Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson. History/botany.
There are a couple of ways you could go here. You could talk about (1) the science behind the workings of seeds; (2) how they fit into ecosystems; (3) their importance to human culture and development; (4) their nutritive value; (5) the importance of, and methodology for, saving unusual seed varieties in viable form; or (6) their future in the face of changing agricultural patterns and genetic modification.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova. History/food.
This is one of those books to which you should apply a simple test: does the topic sound at all intriguing? If it does, you will like this book. The world history of butter is a fascinating thing, and Khosrova does all aspects of it justice—from dairying itself, to the science behind it, to the changing interactions of gender and butter production throughout the ages, to the sordid and weird evolution of margarine.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. Science.
Mary Roach is one of only two or three authors whose books I pre-order. Again, I am not disappointed by this, her book about military science—not guns, but all the other stuff, like uniforms, toilet paper specifications, shark repellent. However, I will say, for the first time, I was grossed out.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. Medicine/history.
Somewhat uneven—or perhaps it’s just that I found the development of the rabies vaccine a far more riveting story than the section on the folklore of vampires and werewolves, which even the authors acknowledge have only a pretty vague connection with rabies.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves by Christian Rudder. Sociology.
The funny thing here is that Modern Romance (my review) was written by a comedian and Dataclysm was written by a numbers dweeb, and Dataclysm is way funnier. The topic is not quite the same—MR is about dating, and Dataclysm is more generally about how big data can be used to study many facets of sociology—but since the author of Dataclysm was one of the founding partners of OkCupid, he draws a lot of his data from online dating, making the two books feel very similar.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. Humor/science.
I love Randall Munroe’s webcomic xkcd so very much. If you are even slightly nerdy and have not read it I am going to gently shoo you in that direction. Okay? We good? Well, his book—which is, exactly as billed, serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions—had me in stitches.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Data, A Love Story: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match by Amy Webb. Science.
After watching Webb’s TED talk I was curious as to whether her book was a worthwhile expansion of the talk, or merely a padded version. I can say now that the book is well worth it, if you think humor, data hacking and love are a winning combination.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin J. Blaser. Science.
Oh look! Another book that makes intelligent decision-making even more difficult! You probably should not read this if you’re easily freaked out by the end of the world. I am somewhat immune (pun intended) to being freaked out by certain things, since I’ll never have children: I will not, for example, have to decide whether treating my six-month-year old with antibiotics for a painful ear infection is worth the risk of permanently throwing their microbiome out of whack, which may lead to a host of other difficulties down the road.… >> Read more