Category Archives: Books

Climate Change Reading and Resources

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Dire Predictions: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC by Michael Mann summarizes the IPCC Report on climate change (scientific basis) in a clear and understandable way without sacrificing important detail and nuance.

One test of the legitimacy of claims about scientific matters is time. Over time, if a proposal about how nature works that buck the consensus is valid, it will be shown to be valid. If it is not, it will fail the test of time. Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli looks at the predictions of those who have been denying the reality of climate change, comparing those predictions made by mainstream science. Read the book to find out who won!

Even though this is not specifically about climate science, I always recommend that people read Sean Otto’s The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It to understand why we are not simply and directly dealing with climate change. Along the same lines, Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines chronicles the denier-science fight at its high water mark, a few years back.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming is a pretty good book, and at this moment very current, to read about how to address climate change.


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The Biology of Extremes: Superlative by Matthew D. LaPlante

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Superlative: The Biology of Extremes by Matthew D. LaPlante is not just about extremes, but about all the things in between that make the extremes extreme. LaPlante looks at size, speed, age, intelligence. For all the various subtopics that come up in such an exploration, LaPlante does a great job of bringing in the latest research. Mostly, this is a collection of interesting evolutionary and biological stories that happen to involve tiny things, giant things, old things, fast things, or things that are in some other way — superlative.

Go for a swim with a ghost shark, the slowest-evolving creature known to humankind, which is teaching us new ways to think about immunity. Get to know the axolotl, which has the longest-known genome and may hold the secret to cellular regeneration. Learn about Monorhaphis chuni, the oldest discovered animal, which is providing insights into the connection between our terrestrial and aquatic worlds.

I’m not endorsing every idea or story in this book. One can not write a book about adaptations and have any evolutionary biologist worth their salt not bump on things. But the author does an honest and straightforward job of representing the research, and you’ll learn quite a bit that is new, see new perspectives on things you’ve considered in the past, and you’ll enjoy LaPlante’s writing.

I will probably be recommending this volume as a holiday gift for the Uncle who has everything or the teenager who likes natural history. Teachers of wildlife biology, evolution, or related topics will be able to mine this volume for stories. The use of footnotes is notable.* I recommend Superlative


  • … and well done.

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Food Or War by Julian Cribb: Excellent new book

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For many years, scientists who studied biology, behavior, and ecology (under the name of various disciplines) looked at resources, including and especially food, as a major determinant of social structure in social animals, herd structure in herd animals, and so on. Then, there was a revolution and it quickly became apparent that sex, not food, underlies everything and is the ultimate explanation for the variation we see in nature. That pair of dimes lasted for a while, then the other penny dropped and thanks to key research done by a handful of people (including me, in relation to human evolution), it became apparent that there was a third significant factor, that ultimately trumped sex as an organizing force. Food.

I hate it when the author of a book about something historical (history = written records) or even contemporary requires a paleolithic or prehistoric context. If I had a dime for every first chapter I’ve seen where a perfectly expert expert drones ignorantly on about how their book is a follow on of something that started in Olduvai Gorge and side stepped the Neanderthals and all that, I’d have several dollars. Praise the gods that Julian Cribb, in his new book Food or War, only does that for a few paragraphs and does it well!

This book is important, impressive, and a must read.

Food has organized society, politics, war, settlement, colonialism, and the economy more than any single factor, and food has been revolutionized by those things as well. As a simple way to understand this, consider any particular traditional food ask yourself, “would this even be possible were it not for the ability to sail up wind in a ship?” The answer, once you get to it, will almost always be no. Plantains, grass-based cereal crops, maize, potatoes, cassava, a range of vegetables such as tomatoes and various gourds and squash, green leafy things, all of it, are now available to grow in each and every habitat they can be grown in, not just the habitats that happen to be in the geographical region they were domesticated in. And, importantly, this transition happened centuries ago, depending on where one looks. Much of it happened before missionaries or explorers accounts even have a chance to flesh out the details of native live, and certainly long before anthropologists or other professional observers arrived on the scene.

Food or War is the book you must read now to understand the complex historical dynamics behind what you are eating.

The book covers food up to the present, and all the major considerations related to it. Drought, loss of land, climate change, migration, foodies, permaculture, organic farming, and on and on are all addressed in this well written scholarly but for everyone volume. And Cribb makes a stab at projecting into the future, and suggesting what we may consider doing about our food related problems.

