Archive for the 'books i’d like to read' category

Books I'd like to read: Ebola, Vaccines, AirBnB, Democracies and more

For your reading and collection development pleasure...

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts, kind of seeing what's on my mind a little in the science-y and tech-y book world and kind of a way to help me remember what I want to pick up. It's also been a while since I've actually reviewed a book, but I do think I'll be getting to some of the backlog fairly soon in some mass group posts.

In any case, some books I'd like to read, ones that I've not acquired yet but probably will soon.

The Politics of Fear: Médecins sans Frontières and the West African Ebola Epidemic. Edited by Michiel Hofman and Sokhieng Au

The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was an unprecedented medical and political emergency that cast an unflattering light on multiple corners of government and international response. Fear, not rational planning, appeared to drive many decisions made at population and leadership levels, which in turn brought about a response that was as uneven as it was unprecedented: entire populations were decimated or destroyed, vaccine trials were fast-tracked, health staff died, untested medications were used (or not used) in controversial ways, humanitarian workers returned home to enforced isolation, and military was employed to sometimes disturbing ends.

The epidemic revealed serious fault lines at all levels of theory and practice of global public health: national governments were shown to be helpless and unprepared for calamity at this scale; the World Health Organization was roundly condemned for its ineffectiveness; the US quietly created its own African CDC a year after the epidemic began. Amid such chaos, Médecins sans Frontières was forced to act with unprecdented autonomy -- and amid great criticism -- in responding to the disease, taking unprecedented steps in deploying services and advocating for international aid.

The Politics of Fear provides a primary documentary resource for recounting and learning from the Ebola epidemic. Comprising eleven topic-based chapters and four eyewitness vignettes from both MSF- and non-MSF-affiliated contributors (all of whom have been given access to MSF Ebola archives from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia for research), it aims to provide a politically agnostic account of the defining health event of the 21st century so far, one that will hopefully inform current opinions and future responses.


The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease. By Meredith Wadman.

The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.

Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.


Science in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures. By Lorraine Daston (Editor)

With Science in the Archives, Lorraine Daston and her co-authors offer the first study of the important role that these archives play in the natural and human sciences. Reaching across disciplines and centuries, contributors cover episodes in the history of astronomy, geology, genetics, philology, climatology, medicine, and more—as well as fundamental practices such as collecting, retrieval, and data mining. Chapters cover topics ranging from doxology in Greco-Roman Antiquity to NSA surveillance techniques of the twenty-first century. Thoroughly exploring the practices, politics, economics, and potential of the sciences of the archives, this volume reveals the essential historical dimension of the sciences, while also adding a much-needed long­-term perspective to contemporary debates over the uses of Big Data in science.


Wolf Nation: The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves. By Brenda Peterson

In the tradition of Peter Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America or Aldo Leopold’s work, Brenda Peterson tells the 300-year history of wild wolves in America. It is also our own history, seen through our relationship with wolves. Native Americans revered them. Settlers jealousy exterminated them. Now, scientists, writers, and ordinary citizens are fighting to bring them back to the wild. Peterson, an eloquent voice in the battle for twenty years, makes the powerful case that without wolves, not only will our whole ecology unravel, but well lose much of our national soul.


The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions...and Created Plenty of Controversy. By Leigh Gallagher

In addition to exploring the colorful history of its founding and the many factors contributing to Airbnb’s success—an epic recession that left people with a much greater incentive to travel cheaply or to turn their homes into something monetizable; fatigue with a hospitality industry that had become overpriced and overcommoditized; and a new generation of millennial travelers who didn’t bat an eye at the idea of sharing space with strangers—Gallagher also investigates the more controversial side of the Airbnb story. Regulators have fought back forcefully in many markets to curb the company’s rapid expansion. Hotel industry leaders wrestle with the disruption it has caused them and the growing threat it represents to their bottom line. And residents and customers alike struggle with the unintended consequences of opening up private homes for public consumption. Gallagher closely examines crises that hit the company at its core, like ransackings and other fraudulent uses of the platform (including the story of one family in a wealthy New Jersey suburb who learned the hard way that Airbnb’s promise of “trust” can fall short); accidents and even deaths resulting from unsafe conditions at Airbnb listings; and racial and other kinds of discrimination by Airbnb hosts.


Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953. By Simon Ings

Stalin and the Scientists tells the story of the hugely gifted scientists who worked in Russia from the years leading up to the Revolution through the death of the "Great Scientist" himself, Joseph Stalin. It weaves together the stories of scientists, politicians, and ideologues into an intimate and sometimes horrifying portrait of a state determined to remake the world. They often wreaked great harm. Stalin was himself an amateur botanist, and by falling under the sway of dangerous charlatans like Trofim Lysenko (who denied the existence of genes), and by relying on antiquated ideas of biology, he not only destroyed the lives of hundreds of brilliant scientists, he caused the death of millions through famine. But from atomic physics to management theory, and from radiation biology to neuroscience and psychology, these Soviet experts also discovered breakthroughs that forever changed agriculture, education, and medicine.


Why Democracies Need Science. By Harry Collins, Robert Evans

We live in times of increasing public distrust of the main institutions of modern society. Experts, including scientists, are suspected of working to hidden agendas or serving vested interests. The solution is usually seen as more public scrutiny and more control by democratic institutions experts must be subservient to social and political life.

In this book, Harry Collins and Robert Evans take a radically different view. They argue that, rather than democracies needing to be protected from science, democratic societies need to learn how to value science in this new age of uncertainty. By emphasizing that science is a moral enterprise, guided by values that should matter to all, they show how science can support democracy without destroying it and propose a new institution The Owls that can mediate between science and society and improve technological decision-making for the benefit of all.


Gravity's Kiss: The Detection of Gravitational Waves. By Harry Collins

Scientists have been trying to confirm the existence of gravitational waves for fifty years. Then, in September 2015, came a “very interesting event” (as the cautious subject line in a physicist’s email read) that proved to be the first detection of gravitational waves. In Gravity’s Kiss, Harry Collins—who has been watching the science of gravitational wave detection for forty-three of those fifty years and has written three previous books about it—offers a final, fascinating account, written in real time, of the unfolding of one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries ever made.

Predicted by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves carry energy from the collision or explosion of stars. Dying binary stars, for example, rotate faster and faster around each other until they merge, emitting a burst of gravitational waves. It is only with the development of extraordinarily sensitive, highly sophisticated detectors that physicists can now confirm Einstein’s prediction. This is the story that Collins tells.


