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review 2018-03-18 05:12
The Uncommon Reader
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

A short novella on the joys, growth and enlightenment reading can bring, even to the most enlightened, at any time in life.  It's also an accurate portrayal of the consuming obsession reading can become (truth, as we all well know).  


Layered atop this testimony of the power of the word is another accurate portrayal of the divide that exists between those who read and those that don't.  Those who don't read should be forced to read this book, so that they know just how stupid they are relative to those that do.  When empathy for others and a focus on inner reflection over sartorial splendour are confused with senility and deterioration ... well at least senility is honourable; nothing honourable about ignorance.  But boy, do the readers get their revenge at the end - few books I've read ended with a better closing line.


My only complaint about this wonderful, brilliant little book is the author's conclusion that the natural outgrowth of reading must be to write.  This conceit leaves a rather large ding in my enjoyment of the book.  So is his assertion that to merely read is to be merely a spectator.  Both are flagrantly wrong, although how an author could naturally fall into such a self-supporting perspective is obvious.  Most readers will read their entire lives without every having a moment's urge to write, and I'd bet quite a few, like myself, often read and then go out and do.  I mean, I can't be the only person who's propped a book about knot tying in the crook of a tree, simultaneously reading about how to tie a knot, while actually trying to tie said knot, am I?


If you share either of my complaints, don't let it stop you from reading this book given the opportunity.  It's worth the small aggravations and disagreements to experience this charming, thoughtful and beautifully written novella.  


One final note:  Being Queen would suck.  There are not enough books and private libraries in all the holdings of the British monarchy that would make referring always to oneself in the neutral third person worth it.  If one had to constantly refer to oneself as one, one would send oneself's own head to the chopping block.  Ho-ly hell.

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review 2018-03-14 06:41
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness - Peter Godfrey-Smith
Other Minds - Peter Godfrey-Smith

I don't know quite how to rate this one, so I went for 4 stars.  This is likely to be more a collection of disparate thoughts rather than a cohesive review of any kind.


Most people are not going to find Other Minds a 'popular' science book.  It's not dry, but it is dense.  The author merges what is currently known in evolutionary science with philosophy, and has written what is largely a thought experiment on the concept of consciousness and it's origins, and not just for the octopus; this covers all life.  Octopuses get more page time than other creatures, but still only make up about ... 40%, maybe 50%?  Not quite what I was expecting, but I was willing to go with it.


I listened to the audiobook, although I have the hardcover as well.  The narrator, Peter Noble, does an excellent job with the narration; his voice is crisp and clear and he reads it as though he has a thorough grasp of the material. 


But ... I don't know if it was me or if the title of the book was too open to interpretation, but I did not realise how deeply philosophical the material was - this made the audiobook very challenging for me; I'm not a fan of other people's thought experiments in general, so I really struggled with a wandering mind as I listened to this book.  I understood the general concepts he covered, but whole sections of the narration would just wash right over me before I'd realise my consciousness checked out.  


Conclusion: I'd have been better off reading the physical edition, I think.  It's a very well written book, but it's heavy material for someone like me, for whom listening requires a conscience effort.  I'll likely re-read my hardcover sometime soon, so I can determine how much I missed, and give my mind a chance to reinforce some of the points I found most interesting.

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review 2018-03-13 00:41
I Contain Multitudes
I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I started this book; obviously microbes, but was it going to be dry and academic, or worse, evangelical 'omg-microbes-are-the-answer-to-everything!'?


Luckily I got neither.  Instead Yong's book was, from start to finish, utterly fascinating; never too arcane and never to simplistic, he found the sweet spot of science writing, creating an engaging narrative that never talks down to the reader.  Anyone with an average vocabulary and an interest in the symbiotic world can pick up this book without feeling intimidated.  


Microbes (bacteria, viruses, etc.) are everywhere.  Everywhere.  And bad news for the germaphobes:  this is a good and necessary thing.  Life on Earth simply could not exist without these microscopic machines.  Plants and animals depend on bacteria for nutrients they can't get from food on their own, for turning on specific and necessary genes in the DNA, even for protecting them from other bacteria gone rogue.  


Yong starts at the beginning of humans' awareness that there is life we cannot see.  Typically these beginning chapters are the deadliest for me, as I get bored with the 'background' and impatient to get to the 'good stuff', but Yong made sure even the boring background was the 'good stuff'.  I was never bored reading this book.


Left to my own devices, this review would go on forever, because there's just so much worth discussing, so I'm going to short-circuit myself and say this:  I Contain Multitudes is a great book for learning how microbes help make all life possible; it's a 50/50 split, more or less, of information on microbe/human and microbes/other flora and fauna symbioses.  It's easy to read, it's entertaining, and for at least myself, it was laugh out loud funny in one part.  I finished with a much better understanding of the microbial world and my own digestive system (for now, I'm going to resist the temptation of probiotic supplements).


A very worth-while read and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone with an interest.



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text 2018-03-12 09:38
Reading progress update: I've read 235 out of 354 pages.
I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

I'm almost done, but I started laughing so hard on page 234, I had to take a break.


I'm never going to look at shampoo the same way again.

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text 2018-03-05 08:27
Reading progress update: I've read 102 out of 354 pages.
I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

Talk about packing it in - the last 50 pages have been dense with fascinating information.  I loved reading about the squid, the hyenas sort of squicked me out a bit (beware strange pastes on savannah grass), and Wolbachia... what can be said about Wolbachia other than they are the feminists of the bacterial world.  


I've known for some time about the duality of bacteria, the thin line between beneficial and lethal, but I was pretty surprised to read that viruses offer humans (and other animals) that same dual nature.  I knew scientists were using modified viruses as delivery mechanisms, but the idea that they naturally exist within our physiology and that we're reliant on them to control rogue bacteria was new to me.  It really does seem that the more I learn, the harder it becomes to categorise anything in the world as purely good or purely evil.


Except cockroaches.  Nobody will ever convince me they're anything other than satan's little minions.

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