Sunday, April 6

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.