Written by a scientist, Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects compiles a good collection of tales about insects and gives multiple examples of their importance, from pollinating our food to processing organic debris back into soil. Because the author lives in Norway we get occasional glimpses at a different culture, as when she informs us that deer flies swarm “at the height of the mushroom season” but she does not hesitate to jump to other locales, as when she tells us that the British importers of cows to Australia, in the late 18th century, forgot to also import the beetles that could dispose of their dung.
Do we need another novel about rich New Yorkers and their troubled children? Probably not, but Fleishman Is In Trouble is awfully entertaining, as we follow Dr. Fleishman’s struggling with his children following his soon-to-be ex-wife’s sudden disappearance while caring for high-profile patients. And we learn that he was, in fact, the almost house husband to his financially successful talent agent wife, so their marriage was a little more complicated than we thought. And, in fact, she has her own tale to tell. So don’t dismiss the story too soon or too easily as a standard beach read.
The father of the author of A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early fifties and subsequently blacklisted. His younger son researched the lives of his parents, the lives of the committee members, and tells all about it in this book. “All about it” is a problem: we read about his uncle’s service in the international brigades, the amputated leg of one of the committee member, each round of voting when his father was chosen to be the editor of the school paper–and, it seems the full transcript of his father’s interview by the committee. Transcripts are not the liveliest of materials.
Say Say Say stars a young woman who could be an artist but is working as a caregiver to a woman with dementia, whose sweet husband can no longer cope. She feels she could do more, but does not, has a complicated relationship with the husband, and occasionally ponders her future with her girlfriend. I thought the story brought to life the intricate relationships between domestic helpers and families that are often treated solely as business transactions.
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence is a nerdy book that pretends that readers will start by learning about NAND gates and end up musing about the cyber-safety requirements of AI. Not very likely, I think. I do not doubt that the author is brilliant, and he does a good job of explaining the various factions around AI, from techno-skeptics to digital utopians. But he seems to live mostly on the MIT campus and in his brain rather than the real world. This book is likely to make us feel stupid rather than empowered to participate in the debate about how to regulate the algorithms around us.
When the stranger of Goodnight Stranger lands on the island, he seems to know too much about the adult twins he befriends, so much that they wonder whether he could be their long-dead brother (why? no one really explains–and it bothered me). He insinuates himself into their lives, until the sister finally goes to seek the truth. In the process, we learn about their parents and family history. It’s all nicely mysterious and nicely told. Too bad I could never get into the delusion of the lost brother.
A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century follows a large Filipino family who started in a Manila slum and in which most of the adults, and many children, have worked overseas or in some cases moved overseas. The author is able to tell the very personal story of a nurse and her husband who moves to Abu Dhabi and eventually Gavelston, TX, leaving their children to be raised by her mother and sister for years before wenching them away and having to learn to be a full-time mother–and also comment on immigration trends, from the importance of remittances to the economy of the Philippines to the changes in immigration policy in the US. The personal story, reported over 30 years, is stunning.
Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design is a manifesto and a handbook on how to improve the design of objects, games, housing, and more so they can serve a wider variety of users. What I liked especially about the book was the author’s encouraging approach of gradually including more users and more diverse users in the design process rather than mandating an unlikely big-bad solution. “Solve for one, extend to many”.
The hero of A Philosophy of Ruin has a dead mother, a father who is deeply in debt, and he discovers that a one-night stand is not only a student of his, but also a drug dealer. From a meek philosophy professor, he turns into a drug runner to solve of his problems at once. It will not end well–and the adventure is mostly fun, if improbable.
When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom could use a good editor that would corral the many horror stories of anti-Muslim discrimination into a more compact account, avoid egregious mistakes like repeating entire sentences, and help present legal cases in a more accessible manner to non-lawyers. It’s too bad because the author’s position, that Muslims are often treated in unconstitutional ways (not to mention rudely and often threateningly), both by bigots (quoted as nauseam in the book) and also well-intended allies, is sadly correct and needs remedying. She is not optimistic.