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Science/Mathematics

Book Review: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating
Author: 
Alda, Alan
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY***

While miscommunication might be the source of conflict for romantic comedies, it’s a much more significant problem in the real world. If people aren’t able to efficiently and accurately communicate with their fellow man, then we all have room for improvement. Scientists and doctors are often the worst offenders, even though their ideas need to be communicated to the world for the advancement of society. Alan Alda has spent years trying to figure out why people are unable to communicate, and he has also figured out what we can do to improve this situation. As a scientist and writer, I feel many of his insights have merit.

I grew up watching Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers, so I know how often he has interacted with scientists. His conclusions that we can all become better communicators through empathy and understanding of our audience makes sense. I dabbled in improvisational theatre a little in college as I was studying to earn my Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Having first-hand experience of successfully improvising, I always touted its benefits for technical professions. Now I know why. When we synchronize with others, our message has a much better chance of being communicated.

As if to prove his point, this book is not necessarily a scientific account of the research, but merely a personal (and relatable) set of anecdotal stories that should open people’s eyes to the potential communicators trapped within each of us. We all have to communicate on some level, whether it’s orally or written, so if we can all improve our communication skills by learning to empathize with others, maybe society could one day be able to hold civil and vigorous debates without instantly devolving into mud-slinging contests.

A must-read for anyone who communicates (i.e., everyone), I give If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: 
Skloot, Rebecca
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a powerful narrative detailing one of the most revolutionary scientific and medical discoveries of the 20th century: HeLa cells. Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951 when she was 31 years old. During a surgery to remove some of her tumor, one of her surgeons took a sample of that tumor for testing in his lab. As he had tested many other cancerous cells, he expected Henrietta's cells to die within a few hours. They never did. Her cells continued to reproduce, and still do to this day. Henrietta's family, however, was never notified that her cells were taken. They discovered this in a news article years after the fact. The book not only tells Henrietta's story, but her family's as well. Rebecca Skloot worked for years with the Lacks family to ensure that justice was done, and Henrietta was not lost to history. I enjoyed the personal perspective that Skloot used to tell the story. It had the full potential of being written like a scientific journal, but Skloot told it as a beautiful narrative. Henrietta, her husband and children, and even Rebecca herself were characters and there was emotion on every page. It reads like a novel. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in medicine and its history.

Reviewer's Name: 
Hannah H.

Book Review: Trees

Trees
Author: 
Lemniscates
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today. -Chinese Proverb

This is a lovely book that quietly conveys what trees are, how they live, and what they do. The illustrations beautifully magnify the simple text in what I would call biblioharmony. Snuggle up with your little one and check out Trees by Lemnisactes.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kristin B.

Book Review: Thing Explainer

Thing Explainer
Author: 
Munroe, Randall
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Growing up in the 1990’s, one of the defining books that helped me understand the world around me was David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. Using “cartoonish” drawings of plenty of everyday (and not so everyday) machines, I gained plenty of useful knowledge that probably led me to eventually earn my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. While Macaulay’s illustrations were straight forward enough that they didn’t need explanations, some concepts around today certainly need some words to help gain an understanding of the way things work.

Enter Randall Munroe, famed “xkcd” webcomic author and an all around smart guy. In late 2012, he published a comic that described each of the systems in NASA’s Saturn V rocket with simple words. Described as “U.S. Space Team’s Up Goer Five,” the concept of using shorter, more common words to explain complicated concepts came to its full fruition in Thing Explainer. Using the thousand most common words, Munroe manages to humorously and thoroughly explain such “things” as the U.S. Constitution, The International Space Station, and the Large Hadron Collider (amongst many other common and complicated ideas).

While the concept is fun and this book could easily be used to help children understand these fascinating ideas, the thousand-word constraint is also its biggest weakness. Sure, I could deduce that “shafts” were usually “sticks” (or “hallways” if they were like mine shafts), and “fire water” often meant gasoline (or some other combustible fuel). However, I often found myself trying to figure out what the actual name of the item or part in question was because the “simple” name wasn’t self-explanatory. Also, it was sometimes a challenge to read all the small text, as it usually wasn’t arranged in a linear format, instead appearing in chunks around the illustrations to be close to the parts that were being described.

A unique concept to bring advanced technological knowledge to everyone, I give Thing Explainer 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World

Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World
Author: 
Nye, Bill
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

I grew up on Bill Nye’s science show on PBS. I appreciated his
straightforward approach to teaching science to children that was both
informative and humorous. Possibly in part due to this, I now find myself
with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and employed in a very
technical field. I also find myself writing books which are surreptitiously
educational, hoping that the entertainment value of my writing will subtly
inspire people to learn more about science. Consequently, merely based on the
author of this book, I was interested in reading it, despite the somewhat
vague and ambiguous title.

While there was plenty of very interesting material presented in this book,
much of it I had already known about by keeping up with the technological
advances of the world today, I felt like its order was a little off. Right
from the get-go, Nye hammers home that global climate change is a problem.
The entire rest of the book then explores technologies and developments that
could potentially solve, or at least abet the rapid rate of change leading to
our soon-to-be unsustainable world. As a result, there’s a bit of fear
introduced from the beginning that is tugged on throughout. I would have
flipped these topics around and shown all the neat scientific breakthroughs
(or near breakthroughs) we have in our current world, then use the knowledge
of these advancements to address the climate change issue. In this way, I
think the tone would be more inspiring and lead more people to pursue the
solutions instead of being alarmist and driving people to act out of fear
instead of out of the hope of what our future could be if we act now.

