What We Are Reading Today: When the Sahara Was Green by Martin Williams

What We Are Reading Today: When the Sahara Was Green by Martin Williams
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Updated 08 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: When the Sahara Was Green by Martin Williams

What We Are Reading Today: When the Sahara Was Green by Martin Williams

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world, equal in size to China or the US. Yet, this arid expanse was once a verdant, pleasant land, fed by rivers and lakes. The Sahara sustained abundant plant and animal life, such as Nile perch, turtles, crocodiles, and hippos, and attracted prehistoric hunters and herders. What transformed this land of lakes into a sea of sands? When the Sahara Was Green describes the remarkable history of Earth’s greatest desert—including why its climate changed, the impact this had on human populations, and how scientists uncovered the evidence for these extraordinary events.
From the Sahara’s origins as savanna woodland and grassland to its current arid incarnation, Martin Williams takes us on a vivid journey through time. He describes how the desert’s ancient rocks were first fashioned, how dinosaurs roamed freely across the land, and how it was later covered in tall trees.


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.


What We Are Reading Today: A Place like No Other by Anthony R. E. Sinclair

What We Are Reading Today: A Place like No Other by Anthony R. E. Sinclair
Updated 20 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Place like No Other by Anthony R. E. Sinclair

What We Are Reading Today: A Place like No Other by Anthony R. E. Sinclair

With its rich biodiversity, astounding wildlife, and breathtaking animal migrations, Serengeti is like no other ecosystem on the planet. A Place like No Other is Anthony Sinclair’s firsthand account of how he and other scientists discovered the biological principles that regulate life in Serengeti and how they rule all of the natural world.

When Sinclair first began studying this spectacular ecosystem in 1965, a host of questions confronted him. What environmental features make its annual migration possible? What determines the size of animal populations and the stunning diversity of species? What factors enable Serengeti to endure over time? In the five decades that followed, Sinclair and others sought answers. What they learned is that seven principles of regulation govern all natural processes in the Serengeti ecosystem. Sinclair shows how these principles can help us to understand and overcome the challenges facing Serengeti today, and how they can be used to repair damaged habitats throughout the world.