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Readings

This page is of the most important readings of non-fiction

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The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life

by Richard Dawkins

 

The Ancestor's Tale is a pilgrimage back through time; a journey on which we meet up with fellow pilgrims along the route as we and they converge on our common ancestors. Chimpanzees join us at about 6 million years in the past, gorillas at 7 million years, orangutans at 14 million years, as we stride on together, a growing band. The journey provides the setting for a collection of some 40 tales. Each explores an aspect of evolutionary biology through the stories of characters met along the way or glimpsed from afar - the Elephant Bird's Tale, the Marsupial Mole's Tale, the Coelacanth's Tale. Together they give a deep understanding of the processes that have shaped life on Earth: convergent evolution, the isolation of populations, continental drift, the great extinctions. The tales are interspersed with prologues detailing the journey, route maps showing joining lineages, and life-like reconstructions of our common ancestors. The Ancestor's Tale represents a pilgrimage on an unimaginable scale: our goal is four billion years away, and the number of pilgrims joining us grows vast - ultimately encompassing all living creatures.

  • “In The Ancestor’s Tale Dawkins traces back human ancestry 4bn years to the dawn of life on Earth. The result is one of the richest accounts of evolution ever written... Dawkins can still weave a Darwinian spell as powerful as the one that bewitched specialists and non-specialists alike when his first book, The Selfish Gene, appeared in 1976.”
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  •   Clive Cookson, The Financial Times
 

 

A top explanation of evolution and how it affects the world around us.  This is top reading for anyone interested in our lives.

Best book I have read this year.

 

The Ancestor's Tale: One of the most brilliant scientists of our age gives us his definitive work: a synthesis of his comprehensive vision of life.

  • “Dawkins's new book, which is fabulous in many more ways than one, is a picaresque account of evolution running in reverse as a series of wondrous tales of explanation.” 
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  • John Cornwell, The Sunday Times
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theoretical physics is explaining the universe in a way that sheds light on our creation and evolution.  Stephen Hawkings explores the advances of physics in understandable terms that are thought provoking.  

Anyone interested in the creation of the universe, and the beings in it, should make this a must read.

 

 

 The Theory of Everything  

Stephen Hawking

Transcribed from Stephen Hawking's Cambridge Lectures, the slim volume may not present a single theory unifying gravity with the other fundamental forces, but it does carefully explain the state of late 20th-century physics with the great scientist's characteristic humility and charm. 

Explicitly shunning math, Hawking explains the fruits of 100 years of heavy thinking with metaphors that are simple but never condescending--he compares the settling of the newborn universe into symmetry to the formation of ice crystals in a glass of water, for example. 

While he explores his own work (especially when speaking about black holes), he also discusses the important milestones achieved by others like Richard Feynman.

 --Rob Lightner

 

 

 

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time


Jeffrey D. Sachs 

A realistic blueprint for worldwide economic success

Deemed "the most important economist in the world" by The New York Times Magazine and "the world's best-known economist" by Time magazine, Sachs brings his considerable expertise to bear in the landmark The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, his highly anticipated blueprint for world-wide economic success — a goal, he argues, we can reach in a mere twenty years. 

Marrying vivid eyewitness storytelling with concrete analysis, Sachs provides a conceptual map of the world economy and the different categories into which countries fall, explaining why wealth and poverty have diverged and evolved as they have and why the poorest nations have been so markedly unable to escape the cruel vortex of poverty. 

The End of Poverty does not deliver its worldviews from on high: Sachs plunges into the messy realities of economies, leading his readers through his work in Bolivia, Poland, Russia, India, China, and Africa, and concludes with an integrated set of solutions to the tangled economic, political, environmental, and social issues that most frequently hold societies back.

UN Millennium Project

 

 

 

I thought I understood economics and the way politics work until I read this book.  The world changes faster than we imagine, and this book explains why.

There is a plan for the end of extreme poverty.  

UN Millennium Project

visit End of Poverty website

 

 

 

 
DNA: The Secrets of Life

James D. Watson

Fifty years ago, James D. Watson, then just twenty four, helped launch the greatest ongoing scientific quest of our time. Now, with unique authority and sweeping vision, he gives us the first full account of the genetic revolution from Mendel's garden to the double helix to the sequencing of the human genome and beyond.

Watson's lively, panoramic narrative begins with the fanciful speculations of the ancients as to why 'like begets like' before skipping ahead to 1866, when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel first deduced the basic laws of inheritance. But genetics as we recognize it today with its capacity, both thrilling and sobering, to manipulate the very essence of living things came into being only with the rise of molecular investigations culminating in the breakthrough discovery of the structure of DNA, for which Watson shared a Nobel prize in 1962. In the DNA molecule's graceful curves was the key to a whole new science.

Having shown that the secret of life is chemical, modern genetics has set mankind off on a journey unimaginable just a few decades ago. Watson provides the general reader with clear explanations of molecular processes and emerging technologies. He shows us how DNA continues to alter our understanding of human origins, and of our identities as groups and as individuals. And with the insight of one who has remained close to every advance in research since the double helix, he reveals how genetics has unleashed a wealth of possibilities to alter the human condition, from genetically modified foods to genetically modified babies, and transformed itself from a domain of pure research into one of big business as well. It is a sometimes topsy-turvy world full of great minds and great egos, driven by ambitions to improve the human condition as well as to improve investment portfolios, a world vividly captured in these pages.

