Nov 072010
 

Jerry A. Coyne does a brilliant job in Why Evolution Is True. This is certainly one of the very best books on the evidence for evolution. Perhaps it’s only counterpart is Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth.

Coyne takes the reader step by step from the hypothesis to testability to evidence in clear and concise progression. The book covers historic, geologic, molecular and fossil evidence, to name but a few. It’s full of interesting stories and factoids. Oddities that can hardly be explained without evolutionary theory is one of my favorite themes in the book.

For a topic this broad and complex, the author did a brilliant job in presenting the material in a half-digested form, ready for consumption by virtually anyone with little background. The book never gets boring. This is a page turner to recommend to anyone who wants to get familiarized with evolutionary biology being entertaining.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Categories: Evolutionary biology.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for all.

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Nov 072010
 

Dawkins takes the topic of evidence for evolution head on in The Greatest Show on Earth. The book starts off by explaining that fossils are not even necessary to demonstrate the validity of biological evolution. Dawkins likens this to a murderer to flees the sentence even when all the evidence mount to definitive incrimination because of new video evidence, that while supporting all previous evidences, contains a gap and is put in the shadows of doubt by the lawyer in defense of the accused. The gap in the evidence video is very similar to the gap in the fossil record.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for E...
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The book explores all the different hypotheses and expectation that follow from the hypothesis put forward by Darwin over 150 years ago. In deed, Darwin himself did state how his hypothesis could easily be discredit, if certain easily verifiable conditions turned out to be true. One such condition is the order of the fossils in the different strata or layer of earth. So while there is no expectation for the fossil record to be complete, a single misplaced bone would easily turn the whole biological evolution theory on its head.

Dawkins discusses the evidence from molecular biology and genetics as well as many other sciences. He explains how a seemingly complex organ or biological feature may have come to evolve while serving a functional purpose along its different stages.

There are many things to like about this book, not least the mountain of facts and tidbits that the author enriched the book by. However what I personally like about the book is how it explains that the concept of species is man-made. It’s a labeling system that has no counterpart in nature. In fact, he goes on to explain that each generation is a unique stage in the evolutionary history. We only get to group them when a specific group have significantly drifted from another closely related group. Where significant drift is typically defined to mean the two groups can no longer interbreed.

Overall, The Greatest Show on Earth and Jerry A. Coyne‘s Why Evolution Is True are my two most favorite evolutionary biology books, yet.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Categories: Evolutionary biology.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for all.

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Oct 032010
 

Richard Feynman needs no introduction. A great teacher and an admirable personality above all. Feynman was not an ordinary person by any measure. As a physicist his methods and reasoning amazed his peers. As a teacher he put fun back into the subject and made learning a whole new experience, packed with interest, imagination and excitement. As a popular person, he denounced authority and accolades, stating that decoration doesn’t change the man underneath, it’s all a facade.

Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beate...
Image by TaranRampersad via Flickr

Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track is a collection of Feynman’s letters and correspondences throughout his career. No other book can come even close to showing the real character of this brilliant man. From his patient and generous responses to wanna-be scientists with flawed ideas, and those who have some interest in a minor oddity that discuss with Feynman, to those who seek advice for themselves or their offspring, to those who have a few harsh things to tell Feynman. The collection includes some of his personal family mails as well as his very emotional and moving exchange with his first wife before and during her illness and final departure.

Feynman enjoyed the scientific endeavor more than anything. He rejected honorary degrees and other prizes. A very humble character who always accepted his flaws right off the bat. A fascinating read with notes and comments by his half-sister.

This is a gem for all Feynman fans and anyone who’s interested in learning about a great man with a character to awe and inspire.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Categories: Letters and correspondences.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4/5.
Recommendation: Recommended for Feynman fans.

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Oct 022010
 

Slaughterhouse 5; the saddest book I’ve ever read. By far.

Slaughterhouse-Five
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What Kurt Vonnegut does with his words is not humane. Slaughterhouse 5 takes you from scene to scene, jumping through worlds of feelings that intermingle and dissolve. The pain of war. The indifference of everyone and everything. Lost souls children of war.

Billy, the protagonist, tells his story during the second world war who gets captured. His mind is torn between logic and reality. His feelings torn between past, present and the future. He’s constantly fading in and out of time as Billy got “unstuck in time”.

Slaughterhouse 5 is not a story of soul-searching or sanity. It’s a story of chaos and indifference. A story of a lost child sent to witness the horrors of human achievement.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Category: Science-fiction.
Edition(s) read: Audio.
Rating: 4.5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for everyone.

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Sep 242010
 

The Physics of Star Trek is Lawrence Krauss‘ best known book. In this book an otherwise witty physicist analysis the most outlandish of the Star Trek technology and science.

The book’s idea is simple, the topic no so much. Krauss does a very good job in trying to layout the logistics, physics and the practicality (or often lack-thereof) of anti-matter engine, teleportation and beyond light-speed travel. Before reading this book I didn’t think the author was serious in studying the physics of Start Trek. To my delight, I was wrong.

Lawrence krauss does a very good job of dissecting and cutting out fiction from science. He’s witty, fun and very insightful in his analysis. The book is not at all dry. It’s full of scenes from the movies and anecdotes. Overall a fun read that really pushed things to the edge. This book really encouraged me to continue and finish Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku, which has a very similar theme.

It’s quite clear from the book that Lawrence Krauss enjoys Star Trek as much as he enjoys physics. That is to say, he enjoys both thoroughly. A short and fine read that’s as adventurous as Star Trek can get. And at that physics as well.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Categories: Science.
Edition(s) read: Audio.
Rating: 3.5/5.
Recommendation: Recommended for Star-Trek and Sci-Fi fans.

