A highly relatable, accessible popular-science book.

The Meaning(s) of Life

A HUMAN'S GUIDE TO THE BIOLOGY OF SOULS

A sharp, highly scientific book about the intersection of evolutionary biology and the meaning of life.

In this popular-science debut, author M explores modern evolutionary understanding in an accessible, detailed manner. Ranging from the origin of life to the advent of genetically modified organisms, M tackles common misconceptions about the way cells interact, the way the first nucleated cell may have arisen, and how chromosome features called telomeres could lead to longer lives. On the surface, the book reads like a basic course in evolutionary biology, but at its core, it’s a philosophical exploration of how one can ascribe deeper meaning to biological facts and scientific ideas. The book’s greatest strength rests on its solid foundation in modern science; for example, it conveys sophisticated ideas regarding stem cell research and how it’s misunderstood. M also delves into the concepts of love, empathy and free will, placing humanity squarely within the animal kingdom but never devaluing the power of emotions. He even dives headfirst into a discussion of the long-term ethical and religious ramifications of immortality and artificial life. At times, M comes close to ascribing purpose to natural selection, a process shaped by circumstance and environment; one might suspect that humans are a “goal” of evolution, but this ignores the fact that every other creature alive today has been continuously evolving. At other times, the science overwhelms the philosophical underpinnings promised in the text. That said, this is a book to be dissected chapter by chapter and digested slowly. Indeed, it’s the kind of book that should be passed from hand to hand in classrooms among students and teachers, read by senators and congressmen, and savored in graduate seminars. Anyone who can credibly convince readers of his answer to the question, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?,” deserves attention.

A highly relatable, accessible popular-science book.

Pub Date: April 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499150179

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

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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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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

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