.
Cochran and Harpending survey a range or very interesting ideas. They argue that humans almost definitely bred with Neanderthals. That lactose tolerance was a key to the spread of Indo-European languages, via the adaptable, milk-drinking people which spoke those tongues. They examine a number of genetic mutations which are limited to certain populations and reflect recent genetic (evolutionary) responses to environment and diet, like sickle-cell trait. They suggest that light skin color may have evolved for more than just the ability to synthesize more vitamin D, and that the human brain likely underwent important structural changes just in the past 30,000 years.
All of this is seriously interesting, and a pleasure to read and debate. The downside is that Cochran and Harpending are slim on evidence for much of this. I an inclined to believe they are largely correct, but too often the book reads like a laundry list of exciting suggestions, without much to back them up.
This book certainly worth a quick read and makes some great food for thought....more
This book was pure entertainment; so hard to put down. Post-apocalyptic future dystopias are my favorite, and this one was fun from start to finish. IThis book was pure entertainment; so hard to put down. Post-apocalyptic future dystopias are my favorite, and this one was fun from start to finish. I read about Wool on slate.com, where the Amazon kindle publishing model was discussed. I picked up the first short story for free on Amazon, and purchased the full book about ten minutes later. Enjoy....more
The plague! After hearing this book reviewed on NPR, I had to pick it up. I love historically accurate fiction, and this one just about lived up to thThe plague! After hearing this book reviewed on NPR, I had to pick it up. I love historically accurate fiction, and this one just about lived up to that. It is not as richly detailed and accurate about the mentality of the time as other novels (such as Wolf Hall), but Brooks still captures medieval life quite well. It is a joy to watch the protagonist, Anna, undergo an empowering transformation over the course of the novel, from a young widow to an intelligent, independent woman. She learns to care for self and others, to read and midwife, and to question male-dominated religious dictates. This transformation is oriented toward our modern sensibilities of individualism and empowerment, but it is also the core which makes the book so satisfying to read. ...more
Jared Diamond is a favorite target of criticism from anthropologists. This is not because Diamond is an ornithologist who has chosen instead to writeJared Diamond is a favorite target of criticism from anthropologists. This is not because Diamond is an ornithologist who has chosen instead to write almost entirely about human behavior, which he does not himself research. Instead, it is mostly because Diamond loves to oversimplify complicated ideas and make grand statements on the world. The grand statement of this book is that we can learn a lot about human sex from observing how sex operates in the animal world. Compared to his overreaching in books like Guns, Germs and Steel and his recent The World Until Yesterday, the central claim of Why Sex is Fun is not intellectually offensive and provides a lot of interesting information along the way.
This book has become a mainstay in courses on sex and evolution (which is how it found its way into my hands as well). Even at that, I could not justify using the entire book. About half of the chapters cover essential topics of sex and mating strategies: sexual dimorphism, male-male competition, female choice, concealed ovulation in humans, and the biology of attraction. It is easy to read and mostly good information. At the very least, it provides a simple introduction to these ideas. However, even the basic topic of the entire book--the concept of sexual selection--is better handled by other authors in a single chapter, such as Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True. As a book to be assigned for a course, I would recommend assigning additional supplementary materials.
This is not Diamond's best written work. His arguments are often unclear, seemingly having become victim to a writing style focused on attracting a popular audience. However, what the book lacks the most are solid connections with Diamond's stated topic--human sexuality. You learn a great deal about the animal world, but much less about humans. In the titular chapter, Why Sex is Fun, Diamond does not even answer the question he poses. He probes the topic of concealed ovulation to answer the related question of why humans have sex so frequently, but this is not the same as why sex is pleasurable. The animal world does not provide all of the answers to human sexuality, and this is not Diamond's fault. However, it is his responsibility to ruminate on and theorize about the gaps between the sexual behaviors of humans and other animals. He rarely does this. Ultimately, this is an easy to read (if not entirely well-structured) book with interesting examples that falls somewhat short of achieving what the author intended--which is to shine a brighter light on why humans have sex the way we do. ...more
What can I say? I am a sucker for the post-apocalyptic world. And human-induced viral destruction? Yes. I'll take that too. Ultimately, I liked The PaWhat can I say? I am a sucker for the post-apocalyptic world. And human-induced viral destruction? Yes. I'll take that too. Ultimately, I liked The Passage a good deal better than The Twelve, but I couldn't put this book down either. I read it when I woke up, before bed, while cooking... I can't bring myself to read much sci-fi and fantasy today. The genre seems overly juvenile, with a perplexing need for books to be many hundreds of pages long in series of three or more, while covering far less ground in plot, philosophy and human themes than far shorter books of other genres. But Cronin's books are turning into a series written by someone with actual writing skills, characters who have real depth rather than being simple cartoonish cliches, and a plot that kept me churning through the pages....more
