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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, …

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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 …

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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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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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20 January 2020

Book report

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

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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