Category: General


Stacking the Shelves

Posted 8 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 40 Comments

So, as you can tell if you just scroll down a bit, or maybe the speed your browser has crawled to, I acquired a lot this week. That would be because my mother gave me a £40 Amazon voucher. She would claim I made her give me it, but I simply reminded her that she had promised it to me. Her guilty conscience did the rest…

Anyway, so this is my weekly haul, for the meme as hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! A couple of these have already appeared before, but now I’ve bought my own copies rather than borrowing them!

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Sunstone by Freya Robertson Cover of The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Non-fiction

Cover of How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom Cover of Just Babies by Paul BloomCover of The Righteous by Jonathan Haidt Cover of Time's Anvil by Richard Morris    Cover of The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris Cover of Twelve Caesars by Matthew Dennison

Fiction

 Cover of Clementine by Cherie Priest Cover of Dreadnought by Cherie Priest Cover of Ganymede by Cherie Priest Cover of The InexplicablesCover of Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest Cover of The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin  Cover of Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara Cover of Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini TaylorCover of The Pirate's Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Comics

Cover of Spider-girl: Family Issues Cover of Saga vol 2 by Brian Vaughan

I’ve already read Saga, and I’m going to polish off Spider-girl today hopefully, so other than those, hmm. Of the ARCs, I’m more excited about The Wizard’s Promise; I’ve enjoyed Cassandra Rose Clarke’s work, and I haven’t yet read Freya Robertson’s first book. (Oops.) Many thanks to Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for those, though.

Of the non-fiction, most of it ethics/morality related, I’m most interested in Paul Bloom’s books. He taught a class I was in on Coursera, Moralities of Everyday Life, which I really enjoyed. Of the fiction, it’s gonna have to be Night of Cake and Puppets, because Laini Taylor! Can’t wait for Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I kept an eye out for an ARC but I didn’t see it anywhere, woe is me.

All these new books, and yet I have to work this weekend. *dramatic sigh* What about you guys? Frivolous weekends of reading ahead? Anything spectacular new on your shelves this week?

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 5 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Volume two of Saga! I really love the comic timing this series has. I need to get my hands on volume 3 now.

Before that, I think it was Identically Different, which is a book on epigenetics, which I already enthused about at some length.

What are you currently reading?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, still. I stalled on it because I was busy with work and then I get distracted by non-fiction, so, oops. I do want to get back to it, it’s atmospheric and interesting even though I’ve just realised I have no idea when it’s set. It has that sort of heavy gothic novel type atmosphere. Maybe a bit like the feel of some of Sarah Waters’ work, and Shirley Jackson.

The other thing I’m reading is The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw. I really enjoy her historical fiction, there’s something very satisfying about it, and this one is set in Constantinople. It reminds me both of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work (though I think it helps that in my edition, it’s even set in the same font) and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic.

I’ve also read the first story in The Dragon Griaule, so presumably that’s up next. I’m intrigued by this version of dragon lore.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, the plan to read Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) and Augustus (John Williams) came to nothing, so maybe those next? I do need to get working on reading stuff that I can’t drag back to Cardiff with me, so maybe Bear Daughter (Judith Berman).

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 1 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 41 Comments

I thought I wasn’t gonna have anything this week, but then I won some ARCs from LibraryThing and ended up going shopping as well, so, uh. Whoops?

So, as usual, the Stacking the Shelves meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

ARCs/review copies

Cover of The Normans: From Raiders to Kings by Lars Brownworth Cover of the anthology Long Hidden

Comics

Cover of Spider-woman: Origin by Brian Michael Bendis Cover of Spider-woman: Agent of Sword by Brian Michael BendisCover of Batgirl by Gail Simone Cover of Batwoman: Hydrology by J.H. Williams

Other

Cover of Derrida: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Glendinning Cover of Barthes: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler Cover of Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody Cover of The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

Of the ARCs, I’m more enthusiastic about Long Hidden, but a book on the Normans hits me right in my interests too. Of the comics, Spider-woman! Because I’ve loved her appearances in Captain Marvel. And of the other books, well, Barthes and Derrida come from a feeling of, crap, I have an MA in literature and I don’t know much about literary theory, so they’re kind of a guilt thing. Though a bit of an interest thing too, since I’m TAing a class on Coursera where I’ve ended up talking ‘The Death of the Author’ and so on with the students.

