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6 May 2020

The Broken Land, by Frank L. DeCourten

You might think that the last two months would have been a good time for reading, given the social isolation and stay-at-home orders. But that hasn’t worked out to be the case for me. The stresses of the pandemic, new and different work responsibilities, new homeschooling responsibilities, ongoing textbook writing and an impending move for my family have all conspired to gobble up my time, and there’s been very little …

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30 March 2020

Stepping-Stones, by Katharine Fowler-Billings

This memoir by one of America’s earliest female geologists is an enjoyable read about adventure and professional working conditions in the 1920s and 1930s, and up though the 1950s and 1960s. Fowler-Billings (née Fowler) led an interesting life, ranging from growing up in an urban Boston that still had a significant horse population to post-retirement conservation and environmental activism. In between, Kay was a field geologist and an educator. She …

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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 …

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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, …

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17 February 2020

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers

This is the second novel in Chambers’ Wayfarers science fiction series, but it’s very different in plot structure from the first, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which I reviewed a couple weeks back. In this sequel, two of the characters from the first book, one minor and one major (but with her memory wiped clean), settle into a comfortable galactic backwater. As the novel unfolds, the backstory …

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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 …

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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 …

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29 January 2020

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

Last night, I finished a wonderful little book of science fiction, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. It’s the first book in a series of novels, called “Wayfarers” after the name of the ship whose crew are the subjects of the story. Like Joss Whedon’s TV series “Firefly,” the crew of the Wayfarer is motley. Unlike “Firefly,” though, and more like Star Wars, they are …

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20 January 2020

Book report

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

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12 November 2019

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

This is an interesting novel. The book came highly recommended to me from two friends who have literary and environmental sensibilities that I respect, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year, which is an accolade worth noting – a validation of its quality. It is a story about trees, and about “radical” environmental activists who try to save them. I suppose it could be viewed as a …

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