Book Review: Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science by James Poskett

Cover of the book Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science by James Poskett
Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science
by James Poskett
HMH/Mariner, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on March 25, 2022.

Poskett describes how the history of modern science is traditionally presented as the work of white European and American scientists working in isolation, pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake. This story is wrong. The history of science is one of constant cultural exchange across the world, and it’s deeply embedded in commerce and politics, linked to slavery, war, colonialism, and empire. The discovery of the New World inspired European thinkers to question the accepted knowledge of the ancient Greeks, European explorers depended on sophisticated indigenous knowledge, and trade along the Silk Road brought new ideas from as far away as China and Africa into the intellectual world of Europe and vice versa. These influences were acknowledged at the time but omitted from history for largely nationalistic reasons. The rise of industry and large-scale conflicts inspired great scientific advancements. Europe’s Scientific Revolution spread and inspired similar revolutions worldwide. The history of science is global. Poskett delivers a necessary and welcome corrective to our understanding, highlighting how many of the achievements and influences of people across the non-Western world shaped modern science.

I Did It

I did it. Here’s a pic of my bookshelves in 2015 when I first set them up:

Bookshelves

Here’s a pic of my bookshelves now:

Bookshelves weeded

I ended up weeding half of my collection and donated it all to my local public library friends group for them to use in their fundraising efforts. And it feels good!

I talk a lot about how grad school changed my sense of the value of books. But there was another essential change that happened, one which better explains why I did this.

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Book Review: Memory’s Legion by James S. A. Corey

Cover of the book Memory's Legion by James S. A. Corey
Memory’s Legion
by James S. A. Corey
Orbit, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on March 15, 2022.

**STARRED REVIEW** From the invention of the Epstein drive, to Amos’ backstory, to the fate of Naomi’s son, these eight stories and novellas fill in details of the world of the Expanse (beginning with Leviathan Wakes, 2011), telling tales that didn’t fit into the main novels but which deepen readers’ relationship to this world and its characters. Much like the longer books, each story has its own tone, atmosphere, and pace, and Corey uses the freedom of the short form to experiment with different narrative styles. The stories are creative and inventive, packing the same character-driven emotional power of the novels. It’s remarkable how well Corey adapts their writing style to craft short-form tales that are the equal of the lauded long-form works. Each story is accompanied by an author’s note explaining how it came to be, along with nuggets of trivia about the writing and publishing process. These pieces were written over the course of the series and originally published in a variety of sources, so they weren’t always easy for fans to track down. This collection is a welcome capstone to mark the conclusion of arguably the best space-opera series written in the past few decades.

He / They

Lately, I’ve been wondering if my correct pronouns should be “he/they,” rather than just “he”. I have personal reasons for thinking it may be, but I’m wrestling with the social aspects of it.

If I publicly change my pronouns, I want it to be an act that can help. I want to be a good ally and accomplice to trans folk. I want to do what I can (even if ever so little) to increase acceptance of trans identities.

I believe the most important task we have in pursuit of trans rights, women’s rights, and even men’s rights, is to reject toxic masculinity. “He/they” is such a rejection and undermines the primacy of what we think of as “male.”

If more people like me—commonly perceived to be cisgender male—embraced “they” as a pronoun for ourselves, would it help? Can we make a wider range of identities more acceptable in our communities and our society this way? Maybe I can help normalize “they.”

I believe that gender is fluid and exists on a spectrum. I believe most of us exist as a mix of possible gender characteristics. I believe strict cisgender roles are artificial. If I were to make the public statement that, no, actually even someone like me exists to some degree on a fluid spectrum, that statement could be an effective way to question our preconceived notions of gender.

However, I’m not sure I have the right to take on this identity. I do not, under any circumstance, want to be yet another cis person appropriating trans identity for performative wokeness.

I can’t tell if making this change would be appropriate allyship or just appropriation.

Booklist Backlist: Keeping Up with Science

This list was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2022.

The past several years have delivered one of the most exciting periods of scientific discovery in the modern era. New technologies have fostered fresh revelations that upended old understandings. Biology, evolution, psychology, sociology, cosmology, climatology: all these fields and more are expanding in fascinating and compelling directions. These past years have also seen a proliferation of science books written for popular audiences. This is a wonderful time to dive in and learn!

