mini-review · stuff I read

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen

34930832Summary from Goodreads:
From evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen, a book that will make you see yourself and the world around you in an entirely new way.

For a long time, biologists thought evolution was a necessarily slow process, too incremental to be observed in a lifetime. In Darwin Comes to Town, evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen shows that evolution can in fact happen extremely quickly, and in the strangest of places: the heart of the city.

Menno Schilthuizen is one of a growing number of “urban ecologists” studying how our manmade environments are accelerating the evolution of the animals and plants around us. Cities are extreme environments and, in a world of adapt or die, the wildlife sharing these spaces with us is being forced to adopt fascinating new ways of surviving, and often thriving.

–Carrion crows in the Japanese city of Sendai have learned to use passing traffic to crack nuts.
–Spiders in Vienna are adapting to build their webs near moth-attracting streetlights, while moths in some cities are developing a resistance to the lure of light bulbs.
–Certain Puerto Rican city lizards are evolving feet that better grip surfaces like concrete.
–Europe’s urban blackbirds sing at a higher pitch than their rural cousins, to be heard over the din of traffic, while many pigeons have eschewed traveling “as the crow flies” in favor of following manmade roads.

Darwin Comes to Town draws on these and other eye-popping examples to share a stunning vision of urban evolution in which humans and wildlife co-exist in a unique harmony. It reveals that evolution can happen far more rapidly than Darwin dreamed, while providing a glimmer of hope that our race toward overpopulation might not take the rest of nature down with us.

Darwin Comes to Town is surprisingly fun – and chatty – book about urban biodiversity and evolution. As the world changes, and more and more people migrate around the world and into cities, animals will do the same. There will be more “rural” animal species that move into the city and become “urban” species. At this point we also can’t get away from the reality that humans have contributed to these changes as we have helped transport species from their native niches all over the globe. A very interesting book.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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stuff I read

Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery

30653955Summary from Goodreads:
In this shocking, hard-hitting expose in the tradition of Naomi Klein and Barbara Ehrenreich, the editorial director of Feministing.com, reveals how gender bias infects every level of medicine and healthcare today—leading to inadequate, inappropriate, and even dangerous treatment that threatens women’s lives and well-being.

Maya Dusenbery brings together scientific and sociological research, interviews with experts within and outside the medical establishment, and personal stories from regular women to provide the first comprehensive, accessible look at how sexism in medicine harms women today. In addition to offering a clear-eyed explanation of the root causes of this insidious and entrenched bias and laying out its effects, she suggests concrete steps we can take to cure it.

As an epidemiologist, one of the first things I learned when starting data analysis was that you always included age (either categorical or a mean and range) and gender in your Table 1, usually in the first two lines. Apparently, Dr. Torner’s list of “best practices” for data analysis is an anomaly. Including gender in one’s analysis or report of results in the medical literature is often ignored. The problem with ignoring gender runs deep into scientific research, from subject recruitment for clinical trials all the way back to the gender of laboratory animals in bench research.

Doing Harm is a deep-dive into decades-long practices in science and medicine that disadvantage women and minorities from the word go. Results from huge clinical trials that enrolled only men (for a really stupid reason) are used in evidence-based medicine and applied across all genders. Laboratory phase-one pharmacology trials using only male animals fail to reveal that a female-based biochemistry will metabolize the drug differently. The imbalance spirals outward into the patient experience. Misogynistic, prejudicial, and paternalistic attitudes by physicians and other care providers are reported through interviews and research reported in the medical literature. There is a persistent and pervasive belief that self-reported symptoms by women and people of color are not to be trusted. Dusenbery gets into the actual published science behind all the bad science and medicine and how the tides are slowly beginning to turn. Very slowly – even when new science is presented, meant to effect practice changes, no one is there making sure every physician or care provider incorporates new findings into their daily practice.

Doing Harm is one of a three-book trifecta coming out March 6 about women’s health and chronic illness. I will review Invisible on March 6. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to acquire a galley of Ask Me About My Uterus so will have to wait until it arrives at the store to check it out.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals, #1)

35271238Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Alyssa Cole comes the tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise . . .

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

About two chapters into my galley of Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory I started squealing. Ledi is a grad student in epidemiology! Specifically, infectious diseases!! *heart-eyes emoji* And she talks about the research and the writing like she knows what she’s doing!! *many more heart-eyes emojis* (Turns out Cole used to work as an editor for a science journal, yaaaaaas, girl.)

So here’s the deal: if you were looking for an update-ish of Coming to America with a stronger female main character, a prince who is concerned with doing right by his people, strong and intersectional secondary characters, science, social commentary, and excellent fashion descriptions, A Princess in Theory is for you.  If you weren’t looking for a story like this, you still want this book.  You’re welcome.

I lurved it. All of it. Ledi is a smart, streetwise heroine from the school of “no one wants a foster kid no matter how much she tries to be the Perfect Kid.” You just want to smack so many adults on her behalf, both from her childhood and from her current adult life (there’s a post-doc in her lab that deserves some Draino in his coffee). Thabiso is a literal Prince who gets his life turned upside down when he determines Ledi’s his long-lost fiancé – his plan to show her what she missed out on (chiefly, His Awesomeness as a Prince) when her parents fled Thesolo is just the most delightfully wrong-headed idea ever. Once Thabiso decides to get to know Ledi (although he does that as some dude named Jamal, so also not the best plan in the long-term), Cole brings in some great commentary about colonialism, big-government jacking around with global disease prevention funding, and the foster system. There are some steamy sexytimes, too. (What? This is still a romance novel.) My only criticism – and it’s a minor one – is that I could smell the villain coming from miles away, which is probably my own fault for having read so many Agatha Christie novels.

I know Cole probably didn’t intend the juxtaposition, but when she described Thabiso’s beard as being trimmed to accentuate his sharp jaw my brain went immediately to all the pictures of Chadwick Boseman dressed in his T’challa costumes. So if this ever gets made into a movie, they’ll have to cast Boseman. Sorry not sorry? (I mean, there are worse people you can resemble, I’m just saying. I was reading this in the two weeks prior to the release of Black Panther in theatres and Instagram just kept parking ads and trailers with Boseman’s gorgeous face all over my feed. Ledi was a little harder to headcast – Letitia Wright is obviously a good choice with her recent turn as awesome scientist-princess Shuri in Black Panther.)

I would like to ask the Romancelandia Fairy-godmother for a book for Likotsi – she quickly went from Thabiso’s enigmatic assistant to an awesomesauce lady frand and she needs a story of her own. (Also, I want all her suits, even though I do not have the body type for them, because they sounded so damn gorgeous.) But next up is a book for Ledi’s bestie Portia who goes off to Scotland for an internship in swordmaking (y’all, Portia is something else) and finds a duke along the way. PS: Avon, any time you want to park that galley on Edelweiss I’ll read the crap out of it.

A Princess in Theory is out today! Whoop whoop!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my nook. So hah.

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen by Wendy Jones

34445233Summary from Goodreads:
Why is Jane Austen so phenomenally popular? Why do we read Pride and Prejudice again and again? Why do we delight in Emma’s mischievous schemes? Why do we care that Anne Elliot of Persuasion suffers?

We care because it is our biological destiny to be interested in people and their stories—the human brain is a social brain. And Austen’s characters are so believable, that for many of us, they are not just imaginary beings, but friends whom we know and love. And thanks to Austen’s ability to capture the breadth and depth of human psychology so thoroughly, we feel that she empathizes with us, her readers.

Humans have a profound need for empathy, to know that we are not alone with our joys and sorrows. And then there is attachment, denial, narcissism, and of course, love, to name a few. We see ourselves and others reflected in Austen’s work.

Social intelligence is one of the most highly developed human traits when compared with other animals How did is evolve? Why is it so valuable? Wendy Jones explores the many facets of social intelligence and juxtaposes them with the Austen cannon.

Brilliantly original and insightful, this fusion of psychology, neuroscience, and literature provides a heightened understanding of one of our most beloved cultural institutions—and our own minds.

