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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
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - Jared Diamond Jared Diamond looks at several societies that have collapsed as a result of misusing their natural resources, plus a couple (Tokugawa period Japan is the star example) that miraculously managed to pull back from the brink. At the end, he also talks about some present-day cases where we still don't know what will happen.

The one my thoughts keep returning to is medieval Greenland, which Diamond discusses in a long and detailed chapter. Settled in the 11th century by Vikings originally from Norway, the colonists brought with them their whole way of life, which was heavily organized around dairy farming. There is an eerie description of a huge barn with room for 80 head of cattle; the ruins can still be seen today. The colony survived for several hundred years, and was then wiped out to the last man by worsening weather and the decline in the European market for narwhale ivory.

But here's the really odd thing. The colonists never ate fish, despite the fact that it formed the staple diet of the indigenous Greenland Eskimos. Diamond says that every single archaeologist who's studied the settlement starts off convinced that there must have been some kind of mistake. How is it possible that these hardy, intelligent people could have failed to adapt their diet in such an obvious way? But the evidence from middens is apparently rock-solid. For whatever reason, they would not make use of this plentiful natural resource, which could easily have saved them; they perished instead.

Incomprehensible, isn't it? Needless to say, our own society's reluctance to invest more than a token amount of money in developing cheap solar power is different. The two cases are in no way comparable.