How about some books you think I should read? Suggestions always welcome!

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Books I'd like to read

May 30 2011 Published by under books i'd like to read

A very, very long time since I've done one of these...

For your reading and collection development pleasure:

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

In a sense, The Information is a book about everything, from words themselves to talking drums, writing and lexicography, early attempts at an analytical engine, the telegraph and telephone, ENIAC, and the ubiquitous computers that followed. But that's just the "History." The "Theory" focuses on such 20th-century notables as Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing, and others who worked on coding, decoding, and re-coding both the meaning and the myriad messages transmitted via the media of their times. In the "Flood," Gleick explains genetics as biology's mechanism for informational exchange--Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg?--and discusses self-replicating memes (ideas as different as earworms and racism) as information's own evolving meta-life forms. Along the way, readers learn about music and quantum mechanics, why forgetting takes work, the meaning of an "interesting number," and why "[t]he bit is the ultimate unsplittable particle." What results is a visceral sense of information's contemporary precedence as a way of understanding the world, a physical/symbolic palimpsest of self-propelled exchange, the universe itself as the ultimate analytical engine. If Borges's "Library of Babel" is literature's iconic cautionary tale about the extreme of informational overload, Gleick sees the opposite, the world as an endlessly unfolding opportunity in which "creatures of the information" may just recognize themselves. --Jason Kirk

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser

An eye-opening account of how the hidden rise of personalization on the Internet is controlling-and limiting-the information we consume.

In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for each user. Instead of giving you the most broadly popular result, Google now tries to predict what you are most likely to click on. According to board president Eli Pariser, Google's change in policy is symptomatic of the most significant shift to take place on the Web in recent years-the rise of personalization. In this groundbreaking investigation of the new hidden Web, Pariser uncovers how this growing trend threatens to control how we consume and share information as a society-and reveals what we can do about it.

Though the phenomenon has gone largely undetected until now, personalized filters are sweeping the Web, creating individual universes of information for each of us. Facebook-the primary news source for an increasing number of Americans-prioritizes the links it believes will appeal to you so that if you are a liberal, you can expect to see only progressive links. Even an old-media bastion like The Washington Post devotes the top of its home page to a news feed with the links your Facebook friends are sharing. Behind the scenes a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking your personal information to sell to advertisers, from your political leanings to the color you painted your living room to the hiking boots you just browsed on Zap

The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan

In the beginning, the World Wide Web was exciting and open to the point of anarchy, a vast and intimidating repository of unindexed confusion. Into this creative chaos came Google with its dazzling mission--"To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible"--and its much-quoted motto, "Don't be Evil." In this provocative book, Siva Vaidhyanathan examines the ways we have used and embraced Google--and the growing resistance to its expansion across the globe. He exposes the dark side of our Google fantasies, raising red flags about issues of intellectual property and the much-touted Google Book Search. He assesses Google's global impact, particularly in China, and explains the insidious effect of Googlization on the way we think. Finally, Vaidhyanathan proposes the construction of an Internet ecosystem designed to benefit the whole world and keep one brilliant and powerful company from falling into the "evil" it pledged to avoid.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Consider Facebook--it's human contact, only easier to engage with and easier to avoid. Developing technology promises closeness. Sometimes it delivers, but much of our modern life leaves us less connected with people and more connected to simulations of them.

In Alone Together, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle explores the power of our new tools and toys to dramatically alter our social lives. It's a nuanced exploration of what we are looking for--and sacrificing--in a world of electronic companions and social networking tools, and an argument that, despite the hand-waving of today's self-described prophets of the future, it will be the next generation who will chart the path between isolation and connectivity.

The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom by Evgeny Morozov

"The revolution will be Twittered!" declared journalist Andrew Sullivan after protests erupted in Iran in June 2009. Yet for all the talk about the democratizing power of the Internet, regimes in Iran and China are as stable and repressive as ever. In fact, authoritarian governments are effectively using the Internet to suppress free speech, hone their surveillance techniques, disseminate cutting-edge propaganda, and pacify their populations with digital entertainment. Could the recent Western obsession with promoting democracy by digital means backfire?

In this spirited book, journalist and social commentator Evgeny Morozov shows that by falling for the supposedly democratizing nature of the Internet, Western do-gooders may have missed how it also entrenches dictators, threatens dissidents, and makes it harder--not easier--to promote democracy. Buzzwords like "21st-century statecraft" sound good in PowerPoint presentations, but the reality is that "digital diplomacy" requires just as much oversight and consideration as any other kind of diplomacy.

Marshaling compelling evidence, Morozov shows why we must stop thinking of the Internet and social media as inherently liberating and why ambitious and seemingly noble initiatives like the promotion of "Internet freedom" might have disastrous implications for the future of democracy as a whole.

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

Visionary game designer Jane McGonigal reveals how we can harness the power of games to solve real-world problems and boost global happiness.

More than 174 million Americans are gamers, and the average young person in the United States will spend ten thousand hours gaming by the age of twenty-one. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveriesto astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.

In Reality Is Broken, she reveals how these new alternate reality games are already improving the quality of our daily lives, fighting social problems such as depression and obesity, and addressing vital twenty-first-century challenges-and she forecasts the thrilling possibilities that lie ahead. She introduces us to games like World Without Oil, a simulation designed to brainstorm-and therefore avert- the challenges of a worldwide oil shortage, and Evoke, a game commissioned by the World Bank Institute that sends players on missions to address issues from poverty to climate change.

McGonigal persuasively argues that those who continue to dismiss games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Gamers, on the other hand, will be able to leverage the collaborative and motivational power of games in their own lives, communities, and businesses. Written for gamers and nongamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows us that the future will belong to those who can understand, design, and play games.

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The Henrietta Lacks effect, or, The recipe for popular science success

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (TILoHL) by Rebecca Skloot was far and away the top science book of the year in my Best Science Books 2010: The top books of the year post from last month. In that post I took all the Best Science Books 2010 posts and tallied up the books with the most mentions. TILoHL was mentioned in 41 out of the 60 lists I found. The next highest was 17 mentions for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

So, a pretty decisive victory. TILoHL was by far the best reviewed science book of the year.

What was interesting to me was that it seemed to cross-over quite a bit into an audience that wouldn't normally find and read science-themed books. It was really a very unique case of a breakout book that was able to find a much larger potential audience than a science book would normally have access to.

Was that just a feeling I had or was it backed up in some way. As I was compiling and posting the Year's Best lists, I did take note of the number of times TILoHL was the only science book mentioned or perhaps with just one other.

