Sunday, December 09, 2012

Book recommendations

We're getting close to the end of the year, so I thought I'd make a list of non-fiction books I've read in 2012, that I would recommend to others.

Rebecca Skloot: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
What can I say about this book, which hasn't been said before? Nothing really. Ever since it came out, it has been highly praised by everyone that has read it, and for good reasons. It is an amazing books, which tackles an incredibly difficult subject with great respect.

Skloot tells the story about Henrietta Lacks, and the immortal cell line that was cultivated from her cells. This is a fairly unknown story, and well worth telling in itself. Skloot goes further though - she also tells us about Lacks' family, and how they have been misinformed and left uncompensated by the scientists, using their mother's cells.

In other words, it is a powerful, moving book about one woman's priceless contribution to mankind, and how her role has been ignored.

Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Bryson is a great storyteller, and this book highlights this ability. He tells the stories of everyday things, using his house as the basis, exploring each room in turn.

Richard Wiseman: Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There
Wiseman is a former magicians turned psychologist, who follows the old tradition of using his conjuring skills to expose how people get fooled, but unlike other magicians, he also puts his knowledge og psychology to good use, explaining how people not only get fooled by others, but also by themselves.

A light and entertaining read, and while people who have read other books on the subject, might find it somewhat basic, it is a good introduction.

Mark Henderson: The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters
Henderson has written a book which calls for better science in policy making and more public involvement by scientists. Enough people agreed with him that each and every English MP received a copy of the book.

The book is a great call to action for people willing to defend skepticism and science. I don't agree with every stance Mark Henderson holds, but I think his basic message of public involvement is important, and a real inspiration.        

Michael Specter: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives
While Henderson's book explains how scientists should do more to inform people about science, Specter's book tells the story of the people misinforming people about science.

The books is not without its flaws, and I think Lindsay Beyerstein's review is fairly well-balanced, and explains it well.

David Michaels: Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health
Another book dealing with denialism, this time the professionals. Michaels book explains how the same companies and people have offered their services, every time some corporations have felt the need for some good, old doubt of what the science tells us, no matter the cost in human misery.

If this books doesn't infuriate you, I don't know what will.

Jeff Ryan: Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
And now, to something completely different. Ryan's book tells us about the rise of Nintendo, and the fascinating characters involved, both fictional and real.

As an aside: Until I read this book, I had never realized that the man in Donkey Kong was Mario.

James Shapiro: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
One of the most enduring literary conspiracy theory around is the idea that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. People pushing this conspiracy theory have put forward a number of other candidates, and made numerous arguments for why those people are better candidates than Shakespeare.

Shapiro takes apart each and every one of these candidates, and not only provides good arguments for why they didn't write Shakespeare's work, but also for why William Shakespeare is the best, indeed the obvious, candidate for being the writer of Shakespeare's works.

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