Nonfiction

Book Review: How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
Author: 
Munroe, Randall
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist
of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I
looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for
Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered
hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a
somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic
things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the
book for you.

While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on
time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind
the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook
instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I do
enjoy some extreme aspects of science, there is a limit to this enjoyment.
And perhaps this was because most of the science explained in this book felt
fairly rudimentary. Back of the envelope calculations can work for these
hypothetical situations, so it’s not like we needed the exact distance
George Washington could fling a silver dollar.

Despite its occasionally dry scientific explanations, the writing and
illustrations often had me laughing out loud. Many of the footnotes were
particularly hilarious. So while the content often felt like it was being
taken quite seriously, the slight tinge of humor always reminded me that the
whole exercise was to be as tongue-in-cheek as possible. If anything, this
book should give any reader a good sense of how we shouldn’t take the
simple solution for granted. After all, it’s probably much less
radioactive.

Some dry science covered in healthy layers of humor, I give How To 4.0 stars
out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: It's Not Supposed to Be This Way

It's Not Supposed to Be This Way
Author: 
TerKeurst, Lysa
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This book was amazing. From a Christian standpoint, Lysa really gets into disappointments in the faith that I feel people are too shy to talk about. It is a very honest book with personal accounts of disappointments and fears. It isn't preachy, it is matter-of-fact. I have a hard time with general christian books because they can often times sugarcoat or completely ignore the stuff no one wants to talk about; so this book was very promising and refreshing!!

Reviewer's Name: 
Megan

Book Review: You: The Owner's Manual

You: The Owner's Manual
Author: 
Roizen, Michael and Oz, Mehmet
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I wish this had been the book for my high school Health Class. The authors' light tone and sense of humor made the often dry subject enjoyable. I appreciated that these doctors tell you when the science is being heavily debated or is currently just a hypothesis. The title could just as easily be "What Western Medicine Has Learned So Far". That is absolutely a compliment to these doctors and their commitment to the idea that every patient is different and each of us is ultimately responsible for our own health care.

Reviewer's Name: 
LJO

Book Review: Loserthink: How untrained brains are ruining the world

Loserthink: How untrained brains are ruining the world
Author: 
Adams, Scott
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Loserthink is a fascinating book that anyone can learn something from. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert comics, has written several books that deal with a variety of topics such as the art of persuasion. In Loserthink, Adams talks about the ability to think critically to avoid "mental prisons" and ineffective ways of thinking he calls loserthink. Adams says that avoiding loserthink allows us to win arguments and speak more intelligently on complicated topics. I found Loserthink to be the perfect blend of humor and real-life application as well as very useful. While I don't agree with everything Adams says, he offers a balanced perspective of many political views and he gave several mechanisms that I wish to apply to my thinking. Overall, I enjoyed Loserthink and recommend it to any reader that wishes to be improve their intellectual prowess.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: Schumann: The Faces and the Masks

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks
Author: 
Chernaik, Judith
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces.

While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as well as his involvement with several other famous musicians (like Mendelssohn and Brahms). Bringing in sections that basically amount to music theory might have been better suited in an appendix instead of fusing with the story as it progressed through his life.

Despite these jarring asides, Schumann’s life story is still interesting enough that I suggest anyone who is interested in Romantic composers, or even music in general, should give this book a read. The author does an excellent job of highlighting the ups and downs of this creative individual who suffered for his art almost as much as he suffered from his various conditions (an STI and a clear case of bipolar disorder). The fact that he had such a talented and devoted wife in Clara throughout his life is merely a testament to how forward their relationship was and how transformative she was on his life on the whole.

A fascinating biography with jarring bits of music theory, I give Schumann: The Faces and the Masks 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood book jacket
Author: 
Noah, Trevor
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Not bad. I was expecting more on his move to Los Angeles and the establishment of his career and time on the Daily Show but the memoir doesn't cover that. I guess I should have known that judging by the title. There was a little bit of jumping around and muddling of incidents in his life, but overall it was educational and entertaining.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Pandora's Lab

Pandora's Lab book jacket
Author: 
Offit, Paul A.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry.

Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by using science can create worse problems than the ones that were initially there. Scientific rigor is also of utmost importance. Even if many of these horrific discoveries received Nobel prizes, hindsight showed skewed results from the start. Every new and fantastic technology created from scientific research should be scrutinized with a heaping of salt to ensure it can’t be abused.

On the flip side, ignoring sound scientific facts or not considering the full, worldwide implications of a discovery is just as dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, as long as the consequences don’t directly impact you. While we do have the benefit of hindsight, it’s essential to use the lessons presented in this book. We need to examine the science and technology being developed today and do our due diligence to make sure that they don’t inspire genocide or doom all of humanity to an unsustainable new way of life.

A grave lesson about the consequences of bad science, I give Pandora’s Lab 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. W.

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