Tag: non-fiction


WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post here if you want to check out other posts. I’ve been reading less than I’d like this week, because my exams are upon me and I’m really having to put my nose to the grindstone to just learn the last bits that won’t stick in my head. Mind you, I had my human biology exam yesterday, and that was really easy. So here’s hoping it continues that way!

What are you reading now?Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan

I’m halfway through NeuroTribes, by Scott Silberman. On the one hand, I’ve heard good things about it, but on the other I’m a little put off by the fact that there was a whole chapter focused on how hard having an autistic child was for two particular parents, and how they put him through all sorts of nonsense therapies in the hopes of fixing him. Sure, they eventually decided to accept him as he was, but the whole thing was just focused on their experience, their “anguish”, etc, etc. What about this poor kid who got forcefed food he didn’t like and ridiculous supplements, to try to make him into a different child altogether? I’m more worried about him, thanks.

I know Silberman does actually go on to talk about accepting neurodiversity, accommodating autism rather than stigmatising people who have it, but that chapter did put me off rather.

(Note: I’m not on the spectrum, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.)

Fiction-wise, I’m reading Marie Brennan’s new novella, Lightning in the Blood. I should really finish it today, but… studying.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasI just finished Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. It was interesting enough, but it really skims the surface. It hinted at the same things as The Worm at the Core, for example, but pulled back from it. And in terms of biological death… I don’t know any more than I did going in.

The last fiction book I finished was Shanghai Sparrow, which is fun but nothing special — fairly typically steampunky, with some fairies thrown in.

What will you read next?

I should read one of my book club choices, so either Robin Hobb’s Farseers trilogy, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard. Technically all of these need finishing by the end of this month, so I should, you know. Get to it.

But then there’s also library books I need to read before I go back to Belgium again, because of course I raided the libraries here. So maybe I’ll read The Shambling Guide to New York, by Mur Lafferty.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 6 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFaddenToday’s theme is ten books from [x] genre I’ve added to my TBR. Given that today is my human biology exam (wish me luck!), non-fiction/pop-science seems appropriate here!

  1. Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden. Quantum biology sounds slightly terrifying, if I’m honest. I understand biology, in general; I don’t understand quantum. But hopefully this book will help, right?
  2. The Philadelphia Chromosome, by Jessica Wapner. This is about a particular defect found in people in Philadelphia (shocking, I know) which causes cancer, and how it’s contributed to understanding cancer and how to cure it.
  3. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, by Sean B. Carroll. This has been recommended to me as a good book on “evo-devo”, which is a term I suddenly find cropping up everywhere.
  4. A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. This is about the gene editing technology CRISPR, which is really fascinating stuff, and apparently this examines some of the ethics of using CRISPR, too. I have high hopes!
  5. Brain Washing, by Kathleen Taylor. This is one of the Oxford Landmark Science series, which I’m finding a fascinating way of exploring topics I haven’t always read about before.Cover of Personality by Daniel Nettle
  6. The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. It’s about, well, extinction. I’ve just managed to find this in the library near my parents’ house, so hopefully I’ll be able to read it before I go back to Belgium!
  7. Vanished Ocean: How Tethys Shaped the World, by Dorrik Stowe. More in the geology/earth science line, but it was recommended in another book I read.
  8. Shadows of the Mind, by Roger Penrose. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Penrose, so it’s time to fill in a gap. And it’s about brain science!
  9. Mutants: On the Forms, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body, by Armand Marie Leroi. Right up my street, obviously!
  10. Personality, by Daniel Nettle. Another one of the Oxford Landmark Science series. How do our brains create personality? Gotta know.

 

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Review – A New History of Life

Posted 5 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A New History of Life by Peter WardA New History of Life, Peter Ward, Joe Kirschvink

“New” is a bit of an overstatement. It develops themes already covered in books like Nick Lane’s Oxygen (not exactly recent) and David Beerling’s The Emerald Planet; the main contribution to my understanding is a bit more depth on how oxygen and carbon dioxide have limited and unlimited life over the course of its development. The back emphasises the authors’ belief in panspermia, specifically in the form that states life on Earth was seeded from Mars, but there’s very little space devoted to that — and exactly zero actual evidence.

It’s mostly a reasonable read, if not at all “new”, but they badly needed some more time with an editor. They have odd repetitions, or places where they don’t define a word until long after its first use (not a problem for me, but possibly difficult for other pop science readers), and at times the grammar is just terrible. Sentences don’t have subjects, or the verb doesn’t agree, or… It’s not so bad that I’d call it a mess, but I was very conscious that they needed a proofreader or three to make their book feel more professional.

