by Alice Dreger ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
Let us be grateful that there are writers like Dreger who have the wits and the guts to fight for truth.
Dreger (Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics/Northwestern Univ.; One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal, 2004, etc.) passionately investigates character assassinations in academia and how “[s]cience and social justice require each other to be healthy, and both are critically important to human freedom.”
Among others, the author examines the case of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, whose blunt characterization of the Yanamomö tribe in Brazil led to accusations that he had fomented tribal violence. This was false, Dreger demonstrates, abetted by a disgraceful lack of fact-checking, personal animus and a belief in tribes as “noble savages.” Following her doctoral thesis on Victorian doctors’ attitudes toward hermaphrodites, Dreger’s writing caught the attention of the intersex movement, which she joined to support the rights of mixed-sex individuals to self-determine their sexual identity. Similarly, she supported transsexual rights but soon became a target for uncovering the dirty dealings of three transgendered females. The women were incensed by a researcher who proposed that the sex changes of some male-to-female transsexuals were motivated by eroticism. The trio exploited social media with outrageous fabrications of the researcher’s work and life. In other studies, Dreger found serious ethical issues with the research of a pediatrician who espouses the use of a potent steroid drug in certain pregnancies to forestall virilizing a female baby. The author also takes to task feminists who attacked an evolutionary psychologist for suggesting that rape, found in humans and other species, could be a way of perpetuating a male’s genes. Dreger’s investigations all turn on how human identity and behavior have been defined in history and why challenges to conventional wisdom are so inflammatory. That explains her homage to Galileo, whose mummified middle finger she saw in a museum in Florence. The finger points skyward to symbolize his opening the heavens to scientific investigation, she writes, while at the same time “giving the finger” in defiance of Vatican authority.Let us be grateful that there are writers like Dreger who have the wits and the guts to fight for truth.
Pub Date: March 10, 2015
Page Count: 340
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
Share your opinion of this book
A quirky wonder of a book.
A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.
Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.A quirky wonder of a book.
Pub Date: April 14, 2020
Page Count: 224
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020
Share your opinion of this book
by Bill Bryson ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2003
Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...
Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.
As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.
Pub Date: May 6, 2003
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003
Share your opinion of this book
Hey there, book lover.
We’re glad you found a book that interests you!