I finished The Book of Imaginary Beings yesterday morning, which leaves only Dying in the Wool — which caught my eye because I’ve been looking for a cosy mystery type series since I ran out of Mary Stewart books, and Dying in the Wool is set in an area I know pretty well: Yorkshire. Also features a just-post-war widow, running about being a detective. Uh, so very sold. Incidentally, my copy happens to be signed, presumably because she’s a local author.

What’s everyone else been getting their grubby little hands on?

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 26 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
It hasn’t been such a busy week this week, reading-wise. The last thing I finished was The Double Helix, James Watson’s account of the discovery of DNA. God, he has an ego on him, and he’s sexist about it too, at least back in 1968 when it was published. Rosalind Franklin, “Rosy”, would have been much improved by doing something novel with her hair, apparently.

What are you currently reading?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and DNA by James Watson. Yes, that same James Watson. It’s better because it’s not focused on himself, and it even includes the account from The Double Helix in miniature, so just… stick to that one. I understand everything in it without a struggle: sometimes I think he does get beyond what most people are used to, like recombination, but heck, I’ve done the math on recombination — if a simple description stumped me, my genetics grade would be in trouble.

The Thirteenth Tale is quite good. It’s reminding me of something else, several somethings, but that doesn’t bother me too much — in some cases, I think the allusions are intentional anyway. It’s definitely better than Bellman & Black. And I love the book-obsessed main character largely because her thirst for books mirrors my own.

What do you think you’ll read next?
The plan is to finish reading Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) and Augustus (John Williams). But I think everyone’s pretty used to how little my plans relate to what actually happens.

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Clean out your ereader challenge!

Posted 22 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

March 2014 COYER Signups

Yep, sounds like a good plan. Here’s the rules and pledge levels:

    • Go through your E-readers and select books you’d like to read during the challenge. The book must have been Free or Nearly Free: under $5, Kindle Deals, Netgalley, Edelweiss & author review requests only (Blog Tour reviews are not accepted this time, sorry). Anyone caught not using a free book or a book that is pirated will be removed from challenge.
    • Sign up with the linky below letting us know that you plan to participate. Between now and March 8th create a post announcing that you’re participating and a list of books you hope to read during the challenge (this can change). If you don’t have a blog this can be done at the Goodreads group “Two Girls and A Challenge” Any participant that doesn’t have a starter post up by 11:59 PM EST March 8th (giving you procrastinators a little more time!) will be ineligible for the grand prize.
    • Start reading your books (starting March 1st) and reviewing them, either on your blog or Goodreads, Booklikes, etc. Put the link to your review (to the review URL, not your Web Address) on the review linky available March 1st, listing your blog name and the name of the book you reviewed. When you write your review, you MUST include the challenge logo and linky somewhere on the post so that we can all check out the reviews.

Lightly Clean – 1 to 4 eBooks
Spring Clean – 5 to 9 eBooks
Deep Clean – 10 to 14 eBooks
Xtreme Clean – 15 or more eBooks

Aaaand I’ll be going for the Xtreme Clean, because hey, I for damn sure need it.

  • Chris Amies, Dead Ground.
  • Allyson Bird, Bull Running for Girls.
  • Marie Brennan, Deeds of Men.
  • Lars Brownworth, The Normans: From Raiders to Kings.
  • Brenda Chamberlain, The Water-castle.
  • Anna Cowan, Untamed.
  • Doranna Durgin, Wolverine’s Daughter.
  • Frances Hardinge, Cuckoo Song.
  • Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator.
  • Richard Kadrey, Sandman Slim.
  • Anna Kashina, Blades of the Old Empire.
  • John Lawson, The Loathly Lady.
  • J.M. McDermott, Maze.
  • Natasha Mostert, The Midnight Side.
  • Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog.
  • Marianne de Pierres, Peacemaker.
  • Jay Posey, Morningside Fall.
  • David Meerman Scott, Marketing the Moon.
  • Alex Segura, Silent City.
  • Laini Taylor, Night of Cake & Puppets.

Mostly ARCs/review copies, with a sprinkling of Kindle sales.

Blog hop thing —

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 19 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Mmm, a pretty busy week reading-wise since I last checked in!

What did you recently finish reading?
Taking “recently” as “today”, a fair few things. I read Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, which… hmm, it’s pretty, but I don’t love it. Review coming up on the blog tomorrow. Also Anatomies by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, which was okay but more a cultural history than anything scientific. And then also Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. which is just nuts and I’m still not sure what I read, but it was pretty fun.

Monica Rambeau for the win, anyway, even if Carol Danvers is my Captain Marvel.