Facing a future of choices and social and ethical implications of which we dare not remain uninformed, we could have no better guide than James Watson, who leads us with the same bravura storytelling that made The Double Helix one of the most successful books on science ever published. Infused with a scientist's awe at nature's marvels and a humanist's profound sympathies, DNA is destined to become the classic telling of the defining scientific saga of our age.

"Only James Watson could have written this book: no one else knows DNA from so many perspectives, and no one else writes in such an utterly riviting and independent manner. DNA is a singularly lucid life story of a molecule and its determining role in human nature, society, medicine, and our future as a species. It is an important book and a delight to read." Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind

 

 

One of the most important discoveries of our generation is the understanding and mapping of genes.  The discovery has changed what we eat, the health of every individual, and our understanding of life.  

"Unlocking the secret of life was the greatest accomplishment of science in the twentieth century and laid the foundation for medicine in the twenty-first. Watson brings the story of this revolution to life ? the grand ideas, human foibles, and social challenges ? in a way that will both engage the general public and inspire a new generation of young scientists." Eric Lander, founder and director, Whitehead Center for Genome Research

 

"James Watson has been an eyewitness to every revolution in molecular biology, from the double helix to the genome. He sees further and more clearly than anybody else in the field. Give this fabulously good book to anybody who wants to understand what the excitement is all about." Matt Ridley, author of Genome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America's War on Sex The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty

I have some reluctance in recommending this book on the main non-fiction page, but the discussion of issues of expression and personal privacy are too great to be ignored.


Ripped from today's headlines, with refreshing candor and a wicked sense of humor, Marty Klein names names, challenges political hypocrisy, and shows the financial connections between government and religious groups that are systematically taking away rights--and changing American society, forever.

 

America's War on Sex The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty

by Marty Klein

 

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 

by Lawrence Wright

Wright's book ultimately points to the greater cultural divide between western "modernism" and Islamic "traditionalism", a divide that must be bridged before progressive globalism can become an existential reality in this century.

 

"It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations, and to extend it power to the entire planet."

In The Looming Tower Lawrence Wright traces the intriguing and disturbing history of Islamist terrorism from its philosophical roots in 1950s Egypt, to the al-Qaeda attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. By recounting the lives of the most influential Arab Islamists -- men like Sayyid Qutb, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and others -- what fuels fundamental Islamism is compared to our society. 

 Bin Laden's call (fatwa) for war (jihad) against America. He, like Qutb, viewed the U.S. as the global engine of modernism. America represents everything alien and modern (particularly secularism and women rights) that threatens Sharia, the illusion of medieval Islamic law as a governing force in society.

The presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after the first Iraq war gave bin Laden his premise to call for acts of terror against America in 1996: "Terrorizing you, while you are carrying arms in our land, is a legitimate right and a moral obligation." 

The Looming Tower, based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews in ten countries, is the most thorough and accessible account to date of the people, politics, and theology behind Islamic terrorism, and how they all shaped the events of September 11.

 

 

 

The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega--the Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe 


by John D. Barrow

The fundamental constants of Nature, as the name suggests, play a very important role in the Universe. The speed of light sets the Universal speed limit and the electric charge sets the scale for the interaction between atoms and molecules. The Planck constant determines the scale at which quantum mechanics becomes important. Combining these three quantities gives something called the fine structure constant. The fine structure constant is just a number (i.e. no units) and since it is a combination of constants, it too should be a constant - it shouldn't vary in space and time.

But why 'should' it be a constant? There is no principle that says constants should really be constant and there is no theory which lets you calculate their value. That is, the fundamental constants are assumed to be constant.

The idea of varying constants is not new and many modern theories have room for varying constants. 

 

 

 

Just the implications make this a concept that should be explored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Counts 

 how every brain is hardwired for math


    Butterworth, Brian

 

Are our brains "hardwired" to count and conceptualize numbers, or are counting, and other mathematical activities something that we learn, like playing the piano? Butterworth, editor of the journal Mathematical Cognition, is convinced that evidence points to the existence of circuits in the brain devoted to identifying what he calls "numerosities," or, more simply, the number of objects in a collection of things. To this network of specialized circuits, or "Number Module," Butterworth explains, each person adds the mathematical knowledge of his or her culture.

 Butterworth has strong views on how to teach mathematics, and these form a prominent part of his book. Teachers as well as readers curious about the brain and psychology will be challenged by the ideas expounded here.

 

 

This surprising book collects the research on how the brain processes numbers and proposes a theory that the brain has evolved an inherent ability to do math from the time of birth.   

A book of cognitive psychology and the history of numbers, rather than mathematics, What Counts is a look at what we all do, but rarely think about.  The historical look at how numbers are used by cultures is as entertaining as the research on cognitive function.

Butterworth contends that we all possess an inherent "numerosity" sense--developed to different degrees of course. The author bases his case on empirical research and historical speculation.