#BookReview: Unsettled by Steven E Koonin

If You Want To Talk About Climate, You Need To Read This Book First. Seriously, it is *that* important and *that* illuminating. Here, Koonin lays bare what the science actually says – and what “the science” that so many claim is “settled” want to make you think. Chapter 4 alone, where Koonin – who helped *create* some of the first computer based climate models and literally wrote a textbook on the subject – discusses climate models and how reliable – or not – they are is worth the price of the book.

Ultimately this is a book that no partisan will be happy with. Koonin eviscerates positions on both the left and the right of American politics with equal aplomb, sticking to the facts of the matter at hand as the science itself dictates them and refraining from veering into political recommendations. Thus, where the science genuinely is clear that humans are having some impact or another, Koonin points this out in precise detail – precise enough for the purposes of this text anyway, while citing the studies that show the more scientific level precision. Where the science is more muddled, Koonin points this out too – and explains where we know what we don’t know and even some of where we don’t know what we don’t know.

This book, per its very cover, sets out to uncover what we know, what we don’t know, and why the distinction matters – and it does exactly this truly remarkably well. Very much recommended.

This review of Unsettled by Steven E Koonin was originally written on February 7, 2021.

#BookReview: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Solid Romance. Tainted By Politics and Racism. First off, let me be absolutely crystal clear on one point: This was a truly solid romance featuring a man and woman who both know who they are – and the man finally realizing what he actually wants. Were that the be-all, end-all of this book, this is an absolute 5*, much like its predecessor. And because its predecessor *was* 5*, I requested this book the instant I saw it. I couldn’t *wait* to dive back into this world.

Unfortunately, that *wasn’t* the be-all, end-all of this book. Instead, the author’s own personal politics pore through the page here and indeed are quite preachy virtually every time she has most any character speak to political things. And considering the male lead here is running for Governor… this is quite often. But if it was just the preachy politics, this would have been a 4* review. It was heavy and pervasive and detracting from the actual story, and that merits the star deduction. (California politics. If Gavin Newsome and Nancy Pelosi are some of your favorite politicians, you’re gonna love this book. If not… you’re not. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But even the pervasive preachy politics wasn’t enough to deduct *two* stars and get us down to a three star review from my default of 5 – which again, without the pervasive preachy politics and this next issue, this book would have absolutely gotten.

Unfortunately, that issue is blatant racism. Now, do I think that the author is an active racist? No, I don’t. I’ve interacted with her from time to time online, and I know she is as kind and generous as most any other author I’ve met in similar circles. But I *do* think that, in an extreme bit of irony, her own unconscious biases were so blatant that had nearly this exact same text been written with an all white, rather than an all-POC cast, and with the very things said of POCs that are said of white people in this text, the “woke” crowd would absolutely eviscerate this book as blatantly racist and would have called for the author to be fully “cancelled”. Every single time a white person or anyone that isn’t 110% in lockstep with the leftist agenda is mentioned, they are mentioned with some form of derision, casting them as some form of stupid or evil. Again, I do not think that this is an active thing with the author at all. As best I can tell, she is simply putting her own real world politics and thoughts into the text of this book without considering that perhaps others aren’t as evil or unintelligent as she seems to think they are because they disagree with those politics or have lighter shades of melanin in their skin.

And again, this is truly, truly a shame. Because if you write this same book in largely the same way, but edit out the racism and the pervasive preachy politics, this is *easily* a 5* romance tale. And, perhaps, if you agree with the racism in question and/ or the politics at hand, you may still feel it is 5*.

My reviews speak for themselves. I have a strong record of striving very hard to be as balanced and objective as possible within them, and therefore I hope the author and others take what I have written here as being from someone who genuinely wanted the book to be as strong as possible. Everyone in publishing knows that others are not always so balanced, and at minimum I hope I can at least prevent a few … shall we say, “more vitriolic”… reviews due to pointing out these issues in this review. And maybe even add a few sales, for those that happen to like the author’s perspectives here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t go with a 3 word or less “recommended or not” status like I normally do, so I’ll end with this: Read this book. It truly deserves to be read, and outside of the issues noted here it is genuinely a strong book. But for me, and potentially many others, the issues noted here are major problems with what would otherwise be a truly great romance tale.

This review of Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev was originally written on March 29, 2021.

#BookReview: Shape by Jordan Ellenberg

Love Song To Geometry – And A Look At How It Is Truly Everywhere. This is a mathematician showing just how prevalent geometry is in our every day lives – and why modern math classes tend to ruin it for most people. As a mathematics oriented person myself (got one math-derived degree, very nearly got two others almost at the same time, former math teacher, current active software developer), this was fairly easy to follow – Ellenberg mentions some advanced concepts without actually *showing* many of them, though there *is* more actual equations in here than some might like in a “popsci” level book. Thanks to Ellenberg’s explanations of said equations and concepts, this *should* be an easy enough follow for most anyone. And he really does do a great job of showing how even advanced ideas really do come down to the most basic principles – just applied in particularly interesting ways. Indeed, the only real critique I have here is that when Ellenberg gets off the math specifically and into more political and social commentary – even when ostensbily using the math as a shield – it gets much closer to “Your Mileage May Vary” level. Overall, those moments weren’t quite pervasive enough nor did they stray far enough from the central premise to warrant dropping a star, and thus the book maintains the full five stars that all books start with for me. Very much recommended.

This review of Shape by Jordan Ellenberg was originally written on March 27, 2021.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: Why The Innocent Plead Guilty And The Guilty Go Free by Jed S Rakoff

Excellent Examination Of US Judicial System. This is an excellent examination of the US Judicial system, from a former US District Court judge. Indeed, the *singular* outright flaw in the ARC copy I read was its lack of bibliography and citations, which I expect will be corrected in the published edition. For the most part, Judge Rakoff’s examinations and explanations ring true and he cites several well known works in the field, including Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow during the discussion of the problem of mass incarceration. My only quibble – and it is just a quibble, just as the comments I am about to refer to are almost asides themselves – are a couple of points where the Judge makes comments about a couple of cases of a more political nature. (Including Bush v Gore and Citizens United, among perhaps a handful of others.) Overall one of the better examinations of the breadth of the US Judicial system, and even its acknowledged origins as a set of essays isn’t really obvious or noticeable. Very much recommended.

This review of Why The Innocent Plead Guilty And The Guilty Go Free by Jed S Rakoff was originally written on February 18, 2021.

#BookReview: The Power Of Geography by Tim Marshall

Remarkable Look At Often Unnoticed Regions. Marshall’s prior work in this space, Prisoners of Geography, was much lauded and at least a bit derided. Here, well, the exact same approaches and reasonings abound, so whatever you thought of that first text will likely be similar to your feelings about this text, where he analyzes regions that many don’t think of. The Space chapter (the final chapter) actually discusses the real-world power plays that Matthew Mather’s CyberStorm series of fiction books uses to spin some great yet fictional tales around, while other chapters such as that on Ethiopia, the Sahel, Iran, and Australia do remarkable jobs of showing both the history and current issues facing these regions. Truly an enlightening look at global issues, and one that everyone should read more as a “global politics 101” level of information, if for no other reason. Great work, and very much recommended.

This review of The Power Of Geography by Tim Marshall was originally written on February 18, 2021.

#BookReview: War On The Border by Jeff Guinn

Fascinating Read About Seemingly Forgotten History. Let’s face it, these days (and even when this elder Millenial was in school in the late 80s – early 2000s), American schools (at least, perhaps, outside the Southwest) barely even teach World War 1 itself – much less the other actions that were going on as America was trying to stay away from that war. I knew of exactly one story from the Punitive Expeditions before reading this book, and that was the story of George S Patton’s first ever motorized attack – one of the events early in his career that made him truly legendary. Here, Guinn does a truly remarkable job of setting the stage and scope of the entire situation, from its earliest beginnings (even repeatedly referencing when the Spanish first came to central America) through the fates of the key players he has spent the text explaining. If you’ve never heard of this last war on Continental US soil before, do yourself a favor and read this book. If you want to understand more context for a lot of the current simmering tensions along the US/ Mexico border… do yourself a favor and read this book. Yes, the actions themselves were now slightly over a century ago – but if you’re able to read at all, it means that it was in the time of no further from you than your great-great grandparents, and these actions still reverberate to this day in the lands and minds of those whose own great-great grandparents (or more recent) were actively involved here. Very “readable” narrative, never sounds overly “academic”, and well documented to boot. Very much recommended.