Nye’s trademark humor is sprinkled throughout his writing, which made
reading this book enjoyable. Furthermore, since he takes a very personal
approach with his examples and stories (I love his “love/hate”
relationship with Ed Begley Jr.), many of his opinions leak through. Many
times throughout the book, these opinions came off to me as a bit
off-putting, especially if the person reading this book happens to be of an
opinion differing from Nye’s. As such, there was a bit of “preaching to
the choir” that might not be helpful when trying to change the minds of
those who don’t share the same opinions. Still, his attempts at re-framing
the problem of global climate change and adjusting how we think about it were
quite admirable and I think everyone should give his ideas a chance.

A tale of both imminent danger and inspiration, I give Unstoppable 3.5 stars
out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Rivers of Sunlight: How The Sun Moves Water Around the Earth

Rivers of Sunlight: How The Sun Moves Water Around the Earth
Author: 
Bang, Molly
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

"I am your sun. My energy warms your days. I light up your world." So begins a lovely book about how the entire Earth's water system works. The illustrations are the sort you can sink into and perseverate over. This book is so beautiful, in fact, that you will absorb the complexity of our Earth's hydrology without even realizing it. Check out Rivers of Sunlight and pour yourself into knowledge and beauty.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kristin

Book Review: How to Be a Genius

How to Be a Genius
Author: 
Woodward, John
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This incredible book tells you all about how your brain works, how you survive, and how you are the person that you are. Through very accessible graphics and clear descriptions, you learn so much! There are cool games, quizzes, puzzles, brain teasers, and more! Then put what you learn into practice to become a genius! Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kristin

Book Review: Where's My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived

Where's My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived
Author: 
Wilson, Daniel H.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Some of the best science fiction ever written was strangely prescient with its predictions on how the world would advance, technologically. One of the best examples of this was Jules Verne in his story From the Earth to the Moon. Not only did he figure out what it would take to get away from Earth’s gravity, he predicted that the launch site would be in Florida. Ever since then, we have looked to the authors of science fiction to tell us what could be possible in the future of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, some of these predictions weren’t quite realistic. While jetpacks and moon colonies sound cool in the pages of a fictional book, they just aren’t practical in reality. Still, our childlike wonder and innovation tried its best to create what the science fiction authors of yore dreamt up. In Where’s My Jetpack?, Daniel H. Wilson does his best to explain where all these fantastical inventions and concepts are in their process toward being fully realized. But don’t worry about this being a stuffy tome full of complicated science. Wilson does a good job infusing humor with his research, which helps to show how ridiculous some of these ideas really are.

My one challenge with this book came with the fact that it was published back in 2007. It’s been 10 years since this book came out and now much of its research is either naively optimistic or didn’t pan out. What’s perhaps even more exciting is being aware of the technological developments that have made some of the impossibilities mentioned in this book at least somewhat plausible. Consequently, it’s best to read this book as a snapshot in the technological timeline that is our current reality.

A humorous look at the amazing technological developments inspired by sci-fi, I give Where’s My Jetpack? 4.0 stars out of 5.

For more reviews of books and movies like this, please visit www.benjamin-m-weilert.com

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: 
Skloot, Rebecca
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This book tells three intertwining stories and spans decades, centering on an immortal line of human cells, taken from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks in the 1950’s. She was afflicted with an aggressive form of cervical cancer, and through deception, gave her consent for the doctor to take cell samples. Her cell sample was coded as HeLa, and her real identity was not known. This event starts a fascinating, disturbing tale of medical ethics gone awry, capitalism in medicine, investigative journalism, and the contrasting lives of Lacks descendants.

The discovery of Henrietta’s immortal cancer cells, laid the foundation for most of the scientific discoveries we have made, and created a multi-billion dollar industry where her cells were sold all over the world as an infinite supply of scientific testing material. At the same time companies and hospitals were selling the HeLa cells, the Lacks family were living in extreme poverty, with no medical care. Author Rebecca Skloot bounces back and forth between Henrietta’s final days, and the present day, as she attempts to gain the trust of the Lacks family, discover who HeLa was, and how medical ethics were not always a reality. For a non-fiction book about cellular biology, it is a riveting detective story that also exposes medicines sordid past, and makes the reader question whether advancement of medicine is worth it at any cost.

Reviewer's Name: 
Michael

Book Review: 100 Skills You'll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It)

100 Skills You'll Need for the End of the World (As We Know It)
Author: 
Spagna, Ana Maria
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This little book is full of more information than you can imagine. Each section is just enough to get you started, to pique your interest. (But if there is an entry that speaks to you, remember to check the library for a more in-depth book!)

From Bartering to Foraging and even Porch Sitting, each passage is illustrated delightfully. I chuckled every other page. Written playfully, yet with much seriousness - it is easy to quickly get sucked in and keep reading until you think your brain might burst from all that delicious information!

As soon as I got to the Hoarding passage, I sincerely wished Ana were my friend, or at the very least, nearby if and when the world (as we know it) ends.

Reviewer's Name: 
Morgan

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