“The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II

Full Title: “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health”
First published in September 2001

While this book has had its critics, and while I am not fully convinced by every single one of Campbell’s arguments, the scientific knowledge presented and the perspectives on diet, nutrition, and the interaction with agribusiness, science, and government make for a compelling and worthwhile read. Moreover, while criticism on specific points may be valid, Campbell is open and honest about the fact that some of the evidence is only suggestive, but his argument is that when all of it (the strong, weak, and in between evidence) is brought together the clear conclusion is that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the way to be healthy physically and mentally throughout life. This is a somewhat more strict and specific formulation of Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” One major difference though is that Campbell suggests that you can actually eat plenty as long as it is healthy, as studies have shown that vegetarians generally consume more calories but are healthier (with regards to a host of particular diseases discussed in the …

“Dance of the Photons” by Anton Zeilinger

Full Title: “Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation”

This book was substantially enlightening and yet amazingly frustrating at the same time. Zeilinger begins simply enough with the standard story of Alice and Bob (the physicists’ personification of observer A and B), but he turns them into curious undergraduates. They are the medium through which the reader discovers the quantum world after being given an experimental opportunity by their physics professor and his postdoctoral student. The ground is covered and recovered, sometimes providing useful insight and other times being overly pedantic and annoying. Some parts are so dumbed down it may seem insulting, and this also makes the story take a long time to get through. On the plus side you learn quite a bit about polarization, Bell’s inequality, and a number of other quantum topics.

A bit over half way through the book Zeilinger transitions away from Alice and Bob and toward even more recent experiments with quantum teleportation. Here still many parts are well explained and without too many rereads you should have a fair conception of what is going on. Unfortunately some claims are completely opaque and claims are made with no basis. That is not to …

“Reamde” by Neal Stephenson

“Reamde” is a story centering on the inventor of an immensely popular and successful massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), his niece, and a slew of other associated characters dealing with a variety of threads including in-world MMORPG dynamics and sociology, international (primarily American and Chinese) real and virtual-world financial and criminal activities, terrorism, and a clever computer virus that ties (almost) all of them together. This book has quite a lot going on and does not head in any one clear direction.

Of Neal Stephenson’s works I have read Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon. I would not recommend each of these books to everyone, but I would recommend all of them to most. Each had very interesting ideas wrapped in a generally compelling plot. Reamde contains some compelling ideas, but at a bit over 1000 pages it would have communicated those ideas and the plot much more satisfactorily in half the words. It is a shame too, because there were a few characters I came to like and a lot of what happened both in the first quarter and in the last quarter made for a great read. In fact I’d love to see a movie made …

“Survivor’s Quest” (Star Wars) by Timothy Zahn

Survivor’s Quest is a story in the Star Wars universe focused on an expedition by a combination of parties including the Empire (what remains of it), the New Republic (represented by Luke Skywalker and his wife and fellow jedi Mara Jade), and other alien cultures with their own territorial and historical reasons to be involved. The target of the expedition is a lost exploration and colony ship sent off in the days of the old Republic (with Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi initially present) meant to travel outside of the galaxy. The following includes some very minor spoilers.

Zahn is always a great writer, but some of his characters and plots don’t always live up to expectations. I have never found that to be the case when he is writing in the Star Wars universe. He takes characters old and new and breathes life into them. Here he focuses more on Mara Jade than in past stories, but nonetheless gives us the perspective of a number of characters, including Luke Skywalker, and several members of the new imperial 501st (also known as Empire of the Hand). The mystery and suspense is wonderful, even more so given the backdrop of Outbound Flight. …

“On Intelligence” by Jeff Hawkins

This book is surprisingly good in its ability to reach both the lay reader (for at least the first half) and the reader familiar with neuroscience. Articles since its publications provide much greater detail and are very useful for those interested in going deeper, but On Intelligence serves very well as an introduction to the concepts. The ideas expressed in On Intelligence are important both for scientific advancement and for philosophical consideration. While one could argue that perhaps there are other forms of intelligence or ways to produce intelligence, Hawkins does a good job in arguing what intelligence is in terms of mammalian brains and what the basic neocortical unit does. While Hawkins brings these ideas together in an orderly framework, he does give credit to the many neuroscientists responsible for the various components and underlying ideas that make it possible. These ideas as a whole until recently have not been sufficiently discussed in the neuroscience community in my opinion, and I believe they will aid (and in fact already have aided) greatly in advancing our understanding of the brain and creating real “artificial” intelligence that isn’t actually artificial at all.

The balance between addressing the expert and lay audiences did at …

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