A concise, thoughtful exploration of how human understanding will be enhanced by “a humanistic science and a scientific...

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THE ORIGINS OF CREATIVITY

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson (Emeritus, Evolutionary Biology/Harvard Univ.; Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, 2016, etc.) offers a philosophical examination into “the mystery of why there are universal creative arts.”

The author’s answer exemplifies an alliance between science and the humanities that he champions throughout the book. Such a blending, he maintains, could “reinvigorate philosophy and begin a new, more endurable Enlightenment.” Wilson identifies five fields of research where this blending can be especially fertile: paleontology, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology. These fields may allow “the full meaning of the humanities” to emerge by helping the humanities overcome their shortcomings: “they are rootless in their explanations of causation and they exist within a bubble of sensory experience.” The big five fields are united by a “common thread” of belief in the crucial importance of natural selection. “Nothing in science and the humanities makes sense except in the light of evolution,” Wilson quotes a geneticist, including the existence of creativity. The author sees language as “the greatest evolutionary advance,” setting Homo sapiens apart from other species: “Without the invention of language we would have remained animals. Without metaphors we would still be savages.” Early Homo sapiens had a larger brain than their ancestors, providing “larger memory, leading to the construction of internal storytelling” and “true language,” which in turn gave rise to “our unprecedented creativity and culture.” That rapid transformation “was driven by a unique mode of evolution, called gene-culture coevolution,” in which cultural innovation and genes favoring intelligence and cooperation occurred “in reciprocity.” Wilson’s writing is at its most luminous when describing the “chitinous armor” and glistening bodies of ants—“one of the most beautiful animals in the world”—to which he has devoted much of his career. His more abstract analysis, though sometimes repetitious, is nevertheless salient.

A concise, thoughtful exploration of how human understanding will be enhanced by “a humanistic science and a scientific humanities.”

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63149-318-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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