Tag Archives: book review

The Evolutionary Origins of Ritual, Music, and Dance

Evolutionary Psychology posits that many human behaviors are evolved adaptations. In his excellent books The Red Queen, and The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley explains the evolutionary origins of human sexuality, reciprocity, and collaboration. It is an easy mistake to assume that all common behaviors are adaptations of some kind, when in fact many are often merely side effects and confer no direct advantage. Despite this problem, the evidence that many behaviors are advantageous is compelling. With this in mind I am always on the look-out for evolutionary explanations of other behaviors, but remain wary that these may not imply adaptation.

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Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read many books that discuss various aspects of evolution but never a complete overview of the subject. While I understand how evolution works, and have no doubt about its veracity, I was not aware of the overwhelming supporting evidence for the theory from multiple different scientific disciplines: Paleontology, Biogeography, Embryology, Genetics, Comparative Anatomy etc. Mr Coyne relishes his task, clearly presenting the evidence fact by fact. Within the first 100 pages he presents a broad, and consistent body of evidence in which he weaves together facts from multiple fields. It was hugely entertaining reading an academic, at the top of his game, build such an impressive case. The evidence is undeniable and overwhelming. Evolution is true!

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Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been interested in the work of Stuart Kauffman since I first read about him 10 years ago. I have read his other book “At Home in the Universe” and so wanted to read this one. I find Kauffman very difficult to read, but worth the effort. This time I took notes as I was reading, which helped a great deal. Part of the reason I find him so interesting is that his books are, for me, a view into a mind on the edge of discovering something significant. I’m not sure Kauffman will actually discover whatever it is he is closing in on, but he’s barking up the right tree and its fascinating to watch him wrestle with his problems.

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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catch 22 is a truly great novel, but it’s difficult to digest. I listened to the unabridged audio book narrated by Jay O. Sanders and I’m very glad I did. The book is arranged into 42 chapters each named after a character in the novel. These chapters contain many anecdotes about the characters and their lives in a bomber squadron on the island of Pianosa, off the coast of Italy, towards the end of the Second World War. The book is not arranged in chronological order and many of its anecdotes and sub-plots are impossible to place on a linear timeline. There are a few key events and plot markers that help position everything but it gets pretty complex trying keep track of all the events and characters. The Audio book really helped in this respect. There is a lot of dialog in the book and the narration by Jay O. Sanders was excellent. His use of accent really helped distinguish between the characters and keep everything in its place.

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what i was getting into! All I knew was that this was the story of a mad captain hellbent on killing the white whale. I did wonder why it was such a big book with 135 chapters! Not so much a single narrative about Ahab and Moby Dick as an immersion course in the 19th century whaling industry, its practices, myths, and misconceptions, all interwoven with various stories, hung on the framework of Ahab and the great white whale. Of course, there are many subtexts, some of which I could pickup but many ran too deep and escaped me. Mostly I think my lack of biblical knowledge meant i missed out on many nuances of plot and motivators for various characters, not least Ahab.

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The Evolution of Cooperation – Social Software and the Shadow of the Future.

The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod is an outstanding book. First published in 1984 it has increased in significance with the evolution of the Internet. In the book Axelrod examines how cooperation can emerge and stabilize in multi-participant environments. The book is fascinating as an analysis of the evolution of cooperation, but is of particular interest to anyone seeking to establish effective; social software systems, peer-to-peer networks, or multi-player gaming environments. Axelrod builds his thesis on the analysis of a gaming tournament he organized. He invited multiple people from many different fields; economics, computer science, evolutionary biology, etc, to submit computer programs employing well defined strategies to play a series of games of Prisoner’s Dilemma. Each program played several hundred games against every other program. The results were surprising and enlightening.

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The Assassins. A Radical Sect in Islam by Bernard Lewis

The Assassins

The Assassins or Ismailis were a fascinating, enigmatic people that used assassination, and the fear of it, as a political weapon. Their influence was felt throughout the Islamic world for 2 centuries and in the 13th century extended as far as Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol empire. The Mongols targeted them for destruction in 1256 and within a year they were eradicated.
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