This is not a happy book. A book dedicated to Paul Ehrlich is not going to be a happy book. It is a black book with blood red writing and a skull and crossbones on the cover. The title puts an or between the words food and war. This is not the read you need to get you away from the awful discourse polluting our psyches at this moment in history. But it is the book you need to read in order to understand and contextualize many of our policy related problems in the here and now. Plus, it is simply very well written, very well researched, and you will learn things. Many things.

Here’s the TOC:

  1. Food and conflict
  2. War and hunger
  3. The strategic importance of food, land and water
  4. Is ‘agriculture’ sustainable?
  5. Hotspots for food conflict in the twenty-first century
  6. Food as an existential risk
  7. Food for peace
  8. Urban dreams and nightmares
  9. The future of food
  10. Conclusion: key recommendations of this book.

I strongly recommend this book. It is available for pr-order, coming out in September.


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Our Changing Earth: New Climate Change Book

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Our Changing Earth: Why Climate Change Matters to Young People by Arjun Marwaha is a book for young people, about why climate change should matter to young people, and it is written by an actual young person! Marwaha is a high school junior from California, decorated for his excellent essay writing, who has a passion for helping people understand climate change. The book does that well.

Between the years 2030 and 2050, a quarter of a million people per year will lose their lives to climate change. Blazing temperatures and catastrophic weather are well-known climate change effects, but these simply do not compare with health-related effects: the transmission of water-borne and vector-borne disease. Arjun Marwaha, a high schooler with a passion for STEM, has committed himself to foster awareness for climate change among the youth of today. In Our Changing Earth, he delves into how our planet will be altered in response to climate change, and why this is relevant particularly to young people. Looking forward, Arjun hopes to promote awareness among all humans for the greatest threat to humanity in the 21st century and beyond: climate change.

The author covers sea level rise, increase heat, disease, ocean acidification, dividing the outcomes of anthropogenic climate change into earth-based effects and human health effects. Over eighty sources are used and referenced, and the book includes a glossary of terms divided out by chapter. (I might have put those term definitions in boxes within the chapters, but it is a matter of taste).

Perfect for your high school age child who may benefit from seeing the point of view of another like-minded, like-aged person. Good for anyone who wants to know more about climate change’s effects and causes. I enjoyed, in an apocalyptic depressing sort of way of course, Our Changing Earth: Why Climate Change Matters to Young People.


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Two Amazing Books Set In Africa

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Right now, for a limited time only, The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver, is available cheap in Kindle format. You probably know the book.

The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Against this backdrop, Orleanna Price reconstructs the story of her evangelist husband’s part in the Western assault on Africa, a tale indelibly darkened by her own losses and unanswerable questions about her own culpability. Also narrating the story, by turns, are her four daughters—the self-centered, teenaged Rachel; shrewd adolescent twins Leah and Adah; and Ruth May, a prescient five-year-old. These sharply observant girls, who arrive in the Congo with racial preconceptions forged in 1950s Georgia, will be marked in surprisingly different ways by their father’s intractable mission, and by Africa itself. Ultimately each must strike her own separate path to salvation. Their passionately intertwined stories become a compelling exploration of moral risk and personal responsibility.

The other amazing book is this extended novella, or shortish novel, mixing compelling and hilarious fiction with thinly veiled actual observations and experiences on the OTHER side of the Congo, in and alongside the Western Rift Valley, as an enigmatic primatologist and a partly clued-in explorer-guy search for an elusive creature that might or might not exist. If you are a member of the Skeptics movement and want to know more about your own origins, In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden is a must read.

I’m sure that either one of these authors would appreciate a nice review once you’ve read the book!

“You know how to review a book, don’t you? Just put your lips together and click on something.:” — Archer Mallows, explorer-guy


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In Search of Sungudogo: A Novel

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I wrote a novel called In Search of Sungudogo.

I wrote this novel, really, a novella, a few years ago as part of a publicity and fundraising stunt several bloggers were doing all at once. Some bloggers shaved their beards or got Mohawks while live streaming, others did other things (nobody can really remember) and I live blogged the construction of a novel by putting out one chapter an hour until I was done.

The final product was rough, especially the beginning and the end. And the middle. As you might expect.

But a heavy revision resulted in what I think is a pretty good story. Those of you who saw the previously Kindle-published version are familiar, but it is further updated since then, not a lot, but with some helpful improvements.

The story started out as a take-off on the Heart of Darkness by Conrad. Other than certain personality shades shared between Archer Mallow (of Sungudogo) and Conrad’s protagonist, Captain Marlow, the similarities are no longer there. It is the story about a search for an as yet unverified form of ape, by a primatologist and a logistical expert familiar (more or less) with the region.

