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

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 25

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more