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The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Title: The Selfish Gene

Author: Richard Dawkins

Publisher: Oxford 2006 (30th Anniversary edition)

Genre: Nonfiction — Science

Pages: 523

Rating:  4 /5 stars

Reading Challenges: Dewey – 500s; Mount TBR; Fall into Reading

How I Got It: I own it

Richard Dawkins’ brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands of readers to rethink their beliefs about life.
In his internationally bestselling, now classic volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.
This 30th anniversary edition of Dawkins’ fascinating book retains all original material, including the two enlightening chapters added in the second edition. In a new Introduction the author presents his thoughts thirty years after the publication of his first and most famous book, while the inclusion of the two-page original Foreword by brilliant American scientist Robert Trivers shows the enthusiastic reaction of the scientific community at that time. This edition is a celebration of a remarkable exposition of evolutionary thought, a work that has been widely hailed for its stylistic brilliance and deep scientific insights, and that continues to stimulate whole new areas of research today.
This is such a dense book.  Although I must say that I really enjoyed it.  Okay okay, I started to nod off here and there.  Basically those chapters that dealt with DNA and the really long explanations of genetics caused me to nod off a bit trying to read this before bed.  Once I got to the chapters on the applications of genetics on human behavior, I perked right up.  Those chapters sustained my interest through the rest of the book.  I love Dawkin’s way of explaining using a ton of analogies.  This really did help me understand the topic.  After reading this one, I am debating about when to read his other books.  I’m intrigued, but I might need a month or two to decompress.

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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author: Rebecca Skloot

Publisher: Broadway 2011

Genre: Nonfiction – Biography/Science

Pages: 382

Rating:   5/5 stars

Reading Challenges: Fall into Reading

How I Got It: Loan from a friend

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

A friend gave me this book to read for our newly formed book club.  I had seen it on a ton of book lists.  I had heard that I should read it, but just didn’t get around to it.  Even J’s friend told J that he had to read it.  So I dove in without many notions of what it was actually about.  And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it.

My thoughts:

Skloot flips back and forth between the science of the HeLa cells and the life and rediscovery of Henrietta Lacks.  I instantly latched onto the science chapters.  I loved hearing the story of the HeLa cells and their impact on science and medicine.  I loved reading about the ensuing controversies over contamination, informed consent, and ethics.  I had known about the Tuskegee syphilis studies, but didn’t realize how many more unethical experiments that were done in science’s name.  I also had no knowledge of the so-called Nazi Law.  It was a revelation.  I felt that i added another piece in my understanding of society.  It was a fascinating read.  I would have loved to read what Skloot felt about the controversies, but she seemed to keep those parts much more factual.  The parts about Henrietta’s life and death were heartbreaking.  The levels of misfortune, segregation, discrimination  and just back luck pained me.  And then to see the cycle continue with her children was almost too much to bear.  At points the biography sections felt almost made up because they were so fantastic.  And yet, the characters inhabiting the story were all fantastic in their own ways.  True life can be more unbelievable than science fiction in many ways.  A fascinating book, now I’m off to book club to discuss.

Book club thoughts:

I’m back from book club to share some of our thoughts on the book…  We had a great discussion about many aspects of the book.  It’s funny that the other ladies really loved the biography sections of the book and I gravitated toward the science sections.  But it did lead to some great discussions about the world of medicine and informed consent.  It seems we still don’t have the issue clear.  Anyway, I had a lovely time and can’t wait until the next meeting.  We’re reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott for December.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun by Gita May

Title: Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Author: Gita May

Publisher: Yale University 2005

Genre: Nonfiction – Biography

Pages: 256

Rating:  4 /5 stars

Reading Challenges: Dewey — 750s; Mixing It Up — Biography

How I Got It: Library Loan

The foremost woman artist of her age, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755—1842) exerted her considerable charm to become the friend, and then official portraitist, of Marie Antoinette. Though profitable, this role made Vigée Le Brun a public and controversial figure, and in 1789 it precipitated her exile. In a Europe torn by strife and revolution, she nevertheless managed to thrive as an independent, self-supporting artist, doggedly setting up studios in Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and London. Long overlooked or dismissed, Vigée Le Brun’s portraits now hang in the Louvre, in a room of their own, as well as in all leading art museums of the world.

I first encountered Vigee Le Brun in my Women Artists class in college.  I instantly liked her neoclassical style of painting.  I can’t believe that I never picked up a biography in the intervening years.  Thankfully I snatched this from the library shelves.  May does not disappoint in giving insight to a talented woman painter of the late 18th century.  Vigee Le Brun had the fortune of natural talent, a family that supported her painting, and the acquaintances of many rich patrons.  Originally my favorite of her paintings was Marie Antoinette with Her Children (1787), but after reading more about her own life, I love her self portraits.  She had a way of capturing people in a moment.  The paintings are less static than more neoclassicists.  I get a sense of movement in the poses.  They are almost like candid photographs.  Behind her actual art, I loved hearing about her early life and later travels throughout Europe.  And I now have a deeper understanding of the French Revolution’s effects on the participants.  Overall,  a great biography of a great artists.

My current favorite painting: Self Portait in a Turban with Her Child 1786

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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On Target by Laura Rowley

Title: On Target: How the World’s Hottest Retailer Hit a Bulls-Eye

Author: Laura Rowley

Publisher: Wiley 2003

Genre: Nonfiction

Pages: 224

Rating:  4/5 stars

Reading Challenges: Dewey — 380

How I Got It: Library Loan

In On Target, award-winning business journalist Laura Rowley examines the methods and the success of the company from its shrewd merchandising strategy to its clever marketing campaigns, ingenious branding effort, and extensive philanthropy . An excellent education in how to beat the competition even in a crowded and weak retail market, Target’s story details the history and incredible success of a unique company and an enticing, unmistakable brand. Both insightful and entertaining, On Target offers important business lessons for executives and managers in need of a bull’s-eye.

