Recent reads

– Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes by Stephen Jay Gould. A collection of essays about various aspects of biology and the history of biology. Gould was an expert as essay writing, mastering the technique of starting with some small but interesting fact and deriving from it a more general and important principle. In this, he champions certain historical scientists, reveals some wild facts about animals (did you know that male angler fish are a fraction of the size of females, and in fact merge with the female, becoming little more than an embedded sperm donor for her), and pays homage to his great hero, Darwin. I haven’t finished all the essays yet – the joy of a collection of essays is that you don’t have to read them all at once. But it’s good stuff – I heartily recommend any of Gould’s works. (I’m a particular fan of his Wonderful Life, which is about how contingency has led to the modern world.)

Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile. I recently saw and loved the movie, the story of how roguish and scandal-mongering congressman Charlie Wilson got congress to fund the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion back in the 80’s. I came away from that wanting to know more. And boy, does the book deliver. It covers in greater detail Wilson’s various scandals (the night before one of his major trips to Pakistan, he fled the scene of a collision that he caused out of a well-founded fear that he would be arrested for drunk driving if found by the police) and the way he played the Washington political game to keep the war funded. It also tells the CIA side of the story in great detail – Gust Avrakotos, who was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie, comes across as even more of a loose cannon. Very entertaining, especially if you want a view into how political power really works when the cameras aren’t rolling.

The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber. A nice light beach read, a thriller all about art, madness, and international crime, with an engaging prose style and lots of oddness. A nice book to bring on a beach vacation.

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