Recommendations: Books

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich  

Investigations and adventures with Wolf Birds

Heinrich is one of a class of wildlife biologists who combines intuition and reason to arrive at a thorough and sensitive understanding of another species. The book, aptly titled for several reasons, explores the intelligence and emotional lives of several ravens, ravens who Heinrich knows individually and has followed for years.

Through the book one also becomes acquainted with Bernd Heinrich, who in addition to studying ravens in reclusive environments, writes books on many subjects and runs marathon distances regularly. I eagerly went on to read several of his books on other topics in addition to the corvids.

Posted on 03/25/11 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Moral Animal by Robert Wright  

Why we are the way we are: The new science of evolutionaary psychology

Wright's book is a fantastic journey into the dawning science of evolutionary psychology, more than simply a psych book, you'll learn about human evolutionary and cultural origins, and the biological foundation of ethics.

Wright brilliantly incorporates a biography of Charles Darwin into the mix, using Darwin's life as a case study for the principles of evolutionary biology. This book was a delight to me on so many levels, not to mention it bettered my understanding of the way we work.

Posted on 03/25/11 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD  

Stories of Personal Triumph from the fronteirs of Brain Science

Doidge's book discusses neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain - at all ages - to rewire itself. Although superficially, this may sound trivial, in fact neuroplasticity can help the brain recover from profound trauma. Willful application of this knowledge can empower us to change the way we think and approach life. The book is full of real-life examples that bring the points home in a fascinating and inspiring way. It also discusses the habit of the brain to retrace familiar pathways and reinforce mental habits, a tendency that lends to efficiency, but can limit mental flexibility if not recognized.

This book shed light on so many of my mental and neurological processes, it was unbelievable. Some interesting and specific examples:

  • Why it took 3 weeks to get the hang of playing a major scale on an English concertina.
  • Why I could only move my two smallest toes at the same time but not independently (dystonia), and how to fix it... it worked.
  • Why undoing learned behavior is so difficult.
  • That I can actually teach my elderly Beagle new things. She now can lay down on command!
  • And that age or habit is no excuse for avoiding learning something new. I can now sightread jigs at tempo on my concertina. It took 6 months of daily practice to rewire my brain to the peculiar keyboard layout of the instrument. The piano layout had been hardwired in me since my youth.

I recommend this book for anyone who loves learning, or who feels stuck in some old habits.

Posted on 03/16/11 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Consilience by E.O. Wilson  

The Unity of Knowledge

This book is a valiant and successful effort to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all branches of knowledge, from physics, to biology, to psychology, and art. Although interdisciplinary is a buzz-word on campuses today, in practice means geochemists speaking to biogeochemists or artists talking to designers. Wilson spreads his wings here and brings current knowledge back to its roots in Classical and Renaissance thought. A definite must read for all academe.

Posted on 03/14/11 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin  

A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Ever notice that your dog has a knee and an "elbow" on his/her back leg? Curious about you have in common with segmented worms? This is a fantastic book that brings home the fact that we are connected in an integral way to all life on earth. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has ever looked at biological structures with amazement. The book is written for a non-scientific audience, but has plenty of insights and surprising facts for the scientist, too.

Posted on 03/13/11 _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nonzero by Robert Wright  

The Logic of Human Destiny

Non Zero is one of my favorite reads over the past few years. It discusses the sustainable merits of positive interactions among social entities. The book has effectively shaped my approach of working with others and continues to provide insight into many social phenomena.

Posted on 03/13/11 _________________________________________________________________________________________________