The setting is a part of Africa I am very familiar with. Many of the scenes in the novel are based on things that I’ve experienced, seen, or heard about in my work there. There really is a restaurant that has everything yet nothing, the park guards really are issued one bullet at a time, the volcanoes really do eat small planes. Also accurate are the geography and geology of the area, except where the story veers off into science fiction. And yes, this is science fiction.

In Search of Sungudogo is available in Kindle form now, and will be available in print form very soon, just a matter of days. I’ll let you know when that happens.

Feel free to put a review on Amazon if you like it!


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What do we need men for? Including Donald Trump?

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My FBFF E. Jean Carroll has a new book coming out, What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal. You’ve heard about her, and the book, and related matters because Donald Trump’s apparent first degree rape of Ms. Carroll, several years ago, is in the news today, and for a story about Trump to vie for bigness among all the other stories, let alone being noticed at all, it must be amazing. Continue reading What do we need men for? Including Donald Trump?


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Best Children’s Book on Human Evolution

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Aside from evolutionary theory itself, the teaching of Human evolution involves physiology and reproductive biology, behavioral biology, genetics, and the fossil record itself with details of a concomitant history.

And finally, there is a children’s book that addresses the latter, in amazing detail!

There are very few good (or even bad) children’s books about evolution, and far fewer about human evolution. And when a children’s book touches on human evolution, it is usually just about Neanderthals.

When We Became Humans: The Story of Our Evolution by Michael Bright with illustrations by Hannah Bailey is a very good book on human evolution. The book is over 60 pages long in large format, and my copy is cloth bound. The production quality of the book is outstanding. (That is generally the case with this publisher.)

I am am impressed with this title, and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for a book for a kid of a certain age to read, or a younger kid to get read to.

What is that certain age? I’m thinking 10 plus or minus 2, depending on the kid. The publishers say 8-11. So somewhere around there. A 10 year old who absorbs the material in this book will do OK on an intro college human evolution midterm that focuses on the fossil and archaeological record. Or at least, the child will be able to effectively challenge the professor in a grade grubbing situation.

When We Became Humans: The Story of Our Evolution covers primate evolution, key moments in hominin history, bipedalism, early tools, brain evolution, the origin of fire (nice to see my research embodied as fact in an actual children’s book!), Homo erectus and Neanderthals, modern humans, foragers, early agriculture, holicene history, language, art, early burial, and other things such as hobbits.

There are only four places where I would take issue with the facts as presented here. The root hypothesis for the human-chimp split is left out, I would discuss early tools differently, the author embraces the scavenging hypothesis too kindly, and the great global diversity and overall craziness of the agricultural transition is glossed in favor (mostly) of the old Fertile Crescent story, which is not wrong, just limited. Given that this book presnets roughly 165 facts or perspectives, me disagreeing with this small number is rather remarkable.

The art is great, the typefaces well chosen, the layout is artful and foregrounds the aforementioned are and the facts.

You can preorder this book now; it will be out mid July.


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Books On The Energy Transition

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Be informed, have a look.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.

This is a great resource for understanding the diverse strategies available to decarbonize. There is a flaw, and I think it is a fairly significant one. Drawdown ranks the different strategies, so you can see what (seemingly) should be done first. But the ranking is highly susceptible to how the data are organized. For example, on shore vs. off shore wind, if combined, would probably rise to the top of the heap, but separately, are merely in the top several. Also, these things change quickly over time in part because we do some of these things, inevitably moving them lower in ranking. So don’t take the ranking too seriously.

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.

I mention this book because I hope it can help the free market doe what it never actually does. The energy business is not, never was, and can’t really be a free market, so expecting market forces to do much useful is roughly the same as expecting the actual second coming of the messiah. Won’t happen. This book is not an ode to those market forces, though, but rather, a third stab (I think), and a thoughtful one, at a complex problem.

Related, of interest: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk. “Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all. ”

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Harvey, Rovbbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman. ” A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well.”


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Michael Wolf on Trump Under Siege

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Michael Wolf’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, was the first widely distributed and read book about the Trump White House. It was good (despite some complaints about it). He has a new book that I’ve not read but thought you might want to know about.

Siege: Trump Under Fire

Michael Wolff, author of the bombshell bestseller Fire and Fury, once again takes us inside the Trump presidency to reveal a White House under siege.

With Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff defined the first phase of the Trump administration; now, in Siege, he has written an equally essential and explosive book about a presidency that is under fire from almost every side. A stunningly fresh narrative that begins just as Trump’s second year as president is getting underway and ends with the delivery of the Mueller report, Siege reveals an administration that is perpetually beleaguered by investigations and a president who is increasingly volatile, erratic, and exposed.


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Make Your Own Pixel Art

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First, what is “pixel art?”

Is that just art that is rendered in raster? Not exactly. Pixel art is the sort of art you draw for digital cartoons or similar things. The skills and tools of making pixel art would apply to designing icons or logos used in electronic products as well.

To demonstrate what pixel art is, I’m including a few examples from the newly published Make Your Own Pixel Art: Create Graphics for Games, Animations, and More! by Jennifer Dawe and Matthew Humphries.

This book will give you an introduction to the tricks of the trade of making technologically simply but artistically potent drawings, including ways to animate them.

The non-OpenSource (boo) software that is used throughout the book is not expensive and is easy to use, and yes, OpenSource alternatives are suggested and briefly discussed. The book relies on Aseprite and Pro Motion, with GraphcsGale (Windows only, boo) being a free alternative.

Techniques covered include shading, texture, proper use of color, motion and animation, and making things look sentient. Apparently, you can make money doing this sort of thing! This book is probably a good investment, at the very least to see if you have the talent and interest.

Author Jennifer Dawe is an animator and character designer who has been a professional pixel artist for the past 15 years. Author Matthew Humphries is Senior Editor at PCMag.com and a professional game designer.


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Little Myth on the Prairie

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I have been slowly and steadily working on a project that involves an old topic of interest: the dynamic changes in society, economy, and settlement pattern as Euro-Americans ensnared the middle and western parts of the continent in their material and political net of civilization, sometimes known as the Westward Expansion. And for this reason, I came across a book, a NYT Book Review “Best Ten” for 2017, of interest, that happens also to be on sale cheap in Kindle format.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.

As pointed out in a review by Patricia Nelson Limerick, the exploitation and eastward shipping, for profit, of bison hides and precious metals (and everything in between) was not the only gig in the west. The story itself, the stories of pioneering, gun fighting, Indian, er, relations, and everything else, collected in situ and refined through the myth-mills of the publishing industry, amounted to a significant and valuable commodity. One of the most productive ore lodes of daring narrative in the plains and midwest was the one tapped by Laura Ingalls Wilder via the Little House series, and other tales. Also, her daughter was in on it.

Prairie Fires pulls back the switch-grass curtain. To quote from PNL’s review:

Rendering this biography as effective at racking nerves as it is at provoking thought, the story of Wilder’s emergence as a major sculptor of American identity pushes far past the usual boundaries of probability and plausibility. For anyone who has drifted into thinking of Wilder’s “Little House” books as relics of a distant and irrelevant past, reading “Prairie Fires” will provide a lasting cure. Just as effectively, for readers with a pre-existing condition of enthusiasm for western American history and literature, this book will refresh and revitalize interpretations that may be ready for some rattling. Meanwhile, “Little House” devotees will appreciate the extraordinary care and energy Fraser brings to uncovering the details of a life that has been expertly veiled by myth. Perhaps most valuable, “Prairie Fires” demonstrates a style of exploration and deliberation that offers a welcome point of orientation for all Americans dismayed by the embattled state of truth in these days of polarization.

-Patricia Nelson Limerick, review, The New York Times

Check it out!


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Tolkien, The Movie

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I’ve been reading Huxley (9) LOTR. The other day we got through Gandalf’s long soliloquy on his problems in Isengard, and Huxley went more or less off to sleep. Later, I heard him singing from the bedroom, “Frodo and Bilbo sitting in a tree … K I S S I N G.”

Anyway, vaguely apropos of that, there is this:

Should be interesting and, of course, highly controversial, as are all things LOTR.


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The Umbrella Academy

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How can you not love a TV series where the most together character in the room is a chimpanzee that can talk.

I recommend the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, and I hope Netflix does not do to this what they did to the Marvel shows they recently created, which was to sell them to a different pay to stream network that I do not subscribe to.

The Umbrella Academy is based on a set of graphic novels. There are multiple versions, but this is a suggested in-order set to look at if it interests you.

Number 1: The Apocalypse Suite, which includes numbers 1 through 5,thought this volume goes through number 6 and has other material in it:

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1

Number 2: Dallas. Yes, there is a Kennedy connection.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas

Number 3: Hotel Oblivion.

The Umbrella Academy Volume 3: Hotel Oblivion


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