MixedThe Times (UK)Parag Khanna’s vision of our future world, one that’s built on mobility and migration, is, on first encounter, rather thrilling ... I can imagine all this working as a TED talk. As a book, though, it feels less like being woken up with a sharp slap and more like being belaboured. And it boils down to an unoriginal thesis — that migration is the next big thing — married to two questionable assertions: that this is what young people want and what the world needs ... There are too many of these questionable assertions ... There is some questionable science too ... Throughout, Khanna conflates his own globe-trotting antinational fervour with an inevitable historical trend, and confuses a caste of high-flyers with a worldwide generation.
PositiveThe Times (UK)For someone who used to write sparkling books on language and the mind, Pinker has also become a player in the culture wars. The subject of this book might seem innocent—a worthy attempt to rein in the madness of the post-truth era. Some, though, will perceive it as a provocation ... Pinker’s ostensible target is conspiracy theorising ... Pinker’s real targets are not Trumpistas or antivaxers, though, they are his peers ... This book offers further training in rationality as a life skill, and a tool of fairness ... Punchy, funny and invigorating—albeit flirting dangerously with the construction of rationality as a political identity—this could be the textbook.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... extraordinary ... To compare any book to a Sacks is unfair, but this one lives up to it. Not because it is alluringly freakish, but because it is so compassionate, and so driven by deep curiosity about the human psyche. I finished it feeling thrillingly unsettled, and wishing there was more.
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)... speckled with anecdotes, insights and surprises ... Standage’s survey of the early development of the motor car is swift but entertaining. He has a taste for comic disaster ... The US focus can be limiting ... Petrolheads might find the book slightly bloodless. There’s nothing on racing. So might environmentalists and health campaigners. Standage hardly mentions particulate emissions from cars, for instance, yet they are responsible for perhaps 400,000 deaths a year worldwide. But it is great fun — and utterly timely ... If we want to redesign the future, this book makes clear, the time to do it is now.
PositiveThe Times (UK)All this is partly reassuring — but also disappointing. Where much writing on astrobiology is joyously speculative, Kershenbaum is doggedly cautious, building his case from first evolutionary principles. He can be dry. What saves the book are the animal examples ... The book crawls with curious facts too ... Kershenbaum’s own research is on wolf howls and dolphin squeaks, and he is fascinating on how aliens might communicate.
PositiveThe Times (UK)...colorful ... The story that strings these wonderful characters together is the steady professionalisation of Egyptology — the shift, as Wilkinson puts it, from \'scoundrels to scholars\' ... A more significant absence is a sense of Wilkinson’s ultimate attitude to all that western \'collecting\' ... beyond the admiration and the scholarship, the imperialism and the looting — all skilfully and entertainingly plotted here — there is surely another story to tell.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Even before Stephen Hawking died, in 2018, there was an autobiography, two biographies and two biopics. But this curious memoir still feels fresh and worthwhile. As a serious theoretical physicist who co-wrote two books with Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow saw the great man from a unique vantage point. He can delve into intimate details and survey the intellectual high ground ... On the personal side, the book is almost uncomfortably fascinating. It unflinchingly describes the physical challenges Hawking faced and the minutiae of his life with his carers ... The physics here is fairly light, but Hawking’s significance is made clear ... The section on belief, which closes the book, is fascinating. Disappointingly, it is one of the only ones in which I felt I really knew the mind of Hawking. For all the anecdotes and conversations, and all the excellent biographical and scientific summaries, Hawking the man feels elusive. Mlodinow clearly knew and liked him, but I finished the book unsure of whether or not I did. For all that, though, this is a compelling read.
PositiveThe Times (UK)[Levinovitz\'s] book feels like a series of essays — thoughtful, engaging forays into realms where the idea of the natural is most abused. It is remarkably wide-ranging. Levinovitz considers childbirth, hunter-gatherer societies, bears and wolves in Yellowstone Park, alternative medicine, \'wellness\' brands such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, nature-based metaphors for economic systems, and doping and sex segregation in elite sport ... What knits all this together is his insight, as an American scholar of ethics and religion, that our faith in the power of nature is exactly that: a faith. ... but the book does much more than sneer and scoff — and this is what makes it interesting. Levinovitz is a convert; not to the cult of nature, but at least to respecting its value as a sort of religion ... It is a nuanced conclusion typical of a subtle and serious book.
Patrik Svensson, Trans. by Agnes Broomé
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... this is one of those special books, the kind that seem to have an extra resonant chamber attached ... even if it were only a book about eels it would be wonderful. Eels, it turns out, are utterly, fascinatingly strange ... such a good writer. The prose is unshowy but potent ... I’m still not sure I like eels, but I loved this book.
Patrik Svensson, Trans. by Agnes Broomé
RaveThe Times (UK)... this is one of those special books, the kind that seem to have an extra resonant chamber attached ... It could yet become one of those quirky international hits. Because even if it were only a book about eels it would be wonderful ... such a good writer. The prose is unshowy but potent ... I’m still not sure I like eels, but I loved this book.