There were some interesting things in here, though: for example, a discussion of different types of lungs and breathing systems. I hadn’t seen that discussed before, and it was fascinating. And for dinosaur aficionados, yep, they definitely touch on dinosaurs and why they once ruled the Earth (and why, perhaps, that rule ended as it did).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Life’s Engines

Posted 4 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Life's Engines by Paul G FalkowskiLife’s Engines, Paul G. Falkowski

This is an accessible book, crystal-clear about all the concepts it discusses. It’s not bad as a revision guide for me, as far as some of my cell bio concepts go; it’d be good for an intelligent layperson. Falkowski writes with assurance, and though there were no surprises here for me, it was still an interesting read.

My only qualm would be that sometimes his choice of words is a little cringy to me. We don’t need “cell stuff”; I’m sure all readers at this level could manage the term “nutrients” or “proteins” or something clearer. Which is funny, given I just said he’s crystal clear — it’s not that the words are confusing, it’s just that they don’t actually make things simpler and easier to understand. They don’t actively obscure, but they do the reader no favours either.

Nonetheless, a book I enjoyed reading.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How Your Brain Works

Posted 3 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain WorksHow Your Brain Works, New Scientist

As ever with the New Scientist books, this is a great introduction to a topic — and in this case, it’s a fairly narrow topic: the brain, and how it works. It’s not just a collection of stuff that’s appeared in the other collections, although I think a few of the info boxes and so on did come from other New Scientist publications originally. It’s also based on one of their Instant Expert courses, a great series of events that I do recommend if they cover a topic you’re interested in.

For me, even without my degree, this was a fairly simplistic view of the brain — “instant expert” isn’t quite what you’d become from reading it, I’d feel. “Instantly more informed and able to understand further information with a good foundation,” perhaps.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Where the Universe Came From

Posted 31 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of New Scientist: Where the Universe Came FromInstant Expert: Where the Universe Came From, New Scientist

These books are based on the Instant Expert events that New Scientist hosts on various topics. I’ve been to two of them (one on genetics, one on consciousness), and they’re pretty great: pitched at a level most educated people can understand, but delving a bit deeper into some of the latest events and innovations in whatever area of science they cover. They generally have a panel of experts and, honestly, some pretty good food… Anyway, so I was interested to read this one, even without the good food.

Sadly, it’s more relativity than Big Bang; it’s more worried about how to resolve the issues between quantum physics and relativity than about what we do know. That said, it’s pretty accessible and I did follow most of it, which is more than can be said for most attempts to educate me about relativity. However, it does contain repeated material from New Scientist collections and possibly also previous books; how much, I couldn’t say, since I haven’t read those exhaustively.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Herding Hemingway’s Cats

Posted 28 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Herding Hemingway's Cats by Kat ArneyHerding Hemingway’s Cats, Kat Arney

I didn’t expect to get that much out of this, since it explores the subject of genetics — I read a lot about genetics, after all, and have done one or two modules focusing on it. And it’s true that the tone is very light and journalistic, quippy and light and funny, but it also has an extensive section for further reading and covers some fascinating topics I didn’t know about. The section on epigenetics was particularly interesting; I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for epigenetics, of course, but this was a more measured and conservative interpretation.

It’s the kind of book that left me turning to my wife and saying, “hey, did you know…?” a lot, and looking up things online (like Minoo Rassoulzadegan’s white-gloved mice). There’s a lot of complications and new things coming out about genetics, and this proved to be an excellent survey of that.

The only thing I disliked was the way the interviews were presented — almost like a dialogue in a novel, but without new paragraphs for new speakers. It made it a little difficult to follow, and I’m not all that interested in what kind of shoes the scientist in question was wearing during the interview.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 27 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 26 Comments

Hi everyone! I’m back in the UK for a while, for my exams and the election and so on. I’m missing my bunnies, but I did have a lot of great books waiting for me here!

But here, have a picture of Breakfast meeting Captain America, first…

Right, now I feel better.

Received to review:

Cover of Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

I really need to read something by Gail Z. Martin. I’ve had a couple of her books on my list for a while. Oops.

Fiction books bought:

Cover of City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett Cover of False Hearts by Laura Lam Cover of The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury

Cover of A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas Cover of Caraval by Stephanie Garber Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve had my eye on… pretty much all of these for quite a while now. I’m still not sure about The Hate U Give — people love it so much, and recommend it a lot, but I’m not sure if it’s my thing. Still, gonna give it a try.

