#BookReview: Escape From Model Land by Erica Thompson

Astrology == Mathematics. For Sufficiently Large Values Of 2 While Imagining Spherical Cows. Thompson does a truly excellent job here of showing how and where mathematical models of real-world systems can be useful, and where they can lead us astray – perhaps a bit *too* good, as at times she has to jump through a few mental hoops to excuse the inadequacies of preferred models such as those related to climate change and the spread of COVID. On climate models in particular, she actually raises one of the several points Steven Koonin did in 2021’s Unsettled – namely, just how wide each cell of the model is by necessity and how much variation there is within these cells in reality yet models must – again by necessity – use simply an average value throughout the cell. But she discusses a wide variety of models in addition to climate, and again, she truly does an excellent job of showing their benefits and how they can harm us. One star is lost due to the extremely short “future reading” section in place of a more standard bibliography (20% or so is fairly standard in similar nonfiction titles). The other star is lost because this book does have a robust discussion of the numerous COVID models and *I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID*. I am waging a one-man war on any book that references this for any reason at all, and the single star deduction is truly the only tool I have in that war. Still, again, this book really is quite good – as a narrative alone, indeed better than the three star ranking would seem to indicate. Very much recommended.

This review of Escape From Model Land by Erica Thompson was originally written on July 15, 2022.

#BookReview: Chimera by Michael McBride

Human Hubris Leads To Disaster. This is a creature feature tale combined with a disaster tale, with a unique and fairly inventive creature combining with a massive blizzard in the Arctic Circle to create one hell of a ride. McBride uses a dual timeline approach to show us how the creature came to be and just how one scientist in particular had their noble goals turn out so horrifically, along with showing the “now” of having to rescue any possible survivors once the creature runs on its inevitable (due to the genre) rampage. McBride actually teases some even more horrific creatures, but the focus is completely on the titular Chimera. While not in any way a political book (similar to the greats of the genre in that regard), in showing yet another way that altruism and hubris can in fact lead to disaster, this book actually makes some solid points about caution and even corporate and government interests – and back-room dealings – in the areas at hand. But again, these are more minor points in the tale, more throw-away commentary that fleshes out minor characters than truly central to the actual story. Truly a story that fires on all cylinders and offers much for anyone that is remotely a fan of science fiction in general or creature features in particular. Very much recommended.

This review of Chimera by Michael McBride was originally written on September 26, 2021.

#BookReview: To Rule The Waves by Bruce Jones

(Mostly) Solid Examination Of History And Current Events. This is a fairly well documented – nearly 100 pages of its 400 are bibliography, *in addition to* at least a few paragraphs of footnotes at the end of every chapter – examination of both the history and current events of why both commercial and military control of the oceans is so important to human advancement. Some of the facts presented are truly mind-boggling, such as the sheer size of the Maersk Madrid – a ship used as a recurring case study, where if its full load of possible shipping containers were transported in a standard 2-high rail configuration, the train just to load this singular ship would stretch for *78 miles*. Others are more “standard fare” for most anyone who knows anything about the history of ocean travel or oceanography. Still, the book is current through March 2021, which is remarkable considering that I acquired this ARC in early June 2021. A must-read on a wide variety of issues from the complexities of modern logistics to the root cause and practical implications of modern military struggles to even the loss of American manufacturing jobs and the rise of Donald Trump, this book shows how control of the oceans has impacted all of these topics and many, many more. Really the only more “YMMV” section is the emphasis on global warming/ global cooling / climate change/ whatever they’re calling it these days alarmism in the final section, but even here there are enough actual facts to warrant close examination. Very much recommended.

This review of To Rule The Waves by Bruce Jones was originally written on July 20, 2021.

#BookReview: What’s The Use by Ian Stewart

Beware The Mathivores. And Stewart’s Myopia. Ok, so the title of this review is a bit of a spoiler, as a “Mathivore” is a creature Stewart describes in the final chapter while summarizing the book. But it doesn’t *actually* give anything away, and it makes for an interesting title to the review. (One suspects it wouldn’t have worked as well for the title of the book, though I think it would have been awesome. :D) Beyond that, I also find it interesting that the only other review on Goodreads for this book at the time I am writing this one is from a historian with a bare knowledge of mathematics, and I am actually a mathematician (though nowhere near as degreed as Stewart, having just a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and lacking a handful of classes for separate Bachelor’s degrees in both Mathematics and Secondary Mathematics Education) with a fair knowledge of history. More than a “normal” person, likely much less – at least in some areas – than the other reviewer. ANYWAY, y’all care about what this book is about, not about me. ๐Ÿ˜€ But my background does play a bit into my own experience with the book, so I thought a brief summary was warranted.

With this book, Stewart *mostly* does a truly remarkable job of showing the history and current uses of math, in many ways many may not be aware of or at minimum fully aware of. With my background, I knew that there was *some* form of math in the background of most of the techs and issues Stewart discusses, but Stewart goes full-bore on the details, yes, quite often showing samples of the actual equations – or at least types of the actual equations – involved. And these are far beyond E=MC^2, y’all. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But still, Stewart’s explanations, at least to my own mathematically inclined brain, were straightforward enough, and there is enough humor (of the British variety) sprinkled throughout to make the overall text much more palatable to the average reader.

