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20 September 2017

Make It Stick, by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel

This past spring, when I attended the InTeGrate workshop called “Teaching About the Earth Online,” one of the participants recommended the book Make It Stick, by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel. Months later, the volume finally moved up in my reading queue to the top. It’s a fascinating account of the empirical research about how people successfully learn. I found it absolutely engaging and stimulating, in particular the …

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13 September 2017

Life 3.0, by Max Tegmark

A new book on artificial intelligence (AI) has just been published. It’s Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by MIT physicist Max Tegmark. Tegmark was one of the trailblazing thinkers interviewed by James Barrat in his book Our Final Invention, which I thought was terrific, so I was eager to see what he had to say when writing for himself. I finished the audiobook version of …

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1 September 2017

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

Well, I did it again: I read another Neal Stephenson novel. As noted in this space previously, I really enjoyed Seveneves, but was relatively underwhelmed by Cryptonomicon. In discussing these other books with friends, Snow Crash was recommended as the ne plus ultra of Stephenson’s style. In terms of coherence of plot and interesting characters and overall satisfaction, Snow Crash is up there with Seveneves, but I would still have …

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31 August 2017

Geology Underfoot in Southern Idaho, by Shawn Willsey

I love the “Geology Underfoot” series published by Mountain Press – the same folks who have published dozens of titles under the “Roadside Geology” theme. “Underfoot” is better than “Roadside,” I think, because it tells the story of discrete places, suggesting ideal places to visit. Each chapter is self-contained and useful without extraneous details, and avoids the redundancy of many roads crossing through near-identical geology. The latest title in the …

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31 July 2017

Great Surveys of the American West, by Richard A. Bartlett

After reading Passing Strange, I found myself wanting to learn more not only about Clarence King, but also about the other great surveys of the American West – those of Hayden, Powell, and Wheeler. I’ve read Powell’s account of descending the Colorado River, and I’ve been delighted this decade past to explore Hayden’s territory in the northern Rockies (but didn’t know the details of his work). Of Wheeler, I knew …

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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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