Non-fiction books bought:

Cover of Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould Cover of Bones of Contention by Paul Chambers Cover of Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka Cover of How To Find A Habitable Planet by James Kasting

Cover of The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner Cover of One Renegade Cell by Robert Weinberg Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFadden Cover of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall

Quite the stack, I know! Some of these I’ve been meaning to read for ages, especially Gould’s book. I loved the exhibit on the Burgess Shale at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, but only just got round to picking up a copy of this book to go with the experience.

So yeah, plenty to keep me busy!

Books finished this week:

Cover of A New History of Life by Peter Ward Cover of The Emerald Planet by David Beerling Cover of How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis Wolpert Cover of The Worm at the Core Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey Cover of The Deeper Genome by John Parrington Cover of One Renegade Cell by Robert Weinberg Cover of The Ghost Line Cover of Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood

Sneak peek at ratings:
Five stars: The Emerald Planet and The Worm at the Core.
Four stars: Waking Gods, River of Teeth,  The Deeper Genome, One Renegade Cell,  The Ghost Line and Raisins and Almonds.
Three stars: A New History of Life and How We Live & Why We Die.

Reviews posted this week:

Being Human, by New Scientist. As with the other New Scientist collections, this is good if the topic interests you, and less so if it doesn’t. It does interest me! 4/5 stars
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Funny, but with some interesting serious touches too. I want more of the Murderbot. 4/5 stars
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, by Svante Pääbo. The science is fascinating, but I wasn’t always so sure about the personal details! It’s not so much about Neanderthals at all, really; just the process of extracting their genomes. 4/5 stars
The Builders, by Daniel Polansky. Redwall, but very red in tooth and claw. And other implements of destruction. 3/5 stars
The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. This is a wide-ranging book, almost impossible to summarise, but well worth reading on symbiosis, evolution, the origin of life… 4/5 stars
Sunbolt, by Intisar Khanani. Fun worldbuilding, and I definitely want to read more. ASAP. 4/5 stars
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey. Hippos! A caper! A hero called Hero! I really enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR. What it says on the tin.
WWW Wednesday. The usual Wednesday update.

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Review – The Vital Question

Posted 24 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Vital Question by Nick LaneThe Vital Question, Nick Lane

If you have a solid grounding in science already, particularly biology, this is probably going to be accessible for you — but if not, you might struggle a little. It starts off alright, but it gets quite dense in places, and if you’re not super-interested, you’ll probably get bogged down. That said, to me it was fascinating, and generated testable hypotheses about how early life could have functioned.

I still disagree with Nick Lane on some points, like the dismissiveness with which he treats “junk” DNA. But he covers a lot of interesting stuff about endosymbiosis, mitochondria, the way mitochondria work with the host cell, how the differences between bacteria and archaea arose… It’s a wide-ranging book, and it’s hard to summarise everything that he touches on.

He also makes some pretty bold predictions about life elsewhere in the universe — that it will work in pretty much the same way as it does on Earth. I don’t disagree with what he says here.

So all in all, a worthwhile read, but bring your thinking cap if you’re not a biologist.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Neanderthal Man

Posted 22 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante PaaboNeanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, Svante Pääbo

This book is less about Neanderthals themselves and more about the biological and technical details of extracting their long-extinct genomes from the preserved bones we’ve found, and also about Svante Pääbo himself — it touches on his bisexuality, his moves between institutions, even his affair with a colleague’s wife. I could’ve done without the personal info; it often felt like it was completely incidental to the extraction and sequencing going on in his teams. There were some interesting bits in the way his team worked together, and his decisions as the leader, but his affair with Linda Vigilant was entirely irrelevant.

Still, it’s a fascinating narrative taken as a whole, tracking the various theories, setbacks and new techniques Svante Pääbo and his team went through in finally extracting and sequencing the Neanderthal genome. There’s some coverage, too, of how it differs from the Homo sapiens genome and that of chimpanzees, and what that means in terms of phylogeny and the relationships in the family tree of human development. It also touches on some of the politics of science: rival groups, jockeying for funding, terminating partnerships which aren’t delivering what you hoped… A reminder that you’re never gonna get away from politics of some sort, I suppose!

I found it deeply interesting and well explained, though I am a little disappointed that it was more of an autobiography of Pääbo’s working life than about Neanderthals and what we know about them because of his work.

Rating: 4/5

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