But there *are* a couple of weaknesses even from my own perspective, and they combined to knock the book down a star – neither by themselves was quite enough, but combined they are.

The first is that while Stewart does a remarkable job of showing how math is integral to so many fields from elections to medical scanning to photography to fingerprinting, he doesn’t do so well in showing how it shapes everyday life outside of the tech people use and the things going on around them. He doesn’t show how people actually *use* math every day, from calculating how much a trip will take to estimating their grocery bill or restaurant tab to deciding any of the numerous factors related to personal finance and building or maintaining any form of home. Perhaps a follow-on book could explain how these maths shape even more people’s lives.

The second is Stewart’s Myopia. By this, I mean those issues where the Professor. At several key points – likely not caught by someone less familiar with the mathematics of the fields – Stewart dismisses advances in mathematics that oppose his positions. In one, while there is indeed still much work to be done, Stewart’s disdain for autonomous cars belies the stunning advances made in mathematics related to the field. In the other big one, Stewart seems completely ignorant of the emerging mathematics showing the many varying holes in the current “Climate Change” “science” – including some written by a man who quite literally wrote one of the first textbooks on climate modeling with computers. Another, more obscure one, was where Stewart mentions numeracy and Bayesian statistics, but seems ignorant of Bernoulli’s Fallacy (or at minimum dismissive of those who pursue that line of mathematical thinking).

Overall, this *is* a strong book with quite a bit to be commended. It could simply have been a bit stronger. Very much recommended.

This review of What’s The Use by Ian Stewart was originally written on July 26, 2021.

#BookReview: Jungle by Patrick Roberts

Intriguing Premise. Fascinating Start. Back Half Marred By Politics And Questionable Scholarship. This book had an utterly fascinating premise, one I’ve read a couple of other books over the last year in the same arena – the history of wood and palm oil in those prior books. And y’all, the front half of this book, mostly concerned with prehistory, was *awesome*. Roberts tracks how the development of what we now call in English “jungle” began in the earliest geological eras of plant life, through the time of the dinosaurs, and into the evolution of humanity from our earliest barely-more-than-ape forebears to modern Homo Sapien Sapien.

But then we get into the first millennium ish AD and Roberts turns his focus to the native populations of the Americas – and blaming Columbus specifically and Europe generally for every ill to come since. Even while noting cases where conquest would not have been possible except that certain elements of the native populations betrayed other elements for their own personal power. Ok. Still has some solid points about the interrelationship between humans and jungle here, but even here the politics is quite heavy handed – though admittedly typical for elitist academics and perfectly in line with that level of thought.

Coming into much more recent times – within my lifetime ish, since the 1980s – Roberts goes deeper into the politics, even openly praising Greta Thunberg (a bit ironic, given Roberts’ own actual academic pedigree vs Thunberg’s lack of one). But worse than that, he actively gets a bit lax with his scholarship through this point, noting the spread of Ebola into the US during the 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak… without acknowledging that it was (mostly) active – and *safe* (as safe as anything *can* be with Ebola) – efforts by the US government to bring US nationals back to within the US for treatments. Instead, the implication from the author is that this was more direct results of lackadaisical regulations and rampant environmental destruction. He also (accurately) notes the 3,000 people killed by Hurricane Maria in 2017… without noting that Hurricane Irma had come through many of the same regions as an even stronger storm just two weeks prior, causing quite a bit of damage that ultimately led to a larger loss of life than normal when a second major hurricane (Maria) came through so soon after. (Disclaimer here: I moved to northern Florida in August 2017, barely a month before Irma and barely 6 weeks before Maria. I had a planned cruise in November 2017 to San Juan and St Maarten, among others, moved to Aruba and Curacao due to the combined effects of the two storms.)

Finally, in perhaps the most glaring questionable fact in the entire text, Roberts points to COVID-19 case counts “as of the end of July 2021”. Except that I’m writing this review on July 15, 2021, almost exactly halfway into the month down to the minute, and I’ve had this book in ARC form since May 12, 2021. (And I should note that this book appeared to be mostly completely print ready at that time, though the publisher and author may claim that there were indeed a few more edits since that point.) Even if one assumes that this particular line was placed in the book by say May 10, at the very latest stages before making it available on NetGalley (where I got it), and even if one assumes that the actual number at hand is accurate (I have no real reason to doubt it, though I personally stopped paying attention to these particular numbers over a year ago), wouldn’t it have been better scholarship to note that the case count was “as of the end of May 2021”? Or was the author projecting and hoping this either wasn’t noticed, that he would be proven correct prior to publication (still almost exactly two months away, as this book is currently shown to publish on September 14, 2021 at the time of writing this review), or that this particular fact could be updated prior to publication with the actual number? None of those three options point to the same level of scholarship of the beginning of the book, and indeed the fact of their existence brings into doubt all prior points and presumed merits. Thus, including that particular fact ultimately does more harm to the entire text than even the most blatant of political biases displayed earlier in the text.

