An overly quirky yet amusing and well-informed history of everything.

EVOLUTIONS

FIFTEEN MYTHS THAT EXPLAIN OUR WORLD

A chronicle of events from the Big Bang to the origin of life to the development of human consciousness, written as folktales.

In the introduction, Harman (History of Science, Science Technology and Society/Bar-Ilan Univ.; The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness, 2010) reminds readers that all cultures rely on myths: stories, often supernatural, that explain their origins and the great deeds that followed. The rise of science has marginalized them, but are we better off? The author asks, “has the knowledge of the inflating universe gotten us closer to understanding Fate?...Have the shadows of Jealousy or Love or Sacrifice been further illuminated by the understanding that emotions must have conferred an advantage in evolution?” Having asked a big question, Harman proceeds not to answer it. Beginning at the beginning, 14 billion years ago, the author delivers a technically accurate review of cosmology, biology, evolution, anthropology, and neuroscience in flowery, dramatic prose, often with an unconventional narrator (a bacterium, a whale). Each chapter’s title (“Hope,” “Love,” “Motherhood,” “Sacrifice,” “Truth”) promises deep insights, but the end result is a straightforward narrative with an occasional jolt. Early on, single-cell creatures were immortal; death became inevitable only with the appearance of sex. Evidence-based explanations of cosmology and evolution remain a minority view even in the United States, so readers with traditional beliefs will miss the point. Harman assumes his audience possesses a good layman’s knowledge of these topics, which may be a stretch. Ultimately, he writes, “I hope that all readers, insofar as they are still fully human, will recognize an age-old journey, an ancient and meaningful quest.” Ironically, the author’s final chapter is an outstanding discussion of the literature, popular and scholarly, that covers essentially all of science.

An overly quirky yet amusing and well-informed history of everything.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-15070-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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