What are we reading? « Why Evolution Is True

What are we reading?

Well, I don’t know what you’re reading, and whether you like it, but that’s what this post is for. In fact, a lot of the books I’ve read, and a few I’m reading now, have come from readers’ comments on posts like this.

I usually read only one book at a time, and have been reading only nonfiction, but now I’m reading multiple books at once. The one I’m concentrating on—as it’s big and I need to finish it before I go to Antarctica—is this biography of Churchill (click on all books for the Amazon link). It was published in November of last year and was highly rated.

I’m reading it because I finally grew tired of not knowing all about Churchill’s life. I’d read the first two volumes of William Manchester’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, which was fabulous—along with Robert Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses, I considered it one of the three best biographies I’ve ever read. But Manchester died before he could finish the last volume, and that last volume was poised to begin at the apogee of Churchill’s career: when he became Prime Minister at the beginning of World War II. Someone was commissioned to finish Manchester’s bio from his notes, but I don’t have the heart to read it.

So I’m only 150 pages from the end of this 960-page behemoth, and it’s very good. Not as good as Manchester’s biography, mind you, but at least it relates his whole life, and is very good on WWII. I would recommend this very highly.

I’m about to start this one, which, as I recall, a reader recommended. It came out in May, and there are only 8 Amazon reviews, but they’re good. The description is enticing:

An argument that what makes science distinctive is its emphasis on evidence and scientists’ willingness to change theories on the basis of new evidence.

Attacks on science have become commonplace. Claims that climate change isn’t settled science, that evolution is “only a theory,” and that scientists are conspiring to keep the truth about vaccines from the public are staples of some politicians’ rhetorical repertoire. Defenders of science often point to its discoveries (penicillin! relativity!) without explaining exactly why scientific claims are superior. In this book, Lee McIntyre argues that what distinguishes science from its rivals is what he calls “the scientific attitude”―caring about evidence and being willing to change theories on the basis of new evidence. The history of science is littered with theories that were scientific but turned out to be wrong; the scientific attitude reveals why even a failed theory can help us to understand what is special about science.

McIntyre offers examples that illustrate both scientific success (a reduction in childbed fever in the nineteenth century) and failure (the flawed “discovery” of cold fusion in the twentieth century). He describes the transformation of medicine from a practice based largely on hunches into a science based on evidence; considers scientific fraud; examines the positions of ideology-driven denialists, pseudoscientists, and “skeptics” who reject scientific findings; and argues that social science, no less than natural science, should embrace the scientific attitude. McIntyre argues that the scientific attitude―the grounding of science in evidence―offers a uniquely powerful tool in the defense of science.

Finally, I read this book hoping to learn a bit more about Antarctica before I go (a month from yesterday!). It was a complete waste of time. Combine a scholar steeped in Social Justice Warriorism and postmodernism, along with his interest in the geopolitics of how Antarctica was “divided up” and colonized, and you get a worthless tome that tells you virtually nothing about the geological or evolutionary history of the continent, or about its weather or modern geology, or about what plants or animals are there. For a book purporting to be all about a continent (granted, a “Very Short Introduction”), it leaves out almost everything of interest. The poor quality of this book stands in sharp contrast to the other 400-odd VSI volumes put out by Oxford University Press. What a pity, and what a waste!

Now, what are you reading? Do you like it, and would you recommend it?

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