Consciousness and Genetics

Consciousness by Hannah Critchlow

The question: What is Consciousness is such a difficult one to answer. We know that we are conscious, but are other animals conscious too? What about plants, or forests and other ecosystems? But the more you think about it opens up wider questions, can we absorb the consciousness of other people? Can machines gain consciousness too?

In this short book, Hannah Critchlow sets about answering some of these questions and summing up some of the latest thoughts on how our brains work but perceiving and responding to the world around us.

 

 

 

Genetics by Adam Rutherford

It is quite amazing to think that DNA was first discovered just over a century ago, though several scientists had concluded that something was passing on traits from parent to child, but couldn’t quite say what. Exactly what it was and how it was constructed though was discovered by Francis and Crick with an enormous amount of assistance from Rosalind Franklin, though she didn’t know it at the time.

Rutherford has written a really good brief overview of the history of genetics, how we are almost certain related to a monarch back along the family tree and what fruit has more genes than us and how to see evolution happening in the genetic record. He brings us up to date with some of the latest discoveries on the subject and the possibilities of genetics in the future.

 

I love the format of these little expert guides. It harks back to the books I used to read as a child and remember fondly. These have a difference though, they are concise books with detailed information written by experts and are a brief introduction to some complex science. Great little books for the budding scientist and those that want to read up on an unknown subject.

Bodie On The Road by Belinda Jones

3 out of 5 stars

Belinda was distraught, her boyfriend at the time, Nathan, had chosen his career in the US Navy over their relationship. Bodie was in a worse predicament though. Abandoned by his owner if he was not rehomed very soon then the animal shelter would have to euthanise him. Belinda didn’t think she could get any lower. They say that you should not rush into another relationship after a breakup and the same rules apply when getting a dog, but she needed some company. When applying online she had four options to say why she wanted a dog:

Playmate for family dog

Guard dog

Exercise motivator

Companionship.

She thought long and hard before making her selection. However, she felt that she needed to try and turn this around and this was why she was standing in front of Bodie’s cage. All that was needed was a home visit and it was arranged for a few days later, and suddenly he was her responsibility.

It took a little while to get used to having a dog around the house as well as getting into the routine needed. She became really good friends with Molly and her dog, Winnie. The only problem was just as it happened she found out that Molly was moving to Portland, Oregon and she invited her to her home after she had settled in. A road trip seemed in order and it seemed the perfect opportunity to drop in at some doggy themed stops on the way.

It is a beautiful coastline to travel along and take in the views of the Pacific. Bodie is a gentle, friendly dog. And as well as a trip to see their friend, it is primarily a journey of discovery for them both, where their limits are and how they can fit in with each other. Letting him off the lead for the first time was a nerve-wracking experience. She manages to find hotels that accept dogs and begins to take the steps that she needs to get over her previous relationship, which she mostly does. Except on the way back home, the phone rung, and as she was busy doing something else, didn’t look at the caller. It was Nathan and he wanted to meet up again…

This is more of a personal memoir with an element of travel. You are not going to discover anything profound about this part of the world, rather it is a feel-good type of book. It is written in a chatty and upbeat style with some amusing anecdotes. Jones is honest with her feelings throughout the book, telling it just how it is. If you have read Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy then this would be one you’d like.

The Almighty Dollar by Dharshini David

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Money makes the world go round, supposedly. It doesn’t, that is physics. However, it has become the lifeblood of our modern world. Each day vast quantities of money flow back and forth around the world as city traders and more often than not now days, computers try and get that edge to squeeze that profit from each transaction. The majority of the money that flows from country to country each day is dollars. The greenback has become the global currency.

But how did the dollar reach this point? Why do prices keep going up? How come we have more disposable income than previous generations and yet can’t afford a house? To answer these questions and many others, economist Dharshini David, follows the path of a single dollar from the moment it is spent in a superstore in America to its part in the growing Chinese economy. From there we will follow it to Africa, India, the Middle East and Europe before it wends its way back to its home country. Each transaction is used to show how the money moves across the world, being part of legitimate and sometimes not so legal transactions.

Through this fictionalised account of a single dollar (and a guest appearance by the Euro), David is able to show where and how the money has pure power and leverage, where people are struggling to survive and where the people are that have more money than they can ever spend. Our interlinked global system has lots of positive benefits, but there are many negative ones too. Because of this close linking of economies, if there is a crash, then there is a domino effect as a collapse in one part of the global economy is rapidly transmitted around the world to other vulnerable states.

Even though economics affects everyone of us on the planet to a greater or lesser extent, most people tend to ignore it; it is not called the dismal science for no reason at all. This book is a way of trying to get people to see that it is important and that a lot of the principles are fairly straightforward to understand. It helps because of David’s writing, but the idea of following that single dollar works really well. Overall I liked this book, it doesn’t go into much depth, but that is not really going to happen in a book this short. However, if you feel the need to read more about the subject, then a reading list has been provided.

