The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto
Science is knowledge and knowledge is power and power is political. Otto draws a direct line from science to democracy. He deftly argues that they need each other to survive. Democracy requires an informed electorate and science needs an open, free society. But the United States is now deeply embroiled in a war on facts and science. Otto describes the history of how we have transformed from a nation where the founding fathers revered science to a place where many falsely believe that science is subjective and the source of problems rather than a search for truth. This book is well-written and thoroughly researched. Otto provides detailed explanations and examples for his assertions. He also ends the book with an incredibly complete, multi-pronged plan to combat the current war on science. I not only recommend this book but heartily encourage anyone who can vote to read it. The fate of our democracy is at stake. “If knowledge does not have primacy in public decision making, then no truth can be said to be self-evident, and we are left with tyranny of ideology, with shots called by the wealthy and enforced by might.”
March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
Congressman John Lewis has taken his heroic story from the civil rights movement and turned it into a compelling graphic novel. Much more than a memoir, March represents important American history told in a modern format that will bring to life this story for new generations. Nate Powell’s stark black and white art gives even more weight to Mr. Lewis’ tales of the struggles for racial equality and the power of nonviolent protest. March is unafraid and unapologetic in its depiction of both the highs and lows of the civil right movement and it should be required reading for everyone.
American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham
Jon Meacham tells the story of how the Founding Fathers viewed faith and politics and their delicate balancing act creating a nation where religion can shape public life without controlling it. Meacham uses historical context and the Founding Fathers own words to successfully argue that America is neither a Christian nation nor a completely secular one. Succinctly and well written, Meacham provides a balanced look at American history through the lens of religion. “It is, rather, a habit of mind and heart that enables Americans to be at once tolerant and reverent—two virtues of relevance to all, for the Founders’ public religion is consummately democratic. When a president says “God bless America” or when we sing “America! America! God shed his grace on thee,” each American is free to define God in whatever way he chooses. A Christian’s mind may summon God the Father; a Jew’s, Yahweh; a Muslim’s, Allah; an atheist’s, no one, or no thing. Such diversity is not a prescription for dissension. It is part of the reality of creation.” I recommend this reading this book, especially in such a time of divisiveness because it reminds us that the United States was founded on the unity we find through our Creator (whoever or whatever that might be) endowing all humans with the same inalienable rights.
The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner
This thoroughly engrossing book asks the question “Why do some places become hot spots for genius?” Eric Weiner travels to places of genius from ancient Athens to Renaissance Florence to present-day Silicon Valley. He finds the similarities in those places that created huge leaps in culture, innovation, and ideas. Part history, part travelogue, The Geography of Genius, is well-researched and sublimely written. Mr. Weiner is a very talented, descriptive writer. He makes you feel connected to the place he’s describing and like you want to go there to see exactly what he sees.
Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading
Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold is the first in a series of novels about a young woman detective who flies around the world in a De Havilland Beaver floatplane. It is also another example of a self-published book with imaginative and interesting ideas but less-than-stellar execution. The writing felt unsophisticated and, while there were no overt errors, it did have some grammar issues, i.e. ending sentences with prepositions. But more importantly, I felt that Mr. Reading did not do a very good job of incorporating all of the real-life history into his adventure story. At times, the prose simply felt like a history lesson. I did like the protagonist, Kitty Hawk. Aside from her annoying idiosyncrasy of talking to herself inside her head all the time, she is an independent, strong female character. The action does pick up toward the end but overall, I feel like this was a missed opportunity.
*Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this novel with a request for an honest review.*
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
What would your life be today without computers or the Internet? Whether on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone, you are almost certainly reading this review on a computer hooked up to the magnificent network we call the Internet. Walter Isaacson weaves together a history of the men, women and machines that created the digital revolution and changed the course of human interaction. From Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing to Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee, Isaacson presents a story of creative geniuses and creative collaborations that led to the modern digital age. Peppered with photos of people and technology, the book feels like a living narrative rather than a dry history. Isaacson has written a seminal work for anyone interested in some of the most important advances in the course of human events and how the computer became ubiquitous in our lives.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins
I’ve been meaning to read this book since before it came out. In college, I read the first half of Ms. Collins’ comprehensive history of American women and have been meaning to finish the narrative for years. This book reminds me just how much women today owe to women’s rights activists throughout the twentieth century. It also still baffles me how much it took just to get women to the current point and there is still so much more to be done. Ms. Collins’ book is an easily accessible, well-written account of women’s liberation, the ensuing backlash and the modern women’s movement. I recommend it for American history buffs and any women who prize equality.
Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik
Do you want to know why glass is transparent or why you only taste the food and not the spoon? “Stuff Matters” is an introduction to materials science and will answer these questions plus others you never knew you had. It delves into topics ranging from why stainless steel makes the sharpest knives to how sand goes from being opaque particles to transparent glass when heated. Mr. Miodownik has written a creative and absorbing look at some of the materials that surround our everyday lives. He skillfully navigates the fine line between pure entertainment and pure science through excellent writing. The book also includes hand-drawn illustrations which makes the whole thing feel more like a journal than a text book. Fun snippets of history + easy to understand chemistry = a phenomenal good time with materials.
￼￼￼￼The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle
“The Atlantis Gene” is a sci-fi, historical thriller. It contains everything from technologically advanced beings to secret societies vying for the fate of the human race. The book begins with Dr. Kate Warner doing autism research in Jakarta, Indonesia. She quickly becomes involved in a dangerous conspiracy when two of her child subjects are kidnapped. From there the story jumps around the world following a host of different plotlines which do not merge until much later. While I understood the interconnectedness of the narratives, I was much more invested in the characters of Kate Warner and her protector, David Vale, than I was in any of the other action. However, overall, I liked the action-packed, tension-filled writing. I also liked that the science fiction was far-fetched but still believable and had some very interesting historical links. “The Atlantis Gene” is the first of three novels and I can say I am intrigued enough to finish the trilogy.
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta
Review: Ms. Hotta’s book on the eight months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is a diplomatic, fact-based account that still does not pull any punches in detailing Japan’s unfortunate decisions leading up to December 8, 1941 (December 7th in Hawaii). It uses primary source documents from government archives and contemporary citizen papers to discuss the Japanese side of the events. Like a tragedy of errors, one hard line decision after another, created a situation in which Japan felt that it had no choice but to start a war that they knew was virtually unwinnable.
“They felt they had to choose between waging a reckless war and giving up all of Japan’s imperialistic conquests of many years in order to stave off war. They tended to ignore that such extreme choices grew directly out of their own recent decisions and actions. As they made more diplomatic missteps and committed themselves to an impracticable war, claiming all the while to be more prepared then they ever were, their range of policy options both at home and with the outside world narrowed considerably. It was as if Tokyo had gotten stuck in the thin end of a funnel. The war option, it must have seemed to those leaders, provided the quickest and surest way of breaking free of that constricting situation. That they didn’t think about what would happen afterward was a tragic act of negligence.”
Those in power had an overconfidence in their alliance with Germany and an ultranationalist view that prevented them from truly negotiating with the U.S. even when it would have resulted in favorable terms. If you have any interest in history and World War II, I recommend this unique take. Ms. Hotta’s writing can be, at times, a little dry but overall it was very informative.