Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

Seven Brief Lessons on PhysicsSeven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, it's really short, so it has that going for it: 96 pages or just over 2 hours for the audiobook. But don't bother with the audiobook- the author's accent makes otherwise challenging ideas more challenging than they need to be. (Those people they hire to read audiobooks are actually very talented.) As to the substance, it's neither the best summary nor a good further in-depth look at the new questions and theories of physics.

View all my reviews

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to Be a WomanHow to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so great and so funny. Then it took kind of a dark turn and told the story of her abortion. I agree with her that these stories need to be told but I think they'd be more enlightening in the plural where different reasons, procedures, and reactions are explored. Obviously abortion is an important issue of feminism- of human rights really. However, in this book which is mostly a light-hearted introduction to feminism, this story might push away the very people she's speaking to, those that need to be reminded that feminism is a vital movement.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard

The Universe in Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and BeyondThe Universe in Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond by Christophe Galfard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very nice background on the current state of physics for people with no background in it. As of right now this is probably the one I'd recommend to people who want to learn about how insane reality is.

For those of you who have a pre-existing interest in physics and have done a little reading on it, this is a nice slow review but it only gets to string theory at the very end of the book. Most of the book is spent providing a solid background for the understanding of string theory.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Magician's Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia, #6)The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember this being my favorite one when I was young and it was still very strong. Except for the discussion of healing the sick which seems pretty offensive now. (If you're a fan of Lev Grossman's Magicians which bases Fillory on Narnia, this might be the most fun book to read or reread.)

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield ParkMansfield Park by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the best explorations of principals and the basis of love by Jane Austen but -- first the entire love story between cousins is difficult to enjoy in this day and age. (With all due respect to One Hundred Years of Solitude which is on a different level.) The entire novel should have been edited down quite a bit and the ended expanded a lot. She left out the best part of the story where love is declared and won. Mixed feelings about this one.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the saddest most touching story. The magic is in how Kafka takes the most unbelievable circumstance and make it completely real and revealing of how humans behave and feel.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Mermaid Girl by Erika Swyler

The Mermaid GirlThe Mermaid Girl by Erika Swyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a lovely short story that's also the prequel to The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. So you should read that first. You should read that anyway because it's good.

Here's one of my (many) favorite lines because it's real and common, and no less terrible because it's common:
He'd seen it in his friends. Frank and Leah were comfortable. They'd settled into lifelong friendship; like a limb you'd not known you were missing until it appeared. Reliable, essential, but not something you burned for. No one ached; he told himself it was good to ache.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate TheoryThe Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a disappointment. I've heard Brian Greene talk about physics on podcasts and seen little clips of him in documentaries. I thought this book would reflect the unique way he explains physics to make it widely accessible. This was mostly true at the very beginning of the book, but as soon as he got into quantum physics things got very dull. And really, quantum physics isn't dull. It's the opposite of dull. It's the craziest, wildest, most full of possibility stuff of nonfiction you could possibly hope for-- crazier even then fiction -- there are multiple universes!  So it's disappointing that this book was dull.

That said, this clarified the rubber band (donut?) shape of strings to me as the smallest unit. And duality as applied to multiple string theories, to the extent that I understood it, was really interesting. We're on the precipice of of an incredible understanding of the universe.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 20, 2016

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible CitiesInvisible Cities by Italo Calvino


This very short novel is completely unique in that it is collection of stories about cities that are really ideas and feelings. The stories are tied together by an imagined conversation between Marco Polo, who is reporting on the cities, and Kublai Khan who is unable to venture out and explore himself.

It's about memory, so it's interesting to reread it and see what I do and don't remember about the cities. The first time I read it was in 2010 while my dad was dying, and the city that stuck out was the one where ships sailed out and none returned. But in my reread I discovered this wasn't one of Marco Polo's cities but the Kublai Khan's dream, to which Marco Polo replies, "Forgive me, my lord, there is no doubt that sooner or later I shall set sail from that dock... but I shall not come back to tell you about it. The city exists and it has a simple secret: it knows only departures, not returns."

