Tag Archives: science

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

Title: Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story
Author: Angela Saini
Publisher: FourthEstate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008172022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The title of this book tells you exactly what the book is about and I urge you to read the book if you are a sexist or not. You must. Everyone must. I am recommending it of course because I loved reading this book, but more so because of the times we live in, such books and more of this nature will sadly continue to be relevant till a change is seen on the horizon. Until then, the least we can do is keep ourselves adequately informed about women who make a difference in every sphere of life and are not given credit, in this case, science.

“Inferior” is one of those books that defies all that you might have known about science and women (which is very few and far in between) and rightly so. I don’t think defying would be the right term, but more so challenges premises and with accurate data, research and insight. You think there is equality of sexes but you don’t know zilch about it till you live it – either through experiencing it yourself or reading about other people’s experiences.

“Inferior” by Angela Saini is about science and women. It seems so simple when I put it this way, but it isn’t. Saini sheds light on gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology and how women and their role to science in these streams need to be rediscovered. The book is about all the experiments and research covered by Saini to prove one simple fact: Women’s research and discoveries were completely either ignored and that’s when she shows us how white men feel that the old science is still what holds true and the new science is rubbish.

Might I also add here that just because this book is about science doesn’t make it a tough read. It is a very easy read with terms that easy to comprehend and at no point did I get lost and I am one of those people who cannot read books on science. Angela adopts a conversational tone to the book which does wonders – every story, anecdote and bits of research lend in seamlessly to the book. There is intelligence and a whole lot of emotion – not the kind that gets you a lump in the throat but the kind that can make you empathetic and that is what is needed the most, in my opinion.

“Inferior” rediscovers women and makes them look as individuals contributing to society than just being sidetracked with no mind of their own. There is a lot of history and politics as well which again ties up very well with what the author wants to objectively put forth. This book will debunk so many myths surrounding men and how they stereotype women’s brains and bodies and do not give them a chance to show their true mettle. All said and done, “Inferior” is one of the most important books of our times and like I said before, every single person must read this.

What If? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

What If by Randall Munroe Title: What If? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 9781848549586
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science, Humour
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If you’ve heard of “XKCD” and if you also know of their “What If” section, then you do not need an introduction to this book. You know that it will be funny, sometimes hilarious as well, and at the same time informative (that sounded a little preachy, but what the heck!). The book is not your usual comic fare and it is not even meant to be that. If you have gone through the “What If” section of the site, then you know what is in store for you, if not, then please allow me to tell you.

“What If” takes on absurd questions and provides answers to them in the most rational manner, and in the bargain ends up being funny. And then scientific explanations in the book are not difficult to grasp. They are simple and end up providing some good perspective.

The book may interest science freaks and at the same it might also interest people like me who know nothing about science and still aspire to. “What If” attempts to make science fun and it does succeed to a very large extent. There are some fascinating questions like: “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?” and “Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee?”

Most questions were also asked by a lot of readers and the book is a fantastic compilation of what is available on their site. “What if” is the kind of book that can be read from any page and you will definitely break into a guffaw or two.

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Book Review: The Devil’s Garden by Edward Docx

Title: The Devil’s Garden
Author: Edward Docx
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330463508
PP: 240 pages
Genre: Science, Fantasy, Literary Fiction
Price: £12.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

Set a book in the Amazonian jungle and the nature of the place can’t help but seep into the characterisation. It’s evidently used intentionally to this effect in The Devil’s Garden, which, as the title suggests (opposing the more conventional Garden of Eden imagery), is the location where fundamental questions about human nature are going to be examined and played out.

The novel’s deeper questions about how humans behave in a natural environment, without the trappings of civilisation, cutting even beneath layers of religion and superstition that get in the way, is borne out further in the etymological studies of Dr Forle, a scientist who is working there with his team, examining the behaviour and the influence of ants on their environment and the ecosystem. His research however is upset by the arrival of government and army officials who are attempting to register the native population (some of them undiscovered tribes) for initially unknown purposes, but undoubtedly for their own personal interests.

Underlying the book then, the ants and their colony is a fine metaphor for the examination of group actions and individual behaviour in a social context, for comparing and contrasting questions of purpose – whether for commercial, social, religious purposes or just self-interest – and whether those aims are progressive towards a higher, more altruistic purpose or whether they just reflect life as constant change.

That much is made clear early on through some scientific journal entries and in how it applies the struggle that develops between the Amazonian natives and the officials, the events watched with mounting horror by the research team, but Edward Docx doesn’t really manage to do full justice to this idea. As a social experiment, the conclusions are, well, inconclusive. As you might expect, self-preservation becomes paramount as events reach critical proportions at an improbable pace, and as such it becomes hard to sympathise with any of the characters. The ideas and the writing are what keep the reader going and wanting to read and know more, but that is also because Edward Docx is a powerful writer. Docx’s writing is certainly evocative and I had exceptional vivid scenes of the settings in my head, but the story failed to grab me, as it probably should. I desperately wanted to know more about the behaviour of the ants they were studying and less about the frankly odious government officials. Good, but not great.

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

I absolutely adored this book it gets a terrific 5 out of 5 gnomes for having a sincere engaging main character and a story that really keeps you thinking. This is one of the most well written and lyrical stories that I’ve read in a long time. It is so full of great quotes and lines, I have over thirty pages bookmarked where I wanted to go back and note what was said.

The overall story is intriguing in both structure and theme. Throughout there are excerpts from How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe so it’s like a book inside a book. The plot is explained like a story. Charles, the main character, lives in Minor Universe 31 where, “physics was only 93 percent installed,…” Some universes have more heroes and better protagonists then others. Minor Universe 31 though is very small.

