Category Archives: Books

The Subtle Art

A few weeks ago a friend loaned me The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (2016), by Mark Manson. I just finished it, and — while I’m not a big fan of self-help books — I give this one an Ah! rating. Manson’s approach, contrary to our modern norm, is not about finding happiness, but about choosing the pain worth seeking (and letting the happiness come through our fulfillment).

The subtle part is that not giving a f*ck doesn’t mean one stops caring. The subtle part is learning to be selective about what matters to us.

The counterintuitive part is that chasing happiness leads to misery.

Continue reading


Cool Elmore Leonard

For this Mystery Monday I want to tell you about a great American writer whose name you might not know: Elmore Leonard (1925–2013). As with Philip K. Dick, another great American writer, it’s quite possible you’ve seen a movie based on his work without realizing it. In fact, Elmore Leonard gives Stephen King a run for the money when it comes to works adapted to film.

Two of my very favorite films, Get Shorty (1995) and Jackie Brown (1997), are adaptations of Leonard’s novels. The former is the second film that restarted John Travolta’s career, and many believe the success of the film greatly depends on the source material (I quite agree).

If you like crime fiction, you definitely want to get into Elmore Leonard.

Continue reading


Parker: Humble Pi

I just finished Humble Pi (2019), by Matt Parker, and I absolutely loved it. Parker, a former high school maths teacher, now a maths popularizer, has an easy breezy style dotted with wry jokes and good humor. I read three-quarters of the book in one sitting because I couldn’t stop (just one more chapter, then I’ll go to bed).

It’s a book about mathematical mistakes, some funny, some literally deadly. It’s also about how we need to be better at numbers and careful how we use them. Most importantly, it’s about how mathematics is so deeply embedded in modern life.

It’s my third maths book in a month and the only one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Continue reading


Tegmark: MUH? Meh!

I finally finished Our Mathematical Universe (2014) by Max Tegmark. It took me a while — only two days left on the 21-day library loan. I often had to put it down to clear my mind and give my neck a rest. (The book invoked a lot of head-shaking. It gave me a very bad case of the Yeah, buts.)

I debated whether to post this for Sci-Fi Saturday or for more metaphysical Sabbath Sunday. I tend to think either would be appropriate to the subject matter. Given how many science fiction references Tegmark makes in the book, I’m going with Saturday.

The hard part is going to be keeping this post a reasonable length.

Continue reading


Secret Code II

‘X’ is for… ??

I’ve written about secret codes before. The Pigpen cipher was pretty simplistic, almost more a child’s game, but the Playfair cipher was a bit more interesting. That one came from a murder mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers. Today I thought I’d show you another simple code from another mystery novel.

1829 2125 0038 2226 1600 2125 0027 1722 4200 1829 1600 4219 2518 1617 1900 4122 3916 3200 3700 4019 0025 2016 0028 1724 2718 2241 4400 2118 0020 2516 2500 1829 1600 1819 2316 1517 2118 1617 0038 2226 1643 0015 2921 3829 0030 2025 1800 2425 2521 2841 2500 4120 4240 1617 2500 1822 0018 2916 0031 1619

Stop! See if you can decode the above before continuing.

Continue reading


Stephenson: D.O.D.O.

Neal Stephenson, like Greg Egan, is a hard science fiction author who never fails to delight me with something new and tasty. Both Stephenson and Egan seem able to leave footprints in otherwise well-trodden ground. Stephenson, in particular, often makes me LOL.

That’s not an acronym I use very often, but it seems especially appropriate here given this post is about The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. The book has so many tongue-in-cheek military acronyms (DODO, DTAP, DEDE, MUON, etc) that it has a glossary at the back.

The story concerns parallel worlds, wave-function collapse, and witches.

Continue reading


Wynne: Dog is Love

Recently I read Dog is Love, Why and How Your Dog Loves You (2019), by Clive D.L. Wynne, an animal behavior scientist who specializes in dogs. Despite the loaded word “love” in the title, this is a science book about a search for hard evidence.

Dr. Wynne is a psychology professor at Arizona State University and director of their Canine Science Collaboratory. He’s written several other books about animal cognition: The Mental Lives of Animals (2001), Do Animals Think (2004), Evolution, Behavior and Cognition (2013).

The book is the story of Wynne’s search for exactly what it is that makes dogs special and how they got that way.

Continue reading


Manifold: Trilogy

Recently I posted about Manifold: Time, the first book in a trilogy by Stephen Baxter, a writer new to me. As I wrote, I wasn’t very whelmed, but a bad meal at a new restaurant can be a fluke — it’s only fair to give the chef at least one more chance. (A single data point doesn’t mean much.) And I did find the overall themes a little intriguing.

As it turned out, I rather enjoyed the second one, Manifold: Space. The story stayed grounded and engaged me throughout, plus there were several cool science fiction ideas I’d never encountered before (which is kinda the point of reading hard SF). So a definite thumbs up on book number two.

Unfortunately the third book, Manifold: Origin, didn’t do much for me.

Continue reading


Fairy Tale Physics

My voracious reading habit has deep roots in libraries. The love of reading comes from my parents, but libraries provided a vast smörgåsbord to browse and consume. Each week I’d check out as many books as I could carry. I discovered science fiction in a library (the Lucky Starr series, with Isaac Asimov writing as Paul French, is the first I remember).

Modern adult life, I got out of the habit of libraries (and into book stores and now online books). But now the Cloud Library has reinvigorated my love of all those free books, especially the ones I missed along the way.

For instance, Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth (2014), by Jim Baggott.

Continue reading


Joe, Jim and Bernie

Yá’át’ééh! Fans of the Hillerman books will immediately recognize the three names in the title as Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee, and Bernadette Manuelito (a relatively new addition who doesn’t yet have her own Wiki page). All three are (fictional) police officers working for the (real) Navajo Tribal Police in the American southwest.

I have to call them just “the Hillerman books” now, because after father Tony Hillerman died, daughter Anne Hillerman took up the series and has so far contributed five very worthy stories of her own. (Her vision of the series puts Bernie Manuelito front and center and thus adds fresh air to the 18 books her father wrote.)

I’m a fan of detective novels, especially murder mystery detective novels, and these are without question my second favorite mystery books of all time.

Continue reading