A worthy primer on the science of comprehending language at the visible, symbolic level of print, a place that requires...

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LANGUAGE AT THE SPEED OF SIGHT

HOW WE READ, WHY SO MANY CAN’T, AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT

Johnny can’t read—and too often his teachers can only guess why.

Reading is something that we almost always do at a subconscious level: we do not think about it, and for good reason, since we need to concentrate on the result—the content of what we have been reading, that is—and not the process. Still, the fact that there is this subconscious work going on requires a science of reading to describe what Seidenberg (Psychology/Univ. of Wisconsin) calls a complex skill that operates “at levels that intuition cannot easily penetrate.” One way of looking at reading is to examine where it doesn’t quite work out as expected. Much of the author’s research, and a sizable portion of this book, concerns dyslexia, a phenomenon that turns on anatomical properties of the brain in which “signal propagation between and within regions seems to be…noisier,” which in turn affects “the modification of neuronal responses and their retention.” The neuroscience underlying these findings is complex, of course, but Seidenberg does not often fall into thickets of technicality; for the most part, his discussions are clear and accessible, if of most compelling interest to a small audience of reading specialists. The author counters on that score that reading should be a matter of larger interest to teachers especially, given the discouraging levels of literacy across the world; he argues that teacher training should involve a curriculum embracing reading science, child development, and cognition, among other areas. Broader familiarity with the science of reading, he suggests, would be of use at the policy level as well, since so much of it is based on assumptions concerning problems of social engineering—poverty, household makeup, and so forth.

A worthy primer on the science of comprehending language at the visible, symbolic level of print, a place that requires plenty of brain power and years of practice to navigate.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-01932-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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