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Book Review: Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut’s Journey by Fred Haise and Bill Moore

Cover of the book Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut's Journey by Fred Haise and Bill Moore
Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut’s Journey
by Fred Haise and Bill Moore
Smithsonian, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2022.

“Never panic early” is learned by military pilots to stay calm in moments of crisis. This advice served Haise well over the course of his 40-plus years career. Most famous as one of the three Apollo 13 astronauts and their aborted moon landing, he also worked as a test pilot in the Marine Corps and as a NASA test pilot, and he was a member of the four-person test-pilot team to fly the first space shuttle, Enterprise. While at NASA, he served as CapCom for Apollo 14, was assigned to several backup crews, worked the closeout crew to prepare for Apollo 8 and 11, acted as a technical advisor on various projects, and even completed Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. He eventually went to work as an executive for Grumman Aerospace. This memoir eschews self-revelation in favor of a focus on the work. It’s dense with detail of the day-to-day reality of being a Marine pilot, engineer, and astronaut, filled with acronyms and technical jargon. It’s a down-to-Earth counterpoint to the typical dramatizations about the space race.

Book Review: The Observer Effect by Nick Jones

Cover of the book The Observer Effect by Nick Jones
The Observer Effect
by Nick Jones
Blackstone, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on February 25, 2022.

After the events in London, Joseph Bridgeman is beginning to feel more comfortable in his new life, but there are still unanswered questions: What is the Continuum? Who is Scarlett? And how does his sister fit into all this? When Bridgeman is contacted by the Continuum, it sends him to Paris in 1873, alongside a partner who’s not happy to be saddled with him, to save the life of a missing agent. This entry is the series’ most exciting and well-paced yet, pulling the reader along at just the right speed without making them feel jumbled. Jones formalizes the time travel mechanics he created in The Shadows of London (2021) while introducing more complexity and unknowns. He reveals more about the Continuum and Scarlett while leaving enough unanswered questions for subsequent novels. Jones has found his stride: his writing style is more assured now and he renders his characters more fully and naturally. He’s gotten better at integrating exposition without slowing down the plot. This third entry sets up a strong premise to sustain the series long term.

I Think I Should Get Rid of My Books

I’m thinking about getting rid of most of my books. I’ve been considering this idea for some time now. I look at my bookshelves at home and wonder what good all these books are doing. I’m never going to reread the overwhelming majority of them. There are some books I own that I’ve never read and I really don’t think I ever will at this point. They’re just sitting there.

What good is a book that’s not being used? *

How much good could my books do if I gave them away? Organizations like library friends’ groups could use them to fundraise. Used bookstores could put them into the hands of people who’ll actually read them. Various social support agencies are always looking for reading material for their clients.

It starts to feel selfish of me to hoard books that I’m not reading. That, in all likelihood, I’ll never read again.

It’s worth examining why I collected all my books in the first place.

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Pandemic: Stress, Anxiety, Fear & Uncertainty

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a weekday and I’ve been awake for half an hour. My phone dings with a new text message: A staff member reporting they’re sick and won’t be in today. So begins the scramble to find last minute coverage for their shift.

This used to happen maybe once or twice a month, a few times a year.

It happens multiple times a month now, sometimes multiple times in a single week. Some have symptoms or a positive test and need to quarantine, some are waiting for test results, some are simply worried about a possible exposure and don’t want to risk exposing coworkers. Scheduling has become incredibly unpredictable and coverage is stretched thin.

It’s gotten to the point that I wake up every morning with a low-key dread sitting in my stomach, waiting for my phone to ding. I have a visceral anxious reaction every time it does.

I didn’t used to have this reaction.

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2021: My Year in Reading

I read 57 books in 2021, which is surprising, given that I didn’t want to read all that much this year and went weeks at a time without cracking open a book.

I also started watching more TV this year. My TV watching has been abnormally low for the past few years—partly due to being distracted by the internet and partly due to self-consciousness and a reluctance to watch stuff by myself. I’ve always been this way: I don’t like using the TV to watch stuff no one else in the house is interested in. I love watching with other people, I’m just not comfortable using a shared TV to watch things only for me.

So this year, we set up a second TV in our back room where I can go watch by myself without worrying about it. It’s also a smart TV, so I can stream YouTube full screen and Bluetooth connect my noise cancelling headphones to it. (First world solutions for first world problems.) I spent a good amount of time catching up on some of the shows I’ve missed, which is nice.

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