So, this analysis. Using the "data" I collected in the form of all those year's best lists, I decided to extract all the lists where TILoHL was the only book mentioned or where there was just one other. I've got all those lists below. From them I extracted the descriptive text that accompanied the book's selection. I looked at some key passages in that text.

What are the lessons?

Well, there is no "one answer," no secret ingredient that makes a science book cross over into a mass audience. And I also can't emphasize enough that this isn't real evidence, that what I'm looking at here is a very selective reading of the reviews and mentions of Skloot's book. Even of all the singleton listings I found, there's really only a handful that really jump out. But jump out they did.

And this is what I see as significant to the success of the book. People that were predisposed to like science books loved it and that shows through. More tellingly, however, are the cases where the reviewer didn't seem predisposed towards science books at all but still loved the story of Henrietta Lacks. Those were the key to the crossover/breakout success, the word of mouth that pushed the book over the top and into the stratosphere.

And what was it that drew those normally non-science friendly reviewers -- and the readers that flocked in their wake?

If there's any common theme it's that these normally picky reviewers loved TILoHL because it's more than "just" a science book. They saw it as a book that's also about people and society and ethics. Of course, from the point of view of someone inside the science world, we tend to see most science books as also about those things as well -- we don't see the practice of science as separate from human society. But somehow Skloot's book performed that most rare crossover and convinced everyone else that a book about science could also be about people.

So, if you're writing a popular science book and hope to break out to a broader audience, heed the lessons of these reviews well.

  • A spoonful of sugar of sugar can make the medicine go down. It goes without saying that any book that hopes to reach a mass audience should be entertaining and engaging at the most basic level but it probably bears repeating.
  • A strong narrative really sucks people into a book and carries them to the end.
  • A lesson to be learned by all science writers -- you might have an interesting scientific story to tell, but why should "normal" people care? Your story has to connect with people's everyday lives and concerns. This can be a challenge for lots of areas of science, like theoretical physics, but it's key to be able to tell a story that ties directly to people's lives.
  • Related to the previous point, the book needs to be primarily about people, not machines or bacteria or whatever.
  • People also care about larger social issues, like medical ethics and the challenges of racism and poverty. Setting the scientific story against the background of these types of compelling social issues is a great way to cross over to the huge audience because it connects to what they see around them not some abstract theory or intimidating lab setting.

A caveat: I don't mean to imply by these points that there is only one way to write a science book. Every book, every author, every story will require different strategies. Similarly, success can be judged in different ways, not just by the degree of "crossover." But I do think these factors apply in this particular case and that there are some broader lessons that can be learned.

The analysis I've done here is somewhat superficial and hardly unique or original in the kinds of points I make. But at the same time, it's starkly apparent when you look at the reviews below what the key to Rebecca Skloot's success were: she had a great story, she told it exceptionally well and that story was one that held strong interest for people beyond the normal science audience. The reason for that strong interest was that the narrative of the book touched a lot of people on an intensely personal level as well as exploring important social issues.

Who wouldn't love a book like that.

Sounds easy.

And now for the admission of guilt. Yeah, I haven't read it myself. I don't even own a copy yet. And that's partially what got me writing this post because I'm certainly going to be among the first in line when the book comes out in paperback next week.


Here are the ones where TILoHL is the only science book mentioned. I've bolded some bits that seem particularly relevant. I think each review could be a lesson for a budding science writer on how to approach source material and turn it into stories people care about.

In 1951, a sample of cancer cells was taken from an African-American woman in Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital. Henrietta Lacks died not long afterward, but her cells live on, proving to be so exceptionally easy to culture that if you were to gather together all the tissue grown from them, the result would weigh 50 million metric tons. Lacks' famous cell line (christened HeLa) is now used in virtually every medical lab in the world, a remarkable scientific success story. Yet, as Skloot thoroughly and sensitively documents, Lacks' own descendants muddle through without health insurance or the education required to understand what their forebear contributed to the world. In fact, the Lackses have had a long, fraught and confused relationship with Johns Hopkins Hospital itself, characterized by mistrust on one side and condescending utilitarianism on the other. Skloot's skillful account of Henrietta's dual legacy is not, however, an indictment of particular researchers or labs. Instead, it masterfully reflects the tricky intersection of science and society and an American medical establishment responsible for both astonishing triumphs and lamentable failures.

New York Magazine

Skloot uncovered, then spent ten years researching, one of the world's great untold stories: the human origin of biology's most famous cells--an undying strain, used in labs to help solve problems from polio to AIDS to cloning, known only as "HeLa." Skloot returns these syllables to their owner: The cells were harvested from Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman dying of cancer in 1951 Baltimore.

Largehearted Boy

The "best of 2010" book lists are popping up everywhere, and Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks seems to be on them all (and deservedly so).

Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells live on long after her death. These HeLa cells have become key facets in modern health research, and Skloot's research uncovers not only Henrietta Lacks' life, but also that of her her family and the medical advances her cells have helped bring. The book doesn't shy away from questioning medical ethics, but Skloot doesn't preach, she clearly provides the facts and lets the reader make up his own mind.

Simply put, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the most arresting work of nonfiction I have read since Dave Cullen's Columbine, and is an always engaging and important book, an arresting combination of biography, science, and ethics.


Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a detective story about a poor black woman and her magical cells. Born on a Southern tobacco farm, Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 after being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins. Without her knowledge or consent, scientists cut cells from her cervix and cultured them. In the lab, they grew into a cell line, called HeLa, that proved more robust than any before it. Lacks' cells were the ingredients for research into everything from the polio vaccine to chemotherapy and gene mapping. Skloot follows the cells on their scientific journey, using them to teach us about major medical advances. Even better, she takes us deep into the Lacks family, which learns about HeLa almost by accident and then grapples with feeling excluded from its powers. "Them doctors say her cells is so important and did all this and that to help people," Lacks' daughter tells Skloot. "But it didn't do no good for her, and it don't do no good for us." This is a voice not often heard in discussions of science. Skloot gets credit for bringing it to the fore and carefully thinking through the hard questions surrounding informed consent. Best of all, her book sings. She spent 10 years reporting and writing, and the effort pays off--she has turned unlikely material into a pleasure read.

Wichita Eagle

Sixty years ago, a woman named Henrietta Lacks was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her cells were taken, without her knowledge or consent, for research and grew into a thriving cell line called HeLa, shipped all over the world for research. This book, a gripping combination of biography, science and history, tells the story of Henrietta's life and her family's realization of her contribution to science, plus the changes in medical ethics over the past few decades.

