Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Demon-Hanted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark

candle without wind
Originally uploaded by topher76.

"All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike - and yet it is the most precious thing we have." - Albert Einstein

On a recommendation from mom, I picked up this book from the library (they didn't have the exact one she recommended.) The title sounded really interesting and she assured me that I would really like what Carl Sagan had to say. What a breath of fresh air!

Sagan goes about dispelling all kinds of hoaxes, from crop circles to alien abductions to horoscopes. He encourages critical thinking and approaches superstitions from a scientific point of view: open-minded and questioning. He then goes on to explain why critical thinking is so important to a free society. The reader is encouraged to question the status quo. One of my favorite quotes from the book is a bit long, but it reaffirms many of my own beliefs (and doesn't that always make you feel good?) Here it is:

"We are all flawed and creatures of our times. Is it fair to judge us by the unknown standards of the future? Some of the habits of our age will doubtless be considered barbaric by later generations - perhaps for insisting that small children and even infants sleep alone instead of with their parents; or exciting nationalist passions as a means of gaining popular approval and achieving high political office; or allowing bribery and corruption as a way of life; or keeping pets; or eating animals and jailing chimpanzees; or criminalizing the use of euphoriants by adults; or allowing our children to grow up ignorant."

This book is great. It is easy to understand even if you don't have a science background. And now I find myself looking at the world in a slightly different, questioning way. Carl Sagan is now one of my heroes (along with Thomas's a small list.) Mom, dad, I'm sure you'd both love it. Becky, I think you might really like it to if you're in the mood for non-fiction. Read this book.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Namesake

This has got to be one of the most satisfying books I've read. I first heard about it a few weeks ago on Charlie Rose (they have made it into a movie, which I hear is good but am wary to see since I enjoyed the book so much that I don't want to ruin it!).

It's a beautifully told story and I think Jhumpa Lahiri has to be one of the most eloquent, perfect writers of our generation. The book is exquisitely descriptive without going overboard (not like reading Hemmingway, where after awhile you think "enough already!"). It's all told in 3rd person, but the transitions between voices is seamless - you really become part of this family and can picture everything as it's happening.

The Namesake is the story of a Bengali family, beginning with an arranged marriage that leads the newlyweds to Boston. They eventually have two children, Gogol (the main character) and his younger sisiter, Sonia. It's the journey of the entire family and their struggles as immigrants, but it's more a story about family, love, secrets, and understanding. I cannot express to you all how much I loved this book. I finished it two nights ago and I still think about it as I'm walking to and from work or just doing something random. I really felt like I was living with this family for the last week. Definitely a recommendation for any of you - I promise you won't be disappointed (Amanda, give me another try - it's nothing like Running with Scissors!)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Why I'm a Vegetarian (again...)

pig bliss
Originally uploaded by deborah lattimore.
My most recent conversion to vegetarianism was spurred by mom's awesome recommendation of "The Family That Couldn't Sleep." The book was really eye-opening, discussing different kinds of prion diseases. Some are inherited, some come from unknown origins, and some come from infected animal meat. Fun! I never really knew what Mad Cow Disease was before reading that book, so I also didn't realize why I really needed to care about it. Well now I do. And now I don't eat meat. But then, after my eyes were opened a bit, I decided to tackle...

Jane Goodall's "Harvest for Hope: A Guide for Mindful Eating." Wow! I figured, if I'm going to eat healthier, avoid Mad Cow, stuff like that, I might as well know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Because, honestly, I don't think it's always wrong to eat meat. But the system we have now, i.e. factory farming, is so inhumane. However, I didn't realize the implications of so many of my personal food choices. This book tackles GMOs (genetically modified organisms), local food, organic labels, factory farming, egg labeling, the difference between cage free and free range eggs, etc. Basically, it covers all kinds of things I'd never even considered before and made me really think about my food then I was totally confused. Was it okay to eat anything? (apparently my vegetarian choices at the local grocery store are laden with pesticides and promote soil erosion and the destruction of small family farmers!) So, in a final attempt to find something I could feel good about eating, I checked out...

Peter Singer and Jim Mason's "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter." Peter Singer wrote "Animal Liberation" back in the 70's. Although I've never read it myself, I know it was one of the first "animal rights" books on the market and revealed the truth about factory farming. So, of course, I knew this book would be a bit slanted. However, I felt like he gave a really fair review of three different dietary choices: the traditional American diet (meat and potatoes), the conscientious omnivore diet (organic meat and veggies,) and a vegan diet (no animal products, not necessarily organic.) I like the way he compares the diets and follows some food from each diet back to the farmer who raised or grew it. You get to see how different foods are packaged, and he explores the ethical dimensions of each choice. Basically, he made me feel better about shopping at Wal-Mart for organic food (vegetarian in my case.) I will go to local farmers markets for fresh veggies and fruits when they are in season and eat organic for as much of the rest of the food as I can. And if Nathan needs the occasional free-range, organic chicken, I won't feel like a major hypocrite if I eat some too.

I'm not sure if the rest of you are ready to tackle any of these food issues, but if you are, I'd recommend either of these books. And really, though this may seem boring to you, your daily choices DO matter and reflect your ethics. What do you care about? As Albert Einstein said: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."