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)In this sweeping and electrifyingly sceptical book, [Cobb] tells the story of the scientific understanding of the brain, from early philosophers’ intuitions to the balked, frustrated present ... The second, and best, half of the book focuses on modern science. It is cleverly linked to the history, though, making us painfully aware of how what we think now depends on our inherited beliefs, and how future scientists will look back on our times with the same horrified wonder we have when we read about Gall and Aldini ... Cobb is even more bruisingly sceptical about brain scans ... First the brain was a telegraph, then it was a neural network. Now we seem to have run out of metaphors. Cobb concedes that some unknown technology might yet bestow insight, but, as a good zoologist, he puts his trust more in the patient study of simpler structures. Out of the stomachs of lobsters, perhaps, will come wisdom.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... gripping ... Ellsworth...recasts the era as a Great Himalayan Race, a push for national supremacy in the shadow of Nazism, a kind of Indiana Jones contest in which the prize is not an ark or idol, but a summit. It works brilliantly, capturing the period and national flavour of the expeditions, as well as the urgency ... Ellsworth’s singular focus on the tripartite rivalry between Britain, Nazi Germany and the US, and on the 1930s, does mean he downplays other nations’ efforts ... His account of the 1953 ascent of Everest—and of Tenzing’s transformation from humble Sherpa porter to co-equal international climber—feels unusually fresh.
RaveThe Times (UK)... black and ironic...But it is also personal and sincere ... Some of [O\'Connell\'s] encounters are deliciously, novelistically weird ... O’Connell can definitely do a Jon Ronson. He can be seriously funny too ... The brilliance of the book, though, lies in the analysis. O’Connell is bitingly clever ... The most personal part of the book is also the most positive — and this is ultimately, surprisingly, a hopeful book ... This is a classic pilgrimage, then, in that it arrives at a place of renewal. It is a rather hasty one — I wanted to meet more actual end-of-timers — but it is brilliantly done.
MixedThe Times (UK)Russell sidesteps the biggest problem: consciousness. In this area, he says, \'we really do know nothing, so I’m going to say nothing\', adding that \'no behaviour has consciousness as a prerequisite\'. No behaviour, maybe, but if machines are to be purposeful, as well as merely mimic or obey human purposefulness, consciousness might be crucial ... This is not quite the popular book that AI urgently needs. Its technical parts are too difficult, its philosophical ones too easy. But it is fascinating, and significant.
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)This sequel tries to do for the body, and medicine, what [A Short History of Nearly Everything] did for science: to tell you everything you should have known already, fill you with wonder and make you laugh. It mostly works. Bryson has a sharp eye for a weird fact — though, like the stereotypical Midwesterner, he is impressed by sheer size and scale. The 25 sextillion molecules of oxygen in every exhalation, the 8,000 diseases that can kill us, and so on ... Bryson’s own turn of phrase remains vivid and pleasing ... Bryson likes to debunk popular medical myths. Antioxidant supplements do not slow ageing. We do not lose most of our heat through the head, only about 2%. Men do not think about sex every seven seconds, more like once an hour. And so on, and wonderfully on ... The book is richly interesting, then. It is just not as funny as I’d hoped, at least not funny as often as I had hoped. The balance of content is also a bit awry ... For all that, this is an entertaining and absolutely fact-rammed book. If it sells hundreds of thousands of copies, like the last one, it will be no bad thing.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... startling, provocative and potently useful ... Robson is a science journalist, and the book draws throughout on well-evidenced psychological research. What is fresh is how he brings it all together ... Most persuasive is Robson’s idea of \'cognitive inoculation\' ... Anyone in business will find the two chapters on failing teams and corporate cultures thought-provoking ... impressive and readable, but Robson trips up on one of his own snares: the straw man. Attacking a narrow, mid-20th-century, IQ-based understanding of intelligence is not difficult. And for all that the book feels exciting, with all that psychological evidence and all those technical terms, the pitfalls it identifies and the solutions it offers will feel familiar to anyone with a classical education. Curiosity, intellectual humility, reflectiveness, autonomy? It sounds like good old-fashioned scepticism. And who did not know that the cleverest person can be a fool?
RaveThe Sunday Times...brilliant and compelling. Morton is a high-octane British science journalist, and every chapter is littered with material that strikes, amazes or haunts ... Only one chapter is explicitly about the Apollo missions, but it is superb. And original ... It should be clear that this is an unusually thoughtful and well-written science book. It is almost lyrical, even if Morton does call the tech billionaire Musk a \'prick\' at one priceless and entirely accurate moment ... this is a book filled not just with a lifetime’s knowledge of its subject but with a lifetime’s suppressed excitement. Only four of the people who have walked on the moon are still alive, Morton reminds us. They will be \'heavily outnumbered\', he predicts, by those who will soon follow.
