19. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Kira, NonFiction, Science, Travel · Tags:

Bonobo handshake : a memoir of love and adventure in the Congo by Woods, Vanessa , 278 pages, read by Kira, on 03/26/2012

Bonobo handshakeI really liked this book, I very much looked forward to listening to it in the car, I also loved the narrators Aussie accent. Vanessa Woods comes across as fun, positive, appreciative of others (except sometimes her man).

The book cover is a bit misleading, you are going to get a bit more than just cute human-ape interactions, relationships, and animal research.  En route you will encounter the brutality people endured in the Congo, in Uganda, Rwanda, about the corruption that Western governments propped up, (out of their fear of communism).  Its Not rated PG.   Since the author is Australian, the reticence to discuss sex, is absent.  Its kind of startling how frank she is.  She is also very funny.  I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what exactly a bonobo handshake is.
Bonobo’s are cousins of chimpanzees, but they are the peaceful loving species. The Chimps and Bonobo’s are our (human’s) closest extant relatives.   The author asks the question are we more like Chimps or Bonobos – but leaves the question open at the end.

15. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Kira, NonFiction, Science

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Levitin, Daniel J., 314 pages, read by Kira, on 03/16/2012

This Is Your Brain on MusicAwesome book!  the brain psychology of how music affects us.  Music is like language, you’re open to many styles when you’re young, but like a language you respond to the musical culture that you grew up in.

 

You have gazillions of neurons, did you know that if you handed out a dollar bill every second, you’d be 2/3rds of the way through the number of neurons you possess, If you started at about the time Jesus was born.  Trippin!

 

Nitpicks – you do NOT share 50% of your genes with your siblings, you share 50% of your genes with your bio parents, you share less than 50% with your sibs (unless you’re an identical twin).

The author ignores the fact that Rosalind Franklin is one of the discoverers of the shape of the double-helix DNA structure – plenty of time has passed for science to catch up on this theft of her material (its true).

Tell me about the science, please omit the personalities and hero-worshiping involved.

But these are really MINOR nitpicks.

23. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: NonFiction, Robin, Science

Panic In Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science by Richard Preston, 240 pages, read by Robin, on 02/21/2012

Panic In Level 4
I listened to this book as an audiobook and it did a pretty good job of keeping me entertained while I drove around town over the course of a week or so. The book covers some of the author’s experiences while writing non-fiction pieces (books and magazine articles) over the years. It returns to his famous Hot Zone book about an Ebola virus outbreak in the United States and discusses his feelings while in the hot zone of the level 4 biohazard labs of USAMRIID (U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases). That is a pretty short section, followed by a much longer (too long, perhaps) section on a pair of brothers who are working on calculating the digits of pi (3.14….) to ever-increasing precision in order to find some pattern or order in the number. There were some interesting parts to their story – their homemade super-computers were interesting, but this section took up more of the book than I was completely happy to hear… The final section of the book – about a genetic disease that causes sufferers to literally cannibalize themselves (left to their own devices, they eat off their fingertips, lips and whatever else they can get into their mouths) – was very interesting. Not something I would want to read or listen to while eating, but a fascinating glimpse of the ravages that small changes in our DNA codes can make in a human being. The book was, overall, interesting and it kept my attention, but the middle part seemed to drag on a bit. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in scientific oddities, though – it had its truly fascinating moments.

09. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Informational Book, NonFiction, Science

Cars on Mars: Roving the Red Planet by Alexandra Siy , 64 pages, read by Angie, on 02/09/2012

Who isn’t fascinated by space? We all remembering looking up at the stars and dreaming about space, traveling to distant planets, meeting aliens, etc. Of course that isn’t going to happen anywhere but in the movies and in books, but it is still fun to dream. However, it has happened to a few select people and to a couple of robots named Spirit and Opportunity. They have been exploring Mars since 2003. Cars on Mars is their story and it is a good one.

It begins with the beginning of the mission. Who started it, how it was developed, how the rovers were named (an orphan girl named Sophia named them) and how they got to Mars. Then we actually get into the heart of their mission on Mars and what exactly they have been doing in all their years there.