USA Today

Oprah Winfrey (who has bought the rights) is among the fans of this moving true story about a black woman whose cells were used extensively in research after her death -- without her family's knowledge.

Chicago Sun-Times

My choice this year was not the kind of book I typically read, but it was without question my favorite of 2010. Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is chock-full of science writing but don't let that scare you. Skloot weaves the tale of one of the most important developments in the history of science -- the reproduction of HeLa cells -- with the human story behind it. She breaks down the science so it's easy to understand, and the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells are still used 60 years after her death for scientific research, will break your heart.

Chamber Four

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the bizarre story of a tobacco farmer whose cancer cells have been used in scientific research for decades after her death. The book features a rare combination of great writing, fantastic storytelling, and deep social significance. Skloot admirably weaves several storylines--Lacks's life and death, the growth of HeLa cells, the many scientific advances those cells have made possible, the lives of Lacks's decedents--into a cohesive and gripping book. But Immortal Life sits on top of my list because of its social importance. The story of Henrietta Lacks was a generation or two from being completely forgotten. It would have been a shame to lose this piece of our history, not just because of the scientific significance of HeLa, but also because of the perspective Lacks's life and death adds to the Civil Rights struggle. Thankfully, with this book, Rebecca Skloot has made Henrietta Lacks truly immortal.

Here are a couple where only one other book is mentioned.

The Daily Beast

A surprisingly gripping account of the life of one Henrietta Lacks, unknown to most but touched by all because her line of cells were used in some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century. Skloot's biography finally and masterfully recognizes her unheralded contribution.

O Magazine

An uneducated black woman dies young and poor, but her cells live on, leading to countless medical breakthroughs--and to this multilayered narrative of race, class, and family.

Barnes & Noble (review here)

In contrast, science writer Rebecca Skloot also had a Helen Lane footnote moment in high school, but saw in that footnote the nucleus of a story about science and society. After ten years of HeLa sleuthing, Skloot's hunch has paid off handsomely: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a modern classic of science writing.

Let me qualify that. This isn't science writing in the sense of Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Dawkins: Skloot doesn't spend a lot of time describing or extolling scientific discoveries. For her, the science is a bit player -- though an important one -- in a complex and fascinating drama about how medical research intersected the lives of a poor black family in America. Her mixture of science and biography is sui generis, and its themes profound: racism, ethics, and scientific illiteracy. (excerpt of review)

US News & World Report

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. A true account of Henrietta Lacks, who died eight months after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. Lacks's tissue cells, taken without her permission, are alive today and have been a cornerstone of the multibillion-dollar biomedical research industry--used to develop the polio vaccine and in research for cancer, cloning, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, and Parkinson's. Skloot explores the human consequences of the intersection of science and business, rescuing one of modern medicine's inadvertent pioneers from an unmarked grave.

Seattle Times

In the 1950s, the doctors who took cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American farmer, never imagined creating HeLa -- the "immortal" cells grown in culture that live on and save lives around the world. Skloot's tireless reporting is sensitively done and written with unusual clarity; she erases the line between lab and humanity with inspiring deftness.

And a bonus review from Brian Switek because it's so telling.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a triumph of science writing (it is truly one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read), and I was deeply affected by it on a personal level. The story reaffirmed that small events can have major repercussions, and as sad and angry as the tale of the Lacks family made me by the end of the book, I was glad that [Rebecca] Skloot had worked so hard to reach them. Through something as simple as wanting to learn more about Henrietta's life, Skloot and the Lacks family were able to create a fitting tribute to Henrietta and her legacy. For the first time, the most important woman in modern medicine is having her story told, and I truly hope that it gets the attention it deserves.

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A Year of Books: 2010

Jan 03 2011 Published by under books i'd like to read, personal, reading diary

I've been doing this for a few years now, last year, 2008 and 2007 and it seems like an interesting and maybe even useful thing to continue this year. I really enjoy seeing other people's reading lists (like here, here and here) and enjoy adding my own to the mix.

So, below you'll find a list of all the books I started in 2010. In other words, it'll include a few books I'm still reading as well as a few that I've abandoned. I've been recording every book I've read since 1983 and on my other (mostly lapsed) blog I've been occasionally transcribing the list on a year by year basis. I've stalled a bit the last couple of years, but I'll try and do a few more over the next few months. This list will probably also be re-posted there eventually.

Trends in my reading this year?

  • I mentioned abandoned books. It was a bad year for those, for sure. I won't say how many, exactly, or which ones, but as I get older I'm not quite as willing to stick with a book until the bitter end. If I look back at some of the older lists I've done, in those days I would have finished 100% of the books I started.
  • My genre tastes are shifting a bit as I get older as well. I find I'm reading more mystery and crime fiction as the years go by and this year is no exception. As you might be able to tell from the list below, I tend towards the hardboiled & noir. It's not that I love SFFH any less, it's just that my horizons have expanded.
  • I'm also pleased by how many graphic novels I've read over the last year. I pretty consciously decided at the end of 2009 to make more of an effort that way in 2010 and I've really enjoyed getting into a few series.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer obsession continues apace. And it's been fun! I've read Buffy novels, graphic novels, nonfiction, Angel and Spike graphic novels, we even re-watched the whole series from November 2009 to June 2010. By the way, if you haven't rewatched Buffy recently, you really do owe it to yourself. And if you haven't encountered her yet at all, well you owe that to yourself even more. The graphic novel season eight is coming to a close this month and while it's been uneven, it's worth a look.
  • My media singularity/cyberculture/future of information/social media obsession also continues apace. Quite a bit of the non-fiction I read falls under that very broad banner and I continue to think it's important to read and think deeply about these issues. Of course, it would be nice if I could force myself to think and write a bit more deeply about those issues by actually finishing a few more book reviews...but that's another issue.
  • Quite by surprise and mostly as a result of my reading for the Sunburst Award Jury a while back, I find I'm reading quite a bit of YA fiction and really enjoying it. It's all been SFFH so far (and is likely to stay that way...) and I find I really appreciate the focus on solid characterization and a gripping narrative.
  • I've been listing and updating my reading on Good Reads, which has been very fun this year. If you're on the service yourself, add me as a friend!
  • Reading resolutions for the new year? Maybe to try and mix a few more SFFH novels into the rotation. And maybe also to read a bit more in the way of actual popular science rather than just the info/cyber/tech stuff.
  • And looking back at the year's list all I can think is, "Holy crap, did I ever read a lot of great books last year!"