Still, ultimately this was a very approachable text that even when taking into account its standard academic biases generally presents an intriguing look into the history and development of humanity, and it actually has a respectable bibliography, clocking in at around 26% of the text. Thus the book is still ultimately recommended for that alone. Just… make sure you read other competing books in the same area in addition to this one.

Post Script: While looking for the author’s website for the blog version of this review, I found out that the author is indeed a seeming expert *in prehistoric jungles*, having published several articles in peer reviewed journals over the last decade. But nearly every single article listed on his website deals with the prehistoric era, which perhaps explains the difference in how excellent this particular book was when it was discussing this particular era vs the problems that began mostly when he left it. Which is leaving me, for one, *very* interested in a follow up book expanding on the first half of this one with even more details, perhaps, of the environments, fauna, and flora of these prehistoric eras the author seems to know so well.

This review of Jungle by Patrick Roberts was originally written on July 15, 2021.

#BookReview: After Cooling by Eric Dean Wilson

Interesting History Marred By Marxist Politics And Alarmist Propaganda. In the description of this book, it is claimed that we will get a look at history, science, road trip, and philosophy as it relates to Freon and its history. Well, the philosophy is avowed Marxism (even quoting Marx directly to begin one of the sections) and the “science” is mostly alarmist “Global Cooling” / “Global Warming” / “Climate Change” junk wherein he cites in part some of the very studies that Stephen Koonin’s Unsettled – released just weeks earlier – shows to be problematic at best. And unlike Wilson, Koonin is an actual climate scientist, one who worked at a high level under Barack Obama, no less. Instead, Wilson outright declares that it is the stuff of nightmares to think that any form of warming is natural, that man *must* be the cause of *all* warming and that we *must* thus be able to stop it.

These factors noted – and seriously, if you can’t stomach a fatal dose of Marxist ideology, don’t bother reading this book – the history presented here, even while presented fully rooted in anti-white, anti-capitalist screed form, is actually interesting and worthy of discovery by those who may not be aware of it, such as myself when going into this book. The road trip episodes that frame each section are interesting in and of themselves, as Wilson tags along with a friend who is buying up stockpiles of Freon American Pickers style in order to destroy them to claim the carbon credits under California’s Cap and Trade system.

There is a compelling story to tell in the need for better ways to cool and comfort, and there are promising techs and strategies that don’t rely on Marxism and government mandate to achieve them. Unfortunately this book ignores all of this.

Finally, the citations and bibliography… are minimal, for such fantastical claims, accounting for barely 15% of the text, and are rarely directly cited within the narrative itself.

It is because of all of these factors that I am quite comfortable with the 2* – without the history and road trip, it would have been half even that – and would be lower than even that, were such possible on review sites. Not recommended.

This review of After Cooling by Eric Dean Wilson was originally written on June 11, 2021.

#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: Unraveled by Maxine Bedat

Eye Opening, Yet Critically Flawed. Bedat does *phenomenal* work in this text when reporting what she has found in her investigations of trying to track even a “typical” cotton *garment* from the cotton seed to its eventual use and destruction. Using each chapter as a way to trace one particular step in the chain was truly a stroke of editing genius, as it concentrates just what is happening at that particular stage. And some of it – including the direct link, in Bangladesh at minimum, between garment factories and sex work (where in one particular harrowing tale, a source tells Bedat that when she gets in the van to be taken to a factory as a day worker, she sometimes finds herself at a massage parlor instead) – is utterly horrific. It is these sections of the book that are *so* strong that the book *had* to be rated fairly highly.

HOWEVER, when Bedat speaks almost at *all* of policy or her own opinions… well, this is when the critical flaws become apparent. To be fair, she *is* at least somewhat more balanced than many leftists, and outright points out things that ardent Bernie Sanders / AOC types won’t want to hear. But in her attacks of “neoliberalist capitalism” – a running strawman throughout the narrative – … eh, I’ll be a touch gentle and go with “YMMV”. If you happen to be on that side, you’re going to love her commentary here. If, like me, you find yourself more an adherent of Milton, Mises, Hayek, Bastiat, etc (the so-called “Austrian School of Economics)… you’re not going to like her commentary so much. The star reduction, to be clear, isn’t from the fact that I don’t like much of the commentary – but that I can so easily refute it, despite not being a trained economist (just a – clearly ๐Ÿ˜‰ – well read human :D).

And yet, the actual reporting here is simply too strong, too eye opening. This is a book that *needs* to be read for its current issues reporting, if for no other reason – and even if her commentary leads one to contemplate defenestration of the book. If you’ve read Hafsa Lodi’s Modesty or Virginia Postrel’s Fabric of Civilization (among presumably numerous other recent texts on fashion / clothing/ fabric), do yourself a favor and read this one too. Even if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read all three books. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Very much recommended.

This review of Unraveled by Maxine Bedat was originally written on February 20, 2021.