P.S. Holy cow the Mongol Empire was huge! I never realized it was that big!

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

The ArgonautsThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Woah. This is a lot. I wouldn't know where to start reviewing it. Probably you should read it, but if you do please don't blame me for telling you to read it.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy (The Chronicles of Narnia, #5)The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new favorite Narnia book! I don't think I ever read this one as a child actually. I might have skipped it? Or maybe I had just completely forgotten it because I know I read the next one in the series. I tried to read this one with James but I think it was a little above his head. Might keep trying, but I was sufficiently into it that I wanted to finish it myself.

This one isn't a bunch of random adventures, but one straightforward story with developed characters and explorations of bravery, social class, and politics. The religious aspect of the book is not cumbersome in this one either and actually help to unite the story. Lewis has created a world with no coincidences, but coincidences in novels often seem contrived and lazy anyway so I can't fault this aspect of the religious storyline.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sort of pointlessly violent. The plot felt very random too. The second book had none of the charm of the first book where we got to know particular characters and understand their relationships with other characters. Meh. I'm still probably going to read the third one because of my FOMO.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of CancerThe Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is amazing. It's informative: even with all I know about cancer (unfortunately) I still learned so much. It's interesting: I was eager to go back to this long book and learn more about the disease and the people who changed the landscape of the battle against cancer. I was afraid to read it because I thought I would find it horribly depressing (especially after reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande) but it wasn't. It was hopeful in a practical realistic way, explaining what is being done currently all that remains to be done.

My only critique is that the book rambled on at the end quite a bit. It should have had a shorter tighter ending. The ending seems to have dragged on from Chapters 46-49, and an epilogue.

View all my reviews

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun read until the end when oh my ... bad stuff. Bad stuff everywhere. Hunger Games is a bit better but I'm still going to read the next book in the series.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Universe edited by John Brockman

The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the CosmosThe Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos by John Brockman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a crazy mess because the Edge Organization threw together these essays by these brilliant physicists that were written for a particular audience with some background understanding of physics and maybe even some interest in the personal biographies of these scientists. Reading this book is like having alphabet soup spilled onto the table and trying to spell out the alphabet using only your nose.

That said, I learned how scientists are on different sides of numerous debates about what the universe is doing, how - or even if- it began, as well as having numerous side arguments on the differences between science, math, and philosophy. I learned about how a bunch of people came to be interested in becoming physicists and some of their happiest and saddest career moments.

I learned about the inflationary theory of the universe to explain why the universe slowed down expansion and then relatively recently started accelerating. First of all, holy cow. Location-wise, we're not anywhere special in the universe, but we are in a particular place in time where the expansion of the universe has changed from decelerating to accelerating.

The theory is basically that there's a black energy patch and at very high energies it has a repulsionary force. It's own repulsion causes it and the universe to expand quickly. Dark energy is 60 % of the total mass energy of the universe. Whereas the parts we understand, molecules, atoms, neutrons, and protons, are only 5% of the universe. The dark energy is causing the acceleration and making the universe more homogeneous and isotropic driving it into a vacuum state.

I learned about the theory of a Cyclic Universe. The conventional model of Big Bang Theory is not the theory of the bang itself but only what happened after. The consensus model = Big Bang Model (1920-40s) + Alan Guth's inflationary model (1980s) + recent amendment of dark energy. Consensus model says there was a beginning to time.

The cyclical universe is an alternative theory that says that time is endless and space is endless, evolution of the universe is cyclical. The biggest problem with this model is that every expansion and contraction would cause more energy and entropy. Extrapolating back in time they would shrink to nothing- and there would still be a beginning. The new cyclic model seeks to overcome this problem.

