Blog Archives

Non-fiction Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

We are on the threshold of both heaven and hell, moving nervously between the gateway of one and the anteroom of the other. History has still not decided where we will end up, and a string of coincidences might yet

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

When a first chapter persuades me I’m wrong about something, I know reading the book was a good decision. In the case of I Contain Multitudes, that first chapter debunked a ‘fact’ I’ve used in lectures: that the human body

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: Chasing the Devil by Tim Butcher

If it wasn’t the least promising expedition into uncharted territory ever attempted, it must have been close. In 1934, a sickly-looking Englishman light-heartedly asked his socialite cousin to join him on an expedition to Liberia, which was one of the

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Terraforming Earth with Iron

Iron sulphide could encourage marine algal growth. Small-scale experiments have shown it moving carbon from the atmosphere to the deep ocean. It could offset global warming, but the large-scale effects are unpredictable. In 2012, Russ George provoked controversy by boosting

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction review: Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre

Like any good scientist, Ben Goldacre starts with his hypothesis: Medicine is broken: the plane flies but it crashes much more often than it needs to. The rest of the book is a meticulously researched and eloquently argued support of

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Hilary Mantel on the life and project

Shortly before her death, Susan Sontag said ‘that somewhere along the line, one has to choose between the Life and the Project’. Hilary Mantel quoted her in the third of this year’s Reith lectures, while she was talking about the

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Hilary Mantel on adapting the past

The Reith Lectures are an annual pleasure from the BBC to the world. Every year, a prominent speaker gives a series of lectures on a subject close to their heart, followed by questions from an audience that usually includes some

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Fiction Review: Blindsight by Peter Watts

A laser is asked to find darkness in a dark room. This will be easy, thinks the laser, how hard can it be to find what I’m surrounded by? Yet wherever the laser looks, all it sees is light. The

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Posted in Book review: fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

Long before I knew who he was, Alexander von Humboldt had exercised a major influence over me. I first encountered his name in an undergraduate oceanography lecture, when I learned about the Humboldt current that flows northward along the Pacific

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Living in a nuclear-armed world

There have been many false alarms that could have led to nuclear retaliation. A chance of large-scale disarmament was missed in the mid-1990s, when US-Russia relations were good. Former US Defence Secretary William J Perry thinks nuclear catastrophe is likelier

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification
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