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Q1 2007 Nonfiction Book Suggestions
Q1 2007 Nonfiction Book Suggestions
This thread is for making nonfiction book suggestions for 1st Quarter of 2007 (January, February & March). Please read this entire first post.
For those that haven't been participating in the recent discussions about how best to structure our nonfiction book discussions there are a few things you should know. We are now dedicating 1 nonfiction book each quarter to subjects of interest to freethinkers or that advance the principles of freethought.
If you have a book suggestion that you think fits this niche please suggest it in the Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions thread located directly below this thread. Don't worry too much about this as we'll move the suggestion if we feel it should be there as opposed to here. But the point is that this thread (the one you're in right now) is for any nonfiction book suggestion that doesn't clearly belong in the new Freethinker Book Suggestions category.
1. Provide the title, author, copied and pasted review or summary, and a link to Amazon where we can read more.
2. Please comment on other people's suggestions. This is probably the most important thing you can do. Don't make a suggestion and then vanish. Be ACTIVE in this thread.
So what nonfiction books would you like to read and discuss for Q1, 2007? Edited by: Chris OConnor at: 9/15/06 6:24 pm
Amazon.com Jared Diamond states the theme of his book up-front: "How the human species changed, within a short time, from just another species of big mammal to a world conqueror; and how we acquired the capacity to reverse all that progress overnight." The Third Chimpanzee is, in many ways, a prequel to Diamond's prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns examines "the fates of human societies," this work surveys the longer sweep of human evolution, from our origin as just another chimpanzee a few million years ago. Diamond writes:
It's obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It's also obvious that we're a species of big mammal down to the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species.
The chapters in The Third Chimpanzee on the oddities of human reproductive biology were later expanded in Why Is Sex Fun? Here, they're linked to Diamond's views of human psychology and history.
Diamond is officially a physiologist at UCLA medical school, but he's also one of the best birdwatchers in the world. The current scientific consensus that "primitive" humans created ecological catastrophes in the Pacific islands, Australia, and the New World owes a great deal to his fieldwork and insight. In Diamond's view, the current global ecological crisis isn't due to modern technology per se, but to basic weaknesses in human nature. But, he says, "I'm cautiously optimistic. If we will learn from our past that I have traced, our own future may yet prove brighter than that of the other two chimpanzees."
From Kirkus Reviews Plenty of provocative ideas in this grand sweep of evolutionary biology and anthropology: not surprising for this MacArthur ``genius'' Award-winner, Natural History columnist, and UCLA Medical School physiology professor. With only 1.6 percent difference between the human genome and the genomes of two species of chimps, Diamond declares that we should call ourselves ``the third chimpanzee.'' (Curiously, he fails to mention neoteny as making a world of genetic difference.) Diamond first reviews human evolution, ending with the great leap forward that he attributes to language. New in this area is a discussion of animal art and communication (e.g., bowerbird constructions, vervet-monkey talk) and creolization (the development of sophisticated human languages from pidgin forms). With respect to other human features, Diamond reprises all the theories you've ever heard about sexual behavior, selection, menstruation, menopause, etc. Ditto for aging. He steers a common- sense course between extremes, opting for the games-theory approach of optimizing one's genes and of group survival. Old-but-not- fertile elders are essential imparters of knowledge for the group. A chapter on self-destructive behaviors (smoking, drinking, drug abuse) offers the peculiar theory that we do it to advertise that we are really superior because we can flaunt handicaps! No mention is made of the fit of the chemicals to receptors in the brain and to circuits evoking pleasure. Later, drawing on his special knowledge of New Guinea, Australia, and Polynesia, and his research on birds, Diamond provides a fascinating if overwhelmingly pessimistic view of human predation through genocide, species and resource destruction, and potential nuclear disaster. Conclusions of continued human, species, and planetary destruction are inescapable, in spite of Diamond's optimism that we can learn from the past and some modest success he has had with conservation programs. Quirky arguments at times, yes, but generally Diamond is as sharp as his name.
Amazon.com "For our generation and many that will follow, Mars is the New World," writes Zubrin. This book went to press serendipitously, just as NASA was making its startling if heavily-qualified announcement that simple life may have once existed on the fourth rock from the sun. Zubrin doesn't spend an enormous amount of time arguing why Mars exploration is desirable -- we all want astronauts to go there, don't we? -- but rather devotes the bulk of this book explaining how it can happen on a sensible, bare-bones budget of $20-30 billion and a "travel light and live off the land" philosophy.
From Publishers Weekly Human settlement on Mars need not await the development of gigantic interplanetary spaceships, anti-matter propulsion systems or orbiting space bases, assert the authors of this exciting, visionary report. Instead, the "Mars Direct" plan?developed in 1990 by astronautical engineer Zubrin, and presented to NASA, where it has won supporters?calls for sending a crew and their artificial habitat directly to Mars via the upper stage of the same booster rocket that lifted them to Earth orbit. Then the crew will live off the land, growing greenhouse crops, tapping subsurface groundwater, manufacturing useful materials, constructing plastic domes and brick structures the size of shopping malls. Geothermal power would be tapped from hot regions near once-active volcanoes. Zubrin, senior engineer at Martin Marietta, and Wagner, a former editor of Ad Astra, weaken their case by arguing that a nascent human civilization on Mars will revive Earth's frontier spirit and American democracy, saving Western civilization from technological stagnation. Nevertheless, their detailed blueprint makes a fast-track mission to Mars?with an estimated price tag of $20-$30 billion?seem remarkably doable.
