Posts categorized “Book Reviews”.

Caveman Chemistry

Idiosyncratic and irreverent, Caveman Chemistry is like no other chemistry textbook that I know of. What textbook that you’ve read quotes regularly from the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trimegistus? It is authored not only by Kevin Dunn but also four figments of his imagination representing the classical elements who have leapt from mind to mind down through history and do their best to make the leap out of the book and into yours. You learn the history of chemical technology through a series of hands-on projects that demand that you get your hands dirty making things from scratch: fire, paper, glass, soap, batteries, photographs, polyester, and others. The book does not shy away from potentially dangerous projects like making gunpowder, alcohol, and chlorine gas, trusting that readers are capable of all due caution.

The book gave me a greater appreciation for the sources for the products that I use on a daily basis. Rather than being conjured out of thin air, the stuff in my life has its origin in the natural world. ★★★★★

The banality of collapse

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised EditionCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition by Jared Diamond

Growing up in America at the end of the Cold War, I should be forgiven for getting the impression that only an act of nuclear-powered global self-immolation stood between us and a glorious future of eternal progress, that only two possibilities existed: a future technological paradise and a blighted Mad Max wasteland. Collapse by Jared Diamond serves as antidote. Its litany of collapsed civilizations proves that only hubris allows us to imagine that our own civilization will go on forever or that it takes something as dramatic as nuclear war to bring it to an end. Diamond tries to shed light on how it will happen to us by examining the history of collapsed civilizations such as the Mayans, the Anasazi, the Greenland Norse, and the Easter Islanders. We may be done in by something as banal as soil erosion or over-dependence on imported resources. He manages to be surprisingly even-handed when he handles topics like climate change that have become fodder for American politics. ★★★★★

Till We Have Faces: A Myth RetoldTill We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

In Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis has created an entertaining, thought provoking reinterpretation of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The myth, in his hands, becomes a Christian parable and an apologia for a transcendent god who remains unseen and unheard. Like his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, I cordially dislike allegory. He has some interesting things to say about selfish love and authenticity, but the story drips with self-conscious wisdom and profundity. It left me with an aftertaste of narcissism. ★★★☆☆