An accessible, well-researched analysis of the impact of literacy.

READ REVIEW

READER, COME HOME

THE READING BRAIN IN A DIGITAL WORLD

A cognitive neuroscientist considers the effect of digital media on the brain.

In this epistolary book, Wolf (Director, Center for Reading and Language Research/Tufts Univ.; Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century, 2016, etc.) draws on neuroscience, psychology, education, philosophy, physics, physiology, and literature to examine the differences between reading physical books and reading digitally. Access to written language, she asserts, is able “to change the course of an individual life” by offering encounters with worlds outside of one’s experiences and generating “infinite possibilities” of thought. She is worried, however, that digital reading has altered “the quality of attention” from that required by focusing on the pages of a book. Researchers have found that “sequencing of information and memory for detail change for the worse when subjects read on a screen.” Reading digitally, individuals skim through a text looking for key words, “to grasp the context, dart to the conclusions at the end, and, only if warranted, return to the body of the text to cherry-pick supporting details.” This process, Wolf asserts, is unlike the deep reading of complex, dense prose that demands considerable effort but has aesthetic and cognitive rewards. Physicality, she writes, “proffers something both psychologically and tactilely tangible.” The author cites Calvino, Rilke, Emily Dickinson, and T.S. Eliot, among other writers, to support her assertion that deep reading fosters empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and self-reflection. The development of “critical analytical powers and independent judgment,” she argues convincingly, is vital for citizenship in a democracy, and she worries that digital reading is eroding these qualities. Borrowing a phrase from historian Robert Darnton, she calls the current challenge to reading a “hinge moment” in our culture, and she offers suggestions for raising children in a digital age: reading books, even to infants; limiting exposure to digital media for children younger than 5; and investing in teaching reading in school, including teacher training, to help children “develop habits of mind that can be used across various mediums and media.”

An accessible, well-researched analysis of the impact of literacy.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-238878-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more