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Sep 232010
 

Carl Sagan is no ordinary author. In Pale Blue Dot Carl shows us the beauty that the universe has in store for us and the foolishness of man in his arrogant and incorrect assumptions about our uniqueness in it. For millennia humans have assumed that not only we’re unique, but that the universe is made for us. Everything around us is for us. We’re the reason there is a universe in the first place.

Step by step, Dr. Sagan examines these claims and how we historically came to realize how wrong we’ve been. How we ended up prosecuting as heretics all those who suggested a challenge to the status quo. Along the way we are treated with some rich and insightful history lessons, encounters and scientific experiments. A chapter dedicated to detecting life, of all places, on our own planet, we take a look at how we might detect that there is life in the only place we know it does. Later we examine the possibility of life elsewhere in our solar system. Planets and moons habitable to humans and even possibility of traveling to other solar systems.

Carl Sagan never fails to remind us to learn from history and from our bad mistakes, lest we repeat them and perish.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Categories: Astronomy, Cosmology, Science-History.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4.5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for all.

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Sep 202010
 

The Metamorphosis is the spiraling decline of a salesman into the abyss. The protagonist of this work, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one day to find himself trapped in the body of disgusting creature not unlike an insect of some sorts. Franz Kafka depicts the thoughts and feelings of a man going through a psychological and physical collapse. His family and supervisor have already deemed him useless and the more he thinks about it the more disgusted he is from himself.

A philosophical work in its core, The Metamorphosis raises questions of being and existence, society and acceptance and self-esteem among other topics. The book is as dark and gloomy as it’s short and concise. A masterpiece.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Categories: Absurdist, Philosophical.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for dark novel and philosophy fans.

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Sep 202010
 

Bill Bryson has an unique writing style that is no stranger to A Short History of Nearly Everything. In this book Bill takes the reader on a tour of scientific achievements, their history and their champions. Full of facts, interesting and weird stories, historical accidents and some solid numbers. Yet, it’s an easy read and one that only occasionally may be too detailed with trivia. Still, Bill Bryson has done his homework. The research is broad and as deep as necessary with occasional visits to museums and persons. The accounts of his journey are documented in the book which adds a sort of richness and depth to the material.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill B...
Image via Wikipedia

Many of the topics in the book were not unfamiliar to me and some others were quite the opposite, yet Bill puts the facts and stories in such a way that his description gives the reader glimpses from very odd perspectives. As an added bonus the author makes insightful comments and links along the way.

At some points the technically and scientifically savvy may sense weaknesses and even downright incorrect or misleading information, but that’s the exception rather than the norm. Bill explains why some things are the way they are and how did we figure them out. The people involved, their stories, personal triumphs and failures, lucky accidents and misfortunes and all things around and in between. But the book is not about what we know, not just. In a chapter where the oceans are discussed and what is now known as oceanography, Bill takes the time to spell out how little we know about the water world of our planet.

The book does an outstanding job of bringing a lot of material, information and some obscure facts to the layman all packaged in a witty and well-written text. One can’t fail to notice the amount of material covered between the covers of A Short History. Certainly one of those books that may be read more than once in spite of its size.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Category: General science.
Edition(s) read: Audio.
Rating: 4.5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for everyone.

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Sep 202010
 

The Da Vinci Code is a thriller with a real-life theme. While most of the book is fictional, many of the story elements have clear origins in reality, even if from popular myths and legends.

The Da Vinci Code
Image via Wikipedia

The book is takes the reader from puzzle to puzzle in an adventure to unlock arguably the greatest mystery of all time. From breaking codes to figuring our locations to deciphering symbols in old paintings, Dan Brown doesn’t leave time for the reader to think. This can be annoying at times, as once one has enough clue to put the pieces together, the author robs the reader of the fun of resolving the mystery of the moment by revealing the answer and introducing yet another puzzle. The book is a page turner. But more than that, it’s a chapter chaser. Chapter after chapter the reader is trapped in an never ending chase.

The Da Vinci Code generated a lot of controversy, especially from the religious right who found the book a challenge and perhaps a threat to their establishment. Many have took upon themselves the task of refuting the contents of the book. As silly as that may sound, it’s quite interesting that the irony is lost on the religious that they are competing and comparing notes with a self-declared fictional work.

As a thriller the book is an exceptional one. The author was successful in making it near impossible for the reader to put the book down. For a learned reader, the added bonus is to figure which elements are fictional and which are factual and historic. Then there are the historic elements with fictional twists. Overall a controversial book that’s a fascinating read.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Categories: Thriller, Crime.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4/5.
Recommendation: Recommended for everyone.

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Sep 202010
 

The Godfather is Mario Puzo‘s most popular and well-known work. As rare as it is, both the book and the movie are exceptional. The book takes you through the nerve-wrecking ruthlessness of the Italian mafia in the US. The story revolves around the Corleone family and, in the first installment, specifically around Don Vito Corleone, the family head.

Cover of The Godfather
Image via Wikipedia

The conflicting and controversial principles of the Don places family above and beyond everything, all the while exterminating enemies, traitors and competition. So well written is the book that one actually sympathizes with the Don.

As highly as the movie is regarded and critically acclaimed, the book takes things to a different level altogether. A short and compact read that never fails to shock and awe at the same time.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Categories: Crime, Social.
Edition(s): Book, Audio.
Rating: 5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for everyone.

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