Reads for the Head & Heart, February and March 2023


An Immense World, Ed Yong (2022)

In this buzziest of titles in the nature and science non-fiction space, multiple-award-winning science journalist Ed Yong takes readers on a mind-blowing trip through the vastly different sensory worlds of animal life on Earth. Because we are by definition locked in the bubble of our own human senses, it’s impossible for us to truly grasp how other animals experience the world — even those we regularly share lives with, like cats and dogs, to say nothing of creatures like octopuses, whose arms can process information and act independently from each other, flies who can taste with their feet, or fish who can sense electrically. We therefore have to rely on analogies — always reaching and cautious — to even begin to try. This is perhaps where Yong succeeds the most: in the fantastic analogies he deploys to help readers break out of our sensory bubbles, even just a bit, to imagine a world that ‘looks’, ‘sounds’, ‘feels’, and ‘tastes’ very different from our own. (One particularly effective example is how he describes the vision of a certain mollusk with two hundred eyes as being like a security guard with access to two hundred motion sensors but no cameras.)

This is a long read, but so well worth it. Once again, Ed Yong has demonstrated that he is among the best in the business of making science accessible.

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Science and Nature
  • Biology
  • Sensation
  • Animals

My Rating: Premise 10, Intrigue 10, Information 10, Authority 10, Responsibility 10, Success 10, Structure 10, Writing 8, Enjoyment 9, Lasting Impact / Meaning 10: 97

Two-Month Roundup

General Nonfiction

Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport (2019), 91: In this contemporary classic in both the productivity and sociology spaces, a tech professional discusses the ways modern technologies — especially smartphone apps — hack our internal reward systems, causing us to be addicted to our screens, divided in our attentions, and less satisfied with our relationships and life. It’s a compelling argument, and the book also lists some concrete ways we can fight back. It’s not an anti-technology book, rather it wants us to be intentional about what tools we use for what purposes and under what conditions. (Non-fiction, Minimalism, Attention, Technology)

Raccoon, Daniel Heath Justice (2021), 85: This is a popular-level exploration of the raccoon, from both a scientific and anthropological, socio-cultural point of view. It contains a lot of interesting information and the anthropological angle was particularly intriguing (and I say this as someone who lives in Toronto, a city whose relationship with the creatures merited several pages of discussion!). I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking to learn more about this animal, omnipresent as it is in so many cities now. (Non-Fiction, Science and Nature, Wildlife, Social Anthropology of Animals, Raccoons)

Slow, Brooke McAlary (2018), 79: A personal take on what it might mean to live a more intentional and meaningful life. If you’re at the beginning on your process of trying to get your life in order in a more meaningful way, this could be a great place to start, since it looks at shifting attitudes towards one’s time, possessions, and energy. But if you’ve already begun thinking in these terms, there won’t be much of use. (Self-Help, Living with Intention, Minimalism)

How to Be an Artist, Jerry Saltz (2020), 83: An eminent art critic offers advice to beginning artists on how to begin, how to think like an artist, and how to survive the art world. The content in this book was very good and Saltz clearly knows what he’s talking about. For some reason, I was just left a little underwhelmed by it. But a great place to start for any beginner looking for advice and ideas. (Art, Creativity)

Minimal, Madeleine Olivia (2020), 83: This is an easy-to-read introduction to principles of minimalist and waste-reducing lifestyle. It has a lot of practical tips for those who are interested in beginning such a process. (Minimalism, Self-Help, Sustainability)

Psychology and Spirituality

Being Disciples, Rowan Williams (2016), 92: This short introduction to Christian living by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is the second in his trio of introductions, following Being Christian (2014) and preceding Being Human (2018). This volume focuses on what it looks like to live a Christian life, exploring such topics as awareness, faith, hope, love, and forgiveness. This would be an excellent book study for any church group. (Christianity, Spirituality)

A Way Other than Our Own, Walter Brueggemann (2017), 85: This is a solid set of devotions for Lent and Holy Week by the leading Old Testament theologian of the past half century. If you’re at all familiar with the thrusts of Brueggemann’s work — the radical call to living life contrary to the social and economic terms of society — nothing here will surprise you. I was a bit disappointed in that there was no identifiable organizing structure to the book. These are separate devotional reflections, not reflections that together tell a bigger story. (Christianity, Spirituality, Lent, Holy Week)

Knowing Jesus, James Alison (1993), 93: This is an excellent Girardian perspective on the life, teaching, and death of Jesus and their implications for those of us who want to follow him. The first two sections, on the meaning of the resurrection and the ‘intelligence of the victim’ were more universally relevant than the third, which is more specifically geared to a Roman Catholic audience and perspective. Overall, I think this was excellent. My only real qualm would be that Alison fails a bit in addressing the impacts of sin on its victims — something the Girardian framework is well-suited to address — even as he comes by this honestly, since it is a blindspot for much of the Christian tradition. (Spirituality, Christianity, Girardian Thought, Nonviolence, the Cross)

Ego and Archetype, Edward F. Edinger (1972), 84: This classic text attempts to shed more light on the intersections between mythology, religion, and personal development within a Jungian framework. It’s very informative and makes some compelling points and helpful connections. However, the material is not presented in the clearest way, and he was perhaps trying to do too much. (Jungian Psychology, Archetypes, Personal Development and Individuation, Mythology, Religion, Christianity, Spirituality)


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