Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nonfiction Roundup

Long for This World: The Strange Science of ImmortalityYeah, sometimes I read books that aren't marketed for kids. Who knew.

I somehow received an advance copy of Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality by Jonathan Weiner (Ecco). From where, I don't remember, but that's not really the point. I love "narrative nonfiction," even if I'm not always certain that my definition is the same as that of others. I like Smithsonian Magazine. I like the stories behind the dry side of science, history, and so on.

This is a science nonfiction narrative about aging. The first third spends too much time for my taste on philosophy and the ideas of one particular scientist who has his own ideas about how to stop aging. The middle third gets into the science in a way that (I think) is followable if you had biology and chemistry in high school, and I did find this interesting. The final third touches a little bit on ethics and considerations--like, if you live 200, 300 years, is driving a car an acceptable risk, who'll pay for anti-aging care, how do kids work if you're only going to be fertile before the first bone marrow transplant (and what does this do to the age spread and jobs and etc.). Nowhere is whether or not you ever get to retire discussed, which I found interesting. In summary, I found the last third of the book the most interesting; I wanted more science in my science.

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create DifferenceDelusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (W. W. Norton & Co.) delves into the poor construction of most of the research about differences in brain function between men and women, and decides that there's not so much difference as there is bad science and social conditioning; by the time they're several months old, babies know about differences between men and women and are picking up on--perhaps categorizing--differences in what men and women do, even in the most gender-neutral parenting households. Fine touches briefly on how small children might cling to ideas of being girls or boys because, with few life experiences, they don't have other ways to construct a sense of self; there's no "I'm a kindergartener" or "I'm an engineer" or "I'm a Star Wars fan" to make meaning. I wished for more about this, but as it's shifty and she's focused on provable things, I can see why she didn't go there.

Most interesting bits: studies on how women are in fact as good at rotating 3-D objects in their heads, as long as they're not told that men are better at it ahead of testing (and being told that women are better at a task improves outcomes on tests for them; also interesting were reports on studies where the same resumes were submitted to hiring groups with a typical woman's or man's name on the top, and women's were perceived as worse).

No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First SupermodelAn old, old read from my old (private) reviews, which I'm still finding and transferring:  No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First Supermodel by Janice Dickinson (HarperCollins - HarperEntertainment). Janice Dickinson slept with a lot of people, drank a lot of things, snorted a lot of things, and sometimes she modeled. I hear the sequel (yes, her memoirs have sequels) is happier. But it's probably less scandalous. It's always--okay, sometimes--interesting to peek into other people's trainwrecks, especially when you don't know any of the people involved. When all of this stuff was going on in Janice Dickinson's life, there was no Google, just gossip mill, and it's odd to think about how many more people today have to cope with being not just famous, but infamous, and infamous where the entire world can see.

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