Book Review: Hidden Figures

Summary: We need all the brainpower we can get.Even in the darkest days of prejudice, when women and minorities were most oppressed and their talents denigrated, they've always been there, making crucial contributions to human progress. The only question is whether their achievements are preserved in the historical record, or whether they're shunted into the background so that white men can get all the glory. Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures, about the black women of NASA who helped … [Read more...]

The Fountainhead: Once More Into the Breach

After finishing my marathon review of Atlas Shrugged, I always wanted to circle back and review Ayn Rand's other major novel, The Fountainhead. It was part curiosity, part completionism. (An unkind assessment might add a hint of masochism.)The Fountainhead is the earlier book, published in 1943, fourteen years before Atlas. While it was successful in its own right and helped establish Ayn Rand as an author, it's not as well-known. This may be because, unlike Atlas Shrugged, it's set in a … [Read more...]

Coming Soon: The Fountainhead

Good news! I've been reading and making notes on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, and I'm nearly done with it now. I'm planning to write another chapter-by-chapter review, like the one I did for Atlas Shrugged, beginning in January 2017.I'll do my best to make it entertaining, but I have to admit that The Fountainhead isn't as wacky as Atlas Shrugged. It's slower, talkier, less action-oriented. It doesn't have the disappearing-geniuses mystery plot, the mad-science sci-fi, or the … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Illusion of God’s Presence

Summary: Not a new theory, but a new and strong case for an old theory, supplemented with up-to-date neurological evidence.Jack Wathey is a neuroscientist and computational biologist and the founder of Wathey Research, a scientific firm that focuses on problems like protein folding. His new book, The Illusion of God's Presence, presents an answer to a puzzling problem: Why do human beings believe so strongly in a supernatural deity, even in the face of ample contradictory evidence? (Full … [Read more...]

Book Review: 1491

Summary: Like a watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken.It's a common belief that, when Europeans first encountered them, the Native Americans were living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle scarcely changed from that of the earliest humans. This idea spans the political spectrum: from those on the left, who idealize indigenous people as living a purer, simpler life in harmony with nature, to those on the right, like Ayn Rand, who called them "savages" and cheered colonial settlers … [Read more...]

SF/F Saturday: The Half-Made World

Something I've often wondered is why so many great or classic fantasy stories are set in a real or fictionalized Europe. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, Robert E. Howard's Conan series, Terry Pratchett's Discworld, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell... the list goes on and on. And it can't just be chalked up to European fantasy authors being more popular, since some of the authors of these … [Read more...]

Book Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Summary: Morbid, irreverent and funny, but a subtle and compassionate humanism runs throughout.Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, the creator of a popular YouTube series answering questions about the funeral industry, and the founder of the Order of the Good Death, a "death acceptance" organization dedicated to helping people reconcile with mortality. Her book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory grows out of that mission, offering a disarmingly honest glimpse into an … [Read more...]

Book Reviews: Fighting Back the Right, Living the Secular Life

(Author's Note: The following reviews were solicited and are written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Fighting Back the Right by David NioseI previously reviewed Nonbeliever Nation by David Niose, a past president of the American Humanist Association. His new book, Fighting Back the Right, tells the story of how the right wing became a formidable force in America's culture wars and what we can do about it.The modern conservative movement, in Niose's account, is … [Read more...]

SF/F Saturday: The Years of Rice and Salt

I've been getting into alternate history novels lately - The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp - and one of the better ones I've read is Kim Stanley Robinson's 2002 book The Years of Rice and Salt. I've read Robinson's Mars trilogy, which I thought was interesting but lacked a strong central concept to drive the plot, but this book is an accomplishment.The classic strategy of alternate history is to pick some important historical event, assume … [Read more...]

Book Review: Recovering Agency

(Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)At the American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City this year, I toured the grounds of the Mormon temple with some other attendees. At the time, I thought of it as an exercise in appreciating wacky religious camp. But the goofy theology of the LDS church is a cover for something darker and more troubling, as I found out from author (and ex-Mormon) Luna Lindsey's book Recovering Agency: … [Read more...]