Posts Tagged ‘books’

Bad Science

I read this back in March, and should have written my thoughts at the time as a lot has faded now! Still, I wanted to make the point that this book was a really excellent read — Ben Goldacre is talented at conveying his message in a clear and engaging way. As a scientist, I found it a really empowering read in terms of its messages about the importance of engaging with the media, not just switching off or giving up.

One of the impacts of the web on society is that information is much, much cheaper than it used to be: things that previously required a trip to the library, access to an encyclopedia or some other physical activity are now a quick Google search away. I feel this has yet to be reflected in the way we educate our children (at least in the UK): it’s essential that people are able to critically evaluate sources and say “What’s the background to this? Is it accurate? Why is it presented in this particular way?”

This book is one very nice way to engage in a bit of self-education on the topic. I think it’s an especially valuable read if you work in research, but frankly it’s useful to all of us as we encounter information, especially when figuring out how to deal with fact, opinion and advertising.

(Available on Amazon)

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Why secondhand books rule

I’m currently reading Negroponte’s Being Digital. It was in my haul from the Mysterious Benefactor.

One of the joys of reading a book after someone else is seeing annotations. The past reader of this particular book marked the odd paragraph, placed neat ticks besides some sections. Delightfully, neat print proclaims “Not true” besides a claim that digital books are ever-present and will never go out of print.

I took great pleasure in a physical discovery, a bookmark in the second half of the volume. It’s from the Shaman Drum bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a part of the world I have never visited. Apparently, they specialise in academic, scholarly and literary titles. This leaves me with a lovely (and probably wildly inaccurate!) mental image of the bookstore, plus a wondering about what other books this bookmark has seen.

These little things — annotations, scuff marks, tatty forgotten bookmarks — all serve as reminders that we are not solitary readers, lonely as we approach this text, but travellers upon a shared path.

Tuesdays with Morrie

I befriended a woman in a youth hostel during a visit to Portugal, and she recommended this book: of course, it’s really well-known, but it was new to me. (So, this short review is just one more on top of what must be hundreds of others!)

The book tells the tale of the author meeting up with his old mentor, Morrie, as the latter comes towards the end of his life. They talk about all sorts of things: emotions and family, life and death, ageing and society. In parallel with relating this final stretch of time together, the author includes snippets of his life as a student, when he first met Morrie. We also see his current, breakneck pace of life begin to slow as he starts to reflect on what is important to him.

This book ran a pretty high risk of being schmalzy, and I’m sure some readers feel it over-did things. I found it a pleasant holiday read: it didn’t open my eyes to previously unseen secrets of life, but it was most certainly a good prompt for reflecting on what is valuable to me, and whether that is reflected in the choices I make about how I spend my time. I think there was some thoroughly sensible stuff in there, such as discussions about contributing to communities and the description about drawing on Buddhist approaches towards feeling emotions yet being able to detach from them.

In summary,  I didn’t find it life-changing, but it was a very readable book which reiterates some pretty sound life lessons.

(Available on Amazon.)

Of This and Other Worlds

Amazon linkI came across this collection of Lewis’ essays and decided to give it a go for curiosity’s sake — mostly because it’s outside my usual area of reading. Some parts were more engaging than others: for example, the first essay, On Stories, spent an awfully long time making the (perfectly valid) point that some stories focus very much on stirring up the feeling of excitement, at times to the detriment of plot and character development. As a reader, it felt that the essay was almost finished before he began to make other substantial points.

Although it was engaging in places — for example, a lovely discussion of how we read, and how our reading changes with time — my main impression by the end was that he seemed rather over-enamoured with Literature with a capital L (perhaps even coming over as a little pompous): he seemed to be saying that pleasures which require education must be better than simple, more ‘base’ pleasures (for example, Bach must automatically be better than pop music). Now I for one enjoy a good bit of Bach, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically better than all pop music, or that I am in some way morally superior to people who prefer to listen to cheese (which sometimes, I will prefer!).

To be fair to Lewis, these things have to be taken in their own context: much (all?) of the material in question was written in the first half of the 20th century, and of course, the past is a different country.

In summary, the downside of this book was that I found parts of it slow and, at times, disagreeable. On the plus side, there are some interesting pieces in there, and it certainly prompted thought!

(Available on Amazon.)