Books Read > 2010
  1. The Means of Reproduction (Michelle Goldberg)
  2. The Greatest Show on Earth (Richard Dawkins) — Richard Dawkins doing what he does best: an eloquent and articulate tour of the evidence for evolution, written by a scientist whose love for his work is clear on every page. Less like a few sledgehammer blows and more like a patient series of taps with a tack hammer, it patiently builds up a comprehensive picture of the many interlocking lines of evidence underlying one of modern science's greatest triumphs. Dawkins surprisingly, but persuasively argues that the strongest evidence for evolution is not even in the fossils, but in the distribution and genes of living species.
  3. Bright-Sided (Barbara Ehrenreich) — How the fashionable nonsense of positive thinking has ruined our economy and infected our society. In my opinion, the earlier chapters were weak - especially those dealing with the Secret, which didn't draw nearly as much blood as they could have - but the later ones are better. Ehrenreich's best point is her argument that the hear-no-evil blind optimism of the corporate world combined with the God-will-provide delusions of the prosperity gospel in a fatal synergy that enabled the subprime mortgage collapse. A wonderfully grumpy and refreshingly cynical tonic.
  4. The Happiness Hypothesis (Jonathan Haidt) — See The Dimension of Divinity.
  5. Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn)
  6. What We Could Have Done with the Money (Rob Simpson) — Alternative ways the U.S. could have spent the nearly one trillion dollars we've squandered on the Iraq war. The author's light-hearted tone only detracts a little from the gloomy yet inarguable message that our society is willing to waste its prosperity on endless war, but unwilling to spend the same amount on projects that would make a tangible, enormous improvement in the lives of our people.
  7. Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke) — (Novel) An incredibly advanced, seemingly benevolent race of enigmatic aliens called the Overlords peacefully conquer Earth, promising to put an end to war and want. But they have a hidden aim which they haven't communicated to their human subjects, and their true purpose is deeply tied in with the unimaginable final stage of humanity's evolution.
  8. The American Way of Death Revisited (Jessica Mitford) — A scathing, muckraking polemic about the way the American funeral industry preys on mourning people by selling expensive, unnecessary tombs and embalming services which they implausibly claim will soothe the survivors' grief. Of note is the way the industry shamelessly exploits people's religious sentiments in order to get them to let their guard down (and the clergymen whom they've bribed and co-opted into their scheme).
  9. Beyond the Body Farm (Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson) — This book was obviously written to cash in on the CSI craze. One of its coauthors is a legitimate forensic scientist and well-known in his field, but while the cases he writes about are suitably gruesome as to incite rubbernecking and morbid curiosity, few of them have any particularly interesting scientific elements.
  10. The Dispossessed (Ursula K. LeGuin) — (Novel) A brilliant physicist travels from his homeworld, a barren but peaceful anarchist utopia, to its sister planet, a wealthy capitalist society riven by poverty and class distinction, hoping his life's work will bring about technology that will unite the two. LeGuin paints the most realistic and plausibly imagined portrait of a functional anarchy I've ever seen, though I still have my doubts whether it would work in reality. I enjoyed this book tremendously and consider it possibly the best of her works.
  11. Bonk (Mary Roach) — I'm in agreement with Greta Christina - this book had a lot of interesting details about the scientific study of sex (and the personal trials and tribulations of the researchers who dared to make it their chosen field), but the author's giggly, adolescent tone was an annoying interruption to a topic that would benefit from a more mature treatment.
  12. Anathem (Neil Stephenson) — (Novel) Stephenson spins a tale of an Earthlike parallel world where math and science fill the role that religion does in ours, where society's most brilliant minds cluster in elaborate monasteries to theorize in peace while "secular" society races by outside the walls. But when something unimaginable appears in the sky, the secular and the avout are called together to confront a challenge that could topple the very foundations of their world. Like most of Stephenson's books, this one is of epic scope - nearly 900 pages in my copy - and the first 100 or so are a slog, especially since the author doesn't hesitate to drop mathematical proofs into the text or invent his own words where necessary. But if you can get past that, I thought the story was a fantastic ride, and more than repaid the time I invested in it.
  13. Lucifer's Hammer (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) — (Novel) After a massive comet impact, the remnants of human civilization struggle to survive and rebuild. An after-the-apocalypse novel of broad scope and chilling plausibility (I found myself wanting to stockpile tools and canned goods after reading it). However, the story ends abruptly, and I was irked that a final confrontation which it seems the whole plot was building towards is merely summarized. Aside from that flaw, I still recommend it for anyone who (like me) has a morbid fascination with the ways our society might come crashing down.
  14. The Atheist's Creed (Michael Palmer)
  15. Nothing to Envy (Barbara Demick)
  16. Nomad (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) — See Strategically Supporting Religious Charities and How to Eradicate Militant Islam.
  17. The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood) — (Novel) Another post-apocalyptic dystopia, this one set in a corporate-owned state destroyed by a terrible plague. Atwood has a much lighter touch than books like Lucifer's Hammer - the civilization-ending disaster happens offscreen, so to speak, and the story is driven more by character than on the mechanics of survival. A thoroughly enjoyable story, with just the right blend of light-heartedness and darkness, although the somewhat abrupt ending left me wanting to hear more.
  18. The Naked Bible (Andrew Bernardin)
  19. The Heathen's Guide to World Religions (William Hopper)
  20. Our Inner Ape (Frans de Waal) — Aside from a painful misunderstanding of Richard Dawkins early on - the "selfish gene" is not a theory of morality! - this is a lively book that surveys the amazingly humanlike range of behavior in our ape relatives, chimps and bonobos, and sounds some much-appreciated notes of caution about drawing premature conclusions from their behavior on how we're "meant" to act towards each other.
  21. Delusions of Gender (Cordelia Fine) — A witty refutation of "neurosexism" - the popular modern idea that men and women are biologically destined to play the roles our particular society has assigned them - which, as the author shows, is little more than the sexist prejudices of the past dressed up in scientific jargon. In its place, she offers a compelling account of how many gender differences can be more adequately explained by prejudiced assumptions still latent in our culture.
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January 18, 2010, 7:22 pm • Permalink

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