Children’s nonfiction can be great or it can be boring and dry; there is rarely any middle ground. This one is a great read for kids. It is entertaining and educational. It is very accessible and I think kids will really enjoy reading about the Mars mission. The writing style is very accessible and easy to read; there are tons of photographs; frankly this book reads more like an adventure book than a nonfiction science text. I think that is a credit not only to the author’s writing style but to the people behind the Mars mission who were so creative in how they set up the Mars mission. The naming alone on Mars shows that those working this mission are kids at heart (groups of rocks are called blueberries, a rock is called Innocent Bystander). There is a lot of humor and fun in this book that I think kids of all ages will appreciate. And I think they will also cheer along with Spirit and Opportunity as they continue to explore their unknown planet. They truly are going where no man has gone before and making great strides in space exploration. It is a fascinating subject and a great read.

08. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Kira, NonFiction, Science · Tags:

Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Pinker, Steven, 267 pages, read by Kira, on 01/31/2012

Better Angels of our NatureYou may think the world is going downhill, however, humans have become less violent over the centuries.  Just because you’re aware of more recent atrocities, doesn’t mean worse things didn’t happen in the past.  If you account for the number of people alive, the worst atrocity is An Lushan – a civil war in China during the Tang dynasty that killed about 2/3’s of China’s population = about 1/6 of the worlds population.  And I bet you never even heard of it – like myself.

Another interesting data point, we no longer go to hangings/executions for entertainment, nor do light animals on fire for pleasurable viewing.  Times have changed.

02. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Melody, NonFiction, Science

Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones by Davis L Harrison, 45 pages, read by Melody, on 02/01/2012

Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones is the story of how and when people came to North America.  I found it interesting the level of debate about how early people came to the Americas.  Some scientists think the Clovis people came first, others say there were people even earlier than that.  Maybe they crossed the land bridge or came by boat.  Maybe they caused the extinction of large North American mammals or they just happened to be there then.  Great illustrations and maps.  Very informative.

02. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Melody, NonFiction, Science

Sex on Six Legs by Marlene Zuk, 225 pages, read by Melody, on 01/30/2012

Sex on Six Legs was a very informational read about, you guessed it, the sex lives of insects.  I learned that there is all sorts of crazy male genitalia in the insect world and wide variations of parenting styles.  There are pirate ants and bees that have clandestine hook-ups behind the queens back.  The very best dads in the bug world are dung beetles and unless you are immobilized on the ground, army ants won’t eat you.  The author, a professor of biology who is very partial to crickets, did a very good job of not just educating about insects but of making it relevant to our lives as human being.  Who knew I could learn lessons for my life from termites and treehoppers?

20. January 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Informational Book, NonFiction, Science · Tags: ,

Shipwrecks: Exploring Sunken Cities Beneath the Sea by Mary M. Cerullo, 64 pages, read by Angie, on 01/14/2012

This book explores two different shipwrecks on the coast of the United States. It is a nice mix of science, exploration, history and adventure. The first shipwreck discussed is the Henrietta Marie a slave trader that sunk off the Florida Keys in 1700 during a hurricane. The information gleaned from the wreck is from a dark period in our history when hundreds of slaves where crammed into the hold of a ship. Shackles and other artifacts from the slave ship are found among the wreckage. The Portland is a completely different ship. It was a large, luxurious paddle wheel ship that just made short trips along the Northeastern Coast. It went down in a Nor’easter. The wrecks are very different. The tropical wreck has been thoroughly explored and artifacts brought to the surface. The wreckage is home to tropical fish, coral, and other tropical sea life. The Portland hasn’t been explored nearly as well; it is in very deep water and covered in fishing nets. The cold water means fewer fish and wildlife cover the wreckage.

Two very different shipwrecks but thorough research and information on each. Very interesting facts and photos. I really enjoyed the sidebars and the photos of the wreckage and artifacts.

19. January 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, NonFiction, Science

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull, Greg Couch (Illustrator) , 40 pages, read by Angie, on 01/10/2012

This is an interesting picture book biography. The story of Philo’s invention of TV is told in a narrative style that is easy to read. The illustrations are ok and do help the story. I enjoyed the book, but wish there was more somehow. I found the author’s note at the end about his fight with RCA very interesting and am not sure why this wasn’t included in the text of the story.