I'll link to the reviews I've written below, what few there are that I've written. I'm even more behind than I was last year! I'll try and catch up with a bunch of capsule & group reviews but there are a few books, like Shirky's Cognitive Surplus or Jenkins' Convergence Culture, that really deserve a full treatment.

So, without further ado, here's a list of all the books I've read or started this year, more-or-less in order:

  1. Terra Insegura by Edward Willett
  2. Angel: After the Fall V2: First Night by Joss Whedon & Brian Lynch
  3. Rex Libris V1: I, Librarian by James Turner
  4. Trigger City by Sean Chercover
  5. Money Shot by Christa Faust
  6. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
  7. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins
  8. The Life of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin
  9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Omnibus 3 by Various
  10. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
  11. Creature From The Black Lagoon: Time's Black Lagoon by Paul Di Filippo
  12. The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain
  13. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight V6: Retreat by Jane Espenson, Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, et al.
  14. Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend by Mark Collins Jenkins (review)
  15. Spike: After The Fall by Brian Lynch and Franco Urru
  16. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
  17. Dead City by Shane Stevens
  18. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier
  19. Mind Set!: Eleven Ways to Change the Way You See--and Create--the Future by John Naisbitt
  20. Off Season by Jack Ketchum
  21. Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn by Larry D. Rosen
  22. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
  23. Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction
  24. Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Rhonda Wilcox
  25. Unwritten V1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
  26. The Max by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr
  27. Hunt at the Well of Eternity by Gabriel Hunt and James Reasoner
  28. Stoker's Dracula by Bram Stoker, adapted by Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano
  29. The Missing by Sarah Langan
  30. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, V1 by Hayao Miyazaki
  31. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz
  32. Angel: After the Fall, V3 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, Nick Runge, and David Messina
  33. Angel: After the Fall, V4 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, and Alex Garner
  34. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Blood and Fog by Nancy Holder
  35. The Other Side by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart
  36. Moyasimon 2: Tales of Agriculture by Ishikawa Masayuki
  37. Contagious by Scott Sigler
  38. Black Hole by Charles Burns (review)
  39. Makers by Cory Doctorow (review)
  40. White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages (review)
  41. The Man with the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove (review)
  42. The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry (review)
  43. Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (review)
  44. Locke & Key V1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  45. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (review)
  46. The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith
  47. The Fuzzy Papers by H. Beam Piper
  48. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky
  49. Contents Under Pressure: 30 Years of Rush at Home and Away by Martin Popoff (review)
  50. The Walking Dead, V1-12 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn, and Tony Moore (review)
  51. Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design by Henry Petroski
  52. Swastika by Michael Slade
  53. Universal Monsters: Cavalcade of Horror by Dan Jolley, Den Beauvais, Dan Vado, Steve Moncuse, et al.
  54. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, V1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
  55. Horns by Joe Hill
  56. Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web by David Weinberger
  57. Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik
  58. Soft Touch by John D. MacDonald
  59. The Unwritten V2: Inside Man by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
  60. Fantastic Four: To Free Atlantis by Nancy A. Collins
  61. Feed by MT Anderson
  62. Queenpin by Megan Abbott
  63. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight V7: Twilight by Brad Meltzer, Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, and Karl Moline
  64. The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer
  65. Two Generals by Scott Chantler
  66. Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability by David Owen
  67. Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science by Steve Paulson (review)
  68. Brew North: How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada by Ian Coutts
  69. Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear by Gabriel Hunt and Charles Ardai
  70. Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
  71. Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership by Lewis Hyde
  72. Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution by Ronin Ro
  73. Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer: Prisoner of the Horned Helmet by Frank Frazetta and James R. Silke
  74. The Walking Dead, V13 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn
  75. Life by Keith Richards

Notable non-fiction, in no particular order:

Notable fiction, in no particular order (It was a great year in fiction reading, so there are actually a bunch more that could have made this list if I'd made it on a different day in a different mood):

I hope this list provides a little inspiration to all my readers to compile their own reading list for the year. I look forward to seeing them -- feel free to drop a link in the comments.

2 responses so far

Books I'd Like to Read

Nov 04 2010 Published by under books i'd like to read, science books

More for your reading and collection development pleasure.

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu (ISBN-13: 978-0307269935)

As Wu's sweeping history shows, each of the new media of the twentieth century--radio, telephone, television, and film--was born free and open. Each invited unrestricted use and enterprising experiment until some would-be mogul battled his way to total domination. Here are stories of an uncommon will to power, the power over information: Adolph Zukor, who took a technology once used as commonly as YouTube is today and made it the exclusive prerogative of a kingdom called Hollywood . . . NBC's founder, David Sarnoff, who, to save his broadcast empire from disruptive visionaries, bullied one inventor (of electronic television) into alcoholic despair and another (this one of FM radio, and his boyhood friend) into suicide . . . And foremost, Theodore Vail, founder of the Bell System, the greatest information empire of all time, and a capitalist whose faith in Soviet-style central planning set the course of every information industry thereafter.

Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk by Massimo Pigliucci (ISBN-13: 978-0226667867)

Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and--borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham--the nonsense on stilts. Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a "taxonomy of bunk" that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation by Jono Bacon (ISBN-13: 978-0596156718)

Online communities offer a wide range of opportunities today, whether you're supporting a cause, marketing a product or service, or developing open source software. The Art of Community will help you develop the broad range of talents you need to recruit members to your community, motivate and manage them, and help them become active participants.

Author Jono Bacon offers a collection of experiences and observations from his decade-long involvement in building and managing communities, including his current position as manager for Ubuntu, arguably the largest community in open source software. You'll discover how a vibrant community can provide you with a reliable support network, a valuable source of new ideas, and a powerful marketing force.

Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Grow Your Business by Amber Mac (ISBN-13: 978-1591843283)

When it comes to social media-whether it's Facebook or Twitter or the latest video blog-the tools evolve quickly, the rules change rapidly, and the technology feels more and more complex. But making social media work for your company doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. In this compact yet thorough guide, Mac shows you how to effectively harness the online world to grow your business.

The secret: think of your audience as your friends and then treat them that way. The Power Friending approach is all about developing real relationships based on mutual respect and support. While you may never meet some of your online friends face-to-face, they still expect you to follow the established norms of friendship: be authentic, reach out, listen. And don't lie to your friends. These same rules apply when building a strong brand online.

