by David Bloomberg
Ok, at the sarcastic urging of Editor Wally, I have changed my scale to go from 0 to 5 stars. So there. [Who says one man can’t make a difference? — Ed.]
The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore (Oxford University Press, $25): Blackmore takes Gould’s idea of a "meme" and goes into greater detail. A meme is the replicator of ideas (while a gene is a biological replicator), according to this theory. She provides some interesting ideas, such as brain size expansion being fueled by memes in early human days. There is certainly some speculation, but she uses some good scientific procedure in setting out ways her theory can be proven or disproven. The reader might want to ignore the last few pages, which get a bit weird. As we found in our July meeting, which featured a videotaped lecture by Blackmore on this topic, there is some heated debate about her theories. Overall, call it
The Science of Star Wars, by Jeanne Cavelos (St. Martin’s Press, $22.95): This is a book that perhaps should never have been written. By the author’s own admission, Star Wars is a fantasy tale, not hard science fiction. So why follow in the footsteps of others who have written similar books about science fiction – and done so better? The author uses some horrible "experts" who promote pseudoscience as if it were real, and mentions failed parapsychological experiments as if they could tell us something about "The Force." If you want good books on this type of subject, check our Lawrence Krauss’ The Physics of Star Trek and Beyond Star Trek.
Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley (Random House, $24.95): The only (self-described) fiction book in the list — at least for now — Buckley’s novel is a hysterical parody of Washington, D.C., politicians and pundits, but an even funnier look at ufology. The most unbelievable characters are based on real-life ufology leaders, and whether you’re familiar with these characters or not, you’ll enjoy the humor.
Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, by Stephen Jay Gould (Ballantine, $18.95): Gould, well known for tackling creationism among other things, addresses the areas of science and religion. His premise is that they can co-exist by respecting a principle he calls "NOMA" – Non-Overlapping Magisteria (or domains of authority in teaching). He addresses historical problems and creation/evolution as well. Creationism, he says, is not a battle between religion and science, but a political battle between those who favor NOMA and those who oppose it.
Eat, Drink, & Be Merry: America’s Doctor Tells You Why the Health Experts Are Wrong, by Dr. Dean Edell with David Schrieberg (HarperCollins, $25): Edell is known for his radio show and TV news spots, where he gives out honest and straightforward advice on medical questions. This book runs along the same lines. He forthrightly discusses fad diets, alternative medicine, media portrayals, and other health topics. He bases his answers in science, which he calls, "that force which has lifted us from the dust and the darkness." He pulls no punches – even at the media, his own bread and butter. If I could recommend that a random person read just one health book, this would be it. I think it deserves to be a classic.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan (Ballantine, trade paperback, $14): As most of you know, this is not a new book. Rather it is one I started when it came out, some 4 years ago, and finally finished just recently. But it is a classic. It should be required reading for every college student (or maybe even high school). It lays out the tenets of skepticism and critical thinking, using ongoing examples to put things in proper perspective. Sagan was truly at his best here, perhaps in part because he knew it would be his last word on the subject.