HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE FUNGI

COLLECTED QUIRKS OF SCIENCE, TECH, ENGINEERING, AND MATH FROM NERD NITE

An enjoyable romp through the back alleys of scientific research, proving that knowledge and fun can easily go together.

A quirky compilation presents an engaging stroll through a forest of peculiar subjects.

For anyone who often finds life difficult, depressing, and too serious, this book is for you. Balakrishnan and Wasowski collect dozens of presentations from their Nerd Nite events, which are held monthly. There is also a YouTube channel, curated by the authors, who between them have a good mix of expertise. The subjects are largely scientific and cover topics ranging from the chemical basis of hangovers to the complex math of gossip. Some of the presenters are established scientists, while others are doctoral students or people who just know a lot about a specific topic. Several of the essays are laugh-out-loud funny—e.g., Jane Gregory’s piece about why some people are driven to paroxysms by small but repetitive sounds, such as those made by the annoying individuals who eat chips straight from the foil bag (“misophonia can attach itself to any repetitive sound, but the most common ones are things like chewing, breathing, sniffing, and throat clearing).” Others, such as the zombie creatures of the animal kingdom or dealing with excrement in space, are cleverly droll. Many, such as the piece titled “Why Nuclear Fusion Would Be Awesome—If We Get It to Work” or the one explaining how to manipulate perceptions of physical attractiveness (“Hot or Not? How To Be a Perfect 10”), are surprisingly informative. Most of the essays are only a few pages, so the book is a good one to dip into when a lift in mood is required, and Orr’s wacky illustrations provide a further dimension. One regrettable omission is that there is no contribution on influencing fungi, although it is clear that Balakrishnan and Wasowski are fun guys.

An enjoyable romp through the back alleys of scientific research, proving that knowledge and fun can easily go together.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9781250288349

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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