Posts tagged ‘Book’

September 7, 2015

Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby by Seymour Chwast

Nicholas Nickleby is a novel by Charles Dickens. Originally published as a monthly serial from 1838 to 1839, it was Dickens’ third novel. The book centers on the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies. Dickens began writing ‘Nickleby’ while still working on ‘Oliver Twist’ and while the mood is considerably lighter, his depiction of the Yorkshire school run by Wackford Squeers is as moving and influential as those of the workhouse and criminal underclass in ‘Twist.’

Like most of Dickens’ early works, the novel has a contemporary setting. Much of the action takes place in London, with several chapters taking place in Dickens’ birthplace of Portsmouth, as well as settings in Yorkshire and Devon. The tone of the work is that of ironic social satire, with Dickens taking aim at what he perceives to be the class injustices of Victorian England. Many memorable characters are introduced, including Nicholas’ malevolent Uncle Ralph, and the villainous Wackford Squeers, who operates an abusive all-boys boarding school at which Nicholas temporarily serves as a tutor.

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September 6, 2015

Silas Marner

george eliot by david levine

Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe’ is the third novel by George Eliot, pen name of English novelist Mary Ann Evans. Published in 1861, it is an outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialization to community. Eliot’s novels often presented the cases of social outsiders and small-town persecution.

The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in an unnamed city in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation’s funds while watching over the very ill deacon.

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July 13, 2015

The Truth Machine

Snowden by Laurent Cilluffo

The Truth Machine‘ is a 1996 science fiction novel by James L. Halperin about an infallible lie detector. Soon, every citizen must pass a thorough test under a Truth Machine to get a job or receive any sort of license. Eventually, people begin wearing them all the time, thus eliminating dishonesty in all parts of human interaction, including most crime, terrorism and a great deal of general social problems.

The novel focuses on the life story of the machine’s inventor, Pete Armstrong, a child prodigy whose life has been defined by the tragic murder of his younger brother, Leonard, by an ex-convict who was believed to be capable of committing violent crimes again, but who could not be incarcerated on mere suspicions. Armstrong claimed that as long as it was employed universally (and not just by government officials), the ‘truth machine’ could revolutionize humanity and take it to that next evolutionary step. However, the protagonist places a back door in the device, allowing him to avoid detection when he repeats fragments of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ in his mind.


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June 29, 2015

Character Strengths and Virtues


Character Strengths and Virtues‘ (CSV) is a 2004 book by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman that presents humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner. Seligman describes it as a ‘positive’ counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While the DSM focuses on what can go wrong, CSV is designed to look at what can go right.

In their research they looked across cultures and time to distill a manageable list of virtues that have been highly valued from ancient China and India, through Greece and Rome, to contemporary Western cultures. Their list includes six character strengths: wisdom/knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Each of these has three to five sub-entries; for instance, temperance includes forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation. The authors do not believe that there is a hierarchy for the six virtues; no one is more fundamental than or a precursor to the others.

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June 23, 2015

The Cuckoo’s Egg

Markus Hess

The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage’ is a 1989 book written by Clifford Stoll, an astronomer turned systems administrator of the computer center of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) in California. It is his first-person account of the hunt for a computer hacker who broke into a computer at the lab.

In August of 1986 his supervisor asked him to resolve a US$0.75 accounting error in the computer usage accounts. He traced the error to an unauthorized user who had apparently used up nine seconds of computer time and not paid for it, and eventually realized that the unauthorized user was a hacker who had acquired root (high-level) access to the LBL system by exploiting a vulnerability in the movemail function of the original GNU Emacs (an open-source computer program that moves a user’s mail to another file).

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May 30, 2015

The Magic of Reality

what is an earthquake

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True’ is a 2011 book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, with illustrations by Dave McKean. It is a science book aimed primarily at children and young adults. He addresses topics that range from his most familiar territory, evolutionary biology and speciation (how the tree of life creates new branches), to physical phenomena such as atomic theory, optics, planetary motion, gravitation, stellar evolution (the life cycle of stars), spectroscopy (the study of the interactions of matter and electromagnetic radiation), and plate tectonics, as well as speculation on exobiology (alien life).

Most chapters begin with quick retellings of historical creation myths that emerged as attempts to explain the origin of particular observed phenomena. These myths are chosen from all across the world including Babylonian, Judeo-Christian, Aztec, Maori, Ancient Egyptian, Australian Aboriginal, Nordic, Hellenic, Chinese, Japanese, and other traditions, including contemporary alien abduction mythology.

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May 20, 2015

How to Lie with Statistics

discarding unfavorable data


How to Lie with Statistics‘ is a book written by Darrell Huff in 1954 presenting an introduction to statistics for the general reader. Huff was a journalist who wrote many ‘how to’ articles as a freelancer, but was not a statistician. The book is a brief, breezy, illustrated volume outlining errors when it comes to the interpretation of statistics, and how these errors lead to incorrect conclusions. In the 1960s and ’70s it became a standard textbook introduction to the subject of statistics for many college students. It has become one of the best-selling statistics books in history, with over one and a half million copies sold in the English-language edition, and has also been widely translated.