What are you currently reading?
A lot of things, as usual, but the one at the head of the queue is The Origins of Virtue (Matt Ridley). I’m trying to focus on the dead tree books I’ve brought with me from Cardiff or bought while I was here, or left here on previous occasions, so I don’t have to drag them back there with me when I get the train. Looks like I’ve also got a bookmark in Augustus (John Williams) and Dreadnought (Cherie Priest).

What do you think you’ll read next?
Let’s be realistic, I hardly ever answer this question accurately. I’m gonna guess that comics-wise I’ll dig into some of my Captain America comics, and maybe read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Otherwise, I’m focusing on books acquired in 2014, because for the first time in years I’m sort of keeping up with my purchasing rate. So eyeballing that list, I’m probably going to go for the one I’m least interested in right now and try and get myself interested, so that’d be Michael Stackpole’s A Secret Atlas.

Other than that, maybe Liliana Bodoc’s Days of the Deer, because Ursula Le Guin thinks she’s the best thing since sliced bread and I meant to read it in January.

Although on the other hand I should probably just work on some of the books I’ve got started already. Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis has been giving me accusing looks for months.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 15 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 45 Comments

Aaand it’s Saturday, and time for Stacking the Shelves, as usual hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

And wow, I have a lot to show off this week — a couple of ARCs, more books than I expected to buy (I deserve it, I gave blood!), and a whole stack of books from Bookmooch. (If you have a Bookmooch account and you ship to the UK, link me! I have a ridiculous backlog of points and an eclectic taste in books.)

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Empress of the Night, by Eva Stachniak Cover of Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres Cover of Morningside Fall, by Jay Posey

Bought

Cover of Shadows by Robin McKinley Cover of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield Cover of The Avengers: The Enemy Within Cover of Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell Cover of The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris Cover of Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillip

Borrowed

Cover of The Pirate's Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Bookmooch

Cover of Simon Scarrow's Under the EagleCover of The Eagle's Conquest, by Simon ScarrowCover of When the Eagle Hunts by Simon ScarrowCover of The Eagle and the Wolves, by Simon Scarrow  Cover of Declare by Tim Powers  Cover of Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold, by Terry Brooks  anCover of the Viking Portable Medieval Reader Cover of the Portable Dorothy Parker

I’ve been most excited about The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris, because I’ve had it preordered for a while. I’m halfway through it already, though goodness knows I’m halfway through a lot of books. I’m excited about the ARCs from Angry Robot: I’ve meant to try Marianne de Pierres before, and I read Jay Posey’s first book, Three, a while ago. And the third review copy, well, hopefully I’ll be interviewing Eva Stachniak here on my blog around March ish.

Needless to say, I am also very excited about Avengers: The Enemy Within, as it continues Captain Marvel’s current storyline. I’ve flicked through it already and it contains such gems as this:

Carol: You like hitting stuff with that hammer of yours?
Thor: It is an act of which I am singularly fond.

So what’re you all reading, guys?

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Sight loss and access to reading

Posted 13 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to make a post about my volunteering work for the RNIB. It’s not all relevant to this blog, but certain aspects of it are. I’ve been having a hard time phrasing it, though, and finally Lynn agreed to help by asking me questions as an interview. So thank you very, very much to Lynn for helping out.

Before we start, I just want to say that while I’m talking about being a volunteer for a couple of charities, I don’t officially represent them. And while I hope that I’ve been sensitive and thoughtful in my answers, I’m aware that there’s nothing wrong with my own sight a pair of glasses can’t fix, and that I may get things wrong or mess up in some way. Feel free to tell me if I do: I’ll be glad to add corrections to my post if necessary.

That said, here’s Lynn!

I know you volunteer for RNIB/Macular Society, but what is it that you do when you’re volunteering?

Well, my role in the Macular Society is really simple: I moderate the forums. I answer questions when I can, offer reassurance if I can, but mostly just make sure there’s no spam. Which is why I’m really glad I have a more active role for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind). It’s also affiliated with the local Institute for the Blind, and we have a really good network of support out there for people who are blind or partially sighted.

My particular role involves working in the clinic and trying to ensure everything works smoothly: I’m there to help both the patients and the nurses. So if someone’s lost, I tell them where to go; if someone’s just had their eyes dilated, so they can’t see to go get a coffee or get a taxi home, I’m trained to lead them safely and comfortably; if someone’s upset, I sit next to them and talk to them a bit; if someone needs to know how much longer it’s going to be, I go and find out. I also help with the general running of the clinic. If there’s work that you don’t need to be a healthcare professional for, I’ll do it: moving files, sorting files, taking requests to the photographers, running messages… It doesn’t sound like much, but when you know how big the clinics are and how many people we move through them each week, the five hours I volunteer a week is actually a significant help to the nurses.

