Cover of Noise by Kahneman

Kahneman has done some great research, and it is a tragedy that such useful research is represented by such poor writing. This book is a slog. The authors are still defining the titular “noise” come page 72. I do not know which of the three is to blame for this travesty (I’m generally inclined to point a finger in the direction of the editor), but this book is inexcusably long and laborious. I do not recall having such a hard time with “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, but as I am in no position to hold anyone directly accountable, I will not belabor blame. I will belabor the tragedy of bad writing.

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Cover of Exercised by Daniel Lieberman

Exercise in the modern world has been commodified. The people talking about it the most are some of the least trustworthy. Daniel Lieberman has taken a step back from the fitness-industrial complex and asked the elephantine question: Are homo sapiens even supposed to exercise? Through the lenses of anthropology and evolution, he has untangled exercise from modern culture. The result is an enlightening journey through history, civilization, and biology.

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Cover of Breath by James Nestor

History is a funny thing. We like to think that civilization advances, that progress only goes in one direction, but reality is more complex than that. New things are learned, discoveries are made, truths uncovered, but just because someone somewhere learns something doesn’t mean everyone everywhere hears about it or remembers it. In Breath, Nestor has done some invaluable detective work; looking closely at something we all do every minute of our lives but that few of us have thought much about. He has done some hard journalism in a world of mysticism. The result is some fascinating history, a few great anecdotes, a generous helping of compelling evidence, and new questions to go with every answer.

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How to Raise an Adult by Julia Lythcott-Haims

It is hard to see yourself. More specifically, it is hard to see your biases in the context of the great sweep of history. It takes a concerted effort to realize your faults and failings when they are part of your identity. Books on raising children have been around a very long time and this is another one. Everyone has an opinion on what is best for a child, what they need. Lythcott-Haims has somewhat inverted this by writing about what kind of adults we are producing and working backwards to identify what we are doing wrong. This is very satisfying both logically and practically.

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Nose Dive by Harold McGee

This is a book about chemistry. Actually, one could say that it’s about chemicals and only one specific group of chemicals at that. It is essentially a catalog of chemicals that you can smell. This is exactly as exciting as it sounds. The book is, on the whole, dry and repetitive, like a reference book. And yet, between the surprisingly comprehensive and thorough lists and tables, there is a wealth of fascinating information from chemistry to biology to botany to geology to history and anthropology. By looking at the world through its smells, it is necessary to take a broad view. McGee has undertaken a monumental task with patience and thoroughness and the result is a curious but unmistakably valuable book. Where else can you find answers to all those questions you never knew you had?

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This book may not be what you expect. Odell challenges fundamental aspects of our society, and she deliberately does not use the patterns she seeks to disrupt. This book is not a tight, efficient proof of thesis. It is a meandering conversation, almost a stream of consciousness. Odell does not force her ideas upon the reader. She thinks out loud; following where history and experience lead.

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Sasha Sagan lives in that uncomfortable place occupied by the families of the famous. She is icon-adjacent. This gives her unusual access and opportunities, but it also means that the public can reliably be expected to have unreasonable expectations of her. Fame is a funny thing, but I think it is important to remember why Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan became famous. In that context, a book written by their daughter about her upbringing and world view is irresistible.

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