Reviews of four books read last month. 1. "This Is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin <http://www.amazon.com/This-Your-Brain-Music/dp/0452288525> 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 <http://www.amazon.com/Help/dp/0857860267> 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 <http://www.amazon.com/After-Collapse/dp/B005V1ZKEO> 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 <http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Carol/dp/1493680943> 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.