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23 January 2023

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, by Steve Brusatte

A terrifically told update on dinosaur paleoecology and evolution by an enthusiastic practitioner of the Mesozoic arts. Brusatte paints himself as coming of age in the time of Jurassic Park, an obsessed ‘fanboy’ of dinosaurs and celebrity paleontologists, who then matures and innovates through an impressive series of field experiences and methodological devices to become a professor, author, and leader in the field. Brusatte’s own story isn’t the centerpiece of …

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21 January 2023

Plate Tectonics: a very short introduction, by Peter Molnar

This slim volume (130 pages of ~10 point type) is the 425th in Oxford University Press’s vast series of dense little books about various subjects. Browsing the geology shelves at my college’s library this week, I saw it and thought I might as well check it out. I’ve shifted through the years in what I put weight on when teaching plate tectonics, and I always appreciate reading/hearing/seeing what different professionals …

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19 January 2023

Miseducation: How climate change is taught in America, by Katie Worth

A quick read through a disheartening topic: journalist Katie Worth reports on the state of climate change education in the United States. There’s good news and there’s bad news in this slim volume. First, it’ll be no surprise to hear that many talented, dedicated educators are working hard to incorporate scientific thinking about climate into their teaching. They are inspiring! Worth briefly profiles a handful of these exemplary teachers, and …

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17 January 2023

Life’s Edge, by Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer is a veteran science writer, a journalist who has been pumping out terrific popular natural history explorations for decades now. His latest explores the marginal zone between living and nonliving: Life’s Edge. I found it to be an interesting and enjoyable volume, entirely as I’ve come to expect from Zimmer. Biology is a science with an interesting conundrum at its heart – it’s not totally clear what qualifies …

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11 January 2023

Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver

Now here’s an interesting book: a retelling of David Copperfield (by Charles Dickens) but set in modern-day Appalachia, specifically Lee County, in the furthest-west tip of Virginia, where it makes a triangular insert between Kentucky and Tennessee. The arc of the original bildungsroman is a rags-to-riches tale set in Victorian England. Because of the physical and temporal distance between my current point in space-time and that of Copperfield, much of …

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31 December 2022

On Writing, by Stephen King

This is a little book about writing by Stephen King, renowned author of 50+ best-selling novels. It’s mainly autobiographical, detailing King’s childhood, alcoholism, and being run down by a distracted driver, but also includes good general writing advice: Ditch the passive voice. Don’t use adverbs. Write solo in an effort to purge the story from your mind, then let it sit for some time and come back to it, looking …

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29 December 2022

Platypus, by Ann Moyal

The platypus is extraordinary, and this is a book about how we came to know that. Written by a historian of Australian science, Platypus is subtitled, “The extraordinary story of how a curious creature baffled the world.”  Moyal recounts the first specimens being sent back to the intellectual centers of western Europe (London and Paris, principally) from Australia, the subsequent suspicions that it was a hoax of taxidermy, and then …

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24 December 2022

The Last Volcano, by John Dvorak

A new week, a new nonfiction geology book by John Dvorak! This one is a biography of Thomas Jaggar, who founded the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. It was a really interesting portrait of a man driven to spend time with erupting mountains. The book begins with the eruption of Mt. Pelee in Martinique, a harrowing pyroclastic flow that kills almost everyone in St. Pierre. The son of a bishop, young Jaggar …

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15 December 2022

Beasts Before Us, by Elsa Panciroli

So many books have been written about dinosaurs, but this one looks at a deeper history of another important group: our own. Beasts Before Us is “the untold story of mammal origins and evolution.” The Cenozoic is often dubbed “the age of mammals,” but the story of our hairy, milk-guzzling brethren goes much deeper into geologic time. There have sort of been two ages of “mammals,” author paleontologist Elsa Panciroli …

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1 December 2022

Mask of the Sun, by John Dvorak

Inspired by How The Mountains Grew, I ordered the rest of John Dvorak’s oeuvre recently. I read the first over Thanksgiving break – a great nonfiction look at eclipses. The basics of lunar and solar eclipses are dispensed with early on, and Dvorak then spends his time on understanding of eclipses in antiquity, the gradual accumulation of insight into the causes and timing of eclipses – thus permitting them to …

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