An entertaining, intelligently presented book for the numerate and computer literate.

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ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY

THE COMPUTER SCIENCE OF HUMAN DECISIONS

We are always connected: this is both our blessing and our curse. The problem “is that we’re always buffered,” just a step behind the flood of information flowing toward and past us, all the books and movies and other ingredients of what the authors call “bufferbloat.”

What we need is a good strategy and filter, a greater cybernetic component in the way we think. Therewith the value of this book, seemingly loosely organized but in fact craftily programmed to build from one good idea to the next. The value of being aware of algorithmic thinking—of the thornier details of “human algorithm design,” as Christian (The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive, 2011) and Griffiths (Psychology and Cognitive Science/Univ. of California) put it—is not just better problem solving, but also greater insight into the human mind. And who doesn’t want to know how we tick? The authors lead us into the labyrinth with lessons on such matters as improved search and sort—sorting being “key to the human experience of information,” and thus a good thing to ponder, whether on how to organize your T-shirt drawer or your dissertation. The procrastinators and untidy among us will rejoice in knowing that sometimes a mess is not just OK, but even “the optimal choice,” as long as your search mechanism is good enough. Elsewhere, Christian and Griffiths apply Bayes-ian principles to gambling; if the reader does not emerge from the casino a winner, at least he or she may lose a little less. Most of the examples in this dense but lucid account are emphatically of the real world, but some are more meaningful than others: most people will find it better to know when to fold ’em, for instance, than to understand why Katy Perry can never possibly reply to all her fan mail.

An entertaining, intelligently presented book for the numerate and computer literate.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-036-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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