Themes of the book include ‘Correlation does not imply causation’ and ‘Using random sampling.’ It also shows how statistical graphs can be used to distort reality, for example by truncating the bottom of a line or bar chart, so that differences seem larger than they are, or by representing one-dimensional quantities on a pictogram by two- or three-dimensional objects to compare their sizes, so that the reader forgets that the images do not scale the same way the quantities do. The original edition contained humorous illustrations by artist Irving Geis. In a UK edition these were replaced with cartoons by Mel Calman.

May 1, 2015

Leaves of Grass

walt whitman

Leaves of Grass is a collection of poetry by Walt Whitman praising sensuality, the material world, nature, and the experience of the senses. The book was published at Whitman’s own expense in 1855, a period where poetry focused on the soul and organized religion, and was a failure at first. Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and rewriting the book, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first a small book of twelve poems and the last a compilation of over 400.

The collection is notable for its discussion of delight in carnal pleasures during a time when such candid displays were considered immoral. Where much previous poetry, especially English, relied on symbolism, allegory, and meditation on the religious and spiritual, ‘Leaves of Grass’ (particularly the first edition) exalted the physical form and ephemera. Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, itself an offshoot of Romanticism, Whitman’s poetry praises nature and the individual’s role in it. However, much like Emerson, Whitman does not diminish the role of the mind or the spirit; rather, he elevates the human form and mind, deeming both worthy of poetic praise.

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April 23, 2015

War Before Civilization

noble savage

War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage’ is a 1996 book by Lawrence H. Keeley, an archeology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in prehistoric Europe. The book deals with warfare conducted throughout human history by societies with little technology. In the book, Keeley aims to stop the apparent trend in seeing civilization as bad.

According to Keeley, modern western societies are not more violent or war-prone than (historical) tribes. He conducted an investigation of the archaeological evidence for prehistoric violence, including murder and massacre as well as war. He also looked at nonstate societies of more recent times. It has long been known, for example, that many tribes of South America’s tropical forest engage in frequent and horrific warfare, but some scholars had attributed their addiction to violence to baneful Western influences.

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March 13, 2015

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers


Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers‘ is a 1994 (2nd ed. 1998, 3rd ed. 2004) book by Stanford University biologist Robert M. Sapolsky. The book proclaims itself as a ‘Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping’ on the front cover of its third and most recent edition. The title derives from Sapolsky’s idea that for animals such as zebras, stress is generally episodic (e.g., running away from a lion), while for humans, stress is often chronic (e.g., worrying about financial burdens). Therefore, many wild animals are less susceptible than humans to chronic stress-related disorders such asulcers, hypertension, decreased neurogenesis and increased hippocampal neuronal atrophy. However, chronic stress occurs in some social primates (Sapolsky studies baboons) for individuals on the lower side of the social dominance hierarchy.

Sapolsky focuses on the effects of glucocorticoids (a class of steroid hormones) on the human body, stating that they may be useful to animals in the wild escaping their predators during the fight-or-flight response, but the effects on humans, when secreted at high quantities or over long periods of time, are much less desirable. He relates the history of endocrinology, how the field reacted at times of discovery, and how it has changed through the years. While most of the book focuses on the biological machinery of the body, the last chapter of the book focuses on self-help. He also explains how social phenomena such as child abuse and the chronic stress of poverty affect biological stress, leading to increased risk of disease and disability.

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January 30, 2015

A Course in Miracles

levels of the mind

A Course in Miracles‘ (ACIM or simply the ‘Course’) is a book written and edited by psychologist Helen Schucman, with portions transcribed and edited by psychologist William Thetford, containing a self-study curriculum of spiritual transformation. It consists of three sections entitled ‘Text,’ ‘Workbook,’ and ‘Manual for Teachers.’ Written from 1965 to 1972, some distribution occurred via photocopies before a hardcover edition was published in 1976. The copyright and trademarks, which had been held by two foundations, were revoked in 2004 after a lengthy litigation because the earliest versions had been circulated without a copyright notice.

Schucman believed that an ‘inner voice,’ which she identified as Jesus, guided her writing. Throughout the 1980s annual sales of the book steadily increased each year, however the largest growth in sales occurred in 1992 after spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson discussed the book on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ with more than two million volumes sold. The book has been called everything from ‘a Satanic seduction’ to ‘The New Age Bible.’

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December 4, 2014

Metamagical Themas


Douglas Hofstadter by Gilles Esposito-Farèse

Metamagical [met-uh-maj-i-kuhlThemas [thee-muhs] is an eclectic collection of articles that cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter wrote for ‘Scientific American’ during the early 1980s. The title is an anagram of Martin Gardner’s ‘Mathematical Games,’ the column that preceded Hofstadter’s. The anthology was published in 1985. Major themes include: self-reference in memes (ideas that spread within cultures), language, art and logic; discussions of philosophical issues important in cognitive science/AI; analogies and what makes something similar to something else (specifically what makes, for example, an uppercase letter ‘A’ recognizable as such); and lengthy discussions of the work of political scientist Robert Axelrod on the prisoner’s dilemma (a game theory problem).

There are three articles centered on the Lisp programming language, where Hofstadter first details the language itself, and then shows how it relates to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Two articles are devoted to Rubik’s Cube and other such puzzles. Many other topics are also mentioned, all in Hofstadter’s usual easy, approachable style. Many chapters open with an illustration of an extremely abstract alphabet, yet one which is still recognizable as such. The game of ‘Nomic’ (in which the rules of the game include mechanisms for the players to change those rules) was first introduced to the public in this column, in June 1982.

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