Internet Architecture and Innovation by Barbara van Schewick (ISBN-13: 978-0262013970)

Van Schewick describes the design principles on which the Internet's original architecture was based--modularity, layering, and the end-to-end arguments--and shows how they shaped the original architecture. She analyzes in detail how the original architecture affected innovation--in particular, the development of new applications--and how changing the architecture would affect this kind of innovation.

Van Schewick concludes that the original architecture of the Internet fostered application innovation. Current changes that deviate from the Internet's original design principles reduce the amount and quality of application innovation, limit users' ability to use the Internet as they see fit, and threaten the Internet's ability to realize its economic, social, cultural, and political potential. If left to themselves, network providers will continue to change the internal structure of the Internet in ways that are good for them but not necessarily for the rest of us. Government intervention may be needed to save the social benefits associated with the Internet's original design principles.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell (ISBN-13: 978-0307378705)

Extra Lives is an impassioned defense of this assailed and misunderstood art form. Bissell argues that we are in a golden age of gaming--but he also believes games could be even better. He offers a fascinating and often hilarious critique of the ways video games dazzle and, just as often, frustrate. Along the way, we get firsthand portraits of some of the best minds (Jonathan Blow, Clint Hocking, Cliff Bleszinski, Peter Molyneux) at work in video game design today, as well as a shattering and deeply moving final chapter that describes, in searing detail, Bissell's descent into the world of Grand Theft Auto IV, a game whose themes mirror his own increasingly self-destructive compulsions.

Blending memoir, criticism, and first-rate reportage, Extra Lives is like no other book on the subject ever published. Whether you love video games, loathe video games, or are merely curious about why they are becoming the dominant popular art form of our time, Extra Lives is required reading.

Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership by Lewis Hyde (ISBN-13: 978-0374223137)

Common as Air offers a stirring defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past that continues to enrich our present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is "intellectual property," Lewis Hyde turns to America's founding fathers--men like John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson--in search of other ways to value the fruits of human wit and imagination. What he discovers is a rich tradition in which knowledge was assumed to be a commonwealth, not a private preserve.

The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse by Jennifer Ouellette (ISBN-13: 978-0143117377)

Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn't need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun and fascinating account of her year spent confronting her math phobia head on. With wit and verve, Ouellette shows how she learned to apply calculus to everything from gas mileage to dieting, from the rides at Disneyland to shooting craps in Vegas-proving that even the mathematically challenged can learn the fundamentals of the universal language.

The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control by Ted Striphas (ISBN-13: 978-0231148146)

Ted Striphas argues that, although the production and propagation of books have undoubtedly entered a new phase, printed works are still very much a part of our everyday lives. With examples from trade journals, news media, films, advertisements, and a host of other commercial and scholarly materials, Striphas tells a story of modern publishing that proves, even in a rapidly digitizing world, books are anything but dead.

From the rise of retail superstores to Oprah's phenomenal reach, Striphas tracks the methods through which the book industry has adapted (or has failed to adapt) to rapid changes in twentieth-century print culture. Barnes & Noble, Borders, and have established new routes of traffic in and around books, and pop sensations like Harry Potter and the Oprah Book Club have inspired the kind of brand loyalty that could only make advertisers swoon. At the same time, advances in digital technology have presented the book industry with extraordinary threats and unique opportunities.

Striphas's provocative analysis offers a counternarrative to those who either triumphantly declare the end of printed books or deeply mourn their passing. With wit and brilliant insight, he isolates the invisible processes through which books have come to mediate our social interactions and influence our habits of consumption, integrating themselves into our routines and intellects like never before.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (ISBN-13: 978-1594487712)

With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly (ISBN-13: 978-0670022151)

This provocative book introduces a brand-new view of technology. It suggests that technology as a whole is not a jumble of wires and metal but a living, evolving organism that has its own unconscious needs and tendencies. Kevin Kelly looks out through the eyes of this global technological system to discover "what it wants." He uses vivid examples from the past to trace technology's long course and then follows a dozen trajectories of technology into the near future to project where technology is headed. This new theory of technology offers three practical lessons: By listening to what technology wants we can better prepare ourselves and our children for the inevitable technologies to come. By adopting the principles of pro-action and engagement, we can steer technologies into their best roles. And by aligning ourselves with the long-term imperatives of this near-living system, we can capture its full gifts. Written in intelligent and accessible language, this is a fascinating, innovative, and optimistic look at how humanity and technology join to produce increasing opportunities in the world and how technology can give our lives greater meaning.

Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology by Jonathon Keats (ISBN-13: 978-0195398540)

In Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology, Jonathon Keats, author of Wired Magazine's monthly Jargon Watch column, investigates the interplay between words and ideas in our fast-paced tech-driven use-it-or-lose-it society. In 28 illuminating short essays, Keats examines how such words get coined, what relationship they have to their subject matter, and why some, like blog, succeed while others, like flog, fail. Divided into broad categories--such as commentary, promotion, and slang, in addition to scientific and technological neologisms--chapters each consider one exemplary word, its definition, origin, context, and significance. Examples range from microbiome (the collective genome of all microbes hosted by the human body) and unparticle (a form of matter lacking definite mass) to gene foundry (a laboratory where artificial life forms are assembled) and singularity (a hypothetical future moment when technology transforms the whole universe into a sentient supercomputer). Together these words provide not only a survey of technological invention and its consequences, but also a fascinating glimpse of novel language as it comes into being.

What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman amd Roo Rogers (ISBN-13: 978-0061963544)

The book addresses three growing models of Collaborative Consumption: Product Service Systems, Communal Economies, and Redistribution Markets. The first, Product Service Systems, reflects the increasing number of people from all different backgrounds and across ages who are buying into the idea of using the service of the product-what it does for them-without owning it. Examples include Zipcar and Ziploc, and these companies are disrupting traditional industries based on models of individual ownership. Second, in what the authors define as Communal Economies, there is a growing realization that as individual consumers, we have relatively little in the way of bargaining power with corporations. A crowd of consumers, however, introduces a different, empowering dynamic. Online networks are bringing people together again and making them more willing to leverage the proverbial power of numbers. Examples of this second category include Etsy, an online market for handcrafts, or the social lending marketplace Zopa. The third model is Redistribution Markets, exemplified by worldwide networks such as Freecycle and Ebay as well as emerging forms of modern day bartering and "swap trading" such as Zwaggle, Swaptree, and Zunafish. Social networks facilitate consumer-to-consumer marketplaces that redistribute goods from where they are not needed to somewhere or someone where they are. This business model encourages reusing/reselling of old items rather them throwing them out, thereby reducing the waste and carbon emissions that go along with new production.

