Are you a nerd looking for a good read? This is a quick post about the reading I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze in this summer, maybe your nerdy side will enjoy some of it too.
It’s been a great summer of family time at home, trips to see friends and family afar, outdoor activity, research, writing, teaching – and – having a little bit of extra time each week to read purely for the sake of pleasure!
Here’s a quick list of some of the books I had a chance to read for fun since the spring semester wound down along with a silly synopsis of my take on each of them.*
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar
Highly recommended for nerds in need of transitioning to a less busy period or for de-stressing. This was a perfect transition book for finishing the spring semester and moving into summer. The authors, Tom and Dan, try to summarize LOTS of major philosophical writings via jokes. It’s well written, light in tone, and very funny. Yet, at the same time, it’s very informative, full of fancy terms and famous names, and makes you feel as though you’re reading something productive.
My Stroke of Insight
Highly recommended for nerds in need of inspiration. This is the story of a neuroanatomist (Jill Bolte Taylor) who had a stroke and essentially re-learned how to engage with the world. She describes the physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual changes her crisis led her through beautifully. You’ll also get lots of great facts about brain physiology and function along the way.
The Age of American Unreason
Highly recommended for nerds who like to read angry writing. I read this because it appeared as a reference in the footnotes of Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It’s a “spirited” discussion by Susan Jacoby of what it means to be an intellectual and how the world is becoming less and less inclined towards supporting intellectual development. I doubt anyone would agree with all of the points in this book (except the author I guess) – but – I bet everyone would find at least something that’s thought-provoking.
Mo’ Meta Blues
Highly recommended for music nerds who want an intro into hip-hop and are curious as to what Prince is like when he goes roller skating. This was my second favorite book this summer. It’s written by Questlove from The Roots and features discussions and reflections on his own development as an artist, the history of hip-hop, the history of The Roots, commercialism in pop music, cultural dimensions of music making, etc. It also includes neat anecdotes about famous people from Questlove’s perspective – which is, to me, unique and brilliant.
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi – Apocalypse
For all nerds. It’s Star Wars, there’s the Force, light-sabers, Jedi, Sith, space ships – no other explanation is necessary.
The Signal and the Noise
Highly recommended for nerds who like data. This was my favorite read this summer. The author, Nate Silver, writes about statistical modeling with passion and intrigue – and how often can that be said? It deals with a wide range of topics: sports, weather predictions, natural disasters, election results, gambling, etc. and offers an easy introduction to the notion of Bayesian probability. Above all, it teaches some really great lessons regarding certainty/uncertainty in human reasoning and how statistical modeling can help us test our own assumptions about the world.
Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know
Highly recommended for nerds who also want the option of looking at pictures when reading a book, albeit very nerdy pictures. This is a book of data visualizations compiled by Katy Börner, a professor of information science here at IU. It contains some amazingly compelling pictures of innovative maps, graphs, and figures that depict immense amounts of information from incredibly large data sets. Rather than try to describe it further go see some of the “maps” here. This would also make for a beautiful coffee table book and it’s insanely cheap to buy online when considering the oversized nature of the book and the high quality images. It will impress people that like beautiful things as well as your geekiest friends.
*Not that all kinds of reading can’t be “for fun” – for example, I had lots of fun reading about all kinds of other things for teaching and research purposes – these just happen to be particularly leisurely reads
Photos courtesy of Lucy Miksza