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Showing posts from 2021

Reset - Ronald Deibert ***

The subtitle underscores a topic of 'reclaiming the internet for civil society'. There is no doubt that the internet has given us huge benefits - never more obvious than during the COVID pandemic - but Ronald Deibert argues that it also presents huge dangers, both from the state being able to gather data on citizens and from corporations indulging in 'surveillance capitalism' - making money out of keeping track of us and our data. Both of these are certainly significant issues that need to be explored. The majority of the book gives a depressingly dark picture of an internet where we are constantly observed, while the last pages come up with a form of response - the reset of the title. Unlike the stark specifics of the description of the problem, the suggested solution is far more tenuous, coming down primarily to being more 'republican' (with a small r, not the policies of the US political party of the same name). I'll be honest, I found Reset hard going,

Human - Amanda Rees and Charlotte Sleigh ***

There's something of a tradition of books that treat Homo sapiens as they would another animal - in Human , Amanda Rees and Charlotte Sleigh are contributing to an 'animal series'. If done correctly, this is an effective conceit. The pocket sized book is glossy and well illustrated (though I found it quite hard to open without breaking the spine). It begins with a purely 'human as animal' introduction where we learn, for example that humans are categorised as of 'Least concern' on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List. From here we move onto a series of chapters on aspects of the human species, taking in the broad concepts of beast (what makes us different, if anything, from the other animals), hominin (the origin of our species), she (the place of women in society), god (not exactly surprisingly, religion), and alien (the position of the 'other', plus literal aliens) with a conclusion labelled 'Inhumanism', wh

Math Without Numbers - Milo Beckman *****

In some ways, this is the best book about pure mathematics for the general reader that I've ever seen.  At first sight, Milo Beckman's assertion that 'the only numbers in this book are the page numbers' seems like one of those testing limits some authors place on themselves, such as Roberto Trotter's interesting attempt to explain cosmology using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language, The Edge of the Sky . But in practice, Beckman's conceit is truly liberating. Dropping numbers enables him to present maths (I can't help but wince a bit at the 'math' in the title) in a far more comprehensible way. Counting and geometry may have been the historical origin of mathematics, but it has moved on. The book is divided into three primary sections - topology, analysis and algebra, plus a rather earnest dialogue on foundations of mathematics exploring the implications of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, and a closing section on modelling (

The Light Ages - Seb Falk ****

In this chunky title, Seb Falk sets out to prove very effectively that, certainly from the scientific viewpoint, the suggestion that medieval Europe spent a period of time in the 'dark ages' is misrepresentation. Historians, of course, dumped the 'dark ages' title some time ago, but it still lingers on in our imaginations. The backbone of Falk's book is the life and work of a fourteenth century English monk by the name of John Westwyk, who spent most of his adult life at St Alban's Abbey. Westwyk enters the story with a 1951 discovery of a manuscript on an astrolabe-like device, found in Cambridge: a manuscript that was first attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer. (If this seems bizarre, bear in mind that as well as Canterbury Tales and his other titles, Chaucer was the author of a beginners guide to using that versatile medieval astronomical tool, the astrolabe.) It turns out that Westwyk was the author of the manuscript, as well as a number of other astronomical con