Tag Archives: Books of 2008

Re: 660 Curries

I went looking for 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking after hearing Raghavan Iyer on The Splendid Table describing how to cook dal. (This, by the way,  is an especially good episode of the show, as it includes an interview with Jim Lahey of My Bread and a general method of cooking soup.) The dal sounded so simple, fast, and tasty. I also the idea of cooking a hot, nutritious meal from the pantry in less than half an hour. While looking up his book, I also found a delightful little essay about dal and rice, that left me more eager to learn a bit about making Indian food.

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Re: The Age of Wonder

We tend to think of the impact of science on society as something that happened recently, or at least as a 20th century phenomenon. The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes reminds us of how many themes and issues date back at least to the turn of the 19th century.

You read about the exotic sexual paradise and you think, I know this place! It’s the Tahiti visited by Joseph Banks. You read about the brilliant mind confined by a sickly body to a wheelchair. Joseph Banks again. Poets getting drugs from scientists.  Would you believe Coleridge and Joseph Banks? And Humphry Davy got his start messing about with laughing gas. How about the coldly objective observer? Humphrey Davy. The government-funded science project, complete with cost-overruns? William Hershel’s forty-foot telescope.  The age and vastness of the stars — deep space and deep time –That’s what William Hershel realized is out there. The myth of the Eureka moment comes from William Hershel again, discovering Uranus. Even Charles Babbage’s satire of the scientists in the Royal Society — as lazy, elitist, ignorant and largely dedicated to club dinners — sounds exactly like the wizards in Pratchett’s Discworld.

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Re: God’s Problem

Since I like messing about with gods, I found Bart Ehrman’s interview on Fresh Air about the problem of evil very interesting. In his book, God’s Problem, Ehrman examines how the Bible attempts to reconcile the idea of a loving, omnipotent god with the evil in this world. Each chapter opens with his personal observations about suffering — the terrible question the Holocaust poses, or the killing fields of Cambodia — and asks what sin is a birth defect or a tsunami punishing? He discusses the various answers to be found and why none of them are ultimately satisfying.

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Re: Predictably Irrational

I recently read a profile of Krugman in the New Yorker, which said that economists assume that people are rational economic actors because you can be irrational in too many ways. Irrationality is not predictable.  Predictably Irrational, by Daniel Ariely makes the case that it is.

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Re: The Latehomecomer

From the opening fable about babies falling from the sky to be born as Hmong people, to the death of the family matriarch, in simple and affecting prose, Kao Kalia Yang tells the stories of her parents, her childhood, and her grandmother in The Latehomecomer. The early chapters about her parents are so vivid, it’s startling that the author herself wasn’t born until they entered the refugee camp. Much of the book is framed by an immigrant narrative, passing from the jungles of Laos to a fixer-upper house in Minneapolis. Tigers stalk through some of the stories, often to tragic ends. While many of the stories are moving, I was most impressed by how she discovered the power of story-telling itself.

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Re: Your Inner Fish

With its strong emphasis on commonalities with all tetrapods, all animals with heads, all animals with bodies, all living beings — Your Inner Fish,  by Neil Shubin is a fascinating book about the structures in our bodies.  It’s a little sad that the book has to begin with an argument for evolution. The first chapter strikes me as very dumbed down, as if aimed at a high school audience that thinks they have to be persuaded to believe. Or maybe I was just bored because it all seems so obvious and non-controversial.

Once we get past that, the book is filled with all sorts of Neat Stuff about Living Beings. Everyone’s going to find different favorites. Here’s some of mine.

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Re: The Shameless Carnivore

Some people get obsessed with bread. Some people get obsessed with meat. Scott Gold is the latter, which led to him writing The Shameless Carnivore.

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Re: Nudge

Yet another in the current series of popular books with one-word titles,  Nudge, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein contends that we should apply recent research about human behavior to present choices to people in a way that will nudge them into choosing well. They call this “libertarian paternalism.” Libertarian in that they believe people should be free to choose. Paternalism in that they believe they know what is best for most people.  Sounding a little defensive about the paternalism aspect, they argue that if you’re in a position where you’re asking people to choose, you have a moral obligation to nudge them toward the choice you believe to be in their best interest.

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Re: All The Windwracked Stars

I generally look forward to reading stories by Elizabeth Bear, so I was intrigued to find a whole novel by her, All The Windwracked Stars. Plus I heard it was an example of the Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot trope. The what?
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Re: Alex & Me

Considering how much I like talking animal stories, it’s not surprising that I read the whole of Alex & Me, by Irene Pepperberg, all at once.  You may have heard of Alex, a gray parrot who was taught to use English words as labels by Dr. Pepperberg.  You may have heard her telling Alex stories, as for example in this interview on Fresh Air. You may have read his obituary when he died suddenly.  But what really comes across in this book is why a bird deserved an obituary in the New York Times; he didn’t just repeat words, he conversed.

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