Randolph M. Nesse
MixedThe TimesTo claim to have pioneered a new approach to understanding mental illness...as Nesse has done, is quite something ... Nesse is open about when he is speculating, and when he has supporting evidence. But the problem with his approach is that the evolutionary explanation always seems to trump any other kind — and his speculations can feel like simplifications ... Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is perhaps oversold. It does not feel like “a fundamentally new perspective”, but it does feel like a useful contribution ... For all its origins in evolutionary theory, and all its claims of novelty, Nesse’s approach ends up sounding benign and rather practical...Even if you don’t buy all of his adaptational just-so stories, that basic conception of the mind feels like good, common sense.
MixedThe Sunday TimesIf you’ve ever read the quicksilver French cultural theorist Roland Barthes on the Citroën DS, or Greta Garbo’s face, you’ll have an idea of how Scott works. Like Barthes, he is always surprising ... you feel Scott’s fascinated unease. [A] smoky mood runs through the book ... Scott is very, very good at metaphors. He also has a formidably wide range of cultural reference ... Less successful are the fragments of memoir that are intercut into the cultural commentary ... It is all thoughtfully, movingly done, yet the two parts of the book feel cleverly stitched rather than grown together ... This is a fine, nuanced, sometimes scintillating book, then, but the balance is not quite right.
PositiveThe Sunday TimesLewis Dartnell’s new study of how geology and geography have shaped human history is a kind of Big History book, but it is better than many in the genre. This is partly because he is an academic who specialises in communicating science and is very good at what he does .. What marks Origins out, though, is Dartnell’s love for geography itself — for tracing the deep connections between the physical planet and the human world ... What emerges is an excitingly grand argument driven by delight in detail. And they are delightful details. My next dinner-party monologue will chiefly involve things I discovered from Dartnell ...
MixedThe TimesComplex, nuanced and cautious, yet it suggests that we are on the brink of a revolution ... Unfortunately, every advance in ageing research, and every chapter of this book, raises hopes only to dash them. It can make it a frustrating read, as well as a fairly demanding one. Armstrong is always clear, but she does cover a great deal of genetic, biological and medical ground. She goes into a lot of detail on Alzheimer’s, in particular, running through all the risk factors, suspected genes, probable causes, and so on, before acknowledging that up to this time \'nothing is clear\': we do not really know what causes Alzheimer’s, still less how it might be treated.
MixedThe Times (UK)\"All [the language Macfarlane introduces] is a delight, even if handing out lists of words is a peculiarly writerly solution to the problem of losing touch with the land ... This is not vintage Macfarlane, then, but there are moments when you taste it, when the writing is full of clarity and internal reflections, and the chapters ripple over into each other like, well, a linked chain of mountain pools ... But it is the glossaries that stand out, and by their very plainness they make the essay sections feel over-ornamented. The words stand so strongly on their own ... What is remarkable about these words is how precise they are, and how deeply local. They feel as if they somehow grew out of the land itself. This book too often feels the opposite; it feels somehow imposed and imposing, like a specimen tree in the wrong landscape. It is a faltering in form from a fine — sometimes too fine — writer.\
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"McGreal focuses on the impoverished rural Appalachian towns where the opioid crisis hit first, and hit hardest ... McGreal skilfully traces the \'web of interwoven corporate interests and specialists\' that funded reports, drafted legislation, cosied up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and did everything possible to keep opioids selling ... McGreal compares Big Pharma to Big Tobacco but, in truth, he does not find the smoking gun — which would be proof that Purdue knew that OxyContin was more not less addictive.\
MixedThe Times\"... resonant, wry, gently funny ... it is that ultra-distinctive voice (modest, profound, sometimes very funny) that knits this book together. It needs to, because it feels like a hasty edit. There are repetitions, and some science that should have been updated (the 2015 detection of gravitational waves, for example, is missing). And the tone is uneven. Hawking sometimes sounds like a guest speaker at morning assembly (\'you all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted, or expected, and to think big\') and sometimes like the boundary-pushing, mind-stretching scientist he was. This can cause problems. I defy any non-physicist to understand Supertranslation Hair (one of Hawking’s final contributions to the science of black holes) based only on what is offered here.\
RaveThe Times (UK)To understand what this book is really about you need to know the ending of the quote in the title...\'The deeper the sorrow, the closer is God.\' Except that there is no God in this book, there are only terrible depths of grief, along with layer upon layer of neuroscience, philosophy, memoir, Greek myth and odd fictionalised encounters with — by way of two examples — a bereaved CS Lewis and an imaginary 90-year-old daughter who has uploaded her mind into a futuristic \'hive\' ... intolerably self-conscious and artful, as if no one should weave loss and neuroscience into such a clever pattern. I bridled occasionally. But I also cried until my throat stung and concluded that, as an exploration of love and loss, as a portrait of a person and of the nature of personhood, this book is about as true as any I have read.
RaveThe Times (UK)\"One of the great successes of the book is the way it balances narrative drive with the wider social and criminological context ... She also delves into Victorian and Edwardian criminology, noting how police did not then seek clues in the crime scene, as they might do today, so much as read them \'directly off the criminal\' — off his character, his morals, even the shape of his head ... This is a first-class book: pacy, insightful and lucid. And although it is never done heavy-handedly, it reveals some of the disturbing ways in which the Edwardian era echoes in our own.\