The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race
These are usually the only types of non-fiction that I will read: non-fiction about science or math or healthcare, doubling down on my nerdy persona. This book in particular was recommended to me by a colleague who mentioned reading it during a meeting.
This is a long book, and as another colleague said, it might not be his best. My rationale for why is this: I think that the combination of Issacson and Doudna lack some essential element to address the biggest elephant in the room with regards to Doudna–namely, that science is also sexist, and that there is some nonzero reason why hearing her being chastised for “ambition” makes my skin crawl. Doudna mentions a handful of occasions where she felt active sexism, but it’s not something that Issacson really delves into. I think it would have required a subject more open to discussing the effects in her life (which, to be clear, I don’t think she needs to do and quite honestly I think it’d only do her a disservice because Science as an industry is amongst the Worsts). Or a writer more attune to the BS.
But if we set that aside, this book was a somewhat dry history/timeline first half followed by a super fascinating, gossipy second half. You need the first part to understand the second part–for one, the entire patent case hinges on who did what when–but the point felt like “did you know that science is a large collaborative endeavor these days” which I, personally didn’t need 200 pages to know.
The second part though! Excellent. More humanizing of scientists. Here for it all the way, here for Doudna and Charpentier getting all the credit for their discovery. Here for them also getting the cash monies.
Humble Pi: A Comedy of Math Errors
A recommendation from Mobius_Walker!
the only types of non-fiction I will read: no attempts at self improvement, only humorous anecdotes/anecdata about something STEM-y.
And as such, I very much enjoyed this book! While there were multiple parts that I didn’t fully understand due to my noted block vis-a-vis anything to do with statistics, I very much appreciated the jokes around Excel:
I like to imagine the Microsoft spokesperson delivering their reply in a press conference while someone behind the scenes has to physically restrain the Microsoft Access team, which is an actual database system. Through the walls can be heard muffled cries of “Tell them to use a real database LIKE AN ADULT.”
Because yes, a lack of understanding of how math works is the cause for more than just consternation amongst the nation’s math teachers–it causes real and present damage!
Me Talk Pretty One Day
Read this for the bits about learning French while at the airport in Marseilles getting ready to leave France (😢) back in September. And true to form, I was laughing so hard that I’m sure I was getting funny looks from the others in the airport.
I don’t know why people hate on this book so much. Sedaris might not be as funny as his sister, but he’s still a gifted author with a wry sense of humor about his own life. It’s a pretty common technique, no? Mining your own life for humor and laying bare your flaws (perceived or real) to laugh at?
While the earlier bits were funny, nothing was AS hilarious as Sedaris’ anguish over trying to learn a new language. The story obviously hits very close to home as someone who has tried to learn a language to fit in, and it hits twice as hard because unlike with my mother tongues, French is actually a language I spent significant time polishing and learning for multiple years. Being in France and trying to speak French to people I meet in a way that makes them reply to me in French as well? A never ending roller coaster of hope and despair.
A sidebar: shopkeepers were always the best about indulging my French–they must know how well it works as a sales technique 😉
The highlight of this book is, of course, Sedaris’ recounting of the attempt of his class to explain Easter. I cannot do it justice–this book is short, read the learning French section just for that chapter.
Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
In looking for a new science author to follow now that my brief, brightly burning love affair with Bill Bryson has come to a close, I stumbled upon Mary Roach. I love that she has a whole backlog of books and that they’re all closely focused on a topic.
If I had to critique it–and let’s be clear, I’m being very nitpicky here–I wish there were a bit more humor interwoven into the various chapters, and that there was more of a flow from chapter to chapter. Roach is a very gifted writer with a keen sense of story telling. The book is written exactly how I’d expect it to go, starting with history of cadavers and then naturally progressing to the various aspects of human existence that depend on human vehicles post-existence.
Finding it hard to come up with additional things to comment on! I think if you’re the audience for this sort of book you’ll know it. These sorts of books are pretty much the only sorts of non-fiction that I read (science-y themed ones). I’m looking forward to reading her others and then bombarding people with facts that I’ve learnt for the weeks following.
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America
A recommendation from narfna!
What do you think you’re going to get through reading this book? If you said “barely suppressed but never incoherent rage,” ding ding ding you’re winning a prize!
Every time I think that I have a decent (but by no means exhaustive) handle on the series of travesties inflicted upon the Indigenous population in North America a book like this will come along to tear that all to shreds and make me realize that well, I don’t.
I suppose the most striking part of this book for me was how stories from modern day Canada and the USA were interwoven. As an American, I have a pretty good reckoning with American history (and, because of my schooling, European history as well). I don’t really know much about Canada, other than the basics (i.e., the residential school system). Part of me feels like as an American I should focus on issues relevant to here, but as King points out–“that line doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of someone’s imagination.”