Thursday, December 26, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013 - Non-fiction

1. Johathan Gottschall, 2012, The Story Telling Animal; How Stories Make us Human, Mariner Books, 272p.

In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall explains in an easy-to-read and entertaining manner how stories make us human. At an early age, children start making up stories as they play. Children at play are training for the roles they will play as adults. As adults, daydreaming is a way we tell ourselves stories; we make up stories about work and how we will tell off the boss, we tell ourselves stories about how we will win the heart of another, we tell stories about how we will write that great-American novel. We are even able to turn our dreams at night into stories. No matter what it is, in order to make sense of it, we make up a story; it doesn't matter if it is true as long as it seems to make sense to us.

An area of his book I found particularly interesting was his explaining how fiction is so much more powerful than nonfiction is getting people to change their minds about things. With non-fiction we tend to be more critical and skeptical. With fiction, if the author is able to pull us in and get us absorbed with the story, we become more emotionally involved and more readily accept what is being presented; especially if it is coming from likeable characters.

This is an easily quotable book. Some of my favorite:

"Fiction has positive effects on readers' moral development and sense of empathy."

"We misremember the past in a way that allows us to maintain protagonist status in the stories of our own lives."

"The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can't."

"Most of us believe that we know how to separate fantasy and reality - that we keep information gathered from fiction safely quarantined from our stories of general knowledge. But studies show that this is not always the case. In the same mental bin, we mix information gleaned from both fiction and nonfiction."

"We have religion because, by nature, we abhor explanatory vacuums."

2. Paul Offit, 2013, Do You Believe in Magic?, Harper, 336p.

This is the book I would recommend to both those who practice alternative medicine. Offit does well in describing the background to the various modalities of alternative medicine and the politicians and celebrities who helped made them so popular. 


3. Sean Carroll, 2012, The Particle at the End of the Universe, Dutton Adult, 341p.

I enjoyed this book because it gave me a better understanding of particle physics and what the discovery of the Higgs particle means. Physicists have different ways of seeing particles depending on what they are looking for. They may think of the particles as waves or fields, yet find them as particles. 

4. David Roberts, 2013, Alone on the Ice; The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, W. W. Norton & Company; 368p.   

Alone on the Ice is a story to match Shackleton's amazing adventure in Antarctica aboard the Endurance. This book tells of Douglas Mawson's 600 mile journey by dog sledge in Antarctica in 1912-13. After losing his two companions, Mawson manages the last 100 miles back to base camp on his own. An incredible story of one man's will to survive.


5. John Brockman, 2013, Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, Harper Perennial, 432p.

This book is a nice collection of articles by the psychologists and philosophers who are investigating how we perceive, think, and make decisions.


Honorable Mention:
1. Neil Shubin, 2013, The Universe Within, Vintage, 240p.
2. Paul Bloom, 2013, Just Babies; The Origins of Good and Evil, Crown, 288p.
3. John Loftus and Randal Rauser, 2013, God or Godless, Baker Books, 208p.

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