Eat Surf Live by Vera Bachernegg & Katharina Maria Zimmermann

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Getting a guide book to your destination is a good thing, it can reveal all sorts of gems about the place you have chosen to go and is full of suggestions of things to do too. But, it does feel sometimes that you are being lectured a little too much in them about the ‘right’ things to see on your trip. However, this beautifully produced book is very different.

I have never come across a travel guide like this, it feels more dynamic and almost like a scrapbook the way that they have laid it out. The focus on the beaches and small food producers in each region of the county. It feels like each recommendation is a personal one, that they have been to each café and restaurant featured and sought local recommendations for the best places to spend time and money.

The authors are very enthusiastic about the places and the people of Cornwall. I think they fell in love with the place when they were visiting. It did occasionally felt like they were trying too hard with the recommendations as they can come across as a little gushing every now and again. It is a refreshing change from the regular guides that I have used in the past. One for the glove box if you are heading to Cornwall.

Aurora by Melanie Windridge

4 out of 5 stars

I don’t have a bucket list, (do have a bucket though), but one day I want to see the amazing natural phenomena that is the aurorae borealis. The haunting beautiful lights that hang in the skies of the northern hemisphere also have their south equivalent, the aurora australis. They have been known to humanity for millennia and have been a sense of wonder and inspired stories and myths of their creation. However, it is only in the past few decades that we have become to understand how they are created.

Melanie Windridge’s work as a plasma physicist means that she is well placed to reveal all that has been learnt about the science behind these beautiful lights. As well as a clear explanation behind the science of the northern lights, Windridge head north to experience them for herself. Her travels take her from Scotland to  Iceland, then Canada and onto Svalbard, where she sees the magnificent total solar eclipse. Also woven into the narrative is an exploration of the cultural effect that the light has had on the people that see them and how we have tried to replicate them and explain them before science.

This is a really nicely written book about the aurora. The science behind it is incredibly complex, the source of the energy comes from the solar wind and coronal ejections from our sun and the light is produced by the interaction between that and the trace elements in the upper atmosphere. I liked the blend of science, travel and history too; it shows that things should not be considered in isolation. The book had so photos of the auroras and her travels, but it would have been good to have more. Interestingly, you can see a certain amount with the naked eye of the aurora but when you take a photo then the true splendour is revealed.

Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas

5 out of 5 stars

Lighthouses lost a little of their romance when they became fully automated solar-powered machines. They have a long history though as beacons to guide sailors safely around the coast. Even with modern technology like GPS fitted to ships, they are still relevant and necessary. There are over 60 lighthouses in the UK, my nearest is in Portland Bill in Dorset. This is a coastal one, but this book is about the handful that are built on tiny outcrops of rock standing against the might of the sea and everything that is thrown at it.

Nancollas had originally trained as a building conservationist before falling for lighthouses and rock lighthouses in particular. All eight of the lighthouses that he writes about in here have stories still to tell. He is fascinated by the men who conceived and designed them to be able to face the strongest waves and winds, by how they were built and the ones that didn’t survive and were rebuilt. He teases apart their histories and heads out to sea to get first-hand experience as to what it was like to travel to these places. However, as resilient as they are,  they are not totally self-sufficient and still rely on care and maintenance from us. He even undertakes crash training in a helicopter simulator so he can travel out to stay in the Fastnet lighthouse for a week while a generator is serviced and rebuilt.

I thought that this book was excellent, it has a strong narrative like all good non-fiction should and it is well researched, not only from behind a desk but his experiences bobbing up and down on a boat travelling to visit them. It has a personal element too, not only is he obsessed by them, but he found a link to the construction of one of the lighthouses following some research into his family tree. I particularly liked the interlude where he visits the lighthouse in Blackwall, London where they experimented and tried various pieces of new kit out prior to dispatching them to the lighthouses around the UK. If you have a thing about lighthouses, then I’d also recommend Stargazing by Peter Hill too.

Ottoman Odyssey by Alev Scott

4 out of 5 stars

It is 900 years since the Ottoman Empire began and just over a century since it ended. You’d think that after 100 years there wouldn’t be much left to see of their legacy, but you’d be surprised. Travelling through the twelve modern countries that make up what used to be their territory, Alev Scott uncovers far more than she expects.

Scott, who is a half-British, half-Turkish journalist had begun her looking for clues for her story in Turkey, talking to the meld of populations that live there at the moment and whose ancestors had been drawn from the far reached of the empire to the capital. Then one day she was banned from returning to Turkey, just as she was beginning to consider it another home and an essential part of her identity. She ended up living on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is so close to Turkey.

