Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (alternatively subtitled The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life) is a science and philosophy book by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a professor of philosophy of science and an avid scuba diver. We recognize the intelligence of many animals among us, from our closest relatives in apes and monkeys, to the dogs and cats that live in our homes, and even some of the birds that live in our backyards. Yet there are creatures on this Earth, distantly related to us, that have anomalously developed surprising intelligence on their own. These are the cephalopods: squids, cuttlefish, and especially octopuses. This book is two-pronged, discussing just how consciousness and intelligence arrived on the evolutionary stage in the first place, and the ways in which it has emerged in cephalopods and what science has uncovered in studying their minds.Read More »
The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler is a nonfiction collection of 99 authors (with a 100th added to this paperback edition) whether fairly obscure, decently successful, or prolific in their time, who have since become almost completely forgotten by the reading public. In each author’s respective section Fowler discusses some of their most notable works and their writing career, while also offering a glimpse into their personal lives and insight into why they disappeared from the public eye. Peppered throughout are 12 short essays about broader subjects, such as contemporary characters who competed with the likes of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, now forgotten, or authors who drifted from memory by writing too little—or too much.Read More »
I’ve found trying to succinctly describe Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman a little challenging. In some ways it’s easy because it is (a) a book of essays, (b) a work of nonfiction, and (c) concerned with popular culture. This isn’t especially helpful though, since that describes a lot of books. A number of the essays revolve around sports and music, that’s for sure. One is so deeply entrenched in football history, in fact, that he advises some readers to skip it (though this is an outlier).
In a broad way, I suppose, I’d say this book questions facets of the reality in our society and how we come to interpret this reality through very specific examples of celebrity and popular culture. Maybe that’s still too vague, but this book has essays about the concept of time travel, Road movies, why we answer interview questions, and ABBA. Connective threads are bound to look a little tenuous from the outside.Read More »
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World is a nature book by German forester Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst. This book is the first in a series by the author called The Mysteries of Nature. We all understand that trees are alive, but they’re so different from us that it’s hard not to objectify them, especially with how we use them as a resource. While his observations and experiences working in forestry serve as the foundation of his understanding, in this book Wohlleben brings together a wealth of modern scientific knowledge about trees that uncovers the unseen ways that they live and interact with each other, helping to make them relatable to the human experience and fostering an understanding of how we can help them flourish.Read More »
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte is a nonfiction paleontology book published in 2018 that tells the story of the dinosaurs. It starts from their emergence on a dramatically changed Earth in the Triassic period, to their growth into dominance in the Jurassic period, and finally their peak in the Cretaceous period before their catastrophic end. Though surely only a snapshot into an extensive scientific field, what it offers the everyday reader is a vivid look into what scientists currently know about dinosaurs and how they have learned what they know. In doing so the book also presents an equally valuable glimpse into the field and lab work of paleontologists throughout history and in the modern era.Read More »
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
After watching a short biography on Viktor Frankl I was fascinated by his life story and sought out Man’s Search for Meaning to learn more about his experiences and his theories on psychology. I was particularly drawn to the notion of meaningful suffering and understanding suffering as something as much a part of life as the positive things. It’s also hard not to be compelled by the question of how someone could find meaning to their life in a situation as dire as a Nazi concentration camp. I saw the book not just as an opportunity to learn, but also gain a new perspective on life for myself.Read More »
“What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that’s that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness, persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my laptop?” In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and history soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die.
Along with my love for horror I’ve always had a (sometimes terrified) fascination with the paranormal. This has felt somewhat contradictory to my secular upbringing, but it’s something that I simply haven’t been able to help. I can’t help but find videos or written accounts of the strange, otherworldly, or unknown alluring. But lately I’ve taken a greater interest in considering accounts of the paranormal more closely. It’s easy enough to be broadly skeptical and give the subject no time of day, but when I hear stories of ectoplasm spilling from a medium’s mouth, communicating with the other side, or children remembering past lives I want a more thorough examination of these incidents that lays all details bare. This is where Spook by Mary Roach comes in, a book that works to scientifically consider various studies of the afterlife to see what, if any, proof has ever truly been found.Read More »
David Sedaris tells all in a book that is, literally, a lifetime in the making.
For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences.
Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world. Theft by Finding, the first of two volumes, is the story of how a drug-abusing dropout with a weakness for the International House of Pancakes and a chronic inability to hold down a real job became one of the funniest people on the planet.
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) is the first of two volumes collecting the diaries of David Sedaris, curated by the author himself. This book is specifically his edit. Of all the entries written in this 25 year span he only included a fraction of what he wrote, selected by himself. He edited some of them for clarity, altered names and appearances where appropriate, and reformatted them for presentation and readability.Read More »
Science Fiction has proved notoriously difficult to define, but has emerged as one of the most popular genres of our times; not only in literature, but also in drama, poetry, and film. David Seed explores this often unconventional genre in relation to themes such as science and technology, space, aliens, utopias, gender, and its relation to time past, present, and future.
Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction by David Seed is part of the extensive Very Short Introductions collection published by Oxford University Press, containing nearly 400 volumes on a wide array of different subjects. This volume — 271 — discusses the science fiction genre, focusing on its key trappings, such as voyages into space, technology, and alien encounters.Read More »