Category Archives: Book reviews

Worth a read: A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins

I first taught computer modeling in the long-ago era before the Apple II, and I would start the class by bringing in an object from my then-young son’s toy box. I would hold it up and ask the class, “What is this?” I could always count on one student, invariably male, to volunteer, “That is a Ferrari!” Which would allow… Read more »

Worth a read: Shape by Jordan Ellenberg


You have probably not thought much about geometry since your tenth-grade math class where you learned how to calculate the area of circle or a triangle. Have you retained anything else? Or even that? Well into the 19th century, you would not be considered to be an educated person unless you were familiar with Elements by Euclid, a Greek mathematician… Read more »

America – the missing years: 1619–1775

Slave Auction

Violence was commonplace in Nevis, as in all of the slave-ridden sugar islands. The eight thousand captive blacks easily dwarfed in number the one thousand whites, “a disproportion,” remarked one visitor, “which necessarily converts all such white men as are not exempted by age and decrepitude into a well-regulated militia.” (Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p. 19) I am an avid… Read more »

Worth a read: Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality by Frank Wilczek


I still remember the classic picture of the atom from my Michigan high school physics class, about the same time MIT professor Frank Wilczek was in a similar class in New York City in the late 1960s. Called the Rutherford model, that atom was pictured as a miniature solar system. with electron “planets” revolving around a sun-like nucleus, which was… Read more »

Worth a read: A Series of Fortunate Events by Sean B. Carroll

A Series of Fortunate Events

Good science is hard; good science communication may be even harder. During my publishing career I was the editor or managing editor on quite a few university-level texts, and I usually found the “Introduction to …” textbook authors to be better communicators and classroom teachers than the authors of “upper division” specialized texts. Ironically, the best-selling intro text authors may… Read more »

History and the math of “probably not”

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On a day when we can’t get an agreed-upon historical reckoning of the sequence of governmental Coronavirus response in the United States in early 2020 (despite extensive video evidence), I’d like to share my thoughts on “the probability of history” using some classic (and potentially dangerous) examples. In the mid-1990s, the late religious historian Marcus Borg authored a series of… Read more »

How bad are we really? Humankind by Rutger Bregman

Garden of Eden

An ages-old morality play has started a new season of “reality shows,” run on television every night since May 25, 2020. Was George Floyd a bad man or a good man? How about the four policemen who killed him on the street? Were the street protestors outside the White House on June 1 patriots expressing their constitutional First Amendment rights… Read more »

Worth a read: Galileo and the Science Deniers by Mario Livio

Galileo and the Science Deniers

“[T]he present Pope, who abhors the liberal arts and this kind of mind, cannot stand these novelties and subtleties; and everyone here tries to adjust his mind and his nature to that of the ruler.” Piero Guicciardini, describing Pope Paul V (1550–1621) Astrophysicist and Hubble Telescope guru Mario Livio suggests that you substitute the name of some current political ruler… Read more »

Worth a read: A Decent Life by Todd May

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A Decent Life

Ever since Aristotle tried to simplify the complexity of ethical reasoning down to his one-word concept of virtue, successive theologians and philosophers have been throwing out words or short phrases for labeling their life’s work formulations. Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) came up with his duty-based categorical imperative. My own study of this field in the 1990s was heavily influenced… Read more »

Worth a read: Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz

“At their deepest level, the laws of nature are expressed in terms of derivatives. It’s as if the universe knew about rates of change before we did.” – Steven Strogatz, Infinite Powers It is very hard to get non-math-inclined people to read a book about math. But I will try, because this is a really good one, accessible to even… Read more »