Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category


Pages: 384 (Trade Paperback)
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Date: September 21, 2009

This is the eighth science-themed book I’ve read this year, and while it is one of the least specific, covering a range of topics, it is also quite interesting. Muller’s purpose in writing this book is laid out right in his title: he wants to be able to explain, in layman’s terms, the important scientific questions (or policy decision informed on science) that a new President must face. While the odds that I’ll one day become President are pretty long (seeing as how I’m not American), I still found the book to be both informative and accessible.


David and Goliath (10/1/13) By Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath is the third Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve read. Each of his books acts as a monograph on a particular topic, using a mixture of personal anecdotes and scientific evidence to make sweeping suggestions about how human beings, and the societies we create, work. Gladwell’s interest in the underpinnings of things makes for an interesting read, and his prose is always extremely approachable. Of his three books that I’ve read, David and Goliath is, perhaps, the least sweeping in scope – but this is appropriate given his focus here: smaller isn’t necessarily weaker.


Neil deGrasse Tyson has quietly become the new face of physics and space exploration over the last several years. Back in the 80s, Carl Sagan was far and away the most popular scientist among lay persons, but after his death, it took a long time to find an heir apparent. Michio Kaku has flirted with the idea, and does have some interesting and accessible books out, as well as making numerous appearances on a variety of news programs over the years. But in the last ten years or so, Dr. Tyson has become the undisputed go-to physicist for everyone from CNN to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. He isn’t just another pretty face, however: he’s been on Presidential panels, and is the head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, a prestigious scientific position. He holds four degrees, earning his BA at Harvard, his first MA at UofT Austin, and an MPhil and PhD from Columbia. Beginning in 1995, he wrote a regular column for Natural History magazine; this book is a collection of several of those columns, as well as transcribed keynote speeches given at various conferences and a mixture of other essays, papers, and speeches. To find out how these work together as a book, check after the break for my full review.



Creative types are always looking for some sort of inspiration, something that will help them get the juices flowing. Having been an aspiring writer for some time (I mean fiction-wise, not blogging – I seem able to that pretty easily!), I can totally understand, and often take a look at books that offer to help me create. This was my motivation for buying The Moment on my last trip to Portland’s amazing Powell’s City of Books, probably my favorite bookstore. What with teaching, being a dad, and trying to keep up on all my hobbies, I often don’t have enough time to write for myself, let alone read motivational works – so I figured that the bite-sized approach of Larry Smith’s collected wisdom gathered from writers and artists would fit the bill very nicely.


Spook is the second Mary Roach book I’ve read in the last year or so, and I picked it up based on how much I enjoyed the other one, Packing for Mars – you can read my review of it here. This time out, Roach investigates the ultimate question: what happens to us after we die? Her research takes her everywhere from pseudo-scientific cattle scales used at the turn of the last century, to modern university research departments, and lots of places in-between. So where do we end up? Click through after the break to find out.


Note to Canadian readers: the subtitle “What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything” is not included in domestic versions of the book.

It’s only appropriate that my year of memoirs will end with this excellent volume from arguably the most famous astronaut in years, Canada’s Colonel Chris Hadfield. His series of videos shot while Commander of the Expedition 35 mission on the International Space Station (ISS), culminating in his release of a modified version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity filmed throughout the station, made him something of a celebrity and gave him international fame. While his resume is impressive (test pilot, Top Gun winner, astronaut, ISS Commander), he never comes across as cocky; self-assured, yes, but that’s really a necessary component for the sorts of jobs he’s had. Being the last book I’ll likely finish in 2013, it was nice that it was also one of the best books I’ve read this year.


I’ve been noticing two trends in my reading habits this year: a lot of memoirs, and a lot of books on climate change. In Mark Hertsgaard’s 2012 book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, I find myself reading both non-fiction genres united within one cover. Hertsgaard is, like me, a relatively new father, and he finds himself wondering at what life for his daughter Chiara will be like in the 21st Century. As this is something near and dear to my own heart, it was with a great deal of anticipation that I sat down to read his book.

I Am Malala

Malala Yousafzai, known to most of the world simply as Malala, made headlines first for her brave stand against those who would take away her right to an education, and then for her miraculous survival of – and recovery from – being shot in the head. In her new book, Malala tells her story from her early childhood through to her recovery in a Birmingham hospital. It is a fascinating story, and all the more so as she has lived so much in her sixteen years.


Earlier this year I read and reviewed The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore. While Gore has been one of the great promoters of getting the issue of global warming and climate change into the public eye, he only spent about one sixth of this book looking at the climate, and the rest at other issues that will play a role in the planet’s near future. Here, in Climate Wars Gwynne Dyer focuses less on the direct effects of climate change on the planet, and more on its connotations for human society in general. He does so through a series of Scenarios covering possible events, followed by related chapters that delve into the causes behind these events. It makes for a compelling, and starkly frightening read. I can’t think of a better book to read if you’re hoping to hold onto Halloween’s chills than this.


I’ve always considered myself something of a lay historian. One of my two majors at university was history, I’ve always loved going to museums, and I’ve read several histories, including many on World War II, such as William L. Shirer’s opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I wasn’t that kid that got duped into buying Columbia House CD (or cassette, in my day) club memberships; nope, I got duped into buying a twenty-four volume encyclopedia of World War II when I was doing a paper route at the age of 14 or so (pretty certain my parents ended up having to pay for most of them, too!). Being that this is an area that interests me, and that I haven’t read any books that are directly concerned with the Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremberg following World War II, I thought that Roland’s book might be worth a read, especially with its five dollar price tag. I found, however, the price to be a little steep at that.