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18 July 2017

The Mountains of Saint Francis, by Walter Alvarez

I’ve just finished three weeks of travel in Italy, and I was absolutely delighted to read this terrific book by Walter Alvarez while I was there. Alvarez is famous the world over for being the nucleus of the team that proposed an extraterrestrial meteorite impact as the cause of the end-Cretaceous extinction, prompted to that bold hypothesis by the discovery that the clay seam marking the boundary between the Mesozoic …

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17 July 2017

We Have No Idea, by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson

Jorge Cham will likely be known to most of the folks who read this blog as the cartoonist behind the spot-on examination of grad school called Piled Higher and Deeper / PhD Comics. If you’ve read this comic, you’ll know that Cham’s visual style is simple and engaging, and his sense of humor is terrific. In a new book about the unknown territory of physics that we still need to …

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7 June 2017

The epistemology of carbon atoms

I have some questions for you. You answers determine whether you’re ready to begin talking about climate policy. Do you believe that carbon atoms exist? Do you believe that carbon can bond to oxygen? Do you believe that the bonding of carbon to oxygen is an exothermic reaction? Do you believe that exothermic reactions make heat? Do you believe that heat can be used to boil water? Do you believe …

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30 May 2017

A Field Guide to Lies, by Daniel J. Levitin

In the library the other day, this book’s title caught my eye. I grabbed it and readily consumed it over the past week. It’s a guide to exercising our best critical thinking skills during a time when our attention is awash in claims both vital and derivative, important and erroneous. How do we tell truth from fiction? Politically, the timing could hardly be more propitious for the release of this …

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25 May 2017

The World’s Religions, by Huston Smith

I’ve just finished an excellent book about religion. It’s a survey of major world religions by Huston Smith, titled straightforwardly The World’s Religions. I find religion to be fascinating. It’s a distinct human phenomenon that provides structure and meaning to so many people’s lives, and yet seems entirely superfluous to my own life. That discrepancy is so strange – it motivates me to understand it better. I found this survey …

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11 May 2017

The Seven Hills of Rome: A Geological Tour of the Eternal City, by Grant Heiken, Renato Funiciello, and Donatella de Rita

I’m preparing for some time in Italy this summer, and picked up a couple of books to bring me up to speed geologically. The first is a geological guide for Rome. It’s structured around the archetypal “seven hills” of Rome, but the story is simpler in many regards than some other seven-hilled European capitals I could name. Rome’s geology appears to consist of four major units: older sedimentary rocks (which …

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4 May 2017

Passing Strange, by Martha Sandweiss

Clarence King was a legend. He led one of the four great surveys of the American west (along with Wheeler, Powell, and Hayden) and eventually convinced Congress to establish One Survey To Rule Them All, an institution that ended up being called the United States Geological Survey. King was its first director, but he didn’t last too long in that position before resigning so he could pursue his own mining …

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27 April 2017

1984, by George Orwell

My latest book review is of a cutting-edge new novel that describes our current political dystopia in excruciating detail…                                         Just kidding! Seriously: I was spurred to re-read Orwell”s 1984 after last November’s election, and the counterfactual customs of our new commander in chief. ‘Alternative facts’ have many precedents in history, but perhaps …

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25 April 2017

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

I haven’t yet seen the blockbuster movie Hidden Figures, but I’ve heard great things about it. This post is about the book it’s based on, also called Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. It chronicles the work of numerous African-American women at NASA and its predecessor organization, NACA, through the middle of the last century. The book is a robust documentation of these women’s childhoods, educations, motivations, and lives. It …

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11 April 2017

The Sixth Extinction: A Sigma Force Novel, by James Rollins

I did a double-take in the library last week. I was scanning the shelves of audio books, looking for something interesting, when I saw one called The Sixth Extinction. Ahh, such a good book – Elizabeth Kolbert did such a great job with – WAIT – This one has “James Rollins” listed as the author. It wasn’t Kolbert’s book. It was a different The Sixth Extinction. The full title is The …

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