Reviews and Comments


Joined 1 year, 3 months ago

My reading interests are broad and mostly non-fiction. I typically stick to topics related to nature, the environment, and science in general. However, lately I've taken an interest in cultural anthropology, history, and the sociological factors that are driving a growing mistrust in science, scientists, and scientific institutions. I have a couple of other accounts in the fediverse, which I've joined recently. But, as a reader (and recovering GR user), this little nook of the fediverse looked particularly interesting to me.

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Rick Rubin: The Creative Act (Hardcover, 2023, Canongate Books) 5 stars

From the legendary music producer, a master at helping people connect with the wellsprings of …

Anyone can be creative if they will allow themselves the freedom to be

5 stars

According to Rick Rubin's book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, every one of us, each with our unique experiences, values, and perspectives on the world, has the capacity to tap into a rich spring of creativity in service to our own art. Creative inspiration can come from anywhere, and it can strike at any time. Our job as artists is to be receptive to it when it happens. It requires living in the moment and nurturing an awareness brought about by a child-like curiosity for everything we encounter. Inspiration is transformed into art through an ongoing process of playful experimentation, hard work, and courage to release it into the world once it's complete.

This book is less a prescriptive guide to becoming an artist and more of a philosophy of how to live like one. Although the author is an artist in his own right, this book …

Trevor Harrison, Ricardo Acuña: Anger and Angst (Paperback, Black Rose Books) 5 stars

ANGER AND ANGST critically examines the volatile years of the United Conservative Party's time in …

If the hallmarks of good political leadership were uniting people across the political spectrum, drafting sound legislation to benefit those people, and responsible fiscal management, then surely Alberta's United Conservative Party (UCP) is one of the worst political parties in Canadian history. Founded in 2017 by Jason Kenney, a prominent cabinet minister and rising star in Stephen Harper's federal government, the UCP brought together Alberta's conservatives under a single roof—from centre-right moderates to far-right, conspiratorial crackpots who would find common cause with American MAGA Republicans. This ideological blend, like bitumen and water, would later prove to be Kenney's ultimate downfall.

Anger and Angst: Jason Kenney's Legacy and Alberta's Right is a compendium of essays, masterfully compiled and edited by Professors Trevor Harrison and Ricardo Acuña, written by some of Alberta's most distinguished economic, political, and social scholars—people who Kenney himself would call "commie professors." It documents Kenney's rise as a …

Tristan Gooley: How to read nature (2017) 4 stars

"When most of us go for a walk, a single sense--sight--tends to dominate our experience. …

Changing perspective by reconnecting with nature

4 stars

These days, people spend a huge amount of time in front of screens, largely disconnected from nature. Author Tristan Gooley implores his readers to back away from their computers, take a walk outside, and start becoming familiar with the natural world around them. By becoming familiar with nature, its inhabitants, its rhythms, its interconnectedness, its beauty, and its conflicts, one begins to appreciate their own place within it. It allows for a new perspective on the world and a new way of thinking. Merely glancing at the sky and observing what clouds are present, what direction they're moving, and how they develop over time allows you to make reasonably accurate short-term weather forecasts. Knowing local plant species offers natural foraging opportunities, or insights into the animals that are present. Observing wildflowers can tell you the time of day; observing the trees can tell you the season or the month. Learning …

reviewed The Pyrocene by Stephen J. Pyne

Stephen J. Pyne: The Pyrocene (University of California Press) 4 stars

A provocative rethinking of how humans and fire have evolved together over time—and our responsibility …

The Pyrocene is a Symptom of the Anthropocene

4 stars

This book redefines a geological age, the Anthropocene, where humans have had such a profound influence over the natural world that their presence is recorded in geological strata all over the globe, to the Pyrocene, which began when people started using fire to serve their needs. As long as fuel was available on the landscape and oxygen was present in the atmosphere, the world has always known fire. Once humans came along, they learned how to control and manipulate fire to suit their needs. Because of fire's ability to integrate the complex relationships that shape ecological systems, humanity's use of fire began to reshape those systems. It opened up a greater variety of food available to people from cooking, and it allowed people to migrate into colder regions of the planet where they could use fires to keep warm. More recently, humans have learned to exploit fuels from past millennia …

