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19 August 2022

Second Nature, by Nathaniel Rich

This volume is a compilation of reporting that author Nathaniel Rich previously published (sometimes in rather different form) in a variety of periodicals, but mainly the New York Times Magazine. The general theme is humanity’s alteration of the natural world, for good or (usually) for ill. The first piece, on West Virginian lawyer Robert Bilott, was the basis of the recent Mark Ruffalo film Dark Waters. Other essays examine a …


14 June 2021

What the Eyes Don’t See, by Mona Hanna-Attisha

I just finished an excellent insider account of the Flint water crisis, written by the pediatrician who brought it to the attention of the wider world.  Mona Hanna-Attisha practices medicine in Flint, has a background in environmental activism, and happened to be good friends with a specialist in the management of municipal water systems. An evening’s conversation between Dr. Mona (her preferred name) and her friend ends up launching her …


16 February 2021

Deep Time Reckoning, by Vincent Ialenti

Stereotypically, I think of anthropologists as scholars who head off into years-long sojourns embedded with indigenous peoples, learning their cultures, practices, and insights. Vincent Ialenti has shown me that modern anthropologists can study other groups too. Ialenti’s population of interest is a modern group of European geoscientists, nuclear engineers, and planners. Together, they are charged with planning for the integrity of a Finnish nuclear waste repository. But studying this group, …


14 February 2021

Under a White Sky, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Elizabeth Kolbert’s third book is now out! Under a White Sky is “a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems.” These problems are environmental problems – they are instances of nature becoming less natural. As humans build cities and plant crops and make waste, we alter the world we live on, the ecology we live within. In Kolbert’s previous book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning …


25 March 2020

The Story of More, by Hope Jahren

Humanity faces a crisis today, and we struggle to find the right way to deal with it, to solve it, to live meaningfully within the constraints it imposes. You might think I’m referring to coronavirus, but it’s actually climate change that’s on my mind. Hope Jahren, author of the incandescent Lab Girl, has a new volume out, on the unsustainability of modern Western life, and what actions we can take …


5 March 2020

The Future of Another Timeline, by Annalee Newitz

What if geologists studied more than just Earth processes and history, but also how to go back in time and manipulate that history? That’s the job of the “cultural geologist” who is the flawed protagonist of Annalee Newitz‘s novel The Future of Another Timeline. (I’ve previously read her book Autonomous, and enjoyed it. I see her as a leading thinker about futurism’s intersection with feminism.) In TFOATL, the main character, …


12 February 2020

History of Science: Antiquity to 1700, by Lawrence Principe

My most recent commuting audio has been this course from The Great Courses: Johns Hopkins professor Lawrence Principe‘s History of Science: Antiquity to 1700. I checked it out from my local library: 36 lectures, each about 30 to 45 minutes long. I found it quite interesting, well-paced, and insightful. Principe is an organic chemist-turned-historian-of-science, and he recounts key developments in the way people thought about “natural philosophy” (it wasn’t dubbed …


10 February 2020

The Pentagon’s Brain, by Annie Jacobsen

This book is a comprehensive account of everything unclassified that DARPA and its predecessor ARPA, has ever done. The subtitle is: “An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency.” It begins with testing nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll in 1954, where theoretical calculations about the Castle Bravo bomb’s explosive yield get a sobering reality check: it was more than twice as powerful as had been anticipated! Oops. The …


20 January 2020

Book report

A quartet of brief book reviews from some of Callan’s recent reading.


15 April 2019

The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson

In 2009, a thief broke into England’s Tring Museum and stole hundreds of curated bird skins. The thief was a talented American musician attending school in London. He broke apart specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace and Lionel Walter Rothschild and sold the feathers to men who tie salmon flies (originally for fishing, but now an art form in its own right). The story of this crime is well documented by an author who became obsessed with solving the case of the missing birds.


27 March 2019

Timefulness, by Marcia Bjornerud

[Note: this book review was scheduled to run in the July 2019 issue of EARTH magazine, but with the announcement two weeks ago that EARTH was being shuttered, I was notified that nothing contributors or freelancers had written scheduled for after April 2019 would be published, and the rights were returned to me. While that’s disappointing, it frees me up to publish it here instead. Enjoy!] _____________________________________________ Geology is a …


20 March 2019

The Dinosaur Artist, by Paige Williams

A book review of Paige Williams’ “The Dinosaur Artist,” a tale of international trade in dinosaur skeletons.


5 February 2018

Inferior, by Angela Saini

The subtitle of this useful and righteous book is How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story. It’s a scientific examination of a slew of ideas about women, busting culturally-entrenched myths left and right with that most radical of substances: data. The book is intended, I would guess, as a comprehensive review of what science currently has to say about females, motivated to support of the …


1 December 2017

People and Pyroclastics: Mount Agung at the Confluence of Science and Society

A guest post from an American expat living in east Bali, displaced with his family from their home due to Mount Agung’s recent eruption, and trying to help out as best he can.


27 April 2017

Identifying logical fallacies and scientific misdirection in a CO2 video

A quick exercise in deconstructing the argument of a “elevated CO2 is good” video on YouTube by identifying its logical fallacies. Pull up a chair, grab a bowl of popcorn, and join us in the critique!


24 April 2017

The bizarre world wherein we march for science

I marched on Saturday. In spite of the congested conditions in both the local atmosphere and my sinuses, I felt compelled to add my voice and presence to the March for Science, an event that was probably the first of its kind since the Enlightenment, aiming to push back against anti-science attitudes from the current occupant of the White House and his contemporaries on Capitol Hill. I tried to keep …


6 March 2017

Our Final Invention, by James Barrat

I am concerned about artificial general intelligence (AGI) and its likely rapid successor, artificial superintelligence (ASI). I have written here previously about that topic, after reading Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence. I have just finished another book on that topic, Our Final Invention, by James Barrat. I think it’s actually a better introduction to the topic than Bostrom, because it’s written in a more journalistic, less academic style. Most chapters read …


28 February 2017

Unscientific America, by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum

This is the second of the books about science communication / science in society that I’ve been meaning to read for years but never gotten around to. (The first was Randy Olson’s.) I’m now motivated to read them in light of the dramatic switch in the governance of my country, in hopes of gleaning lessons that will allow me to effectively promulgate reason and evidence-based decision making. The book documents …


15 February 2017

Don’t Be *Such* a Scientist, by Randy Olson

With the current political climate being what it is, I’m newly motivated to learn the best way to communicate science with the American public. I’ve decided to read several books on the topic that I’ve been aware of for years, but not yet made time for. The first is Randy Olson’s Don’t Be *Such* a Scientist. Olson has a unique perspective to apply to the question: he was a tenured …


31 January 2017

Three kids’ books

Cosmology, evolution, and ethics for the four-year old set? It can be done! Join Callan for a brief review of three excellent books for children.