This book was a pleasure to read. A quick pager-turner in the mold of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I loved how Morgenstern created a world in wThis book was a pleasure to read. A quick pager-turner in the mold of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I loved how Morgenstern created a world in which magic exists alongside the world as we know it. ...more
Charles Taylor is always exciting and thought provoking. I feel terrible because I read this book so long ago that I cannot recall any finer details.Charles Taylor is always exciting and thought provoking. I feel terrible because I read this book so long ago that I cannot recall any finer details. This actually may be one of the small problems with Taylor; in each book (nay, each chapter!) he covers a broad range of ideas in subtle and somewhat ambiguous ways. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the main point of his arguments. At the same time, no matter what is on your mind that day, Taylor's writing seems to be speaking directly to you and will provide you with new ways of looking at the topic at hand....more
This book is full of poetic and beautiful imagery, but I'm not sure it is much more than that. It never captivated me in the same way that it seems toThis book is full of poetic and beautiful imagery, but I'm not sure it is much more than that. It never captivated me in the same way that it seems to for most readers of Calvino's most famous book. Each short chapter is a description of an imaginary city as told by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. Khan himself, like the reader, questions whether these descriptions could possibly be real. Like the reader again, he seems to conclude that the reality of each place is not important, but rather the provocative ideas introduced by Polo, which allow him to reflect on his own empire. Despite this potentially interesting philosophical premise, the book never held its themes together for me, nor did it present any clarity on the vague issues Calvino seems to have wanted to introduce. I have a feeling that avid readers of this book are bringing more to the book than the book is bringing to them. I wanted ideas that, in a clear way, challenged me to think. What I found instead were hazy images that rather required more creative interpretation on my part in order for there to be anything on these pages at all....more
First the good. This book contains some of the best demographic maps of Bosnia and Herzegovina that you can find. The authors spent a hefty amount ofFirst the good. This book contains some of the best demographic maps of Bosnia and Herzegovina that you can find. The authors spent a hefty amount of time not only on these maps, but on years of detailed research (which presumable accounts for the prohibitive length of the book). If one is interested in the specific places of Zvornik, Doboj or, like me, Jajce, then this is for you. The authors provide an exhaustive account of the refugee-making and refugee returns processes. The not so good. What seems to be the primary argument here is to assert that ethnic cleansing and refugees (their production or their returns) are fundamentally geographic in nature. In all that I have ever read about Bosnia and Herzegovina, I can't say I have seen any reputable scholar deny the importance of geography. Others may not have written "ethnic cleansing is a geographic process," but most use words like 'space,' 'place,' 'location' or 'homeland' to indicate the significance of geography. The 'argument' of the book is thus a bit underwhelming for such a large work. It feels as if the authors, geographers themselves, were trying to stake out some disciplinary territory here. The other downside of this is that the macro-geographic focus gives the impression that the unmaking and remaking of Bosnia and Herzegovina is primarily a geographic process. We learn little of identity, symbolic thinking, and structural geopolitical forces which have at least as much significance as land here. ...more
Hochschild's account of World War I is full of quirky, in the moment tidbits of daily life among a cast of characters who were, in various ways, relevHochschild's account of World War I is full of quirky, in the moment tidbits of daily life among a cast of characters who were, in various ways, relevant to the British war efforts or opposing them. Hochschild is upfront in arguing that he saw WWI as senseless and destructive. He reveals a number of interesting, and at times shocking, letters, quotes, and stories which provide phenomenal insight into the mentality of many British participants in the war. For examples, he details how numerous British leaders were romantically fixated on the idea of cavalry charges as key to winning battles, even as the advent of the machine gun and barbed wire made horses obsolete. Unfortunately, Hochschild seems overly concerned with the romantic shortsightedness of the British. He reiterates the romance of the cavalry too often. His book is oriented from the perspective of the British alone--which is a shame. I can only guess that this 'choice' was due to his ability to access English language historical sources. The book did not meet my expectations in two ways. First; too many little stories about British quirkiness, without enough insight about the earth shattering implications of this war in particular. Second; when Hochschild wrote early in the book that he was interested in the devastating historical effects of World War I, I expected a good deal more about the shifting logics of the concepts of the empire, self-determination, and the nation. All of these solidified in particular ways during and after WWI, but Hochschild does not explore these deeper historical implications in any satisfying way. Good stories, but not enough insight. ...more