What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon

What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon
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Updated 19 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon

What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon

Author: Sam Kean

Unflinching, and exhilarating to the last page, The Icepick Surgeon fuses the drama of scientific discovery with the illicit thrill of a true-crime tale.
With his trademark wit and precision, Sam Kean “shows that, while science has done more good than harm in the world, rogue scientists do exist, and when we sacrifice morals for progress, we often end up with neither,” said a review on goodreads.com.
Kean “tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process,” said the review.
The Icepick Surgeon is Kean’s sixth book. His previous work examined the entertaining and sometimes macaber side of science.
Kean’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, The Believer, Air & Space, Science, and The New Scientist.
According to the review, the Icepick Surgeon “discusses the ethical and moral limits of science and gives us informative insight into some of the most flagrant cases of immoral behavior in science.”


What We Are Reading Today: Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven by Ming-sho Ho

What We Are Reading Today: Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven by Ming-sho Ho
Updated 25 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven by Ming-sho Ho

What We Are Reading Today: Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven by Ming-sho Ho

‘Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven aims to make sense of the origins, processes, and outcomes of the mass protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Ming-sho Ho compares the dynamics of the political movements, from the existing networks of activists that preceded protest, to the perceived threats that ignited the movements, to the government strategies with which they contended, and to the nature of their coordination, according to a review on goodreads.com.  Moreover, he contextualizes these protests in a period of global prominence for student, occupy, and anti-globalization protests and situates them within social movement studies.


What We Are Reading Today: The Thirty-Year Genocide

What We Are Reading Today: The Thirty-Year Genocide
Updated 24 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Thirty-Year Genocide

What We Are Reading Today: The Thirty-Year Genocide

Edited by Benny Morris and Dror Zeevi

The book is a reappraisal of the giant massacres perpetrated by Turkey against their Christian minorities.

Between 1894 and 1924, three waves of violence swept across Anatolia, targeting the region’s Christian minorities. By 1924, the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks had been reduced to two percent. Most historians have treated these waves as distinct, isolated events. The Thirty-Year Genocide is the first account to show that the three were actually part of a single, continuing, and intentional effort to wipe out Anatolia’s Christian population, according to a review on goodreads.com.


What We Are Reading Today: Now Comes Good Sailing by Andrew Blauner

What We Are Reading Today: Now Comes Good Sailing by Andrew Blauner
Updated 23 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Now Comes Good Sailing by Andrew Blauner

What We Are Reading Today: Now Comes Good Sailing by Andrew Blauner

The world is never done catching up with Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), the author of Walden, “Civil Disobedience,” and other classics. A prophet of environmentalism and vegetarianism, an abolitionist, and a critic of materialism and technology, Thoreau even seems to have anticipated a world of social distancing in his famous experiment at Walden Pond.

In Now Comes Good Sailing, 27 of today’s leading writers offer wide-ranging original pieces exploring how Thoreau has influenced and inspired them—and why he matters more than ever in an age of climate, racial, and technological reckoning.

Here, Lauren Groff retreats from the COVID-19 pandemic to a rural house and writing hut, where, unable to write, she rereads Walden; Pico Iyer describes how Thoreau provided him with an unlikely guidebook to Japan; Gerald Early examines Walden and the Black quest for nature; and there’s much more.


What We Are Reading Today: Athens at the Margins by Nathan T. Arrington

What We Are Reading Today: Athens at the Margins by Nathan T.  Arrington
Updated 22 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Athens at the Margins by Nathan T. Arrington

What We Are Reading Today: Athens at the Margins by Nathan T.  Arrington

The seventh century BC in ancient Greece is referred to as the Orientalizing period because of the strong presence of Near Eastern elements in art and culture. Conventional narratives argue that goods and knowledge flowed from East to West through cosmopolitan elites. Rejecting this explanation, Athens at the Margins proposes a new narrative of the origins behind the style and its significance, investigating how material culture shaped the ways people and communities thought of themselves.
Athens and the region of Attica belonged to an interconnected Mediterranean, in which people, goods, and ideas moved in unexpected directions. Network thinking provides a way to conceive of this mobility, which generated a style of pottery that was heterogeneous and dynamic. Although the elite had power, they were unable to agree on the norms of conspicuous consumption and status display.


What We Are Reading Today: What Makes Us Smart by Samuel Gershman

What We Are Reading Today: What Makes Us Smart by Samuel Gershman
Updated 20 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: What Makes Us Smart by Samuel Gershman

What We Are Reading Today: What Makes Us Smart by Samuel Gershman

At the heart of human intelligence rests a fundamental puzzle: How are we incredibly smart and stupid at the same time? No existing machine can match the power and flexibility of human perception, language, and reasoning. Yet, we routinely commit errors that reveal the failures of our thought processes. What Makes Us Smartmakes sense of this paradox by arguing that our cognitive errors are not haphazard. Rather, they are the inevitable consequences of a brain optimized for efficient inference and decision making within the constraints of time, energy, and memory—in other words, data and resource limitations. Framing human intelligence in terms of these constraints, Samuel Gershman shows how a deeper computational logic underpins the “stupid” errors of human cognition.

Embarking on a journey across psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, and economics, Gershman presents unifying principles that govern human intelligence. First, inductive bias: Any system that makes inferences based on limited data must constrain its hypotheses in some way before observing data. Second, approximation bias: any system that makes inferences and decisions with limited resources must make approximations. Applying these principles to a range of computational errors made by humans, Gershman demonstrates that intelligent systems designed to meet these constraints yield characteristically human errors.