Julia Cameron: Write for Life (2023, St. Martin's Press) 3 stars

Nurture your creativity and be consistent

3 stars

Write for Life is ostensibly a six-week program to lift struggling writers out of any kind of difficulty they may be having with their writing. But really, it's a set of essays that are organized in chapters that loosely relate to the weekly lesson. The author, Julia Cameron, is perhaps best known for her earlier book, The Artist's Way (1992), where she introduces the concept of Morning Pages; a regularized free-writing exercise designed to clear a writer's mind and awaken the muse. Morning Pages are the backbone of this six-week program, together with artist dates (a writer's self-indulgent interlude to spark creativity), long walks, a trusted process, and the courage to write poorly but consistently for the sake of getting words on the page. Although some of the spiritual references can be a bit off-putting to some, if you can get past that, the book has some good--if not novel--writing …

Ryan Holiday: The obstacle is the way (2014) 4 stars

"A guide to overcoming adversity by drawing on the wisdom of the ancient Stoics"--

More self-help than philosophy

2 stars

Ryan Holiday's book, The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, has a simple theme. Rather than throwing up your hands in defeat whenever you're faced with a difficult problem, approach it with a Stoic mindset and turn it into an opportunity for personal growth. Holiday has become somewhat of a modern-day popularizer of Stoic philosophy with his many books on the subject. In fact, this book is the first in a series of three.

The book is divided into three parts, each representing overlapping elements of his plan for everyday people to incorporate Stoic philosophy into their own lives: perception, action, and will. In the final chapter, Holiday summarizes how these elements can be adopted; "See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must." His view is that facing life's challenges with this tripartite ethos presents …

Geoff Dembicki: The Petroleum Papers (Hardcover, 2022, Greystone Books Ltd.) 4 stars

In The Petroleum Papers, investigative journalist Geoff Dembicki tells the story of how the American …

Well documented, but ended too soon

4 stars

This review was originally published on The Ink Smudge, March 1, 2023.

Journalist Geoff Dembicki's The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change follows naturally from an earlier book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt, which documents a complex campaign of disinformation to discredit science on matters of political importance, such as denying the negative health effects of smoking, the ecological impact of pesticides, and human-induced climate change. Oreskes and Conway showed that these propaganda campaigns are mostly based around a strategy developed by the tobacco industry in the 1950s, usually by a relatively small number of bad actors. It involves funding scientific research that produces industry-friendly results, grooming credentialed scientists to represent industry's interests in court, and challenging mainstream science in both traditional and, more recently, social media to give the public the illusion that the science is uncertain. This …

Marcus Aurelius: Meditations (Paperback, 2003, Modern Library) 4 stars

was born on April 26, A.D. 121. His real name was M. Annius Verus, and …

A book that transcends time

5 stars

It's difficult to review a book that has been read by many thousands or millions of people over the past two thousand years or so, including world leaders, philosophers and other academics, athletes, and everyday people who just want to live their best lives possible. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome (161-180), was never intended to be read by anyone other than its author. It is a collection of Aurelius' thoughts as they occurred to him, presumably over the course of his life. This book has no plot, no story arc, and no relatable characters, per se. Instead, it's a record of his daily journal that has been translated, interpreted, and transcribed repeatedly down through the ages. The individual entries have been compiled into 12 books, which are loosely arranged in chronological order; although there is some debate about that.

This book is remarkable for two important reasons. …

reviewed Fortunate Woman by Polly Morland

Polly Morland, Baker, Richard: Fortunate Woman (2023, Pan Macmillan) 4 stars

Humanity is not lost yet . . .