From Booklist When ex-president Bush proclaimed crewed missions to Mars as NASA's next goal, his vision thing went out of focus because of a $450 billion price tag. But according to aerospace engineer Zubrin, America needn't spend a tenth of its GNP to get there; $40 billion will suffice. His Mars Direct proposal economizes by bypassing the space station boondoggle and sending straight to Mars spacecraft that can make their own rocket fuel right there, out of the carbon dioxide atmosphere. That simple concept, based on 1890s chemical technology, unlocks a breathtaking vista sure to dazzle any space enthusiast. Zubrin begins with the design of the spacecraft and the possible profiles for the mission, then proposes strengthening the initial base by mining water and building brick houses; eventually, Mars might be terraformed by evaporating its southern ice cap. An articulate expositor of achievable futurism, Zubrin strives marvelously to ignite interest in the exploration of Mars, interest certain to increase when the next spacecraft to Mars is launched in upcoming months.
From Kirkus Reviews Zubrin is an aeronautical engineer at Martin Marietta, Wagner the former editor of the National Space Society's magazine, Ad Astra, and together they make a forceful argument for the exploration and settlement of Mars. Zubrin has long advocated the ``Mars Direct'' plan, which could get off the ground for $30 billion, in contrast to the $450- billion Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) timidly proposed by President Bush and quickly torpedoed in Congress. SEI was to take 30 years and make use of a space station (where components of the mission would be assembled), and it featured elaborate safety plans. But this is the frontier, Zubrin says, and risk is inherent when we venture forth. The most radical feature of the Mars Direct plan is the manufacture of propellants (for getting around while there and for getting back) on the surface of Mars by an unmanned module before the arrival of astronauts. But Zubrin and Wagner's discussion makes this idea, and the plan in general, seem reasonable rather than radical, and their plan would clearly save money. A mission that doesn't have to carry return fuel could use rockets that already exist, such as the Russian Energia. Mars Direct would also utilize conjunction trajectories (that is, launches when Mars is in line with Earth outward from the sun), avoiding the opposition trajectories the SEI plan advocated, and it allows for much more time to be spent exploring the surface of Mars. The authors are propagandists, so dismissive of NASA's plans that they call them ``silly,'' but they are persuasive and even demonstrate a shrewd grasp of political realities, going so far as to incorporate Newt Gingrich's thinking with regard to privatizing the Mars Direct mission. With exposure on CNN, a vigorous presence on the Internet, and a new groundswell of support at NASA, this plan may well prove to be the one, at long last, to fly.
Amazon.com Gently dismantling the myth of medical infallibility, Dr. Atul Gawande's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science is essential reading for anyone involved in medicine--on either end of the stethoscope. Medical professionals make mistakes, learn on the job, and improvise much of their technique and self-confidence. Gawande's tales are humane and passionate reminders that doctors are people, too. His prose is thoughtful and deeply engaging, shifting from sometimes painful stories of suffering patients (including his own child) to intriguing suggestions for improving medicine with the same care he expresses in the surgical theater. Some of his ideas will make health care providers nervous or even angry, but his disarming style, confessional tone, and thoughtful arguments should win over most readers. Complications is a book with heart and an excellent bedside manner, celebrating rather than berating doctors for being merely human. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly Medicine reveals itself as a fascinatingly complex and "fundamentally human endeavor" in this distinguished debut essay collection by a surgical resident and staff writer for the New Yorker. Gawande, a former Rhodes scholar and Harvard Medical School graduate, illuminates "the moments in which medicine actually happens," and describes his profession as an "enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line." Gawande's background in philosophy and ethics is evident throughout these pieces, which range from edgy accounts of medical traumas to sobering analyses of doctors' anxieties and burnout. With humor, sensitivity and critical intelligence, he explores the pros and cons of new technologies, including a controversial factory model for routine surgeries that delivers superior success rates while dramatically cutting costs. He also describes treatment of such challenging conditions as morbid obesity, chronic pain and necrotizing fasciitis the often-fatal condition caused by dreaded "flesh-eating bacteria" and probes the agonizing process by which physicians balance knowledge and intuition to make seemingly impossible decisions. What draws practitioners to this challenging profession, he concludes, is the promise of "the alterable moment the fragile but crystalline opportunity for one's know-how, ability or just gut instinct to change the course of another's life for the better." These exquisitely crafted essays, in which medical subjects segue into explorations of much larger themes, place Gawande among the best in the field.
This is a very good book, and would give us plenty to discuss.
From Publishers Weekly Fisk, a former Middle East correspondent for the London Times , details violence, sundry political factions, the 1982 invasion of Israel, the efforts of the multinational peace-keeping force and the taking of Western hostages. "A passionate and often angry book describing how Lebanon 'humiliated the West, brought shame upon Israel, corrupted the Syrians and destroyed itself,' " said PW.