2017, being the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, has brought a solid round of all things Jane Austen: new biographies, new editions of older work, and new applications.  Jane on the Brain by Wendy Jones is a work fusing neuroscience and literary studies. It’s pretty good. I think the book works better for teaching concepts like Theory of Mind, etc, by using Austen’s characters as examples rather than doing textual analysis of the Austen novels using ToM, which is how it was pitched to me (there are some areas where things get off-text and that’s a no go for me). There are a lot of very technical sections and it helped to understand the psychological/neuroscience theory via well-known characters. So an interesting read, though I didn’t love it.

I hope that the copy editors were thorough – the galley I read had a boatload of typos, including a few where Edward from Sense & Sensibility was referred to as Edgar. Whoops.

Dear FTC: I read a galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks

34128230Summary from Goodreads:
From the best-selling author of Gratitude, On the Move, and Musicophilia, a collection of essays that displays Oliver Sacks’s passionate engagement with the most compelling and seminal ideas of human endeavor: evolution, creativity, memory, time, consciousness, and experience.

Oliver Sacks, a scientist and a storyteller, is beloved by readers for the extraordinary neurological case histories (Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars) in which he introduced and explored many now familiar disorders–autism, Tourette’s syndrome, face blindness, savant syndrome. He was also a memoirist who wrote with honesty and humor about the remarkable and strange encounters and experiences that shaped him (Uncle Tungsten, On the Move, Gratitude). Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology. The River of Consciousness is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.

The River of Consciousness is a short collection of previously published essays that make us feel the loss of a person like Oliver Sacks very keenly. He loved science and scientific advances in all fields, not just his chosen profession of neuroscience. The collection is a bit too eclectic to be was wonderful as something like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. The essays on Darwin aren’t that interesting, and perhaps a bit meandering, but for the essays that focus more particularly on neuroscience and the brain, especially “Scotoma: Forgetting and Neglect in Science,” Sacks’s love and passion shine through.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Best American · mini-review · stuff I read

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017 edited by Hope Jahren

33503528Summary from Goodreads:
“Undeniably exquisite . . . Reveal[s] not only how science actually happens but also who or what propels its immutable humanity.” —Maria Popova

“An excellent introduction to the key issues in science today.” —P. D. Smith, Guardian

“[A] stellar compendium . . . Delightful to read.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A renowned scientist and the best-selling author of Lab Girl, Hope Jahren selects the year’s top science and nature writing from writers who balance research with humanity and in the process uncover riveting stories of discovery across disciplines.

When October rolls around each year, I eagerly snatch up my stack of HMH’s Best American Series titles (Essays, Short Stories, Non-required Reading, Science Fiction and Fantasy; RIP Infographics) but the collection I read first is always The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

The 2017 edition is an excellent collection of science writing selected by Hope Jahren. Jahren chose articles not only about advances in science but about the lives and events behind the scientists’ discoveries. Of particular importance are two essays about the sexual harassment that women suffer in the sciences (apparently it is hard to conduct one’s self in an appropriate professional manner ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, which is completely not hard at all, ugh #whyaremen. Don’t bother @ing me). Highly recommend.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

Another Fine Mess: Life on Tomorrow’s Moon by Pope Brock

33508569Summary from Goodreads:
Now that we’ve pretty much ruined planet Earth–no big secret–science tells us the human race could be doomed. Well, not all science, but some of it, enough to have sparked a lively interest in setting up someplace else. But where?

The answer is the moon of course, and that’s what this book explores: the many ways in which today’s scientists, entrepreneurs, architects and, yes, a few loonies are working to get colonies established there ASAP. Filled with research, interviews and expert projections, these pages reveal how a web of fantastic new technologies could give mankind a brand new start off-world.

The only worm in the ointment is human nature. It’s the one thing pioneers in this business almost never discuss. Yet it’s of vital concern: given a second chance on the moon, will we use it to create at last a sane and peaceful society? Or will we make a desperate hash of things all over again?

Here’s your doorway to the moon of tomorrow. Pass through and decide for yourself.

Another Fine Mess is a very readable set of essays ruminating on the possibility of colonizing the Moon once humans have finished ruining the Earth. Brock has done a lot of research, rounding up ideas from the logical (launchpoint for Mars missions) to the ludicrous (Las Vegas on the lunar surface). It’s a bit self-congratulatorily clever in places but really worth reading for the sheer breadth of ideas humans have had about the Moon for centuries.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.