Can you give any rough estimates on the numbers you alluded to?

I remember being told that in one of our treatment clinics, we move 800 people through each month. And we’re sometimes running seven clinics at a time, as well as the eye casualty. Diagnostic appointments usually take longer than the treatment clinics, so the numbers are probably lower for some of those, but it gives you an idea. The waiting room is often standing room only.

For more context, everyone who comes into the clinic has to first have their ‘visions’ done — a simple eye test to compare their current sight to when they had their last appointment. There is one visions room, divided into two parts, so only two nurses are ever doing visions at one time. Some clinics have a specific nurse assigned in one of the other rooms, if it’s a bit more complicated, but most people will go through the visions room.

That sounds like a lot of people! You must be really busy when you’re at the clinic.

Reaaaally busy. I don’t know what they do when they don’t have a volunteer there, because a lot of the stuff the nurses have to do then means they take even longer to get people through the visions room. Even with me there, we’re nearly always running with a delay.

Wow! I hope they always have at least one volunteer there then. How do the people visiting the clinic spend their time waiting for their appointments?

Some of them nap, which is an entirely valid response to the waiting times! Or glare at me, which is kind of unfair but also understandable. Mostly, though, and what I really wanted to talk about, people bring a book or a magazine, or buy the paper on the way in. That really surprised me, actually: I see a lot of the rest of the hospital, helping people around, and I don’t see as much reading in any other clinic or waiting area. You’d think a badly lit eye clinic full of partially sighted people would be the last place you’d see loads of people reading, but that’s my experience.

That does sound pretty incredible! And I mean that in the most positive sense of the word. Does that mean you sometimes end up talking about books and reading with the visitors too?

“What are you reading?” is the third most popular question (after “Where is the toilet?” and “Why is the clinic running late?”) I get asked. Not that I have chance to be actively reading when I’m on duty, but reading is an easy conversation topic to help distract people or just give them some interaction time with a friendly face. When people are worrying about the effects of losing their sight, too, the idea of not being able to read is what seems to really scare a lot of them. And quite often they know very little about the options out there to help them read for as long as possible.

Does the clinic offer them information on the options they have?

The clinic doesn’t, no. Not as such, anyway. My ‘boss’, the person who coordinates all of the volunteers, has an office in the clinic for that purpose. I was taught about the assistive devices we have, but mostly if someone asks for information, it’s easiest for me to go and find her. Then she’ll arrange to spend some time with them, talking about options like that and registering as legally blind, etc.

The one thing I do talk about when I can is ereaders. I’ve been investigating the various options for several years now, since my mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration, so generally I can help people figure out the best ereader for them, and recommend places to get books. Sometimes if it’s quiet I’ll fetch my own ereader and show them how it works.

So… there isn’t a lot of information to help ensure people are still able to read at the clinic other than in a specialised consultation? Is that why you mention ereaders specifically as something you talk to the visitors about?

There isn’t. I think that’s a problem that comes out of the NHS being very compartmentalised, which is a whole ‘nother rant — basically, instead of treating problems holistically, we treat problems separately. The clinic is there to deal with the physical issues; as far as I know, apart from the volunteers, I’ve never seen anything in place to help with the emotional side of going blind. With the clinic so busy, there isn’t time.

So it’s something I bring up when I can, something I know a lot about and can share that sometimes makes it all a bit easier to handle. I know for me, if I couldn’t read anymore, I’d be devastated. I’d probably end up on (more) antidepressants and just miserable. That’s why I also advocate for large print books in libraries (including the one I volunteer in), and for access to audiobooks and so on. Which is, you know, another reason to love the RNIB: they have a Talking Books subscription service with thousands of books available. (Which always needs help and donations, by the by.)

I see. That is… very sad. I’d be devastated too. Apart from ereaders and audiobooks, what other ways have you learned about that help people continue to be able to read?

Well, sometimes really good lighting is enough to help for some people, but then there’s also a variety of magnifiers. The one I find easiest to use myself (I have tried all of the ones we have available) is one of the variety of dome magnifiers we have. You just place them over the page and slide them along, and they magnify the text as well as concentrating the light on it. There’s CCTV video magnifiers, which take the text and magnify it up on an LCD screen, and have the advantage of being somewhat adjustable, but they cost a lot. I’m talking in the region of £800. For something that’s such a major concern for so many partially sighted people, the technology is difficult to access.

