Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is a cunning linguist who also has a couple lectures posted on my favorite website, (link to Steven Pinker videos). Anyways, in his book the Language Instinct, Pinker argues that all humans have an innate ability to comprehend language and that there is some form of universal grammar seen throughout all languages. Now much of this book I found dry as he thoroughly described many sentence diagrams and trees. However, every once in awhile, I would find myself extremely fascinated and curious to learn more about languages. This book also had connections to my new found love of evolutionary biology; oh, how I love how everything is connected.

This book also creates some good value in one of the last chapters when he bad mouths all those strict adherers to grammar. This chapter would have been very excellent in creating arguments against all my past grammar teachers. It also refutes Ms. Bandamere's favorite quote that "Love is transitory but grammar is forever."

I recommend this book.

Completed sometime in October

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Know-It-All A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs read the entire Encylcopaedia Britanica. This book follows his journey through the pages of Britanica and his journey of impregnating his wife. Eventually, he was successful in both endeavors. Way to go AJ.

The book was quite random and very witty. There may be little redeeming social value in reading this book, but it is definitely entertaining. I laughed out loud multiple times and was relieved to have some easy reading.

It looks like Jacobs just released another book similar to the Know It All. In his new book, he undertakes another Herculean task, living for one year, literally interpreting the bible. It looks quite humorous. This guy must have a very understanding wife.

Completed mid-October

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

I originally read this book as a sophomore in college and was deeply touched by this book. Honestly, I feel few books have made such impressions on me as Into the Wild. The story of Chris (Supertramp) McCandless, abandoning a secure lifestyle for a life of simplicity and adventure intrigued me. This book served as a catalyst for some of my recent adventures and partly is the cause of my desire for independence (but not a desire for celibacy like Chris).

When my team at work suggested we read this together, I was uncertain what I would get out of a second reading of the story. Like my original reading, I quickly inhaled the book in 2 days, but I admit that my perceptions of Chris changed the second time around. Originally I admired his willingness to not get attached to people, but this time around I was bothered by the disrespect he exhibited towards his parents. Additionally, his stories of adventure (which are incredibly mind boggling and bold) lost some of there mystifying qualities. Perhaps because I have since wandered the globe and met others like Chris, I wasn't quite as moved. Despite these comments, I'm still amazed by Chris and admire how he truly experienced his life. This is a phenomenal story.

If you are too lazy to read a quick book, the movie has just been released. But if you fall in that category, you probably shouldn't waste your time reading the book because you wouldn't appreciate it.

Completed October

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

After my first reading of Richard Dawkins in August, I was inspired to read some of his work that originally made him famous. Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist, first published The Selfish Gene 30 years ago. Despite being around for multiple decades and selling millions of copies, I had never heard of this book until recently. It appears that I did a real good job of ignoring everything related to the field of biology. I have always been fascinated by physical science but have related biological sciences to the memorization of the steps of the Krebs cycle from 10th grade. I wish Mr. Lipke would have been able to spend more time inspiring me on the wonders of biology because this book truly blew my mind.

Even though I know next to nothing about biology (I’ve read some elementary readings on evolution), I was able to comprehend Dawkins from page 1 to 250. Dawkins suggests that evolution shouldn’t be looked at from the level of species. It isn’t necessarily best to describe how humans evolved. Instead, it would be more accurate to describe how genes evolved. Our bodies (or the body of any species for that matter) simply serve as the machine genes use to replicate itself. Genes are just like King Henry the VIII: they want as many heirs as possible. Genes that are good at replicating outlast those that don’t…hence survival of the fittest.

My little blurb does not serve this book justice. This book seriously changed how I look at our world around us, and I’m excited to read some more of Dawkins’ books. The theory of evolution is truly beautiful and sheds such lucidity on how things came to be…at least much more than Genesis (and not the Phil Collins’ band) does so.

Completed early October

Collapse by Jared Diamond

When I lived with Adam Welle, he always harassed me that I needed to read Jared Diamond's (no relation to Dustin Diamond) Guns, Germs, and Steel. Unfortunately, I still haven't read GGS, but while browsing at Lien's books last week, I did stumble upon another great book of Diamond's. In Collapse, Diamond examines a number of civilizations (Maya, Anasazi, Norse in Greenland, Easter Island...) and hypothesizes why these great civilizations eventually failed. At the beginning of this book, Diamond identifies a number of potential environmental, political, and social drivers and then walks through the plausibility of each driver contributing to the civilization's collapse. This is a very fascinating read that really helped me learn what a civilization needs to survive. I already find myself relating learnings from this book to my everyday life. Yes, I understand that sounds pathetic, but I'm just a pathetic guy who likes to think about soil quality and loss of trade partners.

Completed: End of September