This review of War On The Border by Jeff Guinn was originally written on February 18, 2021.

#BookReview: Divided By Terror by John Bodnar

Blatantly Biased, But Well Written Within That Bias. I gotta admit: When I picked up this ARC, I was hoping for something as transcendental as 2020’s Divided We Fall by David French, but focusing on the issue of terror and how it has divided America in the post 9/11 world. I’m someone that has been on “both” sides of that divide, growing from a conservative Evangelical Christian Republican 18yo college student born and raised between the two endpoints of the American Civil War’s Great Train Robbery to a now 38 year old anarchist professional living even further South. So this book, based on its title and description, looked promising.

Its actual text though… didn’t fulfill that promise. Not for me.

To be clear, this is a very well documented examination of much of the response to 9/11 and the War on Terror, from many divergent angles ranging from the personal and private to the governmental to the societal to the cultural. Bodnar does a tremendous job of highlighting facts that even as someone living through this history (though usually from several States away from the events he is describing at any given moment), I simply did not know and often had never heard of.

The problem is that this examination is very blatantly one sided, and even the language Bodnar chooses to use often reflects this blatant bias. Thus, for those that agree with this particular bias, this book will probably be much more well received than for those who disagree with it – and the level of one’s beliefs either direction will likely reflect how such a person feels about this book in a similar manner.

In the end, there is nothing technically wrong with this text, other than the blatant bias – and therefore the bias itself is the basis for the removal of one star. Yet even there, the bias isn’t *so* horrible as to rate the deduction of a second star, and there is a tremendous amount of needed history documented within these pages. Thus, I am satisfied at this time with the four stars I give the book. And yet, because of the bias, I cannot *highly* recommend the book and therefore it is…


This review of Divided By Terror by John Bodnar was originally written on February 9, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Fight For Free Speech by Ian Rosenburg

This week we are looking at a solid look at exactly what “Free Speech” legally means in the United States. This week we are looking at The Fight For Free Speech by Ian Rosenburg.

Mostly Solid Explanation of What ‘Free Speech’ Means As Decreed By SCOTUS… And What It Does Not. This is a legal treatise that never once explicitly states the very thing it seeks to define – the particular text of the First Amendment to the US Constitution that reads “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”. It also refers to a famous yet apocryphal “Ben Franklin” quote in its introduction. And yet despite these two flaws, it is still a mostly solid look at what the Supreme Court of the United States of America has decreed “the right to free speech” means over the last nearly 250 years, mostly within the last century or so. The book does a solid job of using an example usually from this Millenium (or even decade) as its starting point for each chapter’s discussion, then going into the history and actual SCOTUS decisions, what they said, and what they mean. Including showing the *rest* of the famous ruling that “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater”. Well, you can. If there is a fire. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And if you’re interested in the concept of Free Speech in the US for any reason at all, this is a book you’ll want to read. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Unique by David Linden

This week we’re looking at one of the most precise science books I’ve encountered this year. This week, we’re looking at Unique by David Linden.

Given the topics Linden discusses here – among them sex, gender, sexuality, race, experience, even memory and sense – it is incredibly easy, maybe even tempting, for many authors of science books to wax at least somewhat political even while discussing the science of a given topic. Indeed, many do.

Linden does not, and that is one of the greatest strengths of this book.

Instead, Linden focuses *exactly* on where the science of the issue currently is, and says it with a fair degree of specificity. Such as instead of saying “many”, he’ll say “30%” – even if the exact number may be 27.84% or 32.16%, “30%” is close enough for those of us just trying for a general understanding of the topic at hand, and far more precise than many authors will give. Further, if the science is changing or inconclusive on a given topic, Linden notes this as well, at times even clearly noting where he himself has reviewed the research at hand.

Ultimately, the book does a truly remarkable job of explaining what we currently know about the science of human variance and how all of these combinations form to make an individual… well, an individual. Truly a remarkable read, and one that many would do well to read. ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ BookBub review:
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