Also, quantum physics, yo. Classical physics describes the universe deterministic equations. The real world is described with quantum mechanics, in terms of probabilities. The uniform theory is just the average of the probabilities, but the reality is that there would be ripples, more mass here and there. Today we can see the ripples in the background radiation that were predicted many years ago.

So that leads us to String Theory! But wait, that's boring. Stings are 1-dimensional. There are extra dimensions. (This I'd heard about before.) In one version- The universe has a total of 11 dimensions: 6 of them are curled into a tiny ball. (3 spatial dimensions, 1 time dimensions, and one additional dimension.) The multi-dimensional version of this "String" are called a "branes" (as in membranes)?

So in String Theory theres 4 dimensions + the time dimensions (called the "bulk") that is sandwiched between two membranes. We can only move along the three dimensions of our brane and can't see the other brane. But our brane has collided with the other brane governed by a force that acts like a spring. In the first period the branes remain a fixed distance apart while our three dimensions stretch over trillions of years. As the membranes pull towards each other it creates ripples in the membranes. Then the branes come closer, accelerating as they get closer, collide and bounce back, the stretching begins again.

Additionally, there's some discussion of the possibility that we're just a simulation by super intelligent super computer (Chapter 8). This essay I pretty much just disregarded because it doesn't feel true. Haha. But then in a later essay (Chapter 17) about how the universe functions like a big super computer, I had to reconsider the previous argument. The universe functioning like a huge computer is really one of the most profound and confusing ideas I've come across in a while.

Actually I have no idea if any of that is right because physics, and this book, are both really confusing. So basically, would I recommend this book? No, it's a mess. Did I love it? A little bit yes.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of SpeculationDept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very quick read. I enjoyed the style of the book and it's that factor more than anything else that would lead me to recommend it. There isn't much plot, and where there is- it took a dark turn. I wasn't prepared for the dark turn from the beginning of the book but that's pretty accurate to real life. There was a lot that was left off the page in a way I didn't think was ideal.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 3, 2016

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I couldn't decide between 3 or 4 stars. This is what happened. I hated the book for the entire first half. I grumbled. I chucked my copy around. I contemplated quitting it. I was so bored. The story was very boring. Bored bored bored.

I have a very serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) so I kept reading anyway. That's the problem with FOMO, sometimes, randomly it's rewarded. There's actually been a scientific study about random unpredictable rewards being addictive so it's no surprise that FOMO is self-reinforcing. Economic science agrees -- sunk costs after all. If I could just give up I'd never know about the occasional reward, and I would, on average, be better off. I understand that intellectually. But I can't quit. The unread book taunted me from the shelf until bit by bit- even after my daughter cruelly tore my bookmark out- which was really my dad's bookmark where he had given up who knows how many years ago. Maybe he didn't have FOMO.

Anyway, the ending was better. I ended up liking the story. I ended up liking the hero. I ended up liking even some of the supporting characters. I don't know though. I believe Gaiman has addressed this elsewhere, but it's really strange and incomplete to leave Jesus or Yahweh out of a story about American Gods- though of course that would be a mess. He could have let the other Gods talk about it though.

PS. There are two different versions of this book now- an author's version with more material... so we may not all be reading the same book exactly.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal ChangeThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like that this book focuses on character and ethics. It also focuses on both business and family life- it's probably even better for it's family life information. But there's not a lot of enlightening material here. I think it probably was when it was first written, but since then particular aspects of this book have been studied further, expanded upon, and written about.

I do like the focus on your own death in the second habit- twisted but true. I tend to think in these terms a lot already though I'm not sure I have any better answers for thinking this way.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase (The Rat, #3)A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess I liked this okay though I'm not crazy about it. The other two books with these characters were not fantasy like this one was so the switch was strange. Though actually the ending of the book were the fantasy suddenly started was my favorite part of the three books for its discussion of human nature and weakness. Though I'm not certain if the decisions was that our weaknesses are actually good. Anyway, maybe I was missing something, but it didn't move me much.

View all my reviews
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...