We do have programs that can give people these sorts of things free, but again, it takes resources, and it depends on where you live whether you can access one of those programs.

That sounds awful! I hope as technology increases, the costs will become less prohibitive to people. So ereaders and audiobooks are pretty much people’s best options?

To my mind, yes. An ereader is easily the cheapest option. It wasn’t cheap when I first started researching — I got mine for £180, and I think the Kindle was around that price too, then — but now things have caught up. The ereader I’d most readily recommend is the Kobo Mini: I got it when it was in a sale for £24, it’s pretty easy to use, and it’s lightweight, which is often another bonus for elderly people. The Kindle’s about the same weight and so on, but it doesn’t have the same range of fonts and font sizes. There’s a version of the Kobo with a backlight, too; that or the Kindle Paperwhite might be best for people who need bright light and good contrast.

I know you’ve already mentioned this, but just so we’re clear on this and have it reiterated: different people do have different requirements in ereaders? How do you know which ones work best for who?

It can be a problem, because obviously there’s lots and lots of people coming through the clinic from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of them might not be able to afford even a basic Kindle (~£60), or they might have trouble with coordination so a touch screen might not be a good idea. Generally, I just start by mentioning that I have a Kobo and find it useful, and let them ask me questions, which tends to give me a good idea of what they need. E.g. if they say they have trouble reading on a backlit screen, then obviously I scratch the idea of recommending the Kindle app on an iPad and go for something with e-ink technology.

I see… Do you think you could give people a few recommendations on ereaders to start with? Not too many details, perhaps, but some general pointers that you’ve found the most useful.

My first recommendation is generally to ignore me and get to a shop and try them out! In the UK, WHSmith will usually have display models of Kobos, while Waterstones has Kindles. Big supermarkets sometimes have them out, too. That way you can fiddle with the font options for yourself and just see what suits you.

Good idea! Though I know that I find it helpful to have some idea of what I should be looking for before I go into a shop myself. I feel very self-conscious if I have no idea what I want or need from a shop and I’m sure it’d be much worse if I had to deal with losing my sight as well. Having some idea of what kind of ereader I should be looking for would really help me look for one.

For that, I’d probably end up suggesting chatting to other people with similar issues, e.g. on the Macular Society forums. But in the meantime I’d go through a sort of checklist: what sort of screen do you want/need? Do you want it to do other things as well (i.e. a tablet)? Write down the things you know you can’t do without (like a lightweight unit, large buttons, lighting options, fonts), and that’d give you some idea of what to ask the shop assistants. There’s usually a particular shop assistant who handles ereaders, in my experience, so ask about that and ask to speak to them if possible.

I am actually planning to do a post here sometime soon about the pros and cons of various ereaders, and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to ask me. If I don’t already know, I may be able to find out.

That doesn’t leave me with many questions to ask, beyond thanking you for your time and wishing you loads of good experiences volunteering!

You’re the one who helped me out! Thank you for your time, Lynn.

As I said, if anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments — if there’s anything interesting, I may add it to the post, and likewise I’ll add any corrections that may be necessary.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Well, it’s kind of Thursday now, but I’ve never let that stop me!

What did you recently finish reading?
The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Review coming up on the blog tomorrow: suffice it to say that I think it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve acquired the second book and the companion stories to read ASAP. Like my to read list isn’t long enough.

Before that, it was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory, which… I just don’t get the appeal. Elizabeth Woodville was smarter than Gregory’s version, a political schemer, why does she have to melt into goo over a man? She could still be political and canny and in love, but it doesn’t seem that way.

What are you currently reading?
Longbourn, by Jo Baker; “Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice“. I’m quite enjoying it. From the reviews, I didn’t expect to, but maybe it helps that I’m not precious about Austen. I do think Baker’s rather riding on Austen’s coattails, telling a story that isn’t inextricably entwined with that of Pride and Prejudice and just using the original story to garner interest. I don’t know if that feeling will stick with me.

Also, Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, because it’s high time I got round to that.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki — just out today! I have promised Joanne Harris that I won’t mention a certain actor’s name in my review… Also, obviously, A Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

I’m also interested in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It’s being mentioned in my ethics class this week, and we had an excerpt to read. There’s some fascinating research, and I’ve found his TED talks interesting.

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