No responses yet

Books I'd Like to Read

For your reading and collection development pleasure. It's been so long since I last did one of these listings, I actually have another one coming up in a day or so.

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia by Joseph Michael Reagle Jr. (ISBN-13: 978-0262014472)

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is built by a community--a community of Wikipedians who are expected to "assume good faith" when interacting with one another. In Good Faith Collaboration, Joseph Reagle examines this unique collaborative culture.

Wikipedia, says Reagle, is not the first effort to create a freely shared, universal encyclopedia; its early twentieth-century ancestors include Paul Otlet's Universal Repository and H. G. Wells's proposal for a World Brain. Both these projects, like Wikipedia, were fuelled by new technology--which at the time included index cards and microfilm. What distinguishes Wikipedia from these and other more recent ventures is Wikipedia's good-faith collaborative culture, as seen not only in the writing and editing of articles but also in their discussion pages and edit histories. Keeping an open perspective on both knowledge claims and other contributors, Reagle argues, creates an extraordinary collaborative potential.

Wikipedia Revolution, The: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia by Andrew Lih (ISBN-10: 1401303714)

With more than 2,000,000 individual articles on everything from Aa! (a Japanese pop group) to Zzyzx, California, written by an army of volunteer contributors, Wikipedia is the #8 site on the World Wide Web. Created (and corrected) by anyone with access to a computer, this impressive assemblage of knowledge is growing at an astonishing rate of more than 30,000,000 words a month. Now for the first time, a Wikipedia insider tells the story of how it all happened--from the first glimmer of an idea to the global phenomenon it's become.

Andrew Lih has been an administrator (a trusted user who is granted access to technical features) at Wikipedia for more than four years, as well as a regular host of the weekly Wikipedia podcast. In The Wikipedia Revolution, he details the site's inception in 2001, its evolution, and its remarkable growth, while also explaining its larger cultural repercussions. Wikipedia is not just a website; it's a global community of contributors who have banded together out of a shared passion for making knowledge free.

I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton (ISBN-13: 978-0307591111)

Are we driving off a digital cliff and heading for disaster, unable to focus, maintain concentration, or form the human bonds that make life worth living? Are media and business doomed and about to be replaced by amateur hour?

The world, as Nick Bilton--with tongue-in-cheek--shows, has been going to hell for a long, long time, and what we are experiencing is the twenty-first-century version of the fear that always takes hold as new technology replaces the old. In fact, as Bilton shows, the digital era we are part of is, in all its creative and disruptive forms, the foundation for exciting and engaging experiences not only for business but society as well.

Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider by Amir D. Aczel. ISBN-13: 978-0307591678

The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest, and by far the most powerful, machine ever built. A project of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, its audacious purpose is to re-create, in a 16.5-mile-long circular tunnel under the French-Swiss countryside, the immensely hot and dense conditions that existed some 13.7 billion years ago within the first trillionth of a second after the fiery birth of our universe. The collider is now crashing protons at record energy levels never created by scientists before, and it will reach even higher levels by 2013. Its superconducting magnets guide two beams of protons in opposite directions around the track. After accelerating the beams to 99.9999991 percent of the speed of light, it collides the protons head-on, annihilating them in a flash of energy sufficient--in accordance with Einstein's elegant statement of mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2--to coalesce into a shower of particles and phenomena that have not existed since the first moments of creation. Within the LHC's detectors, scientists hope to see empirical confirmation of key theories in physics and cosmology.

In telling the story of what is perhaps the most anticipated experiment in the history of science, Amir D. Aczel takes us inside the control rooms at CERN at key moments when an international team of top researchers begins to discover whether this multibillion-euro investment will fulfill its spectacular promise. Through the eyes and words of the men and women who conceived and built CERN and the LHC--and with the same clarity and depth of knowledge he demonstrated in the bestselling Fermat's Last Theorem--Aczel enriches all of us with a firm grounding in the scientific concepts we will need to appreciate the discoveries that will almost certainly spring forth when the full power of this great machine is finally unleashed.

Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel (ISBN-13: 978-1596915657)

Veteran journalists Kovach and Rosenstiel (The Elements of Journalism) begin their intelligent and well-written guidebook by assuring readers this is not unfamiliar territory. The printing press, the telegraph, radio, and television were once just as unsettling and disruptive as today's Internet, blogs, and Twitter posts. But the rules have changed. The gatekeepers of information are disappearing. Everyone must become editors assuming the responsibility for testing evidence and checking sources presented in news stories, deciding what's important to know, and whether the material is reliable and complete. Utilizing a set of systemic questions that the authors label "the way of skeptical knowing," Kovach and Rosenstiel provide a roadmap for maintaining a steady course through our messy media landscape. As the authors entertainingly define and deconstruct the journalism of verification, assertion, affirmation, and interest group news, readers gain the analytical skills necessary for understanding this new terrain. "The real information gap in the 21st century is not who has access to the Internet and who does not. It is the gap between people who have the skills to create knowledge and those who are simply in a process of affirming preconceptions without growing and learning."

A History of the Internet and the Digital Future by Johnny Ryan (ISBN-13: 978-1861897770)

A great adjustment in human affairs is underway. Political, commercial and cultural life is changing from the centralized, hierarchical and standardized structures of the industrial age to something radically different: the economy of the emerging digital era.

A History of the Internet and the Digital Future tells the story of the development of the Internet from the 1950s to the present, and examines how the balance of power has shifted between the individual and the state in the areas of censorship, copyright infringement, intellectual freedom and terrorism and warfare. Johnny Ryan explains how the Internet has revolutionized political campaigns; how the development of the World Wide Web enfranchised a new online population of assertive, niche consumers; and how the dot-com bust taught smarter firms to capitalize on the power of digital artisans.

Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
by William Powers (ISBN-13: 978-0061687167)

A crisp, passionately argued answer to the question that everyone who's grown dependent on digital devices is asking: "Where's the rest of my life?"

At a time when we're all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this revelatory book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Part intellectual journey, part memoir, Hamlet's BlackBerry sets out to solve what William Powers calls the conundrum of connectedness. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.

No responses yet

Monday Bookish Fun: Give someone you love a scary book!

Oct 25 2010 Published by under books i'd like to read, friday fun

You know, there just aren't enough useless holiday excuses to give books to people.

Giving books as presents has to be one of my all-time favourite things to do in life -- especially the opportunity to give books to my family!

So, it seems that Neil Gaiman has a really, really good idea.

