Category: Non-Fiction

2018, Books, Non-Fiction

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past (2018, David Reich)

This is a fascinating, if overly academic, examination of the emerging study of “ancient DNA” that is transforming our knowledge of our past. The book covers how mapping the genome is allowing science to prove or disprove long held theories about human migrations and how old populations interacted.

2018, Books, Non-Fiction

LikeWar (2018) by PW Singer and Emerson T. Brooking

This is a terrifying and depressing book about the weaponization of the internet, and social media in particular, by countries and other actors, in order to alter what the average person thinks is “true” or “factual”. The good news is that this isn’t necessarily the most rigorous analysis, meaning that some of their most dire …

2015, Books, Non-Fiction

Intelligence: All That Matters (2015, Stuart Ritchie)

I am of a generation where skepticism over IQ was widespread. I don’t know where it comes from exactly but I know that it is everywhere. Essentially I was raised with the idea that IQ had been “debunked”. The reason I read this book is because I got into an argument with someone and afterwards …

2017, Books, Non-Fiction

Weaponized Lies (2017) by Daniel J. Levitin

This is a layman’s summary of how to understand probability and statistics and other critical thinking tools Levitin feels are necessary to have in the era of “Post-Truth”. It’s very much meant for the lay reader and it’s likely an expert in statistics or (especially) probability will be bored and possibly even annoyed. At this …

1981, 2001, Books, Non-Fiction

When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981, 2001) by Harold S. Kushner

I have been incredibly lucky in my life. I was born into privilege (middle class/upper middle class in one of the safest large cities in the world) and I have been very lucky in terms of personal tragedy: I have suffered few major injuries/illnesses, and my family has been pretty much free of them as …

2019, Books, Non-Fiction

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis (2019) by Jared Diamond

This is a fascinating, flawed examination of national crises which is really a plea for human beings to better handle climate change (and other major global crises Diamond perceives).

2019, Books, Non-Fiction

Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side (2019) by Julia Shaw

So I listened to the audio book, which I think made a pretty big impression on me. I think I might have enjoyed the book more had I read it instead. This is a wide-ranging examination of the nature of “evil” from the perspective of psychology and, occasionally, philosophy. (Nietzsche gets a lot of references.) …

2013, Books, Non-Fiction

The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future (2013) by Paul Sabin

This is an interesting book ostensibly about a bet between a biologist and an economist over the earth’s future, but really about the problems of extremism and the folly of prediction.

2018, Books, Non-Fiction

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City (2018, Sam Anderson)

I didn’t know I wanted to read a book about Oklahoma City. (I bet you don’t think you need to read a book about Oklahoma City.) I’ve never been there. All I knew about it was that there is a basketball team there (stolen from Seattle), that the Flaming Lips are from there, that there …

1997, Books, Non-Fiction

The Great Adventure (1997) by David Cruise, Alison Griffiths

I normally read a book through and finish it before starting another. But, with this one, I kept finding books I wanted to read at the library and they would show up before I finished this. So my reading of it became extremely disjointed. Some of this, perhaps most of this, had to do with …

2018, Books, Music, Non-Fiction

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) (2018) by Jeff Tweedy

At one point in my life Wilco were among my favourite bands, very close to being my favourite. I saw them in 2009 or 2010 and it was perhaps the best concert I’d ever seen to that point. (Live recordings!) I have all their albums but their debut, I have their concert film, I have …

2010, Books, Non-Fiction

War at the Wall Street Journal (2010, Sarah Ellison)

I’m not sure this book is something I would have read were it not for the “Planet Fox” series in the New York Times. But it’s a mostly well-told, compelling story of Robert Murdoch’s purchase of Dow Jones. I’m not sure it does enough to make it an essential read, but if you’re interested in …

2018, Books, Non-Fiction

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers (2018) by Michelle Gelfand

This is a fascinating book about how cultural norms impact our lives. You might not get that from the title, but I’d say ignore the title and look at the subtitle. (The title, to me, sounds like it’s some kind of business success book or something.)

