April 21, 2008

Books I'd like to read

A bunch more, this time some of them in paperback reprint:

The Canon by Natalie Angier

THE CANON is vital reading for anyone who wants to understand the great issues of our time—from stem cells and bird flu to evolution and global warming. And it's for every parent who has ever panicked when a child asked how the earth was formed or how electricity works. Angier's sparkling prose and memorable metaphors bring the science to life, reigniting our own childhood delight in discovering how the world works. "Of course you should know about science," writes Angier, "for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun and fun is good."

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler
With the radical changes in information production that the Internet has introduced, we stand at an important moment of transition, says Yochai Benkler in this thought-provoking book. The phenomenon he describes as social production is reshaping markets, while at the same time offering new opportunities to enhance individual freedom, cultural diversity, political discourse, and justice. But these results are by no means inevitable: a systematic campaign to protect the entrenched industrial information economy of the last century threatens the promise of today’s emerging networked information environment.

In this comprehensive social theory of the Internet and the networked information economy, Benkler describes how patterns of information, knowledge, and cultural production are changing—and shows that the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people can create and express themselves. He describes the range of legal and policy choices that confront us and maintains that there is much to be gained—or lost—by the decisions we make today.

Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law for Unity in Physical Law by Peter Woit
At what point does theory depart the realm of testable hypothesis and come to resemble something like aesthetic speculation, or even theology? The legendary physicist Wolfgang Pauli had a phrase for such ideas: He would describe them as "not even wrong," meaning that they were so incomplete that they could not even be used to make predictions to compare with observations to see whether they were wrong or not. In Peter Woit's view, superstring theory is just such an idea. In Not Even Wrong, he shows that what many physicists call superstring "theory" is not a theory at all. It makes no predictions, even wrong ones, and this very lack of falsifiability is what has allowed the subject to survive and flourish. Not Even Wrong explains why the mathematical conditions for progress in physics are entirely absent from superstring theory today and shows that judgments about scientific statements, which should be based on the logical consistency of argument and experimental evidence, are instead based on the eminence of those claiming to know the truth. In the face of many books from enthusiasts for string theory, this book presents the other side of the story.

The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins
Boasting almost one hundred pieces, The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing is a breathtaking celebration of the finest writing by scientists--the best such collection in print--packed with scintillating essays on everything from "the discovery of Lucy" to "the terror and vastness of the universe." Edited by best-selling author and renowned scientist Richard Dawkins, this sterling collection brings together exhilarating pieces by a who's who of scientists and science writers, including Stephen Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, Martin Gardner, Albert Einstein, Julian Huxley, and many dozens more.

True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society
by Farhad Manjoo
In True Enough, Manjoo presents findings from psychology, sociology, political science, and economics to show how new technologies are prompting the cultural ascendancy of belief over fact. In an age of talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet—the blog- and YouTube-addled million-channel media universe—it is no longer necessary for any of us to confront notions that contradict what we "know" to be true. Stephen Colbert calls this "truthiness"—when something feels true without any evidence that it is. Here Manjoo probes the cognitive basis of truthiness, exploring how biases push both liberals and conservatives to select and interpret news in a way that accords with their personal versions of "reality."

Why has punditry lately overtaken news, with so many media outlets pushing partisan agendas instead of information? Why do lies seem to linger so long in the cultural subconscious even after they've been thoroughly discredited? And why, when more people than ever before are documenting the truth with laptops and digital cameras, does fact-free spin and propaganda seem to work so well? True Enough explores leading controversies of national politics, foreign affairs, science, and business, explaining how Americans have begun to organize themselves into echo chambers that harbor diametrically different facts—not merely opinions—from those of the larger culture. We meet people who espouse far-out interpretations of reality—about everything from the history of John Kerry's time in Vietnam to the integrity of the 2004 election to the truth about 9/11—and dig into the mechanism by which they came to hold those beliefs.

(Why, you ask, do I list far more books that I'd like to read that I would ever possibly get a chance to actually read? Well, you know the old saying, "He who dies with the most books wins!"

FWIW, I try and read one science/net culture book per month, aiming for about 15 per year.)

No comments: