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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
On the Nature of Things - Lucretius First, an apology for only giving it three stars. I am well aware that this is a brilliant piece of poetry, but my Latin is very poor, and I rapidly abandoned my initial plan of reading it in the original with the English translation alongside. In a way, though, I'm following Lucretius's advice: he explicitly says at one point that it's wrong to allow yourself to be swayed by beautiful words, and you should judge an idea on its merits. Reading him in my barbarian's tongue is certainly one way to do that.

I have often debated the question of whether it is right to call atheism a religion, and with Lucretius it seems natural to argue that it is. The poem reminded me rather strongly of Dante - when I got to the bibliography, I was interested to see that Santayana had written a book comparing Lucretius, Dante and Goethe - but while Dante loves the One, Lucretius goes a step further and praises the Zero. His noble goal is to convince you that divine intervention is never required in order to explain what happens in the world, and that, if we just stop and and think carefully enough, we can liberate ourselves from irrational terror of the supernatural. Given that he's writing in the first century BC and science barely exists yet, this is ambitious indeed. But Lucretius has faith in his project; it's hard to avoid using the word.

The rest of this review is in my book If Research Were Romance and Other Implausible Conjectures