But this journey is about the modern day as well as the past, as she travels from the streets of Jerusalem to the villages of Cyprus through Bosnia and Serbia and onto Lebanon and the other peoples who have been scattered amongst the region, some by choice and others forced to move from place to place for all manner of reasons. By, teasing out their stories, she realises that what she thought would be only fragments of the empire are still very much visible in the people.

It is also a personal journey of her own, discovering roots to her identity. Some of these take her back to her childhood memories and others remind her that she is not at the moment allowed freedom of travel in the region because of her view and desire to ask questions that the authorities don’t want to hear. Scott feels at home in these places and she gives a perspective of a part of the world that I haven’t yet been too. Scott has a really nice style of writing and I really enjoyed reading this book, however, it would have been good to find out more about the people their hopes for the future and where they hoped to be at some point in the future.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises by Fredrik Backman

3.5 out of 5 stars

Elsa is seven years old and almost eight and she think that she has the coolest granny. In fact, she’s a superhero to her and her superpower is storytelling. Others take a very different view of her though, thinking she is either eccentric, but most people to be honest just think she is crazy. The story begins though with her grandmother having just been arrested for throwing animal poo at the police after they had broken into the zoo. She had only done it to try to cheer Elsa up after a really bad day at school. It worked, but Elsa’s mother was really not very happy about picking up her daughter and mother from the police station at 1 am…

Her granny has lots of secrets, one of Elsa’s favourites is the imaginary world of Miamas; in this world, she is taken on lots of quests and adventures and this helps her get over her parent’s separation and subsequent divorce. One day though, she hears another of Granny’s secrets that will rock her safe and happy world. She is left a pile of letters by her Granny that she wants her to take around to friends from the past, each one with a personal message to the recipient as well as sending regards and apologising for past deeds…

As Elsa starts to deliver these letters to people around the block of flats that they share, she begins to realise the connections between everyone around to her Granny.

It is a mix of fantasy and contemporary fiction that seems to work fairly well, though it isn’t always easy to see where the boundaries are and who can see the imaginary creatures that Elsa can see. Elsa seems much more advanced than any seven years old than I have ever known too and I would have liked more of the story leading up to this as her Granny seemed larger than life character. I thought that this was a much better book than his previous book I’d read, A Man Called Ove, which to be perfectly frank I just found annoying.

The Easternmost House by Julie Blaxland

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

I have loved the sea and coast for as long as I can remember. Every day that you visit is different because one of the numerous factors has changed and I like the dynamics of the constantly changing light and tides. I would love to watch a winter storm from the cosy confines of a secure house too.  However, for some people there is too much change where the land meets the sea. On the very eastern cost of our country, erosion of the soft cliffs there is happening at a dramatic rate.

The house on the edge of the cliff was demolished this week, which means we are now the house on the edge of the cliff.

Juliet Blaxland is one of those living on this fast-changing coastline. Way back in time there used to be a village there and in 1666 the church succumbed to the waves. The battle between sea and land has continued until now. Back in June 2015, her house was 50 paces from the cliff edge. Now, it half that and getting closer year on year. One day their home will have to be demolished, they just don’t know when that day will be.

It is not just a book about the frightening rate of erosion, but about living a life in a place that she loves. Moves from wider contemplations on the rewilding of landscapes that mankind has realised that they cannot control to tiny details of day to day life and how that can affect our moods.  She has come to understand that we are momentary beings on a transient planet; our three score and ten on this rock are nothing when compared to the lifetime of the Earth, though it saddens her with the way that is changing so rapidly.

I am not sure that I could live with that inevitable feeling that your home is going to one day fall into the sea, they can lose chunks as much 3m in one single storm. Those that wanted to live closer to the sea are suddenly much closer than they ever thought that they would be. However, Blaxland is quite philosophical about the whole thing. I really liked this book, Blaxland’s writing is evocative, whether she is writing about the roar of a storm, jugs of homemade Pimm’s or the attempt to create a crop circle. She has a deep love of the coastal landscape she inhabits. They still live there and will do until the bitter end.

Hare by Jim Crumley

4 out of 5 stars

The hare is a creature that has been part of our natural landscape for time immemorial and has entered our cultural folklore too, however, few people have seen them, including me. In this charming little book, Jim Crumley recounts three occasions where he has seen this elusive and slightly magical creature, including seeing both species, the brown hare and mountain hare, where the snowline started.

This beautifully produced book is very short. I didn’t so much read it rather, rather inhale it. Crumley has a lovely turn of phrase and a keen eye so reading his books is always a pleasure. This one came from the library, but these are a lovely (if expensive) series of books that I can see myself collecting as I have just bought the one on the fox.

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