I have to admit up front that I absolutely adore Target.  And much of what I love is due to Target’s very careful approach to retail.  I am not naive enough to think that marketing doesn’t affect me, it does, but I don’t care.  I love Target and their products too much to change stores.  Rowley lays out the various arms of Target’s approach to retail.  Target has married the old style department style to Walmart’s style of discount.  We the consumers get the best of both worlds: cheap prices and stylish quality goods.  What more could you want?  Thankfully I live less than 1/2 mile from a Target with everything I need (it’s not a SuperTarget, but does have a medium sized grocery area).   I go to grab kleenex or a loaf of bread and end up browsing through the clothes, season items, and home decor.  I love the one stop shopping with style.  Target has created the plan for business and dominated their current market.  They will keep getting my dollar if the prices and style continue.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Ten Discoveries that Rewrote History by Patrick Hunt

Title: Ten Discoveries that Rewrote History

Author: Patrick Hunt

Publisher: Plume 2007

Genre: Nonfiction — History

Pages: 226

Rating:   5/5 stars

Reading Challenges: Dewey — 930s

How I Got It: Library Loan

Renowned archaeologist Patrick Hunt brings his top ten list of ancient archaeological discoveries to life in this concise and captivating book. The Rosetta Stone, Troy, Nineveh’s Assyrian Library, King Tut’s Tomb, Machu Picchu, Pompeii, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Thera, Olduvai Gorge, and the Tomb of 10,000 Warriors—Hunt reveals the fascinating stories of these amazing discoveries and explains the ways in which they added to our knowledge of human history and permanently altered our worldview. Part travel guide to the wonders of the world and part primer on ancient world history, Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History captures the awe and excitement of finding a lost window into ancient civilization.

I loved this book!  A beautiful blend of storytelling and archaeology, I sped through the pages eager to read about the next big find.  To be fair, I already knew about each of these discoveries, but Hunt create such a great narrative I couldn’t resist reading.  The discoveries themselves are breathtaking.  Who didn’t dream of being an Indiana Jones style archaeologist at some point in their childhood?  The people behind these discoveries were just that.  I loved reading the stories behind the discoveries and the impact on history.  A great short introduction to amazing finds in archaeology.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Slanted and Enchanted by Kayla Oakes

Title: Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture

Author: Kayla Oakes

Publisher: Holt 2009

Genre: Nonfiction

Pages: 256

Rating:  3/5 stars

Reading Challenges: A to Z — O; Dewey — 700s

How I Got It: Library Loan

As popular television shows adopt indie soundtracks and the signature style bleeds into mainstream fashion, the quirky individuality of the movement seems to be losing ground. In Slanted and Enchanted, Kaya Oakes demonstrates how this phase is part of the natural cycle of a culture that reinvents itself continuously to preserve its core ideals of experimentation, freedom, and collaboration.

Through interviews and profiles of the artists who have spearheaded the cause over the years—including Mike Watt, David Berman, Kathleen Hanna, and Dan Clowes—Oakes examines the collective creativity and cross-genre experimentation that are the hallmarks of this popular lifestyle trend. Her visits to music festivals, craft fairs, and smaller collectives around the country round out the story, providing a compelling portayal of indie life on the ground. Culminating in the current indie milieu of music, crafting, style, art, comics, and zines, Oakes reveals from whence indie came and where it will go next.

Not a bad book, but not really my cup of tea.  I read too much of this as sarcastic and/or pretentious.  I just couldn’t get into this book at all.  At many points, the author presupposes knowledge of indie movers and shakers.  I just don’t have that knowledge.  I felt lost and confused many times throughout.  I just kind of skimmed through this and immediately forgot it.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Change.edu by Andrew Rosen

Title: Change.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy

Author: Andrew Rosen

Publisher: Kaplan 2011

Genre: Nonfiction

Pages: 240

Rating:  4 /5 stars

Reading Challenges: Dewey — 370s

How I Got It: Library Loan

While low-income students can’t find a spot in their local community colleges for lack of funding, public four-year universities are spending staggering sums on luxurious residence halls, ever-bigger football stadiums, and obscure research institutes. We have cosseted our most advantaged students even as we deny access to the working adults who urgently need higher education to advance their careers and our economy. In Change.edu: Rebooting for the new talent economy Andrew S. Rosen clearly and entertainingly details how far the American higher education system has strayed from the goals of access, quality, affordability, and accountability that should characterize our system, and offers a prescription to restore American educational pre-eminence.

A bit of a departure from my Shakespeare and romance novels.  I was craving some thought provoking nonfiction, and I got it.  Although I mistakenly believed this book was aimed at K-12 education when I grabbed it, I came to really enjoy the examination of our nation’s higher education system.  Overall, I agreed with Rosen on the large issues at play in higher education: money allocation, focus on education, displaced interests.  We have gradually gotten away from education our next generation and focused on money, prestige, and image of colleges.  We need to take a hard look at our post secondary arena and determine what we really want.  What is the purpose of college?  If we need skilled students exiting into the new technological world, we aren’t fulfilling the need.  A very thought provoking book.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Book Reviews, Education Related

 

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