I reviewed four new science books for The New York Times. They span millions of years, beginning with the birth of humanity and ending with a serious look at AI.
The sins of the fathers may be visited on the deoxyribose nucleic acids of the sons. I wrote about the "Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance" for Slate.
Since 2004, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling thinking about tsunamis and earthquakes. The monster wave that hit Indonesia that year was caused by a earthquake so violent it shifted the axis of the earth a few centimeters. Now I can’t get this out of my mind: The planet literally shook.
Everyone has one--whether its global warming, phthalates, flu, or junk food--it's that thought that makes them quake. Still, despite the fear, most people do their best to live sustainably, heal naturally, and raise their children right.
But how often is it that one's efforts feel good enough? For the most part, the solutions are inadequate or unachievable or overwhelmingly, confusingly both. If you turn on the air conditioner because you are too warm, you cause global warming. If you vaccinate your children to protect them, you fear the vaccine may hurt them, and yet if you get cancer, it’s your fault for being so angry and fearful all the time. What if you don’t actually want to walk to the local abattoir and slaughter your own pig so you can eat your sausages morally? What does that even mean?
You could consider optimism, for a change. I thought about it a lot when I reviewed Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist."
The Bengalese finch is an aviary bird, bred over centuries for its attractive plumage. It comes in various combinations of white, black and brown. One particularly pretty version is silver. It is also prized for its gregarious and easy-going nature and its complex warbling song. Which is strange because the finch's closest wild relative, the white-rumped munia has a simple, predictable song as well being incredibly shy and easily upset. How could the finch, bred for its colour, have evolved these other elaborate traits as well?
Solving the puzzle of the Bengalese finch promises to throw light on a much larger question in biology: how nature creates complex things.