I propose that, on Hallowe'en or during the week of Hallowe'en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they'll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they'll enjoy.

I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands -- new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe'en. Make their flesh creep...

Give a scary book.

If you don't know what kinds of books there are, or what would be appropriate for the person you're giving a book to, talk to a bookseller. They love to help, most of them. (The ones that don't tend not to be booksellers for long.) Talk to librarians. (Do not plan to give away their books though, unless they are having a library sale.)

That's it. That's my idea.

Scary book. Hallowe'en.

Who's with me?

Neil, I'm with you.

Any suggestions on good scary books to give? I recommended The Walking Dead series a while back and that's a great place to start. Those that are interested can see what I'm currently reading here on Goodreads, including some of the scary stuff from the last little while.

And no matter what you think of the idea, go on over and vote in Chad's poll on Gaiman's idea.

3 responses so far

Suppose you had a digital simulation of Paris Hilton's brain...

Now that's an attention-getter!

It comes from Ted Chiang's Big Idea post on John Scalzi's blog Whatever. It's a promotional piece for Chiang's latest book, The Lifecycle of Software Objects, which is about artificial intelligence.

For those of you that haven't heard of him, Chiang is one of the real breakout science fiction writers of the last two decades or so; his stories have consistently won both awards and the highest praise from reviewers and critics. This is his longest work to date. (His first collection is Stories of Your Life and Others, which has many of his most famous stories.)

A couple of choice quotes from the Big Idea!

It's been over a decade since we built a computer that could defeat the best human chess players, yet we're nowhere near building a robot that can walk into your kitchen and cook you some scrambled eggs. It turns out that, unlike chess, navigating the real world is not a problem that can be solved by simply using faster processors and more memory. There's more and more evidence that if we want an AI to have common sense, it will have to develop it in the same ways that children do: by imitating others, by trying different things and seeing what works, and most of all by accruing experience. This means that creating a useful AI won't just be a matter of programming, although some amazing advances in software will definitely be required; it will also involve many years of training. And the more useful you want it to be, the longer the training will take.


And that's what I was really interested in writing about: the kind of emotional relationship might develop between humans and AIs. I don't mean the affection that people feel for their iPhones or their scrupulously maintained classic cars, because those machines have no desires of their own. It's only when the other party in the relationship has independent desires that you can really gauge how deep a relationship is. Some pet owners ignore their pets whenever they become inconvenient; some parents do as little for their children as they can get away with; some lovers break up with each other the first time they have a big argument. In all of those cases, the people are unwilling to put effort into the relationship. Having a real relationship, whether with a pet or a child or a lover, requires that you be willing to balance someone else's wants and needs with your own.

I really need to get myself a copy of that book!

(And yes, you'll have to head over to Scalzi's blog to see the context of the title quote!)

5 responses so far

Books I'd Like to Read

It's been quite a long while since I've done one of these. Here are some recently noticed books that look interesting from either a collection development or a professional development point of view.

Fans, Friends And Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career In The Digital Age by Scott Kirsner

An essential guide for filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, and other creative types. "Fans, Friends & Followers" explores the strategies for cultivating an online fan base that can support your creative career, enabling you to do the work you want to do and make a living at it. Based on dozens of interviews with the artists pioneering new approaches to production, marketing, promotion, collaboration, and distribution, it presents strategies that work - in a straightforward, jargon-free way. Featured artists include YouTube star Michael Buckley; the animators behind JibJab, Homestar Runner, and Red vs. Blue; video artist Ze Frank ("theshow"); comedian Eugene Mirman; singer-songwriters Jill Sobule and Jonathan Coulton; OK Go frontman Damian Kulash; filmmakers M dot Strange ("We Are the Strange") and Curt Ellis ("King Corn"); writers Brunonia Barry ("The Lace Reader") and Lisa Genova ("Still Alice"); and artists Tracy White, Natasha Wescoat, and Dave Kellett.

Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back by Douglas Rushkoff.

Since the Renaissance, the corporation--the operating system of the market--has formed and controlled people, and Rushkoff describes how it has infiltrated all aspects of American life. In the twenty-first century, we continue to consider corporations as role models and saviors but engage other people as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited. The author bemoans extreme networking (called buzz marketing), which makes our personal, social interactions become promotional opportunities and the lines between fiction and reality and friends and market become blurred. Our lives are overextended, and there is no time, energy, or commitment to do anything but work and perhaps consider family. Rushkoff recommends that we fight back by "de-corporatizing" ourselves. His suggestions include thinking locally by participating directly with our neighbors in community activities and using various Internet sites that provide opportunities to contribute directly to a particular school or to extend a "micro loan" to a specific entrepreneur in the Third World. This is an excellent, thought-provoking book.

Fun Inc.: Why Play is the 21st Century's Most Serious Business by Tom Chatfield

Fun Inc. is a guide book to the gaming industry, written by one of the industry's leading analysts.

In the United States in 2007, the gaming industry was worth over $18 billion, while the second-biggest consumer of computer games -- Japan -- added $7 billion to a global total of almost $50 billion. It's the fastest growing media business in the world, and one of the very few industries that seem destined to resist the credit crunch. It's a powerful and dynamic industry and, in commercial terms, one worth understanding given that the gaming industry's innovations present a great opportunity for businesses to better understand both their workers and their clients.

A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution by Dennis Baron

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies--not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements--and even writing itself--were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the "almost spiritual connection" between the writer and the page; the typewriter was "impersonal and noisy" and would "destroy the art of handwriting." Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.

The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949 by Jim Baggott

Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI 6's FarmHall transcripts, coded Soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the Soviet archives. Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of 'Joe-1,' August 1949's first Soviet atomic bomb test. Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring? Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler's physicists fail? Could the Soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the Allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.

Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology by Tom Green

Everything has a beginning. None was more profound and quite unexpected than Information Technology. Here for the first time is the untold story of how our new age came to be and the bright boys who made it happen. What began on the bare floor of an old laundry building eventually grew to rival the Manhattan Project in size. The unexpected consequence of that journey was huge what we now know as Information Technology. And even more unexpected: trying to convince someone, anyone, that information was the key to most everything else. For sixty years the bright boys have been virtually anonymous while their achievements have become a way of life for all of us. Bright Boys brings them home. By 1950 they'd built the world's first real-time computer. Three years later they one-upped themselves when they switched on the world s first digital network. In 1953 their work was met with incredulity and completely overlooked. By 1968 their work was gospel. Today, it's the way of the world.

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