I continue to love the Penguin Great Ideas series. Though the simple inclusion of a date of original publication would be very nice.
Anyway, the book iI continue to love the Penguin Great Ideas series. Though the simple inclusion of a date of original publication would be very nice.
Anyway, the book is a discussion of governments. Ideal governments vs. real governments, the best government for a given state, the nature of governance and governors. The historical and mythical examples were interesting, but in many places the extent to which various theoretical constructs were being compared got a bit tiring. Despite all that, there were more than enough points to ponder to make the book worth the reading....more
Just when I was starting to feel a little self-conscious about my list so far being dominated by graphic novels and children's books, I managed to ploJust when I was starting to feel a little self-conscious about my list so far being dominated by graphic novels and children's books, I managed to plow through this tome. Okay, that's an unfair characterization. At times, I was enraptured by this book. I delivered spontaneous lectures to my husband and my co-workers. I posted quotes on Facebook. I engaged in conversation with a cashier who took my money after I spent a lunch period reading voraciously. But to get to these amazing stories, to get to those turns of phrase that were so poetical and profound that I was moved to claim this book as a part of my personal gospel, there was a lot to plow through.
To say this book was uneven would be a master understatement. Church gave himself an ambitious structure -- telling the progress of synthetic biology as a parallel to the processes of natural evolution. It was a wonderful concept, and in the places where it worked it was brilliant. But in other chapters it was so clearly forced that I wished he hadn't bothered. I also found it strange where he chose to explain concepts in great detail (like the chirality of organic molecules) and where there seemed to be no attempt to explain at all (exactly how one obtains sequences of synthetic DNA -- something central to most of the enterprises in his book.) Finally, there are so many mentions of Church's own work, Church's various business start-ups and organizations that eventually it prompted some eye-rolling.
Why, with all this complaining, would I still give this book four out of five stars? Well, because the content is simply amazing. It is hard to walk away from this book and not be awe-struck at what mere mortals have been able to achieve with the tools of science, hopeful for the future, and even a mystical sense of connection with it all. There are amazing stories in here, of synthetic cyanobacteria that can synthesize diesel fuel from the sun, synthetic organisms that can sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in large quantities, scientists working to resurrect species from extinction, possible treatments for cancer, therapies that could render organisms immune to all viruses, and so much more -- an international competition inspiring college students on shoestring budgets to engineer possible solutions to an astonishing variety of problems.
Of course, there are ethical considerations in this work, and there are moments (especially in the very beginning), where Church is annoyingly starry-eyed. But what Church sets out to do here is to impress us with the audacity of his dream. (And how close much of it is to reality!) And I must admit, I'm walking away a little starry-eyed myself. ...more
As you can see, I didn't find this book to be quite as earth-shattering as Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Perhaps it's because I read it with myAs you can see, I didn't find this book to be quite as earth-shattering as Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Perhaps it's because I read it with my husband, who was more critical of the way Spong built his arguments. Perhaps it was also because I was often frustrated that I wanted more detail. Spong is taking, and asking his readers to take, a leap of faith. I want a few more straws to grasp at as I do. ;) I want a list of the hymns that he thinks still make sense with a non-theistic understanding of God. I want more solid ideas of how to have a conversation as a non-theist with a traditional believer. For me, this is a matter of spiritual survival, right now. And I was hoping for at least a few easy answers. Though still, I appreciated this book. Perhaps the ground is a little sturdier under my feet for having read it after all....more
I was finally motivated to pull this weighty tome down off of the shelf after an intriguing review by my sister of Hrdy's most recent work: Mothers anI was finally motivated to pull this weighty tome down off of the shelf after an intriguing review by my sister of Hrdy's most recent work: Mothers and Others. An anthropologist, Hrdy uses human history, observations of our closest evolutionary relatives, and even social insects to examine what is really the true nature of motherhood. As a feminist, she is perhaps not surprised to find that much of what we have traditionally viewed as natural maternal behavior is in fact wishful thinking.
I found this book incredibly impressive and profoundly influential. Many times I've found both Andrew and I reciting anecdotes and arguments from this book in discussions on gender and parenting. (There were quite a number of sections I just had to read aloud to Andrew.)