4 stars

As author Polly Morland was cleaning her mother's library she came across a misplaced book. It was, "A Fortunate Man" (1967) by John Berger, which was about a country doctor who practiced in her own community some five decades before. This book is about the doctor who replaced the Fortunate Man, who herself was inspired to pursue family medicine by the same book when she was a medical student two decades earlier.

This biography is as much about person and place as it is about the transformation of family medicine from the human connections of a country doctor to a monolithic public service focused on efficiencies, fiscal accountability, and key performance indicators. It's a story that mirrors a similar transformation of society at large. As a member of the community she serves, the Fortunate Doctor knows her patients as more than just reporting data, but as human beings, and all …

Michael Faber: The Book of Strange New Things (2014, Hogarth) 4 stars

A Sci-Fi Adventure For Self-Reflection

3 stars

Peter Leigh transformed his life from a down-and-out junkie by embracing religion and becoming a well respected pastor. He married Beatrice, the nurse who saved him from himself and cared for him through the worst of his transformation. They both offered their services to USIC, a private corporation that was trying to establish a human colony on Oasis, a far off planet light years from Earth. After a rigorous screening process, Peter was hired on a mission to bring religion to the indigenous people of Oasis, the Oasans. Bea, who did not get past the initial screening, stayed home, holding down the fort and caring for their cat, Joshua, while the world fell down around her.

This is a story about western colonialism and corporate exploitation of indigenous peoples for power and profit, and how religious indoctrination is used to achieve those ends. Despite Peter's best intentions, he was blind …

Thomas M. Nichols: The Death of Expertise (2017) 4 stars

A cult of anti-expertise sentiment has coincided with anti-intellectualism, resulting in massively viral yet poorly …

A Timely Warning; But Will It Be Heard?

4 stars

The last several years have seen a rise in contempt for expertise by a growing segment of society who seem to embrace, or even celebrate, ignorance. Examples from around the world are easy to find, but no more so than in the United States--especially since Donald Trump was elected, given his open hostility towards experts. The internet, especially social media, has provided anyone with an opinion--regardless of how misinformed it may be--with a platform that can potentially reach a global audience of millions. This has led to a growing sentiment that anyone's opinion on any matter is just as valid as anyone else's, regardless of the expertise of the person expressing it. Problem is, it's not.

But society has exacerbated this hostility towards expertise in a number of other ways beyond the internet. Shifts in reporting practices in the mainstream media that focus on engagement over veracity has led to …

Barbara F. Walter: How Civil Wars Start (Hardcover, 2022, Crown) 5 stars

The influence of modern life on the civil wars, with an emphasis on grievance, faction …

Too Close for Comfort

5 stars

Democracy has been in decline around the world for the last several years, as the ascendance of the far-right, including Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Marine La Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, and Donald Trump in the United States, has made clear. The health of any democracy can be measured objectively using a polity score, which determines if a country is an autocracy (low polity score), a democracy (high polity score), or an anocracy—something between an autocracy and a democracy. Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the polity score for the United States has been in a state of steady decline. After the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, the polity score dropped sufficiently for the U.S. to be recategorized as an anocracy. That means that the United States is no longer the longest-standing continuous democracy. That title now belongs to Switzerland, followed by New Zealand …

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow (Paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial Modern Classics) 4 stars

Flow is Slow But a Classic Just the Same

4 stars

The well known psychological state of Flow was essentially defined by this famous book. Flow occurs when one is singularly focused on a challenging task where time seems distorted, distractions seem diminished, and one's sense of well being is high. Although this state is usually achieved spontaneously, and most of us have experienced it at least occasionally, it has been extensively studied and the factors that induce it are known. If one understands these factors, then entering a flow state on demand is possible.

In order to achieve a flow state, one must learn how to focus attention on the task at hand and reduce distractions. The task, whether it's physical or mental, must be challenging with clear goals or outcomes. One must approach these tasks with genuine interest or curiosity, otherwise, the motivations will not allow for a flow state to develop. For example, if you're researching a topic …