Sunday, April 6, 2014

Micro-Reviews of Books Read, March 2014

Reviews of four books read last month.

1. "This Is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin

Music and psychology come together in this very interesting and
informative book by a former musician and record producer. The
author wanted to learn more about how music affects us, so in
the 1990s he changed careers and studied psychology. Music theory,
psycho-acoustics, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience are
interwoven into a relatively easy to read book. Highly recommended
for anyone with more than a passing interest in music and its
affect on our emotions and thoughts. It helps if the reader has
basic knowledge of classical and rock music. If the book came in
an electronic format with embedded audio snippets, it would make
the book even more accessible.

2. "Help!" by Oliver Burkeman

Self-help is a booming area these days. The never-ending search for
happiness has spawned an industry of gurus. The author writes a
column on psychology which critically examines alleged solutions
to the troubles of modern living. Many profits, I mean, prophets
of "positive thinking", such as Rhonda Byrne and Anthony Robbins,
are skewered, often humorously. But the author isn't just negative:
ideas from ancient philosophies and modern "lifehacks", supported
by scientific studies, can make us a bit happier, or at least more
productive. I can also recommend the author's more recent book,
"The Antidote", which looks more deeply into philosophies that can
help us cope with what life throws our way.

3. "After the Collapse" by Paul di Filippo

This is a collection of short stories by the author who coined the
term "ribofunk" (a biotech-based subgenre of sci-fi). As the
collection's title suggests, each of the six stories has a post-
apocalyptic angle. In the first story, climate change has forced
humans to live nearer to the poles. Survivors coexist with
genetically-modified human/cat hybrids, or "furries". "Keeks"
(super-geeks), have their own agenda, and want to force human
evolution in a specific direction. In another story, set in the
near future, America has split into two countries: "Agnostica" and
"Faithland". In this story, a teenage girl is considering defecting
because she likes the country music that originated in Faithland.
Other stories look at virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
Overall, an interesting collection of stories about how we might
adapt in the event of a global crisis.

4. "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character of this Victorian-era
novella, has become synonymous with miserliness and misanthropy.
He hates Christmas, dismissing it as "humbug". After being visited
by the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet To Come, he
finds a path to redemption. A simple story, told well. While I'm
familiar with several of Dickens' stories, this is the first I've
read. After "testing the waters", I'll probably try some of the
author's beefier novels in the future.