This book’s complexity may drive some readers away, but its “in the trenches” view of science and academia should be...



A debut memoir recounts the experiences, conclusions, opinions, and connections the author developed during the time she spent pursuing a career in the sciences.

Despite a few detours along the way, Gerstell found scientific study dominating much of her life, beginning in her early days. Exploring her own mathematical sequences helped mitigate boredom during grade school. In addition, numerous family members in various STEM fields, including an uncle who worked with J. Robert Oppenheimer, were around to offer stories, expectations, and inspiration. She would earn two degrees through Harvard, eventually doing postgraduate work at Caltech well into middle age, where she earned her Ph.D. in planetary sciences. Through her researching and teaching the “big ideas” that many laypeople look on in awe of, ranging from avalanches on Mars to life on other planets, the author highlights the grunt work behind these endeavors, revealing the tedium of proofreading, mechanical data collection, and the unsatisfying notion that sometimes progress is showing what doesn’t work. Gerstell’s (The Trigonometric Travelogue, 1987) memoir is difficult to approach for those with little knowledge of mathematics or science. Much of the book relies on name-dropping scientific “somebodies” while checking off the “nobodies,” though the differences between the two will likely leave less-informed readers scratching their heads. A concise and useful index and appendix, as well as adequate citations, offset some of this, but a little more information on the why of these individuals’ stardom (or lack thereof) would ease some confusion. Gerstell’s time in STEM is explored in a nonlinear fashion, often utilizing short asides to address some intriguing inequities in the field. Anecdotal stories about African-American scientists unwilling to put their names on more outlandish theories and a look at why astronaut Sally Ride is thought of as a scientific superstar while astronaut Judith Resnik goes largely unremembered bring up invaluable points about the roles race, anti-Semitism, and even gender play in the sciences. Furthermore, it is chilling to see how many areas of study die due to nothing more than a lack of funding, while conclusions with solid backings, such as climate change, are forced into greater, unnecessary expenditures because of politics.

This book’s complexity may drive some readers away, but its “in the trenches” view of science and academia should be examined. 

Pub Date: March 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5236-7117-5

Page Count: 188

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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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

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