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2 April 2018

101 American fossil sites you’ve gotta see, by Albert B. Dickas

Mountain Press has released a new volume by frequent author Bert Dickas: it’s a compilation of 101 places in the United States where fossils can be viewed. Some sites are collection sites on public land; others are museums or protected areas. The book is a useful collection of information in a concise, well-illustrated form. Each of the sites gets a name, a latitude/longitude (but not directions), a short tag line, …

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28 March 2018

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

After reading Mika McKinnon‘s endorsement of this series on Twitter (example), I downloaded an audiobook copy of N.K. Jemisin’s first book in her “Broken Earth” trilogy, The Fifth Season. It is a fantasy novel with a healthy seasoning (ha! no pun intended) of science fiction. The story is set in a world called “Earth,” but it’s not clear if it’s the same world as our own, in the distant past …

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13 March 2018

The Evolution of Beauty, by Richard Prum

This fascinating new work by ornithologist Richard Prum re-examines sexual selection (mate choice) as a driving force of evolutionary change independent of (and sometimes in contradiction to) the mechanism of natural selection (environmental adaptation). Prum positions himself as a modern advocate for the ideas Charles Darwin expressed in The Descent of Man, and that Alfred Russel Wallace argued against in the years following Darwin’s death. In The Evolution of Beauty, …

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26 February 2018

How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

The authors of this essential study are both scholars at Harvard University. They specialize in studying the decay of democratic governments and societies, one in century-ago Europe, and the other in half-century-ago years ago Latin America. They spell out the structure of authoritarian takeover across these different contexts, and then turn to our situation in 21st century America. This book could not be more timely, more relevant, or more essential. …

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21 February 2018

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a South African stand-up comedian who rocketed into American awareness when he was selected as the successor to Jon Stewart as the host of Comedy Central’s news program The Daily Show. This book is Noah’s autobiography of growing up in South Africa, at first under apartheid, and then in the new post-apartheid era. It is the best account I’ve read of the institutional and cultural structure of …

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15 February 2018

Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith

The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness is the subtitle of this fascinating, extremely approachable book. Paraphrasing Thomas Nagle, it asks “What is it like to be an octopus?” The author is a philosopher by training, but he does a fantastic job as a science writer, too. Anecdotes about encounters with cephalopods while diving are mixed with careful, deliberate, dejargonized descriptions of the scientific studies that have …

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12 February 2018

Time and Again, by Jack Finney

In the epilogue to 11/22/63, Stephen King’s time-travel novel, he made an explicit point to laud Time and Again by Jack Finney as “the” time travel novel. I figured I should check it out. Here’s my report. This is a book that was written in the late 1960s, and feels like it. The writing is fine, with a particular strength being its rich, detailed descriptions. The social mores it assumes, …

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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 …

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18 January 2018

Surviving AI, by Calum Chase

I know what you’re thinking: another book about AI, Callan? Really? Yes, really. I don’t know what compelled me – but perhaps that the author’s name was so similar to my own spurred me onward. Surviving AI is Calum Chase’s summary of the current state of affairs with AI risk management (specifically, of course, relative to artificial superintelligence). It’s a well balanced book in that it plainly states where there …

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13 January 2018

Year Zero, by Rob Reid

I was so impressed with After On that I went out an got the only other novel by Rob Reid, Year Zero. The plot set up is something rather ludicrous, but the novel works in spite of the silly premise. Here’s the idea: There are a lot of alien civilizations out there, and they are really advanced. Banded together into a Refined League, they have mastered almost all forms of …

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