From Library Journal The labyrinthian tale of Lebanon's destruction has been told a number of times from a number of vantage points, but not since Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari's Israel's Lebanon War ( LJ 10/15/84) has such a powerful book appeared. Fisk, a highly honored British journalist who wrote for The Times (London) for 11 years and who still lives in Lebanon, conveys those appalling events of 1976-85 with the passionate intensity of someone outraged at the actions that have turned a country and people inside out. Fisk graphically portrays the Lebanese tragedy through interviews, anecdotal information, and thoughtful, incisive analyses. Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem ( LJ 7/89) and Charles Glass's Tribes with Flags ( LJ 4/1/90) are comparable efforts, but Friedman's work deals more with the psychological aspects of Arab versus Israeli; Glass has a more leisurely pace that belies Fisk's sense of urgency. Highly recommended for all libraries of any size.
I was planning to read this book, even before the recent war with Israel heightened my interest. Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East was impressive, though his books are long. Edited by: JulianTheApostate at: 9/19/06 1:15 am
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Re: Q1 2007 Nonfiction Book Suggestions
once the polls close, do you send a message to let everyone know the winner and that they need to go read the book? I haven't been getting these if you have. If the answer is no, is it possible to send one?
I hope this isn't a question that's been asked a 100 times and I'm just out of the loop as to why it isn't done...
Joined: May 2002 Posts: 16400 Location: Florida
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Re: Q1 2007 Nonfiction Book Suggestions
Have you been getting any of my emails? If not you need to go into your account settings and check the box that allows emails from the administrator.
I send out emails regularly, but in an effort to not be considered a spammer I try to avoid doing it too frequently. I suppose I should send one out announcing the winning books each quarter. Thanks for the idea. But the problem remains that the majority of members don't get these emails as they have their account setting set to not allow such emails. And there is nothing I can do to fix this problem.
What I usually do is try to announce the winning books at the top of the forums page AND on our Home page. I know that few existing members ever check the Home page once they find their way to our forums page. And for this reason I avoid putting anything too important on the Home page. Our Home page is mainly a hook to attract new members. Once they hit the Home page I am trying to get them here to the forums page.
I'll send out an email tonight announcing the winning books. The email will contains links to where members can order the books. Again, thanks for the suggestion.
From Publishers Weekly Klein, director of the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Southern California, views street gangs?as opposed to drug gangs, bikers or skinheads?as not monolithic and certainly not cohesive. Although such a gang may contain a core group, many more are made up of fringe members, he asserts, and there is overlap among gangs. A large number of gangs have a criminal orientation, and their crimes have traditionally been against property. Gangs' major activity, according to the author, has been inactivity. But in recent times, the number of street gangs has grown enormously, he shows, with gangs now found in at least 800 American cities, their growth abetted by media attention and inept law enforcement officials. But as the gang culture has spread across the nation, the seriousness of its crimes has increased, with hundreds of homicides yearly in L.A. alone. Though written by a scholar who has studied street gangs for 30 years, this telling commentary is generally free of academic jargon. Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Book Description When the Soviet Union collapsed, the White House announced with great fanfare that 100 FBI counterintelligence agents would be reassigned. Their new target: street gangs. Americans--filled with fear of crack-dealing gangs--cheered the decision, as did many big-city police departments. But this highly publicized move could be an experience in futility, suggests Malcolm Klein: for one thing, most street gangs have little to do with the drug trade. The American Street Gang provides the finest portrait of this subject ever produced--a detailed accounting, through statistics, interviews, and personal experience, of what street gangs are, how they have changed, their involvement in drug sales, and why we have not been able to stop them. Klein has been studying street gangs for more than thirty years, and he brings a sophisticated understanding of the problem to bear in this often surprising book. In contrast to the image of rigid organization and military-style leadership we see in the press, he writes, street gangs are usually loose bodies of associates, with informal and multiple leadership. Street gangs, he makes clear, are quite distinct from drug gangs--though they may share individual members. In a drug-selling operation tight discipline is required--the members are more like employees--whereas street gangs are held together by affiliation and common rivalries, with far less discipline. With statistics and revealing anecdotes, Klein offers a strong critique of the approach of many law enforcement agencies, which have demonized street gangs while ignoring the fact that they are the worst possible bodies for running disciplined criminal operations--let alone colonizing other cities. On the other hand, he shows that street gangs do spur criminal activity, and he demonstrates the shocking rise in gang homicides and the proliferation of gangs across America. Ironically, he writes, the liberal approach to gangs advocated by many (assigning a social worker to a gang, organizing non-violent gang activities) can actually increase group cohesion, which leads to still more criminal activity. And programs to erode that cohesion, Klein tells us from personal experience, can work--but they require intensive, exhausting effort. Street gangs are a real and growing problem in America--but the media and many law enforcement officials continue to dispense misleading ideas about what they are and what they do. In The American Street Gang, Malcolm Klein challenges these assumptions with startling new evidence that must be understood if we are to come to grips with this perceived crisis.
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