Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Hello World

I read a lot of stuff last week – ticked a few more states off my 50 States Challenge and read a bunch of romances (with some favourite authors and some new ones), but I do like to mix things up a bit with my Book of the Week picks, so this week I have some popular science for you.

The cover of Hello World

Hello World is an examination of what algorithms are and how they work for (and against) us. Dr Hannah Fry is a mathmatician who specialises in looking at patterns and how they affect human behaviour. She’s also a broadcaster, podcaster and public speaker and her experience in communicating complicated theories over those mediums really shows in this. Now unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that algorithms are a thing. They dictate what you see in your social media feeds, what comes up in search results but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hello World looks at the role of algorithms in data, healthcare, crime, art and more. If you’ve ever wondered how far off a fully autonomous car is, this will tell you and explain the challenges along the way – for the car and for the drivers. Could algorithms help with solving crime or predicting where crimes might happen. Do they have a role in sentencing or bail decisions fairer? How are they making decisions – and how do they say they’re making decisions?

As usually I’m a little bit behind the times – this came out in 2018 (and was nominated for some of the nonfiction writing prizes) so somethings have moved on a little from my copy (an advance copy for the hardback release that I got given by someone) but I found this absolutely fascinating – sometimes a little scary but also actually quite reassuring as well. I read a fair bit of non fiction but mostly history with occasional bits of science and medical non fiction and I find that books in this end of the spectrum are sometimes too technical or get too bogged down in the details but this absolutely does not do that. I don’t consider myself mathematically or scientifically minded, but this was clear and concise and easy to follow. And I think it’s a great book to read at the moment – we’re all trapped at home and more dependent on technology than ever before and this will give you an insight into some of that and although it might make you rethink some things it won’t but absolutely terrify you and make you want to disconnect everything!

You can get Hello World from all the usual sources. I’ve seen it on the popular science table in the chain bookstores and on the shelves at the supermarket. And of course it’s available in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from your audiobook vendor of choice. And if you’ve read this and liked this and want more popular science, can I point you in the direction of Mary Roach and her books.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Grunt

Welcome to the first BotW post of the New Year, which is also the last Book of the Week from 2016.  You know what I mean – I read it last week before the end of the old year, but the post gets to you in the New Year.  Talking about last week and the old year, I hope you enjoyed my festive frenzy of posts. December stats is coming tomorrow (I thought better one post 3 days late, than three posts one day late each) now you’ve all had time to appreciate my New Years Reading Resolutions, and see my early failures in yesterday’s Week in Reading where I confess to a bit of a free book spree.  Any how, back to the point.

Copy of Grunt by Mary Roach
I don’t think I have a lot of books with green covers, not sure why!

This weeks BotW is Mary Roach’s Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, which is not about guns and weapons, but about the scientific and technological developments which have come about because of war and conflict.  Topics include clothing regulations and design, shark repellent, submarine escapes and genital reconstruction.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  This is non-fiction writing at its best – informative and well researched, it wears it lightly and is incredibly readable.  You learn a lot without realising it as Mary wends her way through military installations and research centres asking the questions that you wouldn’t dare to.

I’m not a science reader – if you’ve been here a while now, you’ll know that my non-fiction reading tends to be history, biography or a bit feministy.  But I’ve been hearing about Mary Roach’s books for a while now – as they’ve been recommended on Book Riot’s Get Booked podcast as well as this getting a review on their All the Books podcast too – and I thought it might be a good way to widen my reading horizons slightly.  Popular opinion seems to have Stiff as her best book – but I’m not big on death and so was wary of a book about dead bodies – so Grunt seemed like a better place for me to start.  And if this is not Mary Roach’s best book, I can hardly imagine how good the others must be.  I might even have to get over my squeamishness about cadavers and read Stiff.

Him Indoors got really fed up of me pausing the TV to read bits out loud to him and I’ve already got a queue forming for my copy.  I bought my copy on my post-Christmas jolly to Foyles, but it’s also available on Kindle or from Amazon and Waterstones.  You’re probably going to need a bookshop with a relatively large non-fiction selection (ie probably not a train station bookshop or a small WH Smiths) but it seems to be fairly orderable.  It’s not terribly cheap anywhere I’m afraid, but it’s worth it.

Happy Reading.