Charles is a time travel technician, he repairs or helps people when they or the machine go wrong. He can open windows to other universes and see what he’s like there. Just thinking about that would be enough to paralyze me and most people because what if you find out that you’re the worst off out of all the possible yous? Charles doesn’t really live in the present, he uses his time machine and stays in between certain minutes so when he has to go in for repairs it turns out that from the present he’s been gone for ten years.

The secondary characters in this book are full of quirks but also very fun to read about. There’s Ed, TAMMY, Phil and Charles’s Mom. Ed, Charles’s dog he found was retconned out of a western show. TAMMY is the operating system of the time machine who has low self esteem and is extremely funny in her interactions with Charles. Phil, his manager doesn’t know he’s a computer program. His Mom lives in one hour of time because that’s all he could afford for her retirement. (This buying of a certain hour or time limit to live over and over is another interesting concept that is introduced which makes you contemplate what you would choose.

An incident occurs that leads to a time loop (because as any watcher of Star Trek can attest to, meeting yourself in the past or future is not the best idea). He has to figure out how to get out of the loop and why the book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a book seemingly written by him that he hasn’t written yet, is important. Because of the loop he gets to look back at important events in his life between him and his father. What follows is an epic journey to find his father that he lost long ago. The father and son relationship is vividly explored and it’s shown how he and his father came to build a time machine and the ramifications it had between them. It’s shown how the past impacts him and what happens to people that tend to live in the past. There is plenty of adventure along the way and a plethora of surprises as Charles goes through the time loop trying to figure everything out before it starts all over again.

Overall this book has quite the story to tell and will leave you thinking about it for a long time past the last page. Last but certainly not least is the major plus that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe ends happily.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; Yu, Charles; Pantheon; $24.00

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

The late medical student-turned-author Michael Crichton captured the attention of millions with blockbuster novels and movie adaptations that fused science and science fiction to raise some jarring, yet thought provoking issues. Now comes David Eagleman, a young neuroscientist, to do the same, but in a more spiritually lofty and truly innovative way.

It would be easy to describe “Sum” as a breezy work, as it is comprised of 40 two-to-three page flights of fancy on what we might expect in the Afterlife. This slim volume can be read hurriedly, with a minimum of effort and several chuckles or knowing smiles, then placed on the bookshelf. To do so would be an injustice to Eagleman’s superior imagination and to the underlying questions that he poses for us.

By examining what a Higher Power may have waiting for us, “Sum” does much more than amuse and entertain. By having us ponder the fate that may await us, we are given the opportunity to take just a moment or two to consider what we have done with our lives and what we can yet do with them. That point is immediately driven home in the first of Eagleman’s 40 tales, in which the Afterlife consists of 18 days staring into the refrigerator, 51 days deciding what to wear, three months doing laundry – and 14 minutes experiencing pure joy.

If God is within us physically, the author asks, is he also in us spiritually? If we evolve and mature in our lives, what is the progression? Would we really, truly like to understand our stages of growth, or would we be repelled? Would we genuinely want to know what others thought of us on earth, or would we be content with the surface flattery and half-truths that pass so many times for constructive criticism or helpful friendship? If we want to leave a positive legacy on earth after we pass, does it matter what form that might take? Would we be happy struggling and growing as we did in human form, but doing so by literally becoming part of the earth? Would our threshold for boredom be pushed to the limit if we had the opportunity to be surrounded by a tried-and-true circle of friends and loved ones? Or might we find that confining, longing for the additional relationships that we never took the time to cultivate in our waking lives, terra firma?

“Sum” asks these and many other questions in sublime fashion, offering spiritual warmth, humor and an enveloping sense of Possibility to those willing to be just a little less doctrinaire and a bit more curious. Ending with a Benjamin Button-like moment, it challenges us to awaken from whatever inertia, ennui or pettiness we may fall prey to and embrace new ways of living. There must be at least 40 of them. If we are open to the possibilities of the Afterlife, can we not also be open to the possibilities of living?

Personal favorites include the clever, witty “Narcissus,” the surreal “The Cast,” the ultimate careful-what-you-wish-for “Descent of Species,” the entirely delicious “Graveyard of the Gods” and the take-a-good-look-at-yourselves “Absence,” the warm and wry “Seed,” and the ethereal, poetic “Search” (so beautiful it was almost enough to make me actually long for the immortality he describes). Some of the stories are dark, some hilarious, and a number of them have ironic twists, but they all share a common thread: all are brilliantly written and challenge you not only to think outside the box, but to kick the box aside entirely and go leaping joyously into the pleasures of exploring the unknown.

The fact that the stories address the afterlife is incidental; what each story really does is hold up a mirror for humanity to peer into, allowing us to consider ourselves, and the many-faceted aspects of human nature, from funny, new, often startling and always insightful angles. Chances are you’ve never read anything like this book, as there’s simply nothing out there like it, at least nothing I’ve ever stumbled across. And I agree with the sentiments of the other reviewers–once you’ve read it, you’ll want to share it with as many people as possible and read it over again yourself.

It’s enough of a struggle to come up with an idea that pushes the boundaries of the expected, something that is challenging, entertaining and remarkable. Even more difficult, though, is to then execute that idea with the brilliance it demands. David Eagleman has done exactly that, though: dreamed up the astonishing, then demonstrated the depth of talent needed to make it come alive on the page. He has said that writing this book was simply his way of shining a flashlight around the possibility space; here’s hoping that he goes on wielding that flashlight for many years to come so that we can continue to take a look along with him. SUM is a truly stellar effort from a very remarkable writer.

“Sum” just may go down as the 21st Century’s answer to Dante’s centuries-old imaginings. I’m guessing David Eagleman’s got a lot more locked inside him, just waiting to burst forth.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives; Eagleman, David; Vintage; $13.00