Though I didn't always agree with her every point, I look forward to reading other work by Hrdy, and will continue to recommend her far and wide. ...more
More an interesting behind the scenes account, with interviews and amusing stories than a thorough exploration of the themes and symbology of the seriMore an interesting behind the scenes account, with interviews and amusing stories than a thorough exploration of the themes and symbology of the series. But as a behind the scenes text, it is amazingly thorough! ...more
Okay, so it's a graphic novel. But a) it's quite good, and b) I'm going to more than make up for any possible "lack of weightiness" by the end of thisOkay, so it's a graphic novel. But a) it's quite good, and b) I'm going to more than make up for any possible "lack of weightiness" by the end of this year, I promise. I've seen excerpts from this book pretty much everywhere, it seems like it was one of the most buzzed about graphic novels from last year. I exchanged a duplicate gift for it in Colorado Springs over the holidays and read it on the way home. I recommend it highly. If you've been living under a rock and haven't heard anything about this book, it's an autobiographical account of growing up as a girl in Iran -- her experiences during the revolution and after which when Islamic leaders took over the country, and the beginning of the war with Iraq. Supposedly there is a sequel in the works?...more
Reading the newspapers or watching the daily news on TV, it's easy to come to the conclusion that in regards(review originally published on Bookslut)
Reading the newspapers or watching the daily news on TV, it's easy to come to the conclusion that in regards to evolution, the people of America belong to two highly polarized camps. In one corner, you have the Godless scientists, supporters of evolution, genetic engineering, and cloning, determined to stomp out all last vestiges of religion from American culture, and make life over in their own images. In the other, evangelistic fundamentalists, proponents of a 6,000 year-old Earth, a 7 24-hour day creation, and Noah's flood as the cause of the Grand Canyon, determined to institute religious law and bring about the rapture. The only people in the middle seem to be apathetic and don't care one way or another. Each new headline ratchets up the tension and increases the stakes, until it seems that it must have always been this way, science and religion locked in conflict over the future of the human race ever since Darwin stepped off of the Beagle.
Thankfully, we have Peter J. Bowler, professor of the history of science from Queen's University in Belfast, to bring us some much needed perspective. His remarkable little book, Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons, goes back to the first pre-Darwinian inklings that life on earth may not always have been as it appears today, and traces the conversation about the origins of man and their implications through the ages to the present day. Even the most familiar events along this journey are illuminated afresh by Bowler's use of current historical research. For example, the famous crushing of Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, by scientist Thomas Huxley at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, when Huxley declared that he would rather have an ape for an ancestor than a man who misused his intelligence to attack a theory he didn't understand. According to modern understanding, this event was invented by later followers of Darwin. In reality, there was no decisive victory on that day. Darwin's theory of evolution was accepted very gradually by the scientific community. In time, parts of his theory were even accepted by most religious thinkers, until the return to tradionalism in many Christian movements led to fresh attacks, particularly on the teaching of evolution, in the early twentieth century. Though it wasn't until well the 1950s and '60s that even the more unpopular materialist aspects of Darwinism were accepted by the majority of the scientific community, setting a far different stage for the current conflict.
The final section of the book is devoted to the modern debates. Bowler links the rise of intelligent design and young-Earth creationism with the rise of fundamentalism worldwide. A brief discussion on the social forces that are making fundamentalism so appealing to so many these days, and why any fundamentalist movement would necessarily be opposed to the scientific theory of evolution, is enough to make any liberal fall into despair. On the other side, a few modern evolutionary scientists have grown so hostile to any form of religion that one has even gone so far as to declare all of the world's religions a danger to humanity. But thankfully, that is not where the book ends. For much of the history of this debate, there were many movements in Christianity that tried to accept some version of evolution, but the final breaking point was always natural selection as the primary mechanism. There were those who could accept common ancestors, who could accept random variation, but when it came to natural selection, most of these Christians simply replaced this with God. It's not too surprising, for decades natural selection made even the most avowed Darwinists nervous. This partial acceptance made these theologies easy to criticize for both scientists and more conservative Christians. However, today there are a number of religious thinkers who are able to reconcile their visions of God and Christ with all of evolutionary theory. Indeed, a few have even suggested that a universe ruled by natural selection is the only possible universe in which intelligent creatures with free will could emerge. They have thus made the modern theory of evolution essential to their theology.
What is made most clear from this book is that our ideas about the nature of the human race and the universe in which we live are always changing. We will probably never come to some static interpretation of how the world is and why, but this book gives me faith that we have some good directions to move in....more