Labatut's genre is entirely his own, his philosophy both rigid and curious. With The MANIAC, we're given the lives of Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenreich; the Hungarian-American mathematician Johnny von Neumann, often cited as the grandfather of artificial life, a foundational figure in computational mathematics, a key figure in the development of the hydrogen bomb and a half dozen other surreal acts of destruction, a man endowed with abominable and limitless intelligence, like 'fog on a fog,' and yet unable to tie his own shoes; and finally, a chilling play-by-play of global Go champion Lee Sodel's historic 2016 match against Google's AlphaGo AI in South Korea—often cited as the first moment in history in which artificial intelligence expresses 'creativity.' How does this triptych form, in my opinion, one of the greatest novels of this year, a stunning, hair-raising literary achievement? It is difficult not to let Labatut's obsessions become your own. To see clearly what we will soon lose to our own intelligence. Benjamin Labatut dwells in the foggy, cosmic, uncanny valley amidst math, science, history, and literature.
Perhaps the greatest environmental catastrophe you've never heard of, Dan Egan details our tumultuous relationship with phosphorus over the years.
From its discovery through human waste in labs, to its destruction of our waterways during the 50's and 60's due to our need to be sudsy clean, up to our current crisis with agriculture's obsession with it.
The Devil's Element is concise, easily readable, and compelling. A lovely delight!
Bryson brings his signature wit and charm to his latest book: a look at the human body. Comprehensive yet very accessible, The Body is a truly fascinating read. I was blown away by the many incredible feats our bodies are capable of, and perhaps even more amazed by how much we still don’t understand about the vessels we occupy.
Much has been written about the destruction of Pompeii, the “discovery” of Angkor; but what of those cities in their prime? What about the people who lived there? Newitz spent years traveling the world, researching, excavating, and speaking with experts in order to glean a deeper understanding of ancient cities and the lives of their citizens. Educational and engaging, Four Lost Cities is both an enjoyable history lesson and a call to take care of the cities of today, before they too fall into ruin.
Like many 90’s kids, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I loved The Land Before Time and took pride in my many accumulated dino-facts. While my passion for prehistoric animals is mostly a thing of the past, I was drawn to this book after reading and enjoying the author’s previous work, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. I learned so much from this book and kept pestering my boyfriend with mammal facts (did you know bats are the only flying mammals, ever??!!). Brusatte’s writing is intelligent and unpretentious and imbues a freshness into a field that often comes across as stuffy and archaic. I think it's fair to compare this The Dawn of Everything but instead of focusing only on humans, it’s about all of Mammal-kind.
Part memoir of a passionate scientist, part "Who knew" fascinating factoids about plant life, this book generated one of the best discussions my book club has had in years. Ambition, friendship, mental illness, science research funding, TSA rules, sexism, this book has so many facets to discuss and it's a great read.
I was (and still am) The Dinosaur Kid, shaking with excitement at watching Jurassic Park at 5 years old, vowing to become a Paleontologist one day in the distant future -- while I'm considering going back to school for a masters in something paleontological, I read this book out of the pure delight and interest in these fascinating creatures, and Brusatte delivers. It's accessible and riveting, and at times personal, while also still being engaging for someone who may be trained in a related science field. Give it a shot, it's like having your most charming, passionate, and smart friend tell you at length about their favorite special interest.
This deceptive, beautiful tome is a captivating Geology 101 course disguised as a coffee table decoration. Stalwart PNW highlights include: the Olympic Peninsula, the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Saint Helens, Crater Lake, and Hells Canyon (where my grandmother famously developed pancreatitis in the middle of a rafting trip).
When I was 13 a cool older girl at school gave me a silk screened patch that said "RIOT NOT DIET". I promptly sewed it onto my backpack and never looked back. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of a cool older girl giving you that patch.
Everyone needs to read this, particularly all the people who believe they don't need to. Trust me, you do.