2018, Books, Non-Fiction

The Misinformation Age (2018, Cailin O’Connor, James Owen Weatherall)

This is a compelling examination of mathematical models about the way beliefs spread through human social networks.

2006, Books, Non-Fiction

Children of the Sun (2006) by Alfred W. Crosby

This is a brief but informative and fascinating history of human use of energy. It is so brief that it’s hard not to recommend it because my experience with “big history” books of this ilk is that they are normally gigantic, with a forbidding page count that turns most people off. So, before I get …

1988, Books, Non-Fiction

Travels (1988) by Michael Chricton

This is a frustrating book for someone like me. The cover pictured on Goodreads suggests it is basically about international travel. The cover of my edition should have hinted to me that it would not be specifically about that, given the stars on it. Anyway, this book is about three separate things: Crichton’s training as …

2004, Books, Non-Fiction

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2004, Bill Bryson)

This is a super readable and entertaining layman’s overview of the state of scientific knowledge about the universe and humans as of 2004. If you don’t feel like you know enough about science in general, or you’re looking to get more familiar with various fields you’e never paid attention to, I can’t imagine there are …

2017, Books, Music, Non-Fiction

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time (2017) by Ray Padgett

This is not “The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time.” I don’t know how you would figure out what songs those were and it’s really entirely subjective.

1972, Books, Non-Fiction, Philosophy

Jumpers (1972) by Tom Stoppard

My favourite philosopher, Hannah Arendt, believed that space exploration, particularly manned space exploration, created a new paradigm for human beings. For the first time in history, humans could physically see what astronomy and math had only proved before, namely that we were just animals on a little planet in some little corner of the universe. …

1998, Books, Non-Fiction, Travel

A Walk in the Woods (1998) by Bill Bryson

Ever since I first heard about it, I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. I know I likely won’t so now I say “If I win the lottery, I’ll hike the Appalachian Trail.” Regardless, this is a dream. So I’m very happy to read a book about someone who tried to do it.

2017, Books, Non-Fiction

Killers of the Flower Moon (2017) by David Grann

This book is an eye-opening story that is part true crime, part history and part investigation into one of the worst parts of American history, a story that has seemingly been mostly forgotten, due to the ethnicity of the victims and how it violates American national myths. It is an awful story, but it is …

2018, Books, Non-Fiction

Bad Blood (2018) by John Carreyou

This is a real page turner about how a startup deceived and defrauded investors, conned business partners and the public, and hounded former employees into not discussing the company’s problems. For someone like me, who pays little attention to Silicon Valley, it was an eye-opening read, as well as being impossible to put down. Carreyou …

2013, Books, Non-Fiction

The Boys in the Boat (2013) by Daniel Jams Brown

All I know of the 1936 Olympics is Olympia and Jesse Owens. So this story, the story the American Gold medal-winning 8 man crew, their coxswain, their coach and their boat builder (yes, even him) was completely new to me. I don’t even remember the rowing scenes in Olympia very well. This is an exciting …

2013, Books, Music, Non-Fiction

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (2013) by Robert Gordon

This book tells the story of Stax Records, but it isn’t just a the story of Stax the record label, as it also places the story in the context of Memphis and the civil rights movement, and there are some very interesting parallels between the rise and fall of Stax and other American businesses.

2008, Books, Economics, Non-Fiction

Predictably Irrational (2008) by Dan Ariely

This is a fascinating and sometimes amusing exploration of behavioural economics through descriptions of experiments that the author has conducted, and some he’s read about. It’s a pretty good introduction to behaviourial economics and social psychology. A number of these experiments were unfamiliar to me and some of them are really illuminating. I’m particularly interested …

2018, Books, Non-Fiction, TV

All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of the Wire

Note: This is an oral history of how The Wire got made. You should only read this if you have seen The Wire in its entirety. The spoilers in this review concern the show, not the book.

2014, Books, Non-Fiction

The Human Age (2014) by Diane Ackerman

This is an endlessly fascinating book about how human beings are currently shaping the world through technological innovation, and how we have shaped the world in the past. Though the back might convince you it’s about how humans are fighting climate change, it’s really about much more than that, as the climate change section is …