July Reading Roundup
Stories of inspiring people, the biology of motherhood, and the latest from Charles Murray in this month's reads
I’ve continued on my biography/memoir kick this month with three books telling the amazing stories of uniquely inspiring people. This month I also listened to two audio books as I’ve started walking more, which has given me more time to listen to books (a win-win for my health and my mind!). I also got around to the latest from Charles Murray, which was – spoiler – not a good book.
Let me know what you think in the comments!
My Remarkable Journey by Katherine Johnson (Audio)
I have decidedly been on a memoir/biography kick as of late, demonstrated by last month’s reads and this month’s as well. My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir was a delightful addition to my reading list this month. A short book filled with a long and influential life chronicles Katherine’s beginnings in a small West Virginia town to being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015. I expected this book to be very focused on her contributions to human space flight as a human computer and mathematician at NASA during the space race with Russia. And although she certainly focused on her time there, her work — as she repeatedly says throughout — is “just a job”. Her memoir reflects this sentiment as she writes at length and with great emotion about all the personal aspects of her life. She grew up as a Black woman in trying times here in the United States, yet approached her life and experiences with unrelenting poise, confidence, and class. Highly recommend this book, and the audio version narrated by Robin Miles was delightful to listen to.
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
This book was one that was a bit of a slow starter for me, though I ultimately found it highly enjoyable to read. In Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne details her long journey to becoming a leading forest ecologist and professor beginning with her logging roots in British Columbia. Throughout her upbringing in the forest and through various roles with government forest service in BC, Suzanne observed that current forest regeneration policy – clear cutting forest and mono-planting cash crop trees – was resulting in sad, dead plots of once diverse and thriving forest land. Her determination to understand why replanted trees were dying led her to earning her PhD and discovering the communication networks of fungi in forest soil that are essential to thriving ecologies. Her story is unique and inspiring, and I am glad that I now know her story after reading about the wonderful world of fungi (and her research) in Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake, which I also highly recommend reading!
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (Audio)
I really loved this book, though I had never taken a particular interest in Elon Musk and his companies. Prior to reading Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, I knew little about him as a person, and knew little more than the post-success stories of Tesla and SpaceX. Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk is detailed, thorough, and endlessly interesting – I didn’t want this book to end! His book reveals that Elon is a . . . peculiar person, but given how intelligent and visionary he is, this is not at all that surprising. I came away from this book enormously impressed by his accomplishments despite what looked to be certain failure multiple times over in the 2000’s, and I admire the scale of his vision and his patience to see that vision through. Whether you know a little or a lot about this once-in-a-generation man, I would highly recommend reading this book.
Mom Genes by Abigail Tucker
There is a lot to love about Abigail Tucker’s, Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct, including the volume of research included, her witty style of writing, and her humility about her own motherhood experiences. While all these things are true, I found the overall style of the book a bit too “journalistic-y” for my personal taste and enjoyment. I don’t often love the journalist-style to science writing because it tends to (in my experience) prioritize volume of findings over presenting a cohesive framework of which evidence is situated within. Journalistic style writing tends to be more accessible and enjoyable to the general public, however; but as someone with an academic background in evolution of human behavior, sometimes these books miss the mark for me on the pure enjoyment factor. This is a personal preference and shouldn’t take away from the general public’s reading of the book — objectively it’s a good book. Tucker is a fun writer, and I found myself actually laughing out loud while reading this one. I’d recommend it, especially if you’re new to this area of research.
Facing Reality by Charles Murray
I found Murray’s latest book, Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America, remarkably uninteresting. Anyone familiar with any of his previous books, notably The Bell Curve and Real Education need not bother with reading this book. Even if you haven’t, it’s still not worth the time to read because the book offers nothing new. He repeats the same points as in his previous books and demonstrates that he has experienced no evolution in his thinking over the past 30 years. He continues to falsely state that he means “populations” and not “race” when discussing genetic data as if to assert himself on the same team as geneticists doing novel and interesting work in these spaces. You can read my review of his last book about this point as it is relevant here since his thinking and term switching is no different in his latest book. Overall, the book is poorly organized, filled with data tables and statements but no cohesive point, written in a crass tone of someone who forgot what decade he is in. This is not a disagreement with any particular claims in the book necessarily, but rather a criticism of the need for him to write this book in the first place.
Keep up with what I am reading on Goodreads. See you in August!