The Best Science Books of 2019 (so far)

I love Popular Science as a genre – having a science background myself, I am passionate about encouraging everyone to have a better understanding of science, and of becoming more aware of its place in everyday life.  I also love anything that shows off the quirky nerdy humour that I know many scientists and engineers have!  The best science books often combine in-depth research, stranger-than-fiction facts and a cracking narrative  – here’s the pick of the recent crop:

Humble Pi: a Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker
Matt Parker is a mathematician and a comedian, and he uses both skillsets to great effect in Humble Pi, a book about the maths that is all around us – and what happens when you get it wrong. The stories range from trivial and quirky (such as posters where the cogs won’t turn) to potentially deadly (wobbling bridges and NASA disasters); and Matt manages to highlight the funny and entertaining side in all of them. Humble Pi subtly celebrates the importance of maths to science and engineering, without depressing readers about being “not good at maths”.

When the Dogs Don’t Bark: a Forensic Scientist’s Search for the Truth by Angela Gallop
Angela Gallop has had an extraordinary career as a forensic scientist. In over 40 years, she has worked on a string of high profile cases that made significant advances to forensics and criminal law.  When the Dogs Don’t Bark is her memoir of how science has helped to uncover the truth behind some shocking crimes.  While the sensational details showcase her amazingly analytical mind, Angela is also keen to educate her readers about the risks of relying on forensic evidence too heavily.  When the Dogs Don’t Bark will appeal to fans of True Crime and police procedurals, while its level of technical detail should engage science buffs. The Guardian newspaper also considers it an essential resource for aspiring crime writers!

The Wisdom of Wolves: How Wolves can Teach Us to be More Human by Elli H. Radinger
Wolves get pretty bad press in many cultures, and Elli Radinger is out to show everyone that they are not as Big & Bad as we’ve previously heard.  Drawing on 25 years’ of observations, The Wisdom of Wolves describes the social structures and behaviours of wolf packs and shows how similar they are to human societies.  The stories of how the entire pack helps to care for their young and their elderly; how the grownups teach their young to play; and how key decisions are made by females and the elderly, are heartwarming and offer surprising insights into kinship and parenting.  


Why Can’t We Sleep? by Darian Leader
Sleep.  It is a human necessity that has become a luxury in our busy world – so much so that there is an ever-growing industry helping us get the quantity and quality of sleep we want/need.  Why Can’t We Sleep? is a timely examination of this hot topic – weaving together a history and critique of sleep research, with neuroscience, psychology, and the social, cultural and economic significance of sleep.  This is psychoanalyst Darian Leader’s complex, intelligent, yet highly readable story on how and why humans sleep.

Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel is a hugely influential book that helped to establish Popular Science as a genre.  Jared Diamond examines why some civilisations are more successful than others, in terms of wealth and political power, despite no inherent advantage in genetics or intelligence.  He theorises that the tools of success are guns (superior weapons for military might); germs (Eurasian diseases weakening local populations, making them easier to conquer) and steel (advanced technology facilitating imperialism) – and that they all arose from environmental conditions that allowed early adoption of agriculture. Drawing together ideas from history, geography, economics and anthropology, Guns, Germs and Steel offers compelling theories and surprising insights into the development of societies.

Influenza: the Quest to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History by Dr Jeremy Brown
The deadliest disease in recorded history was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which killed up to 100 million people worldwide.  A century later, scientists are still searching for a cure – and an understanding of why this strain disproportionately affects young, apparently-healthy people.  Dr Jeremy Brown uses the Spanish flu pandemic as the starting point of his history of our fight against this ubiquitous yet still deadly virus.  Readers are swept along by this tense mystery/thriller as we begin to understand the high stakes involved – the ‘flu’s ability to spread widely and mutate repeatedly still cause thousands of deaths each year, with widespread social, political and economic consequences, and yet there is still no “bullet-proof” cure or vaccine in sight.

The best comedic books in 2019…so far

This month we’re working on broadening our horizons and with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in full swing we are going to start by diving into comedy and see how it teaches us about our lives and sheds light on the human psyche.

Let’s dive in…

I can’t remember the title but the cover is blue by Elias Greig

As any retail or service worker will tell you, customers can be irrational, demanding, abusive, and brain-scramblingly, mind-bendingly strange. They can also be kind, thoughtful, funny, and full of pathos. Something about the often-fraught interaction between customer and worker – with the dividing line of the counter between them, and the commercial imperative, with its curious etiquette and toleration of all kinds of suspect behaviour brooding above – dims down certain inhibitions, and has a kind of hot-house effect on eccentricity. In I Can’t Remember the Title But the Cover is Blue, veteran bookseller Elias Greig collects the best, worst and most interesting customer encounters from his years at Berkelouw Balgowlah. From ill-behaved children to nostalgia seniors and everything in between, this hilarious and unpredictable book is the perfect gift for anyone who’s ever been on the wrong side of a store counter.

The book of the year 2018 by No Such Thing As A Fish

In a year dominated by Russian collusion and Brexit confusion, The Book of the Year returns with another dose of barely believable yet wholly unimpeachable facts and stories from the past twelve months. Every week for the past four years, Dan, James, Anna and Andy – the creators of the award-winning, chart-topping comedy podcast No Such Thing As A Fish – have wowed each other and millions of their listeners with the most astonishing trivia they have learned over the previous seven days. Now, once again, they have put down the microphones, picked up their pencils, and transformed a year’s worth of weird and wonderful happenings into one uplifting book that you won’t be able to put down. Discover how Peruvian mummies affected the World Cup, and why Love Island contestants are experts in game theory – as well as hundreds of stories that may have passed you by entirely, including the news that:
– NASA sent a man with a fear of heights to the International Space Station.
– An ice hotel in Canada caught fire.
– Mark Zuckerberg’s private data was compromised while he was talking to Congress about compromised data.
From Kim Jong Un’s personal potty to Jeremy Corbyn’s valuable vegetables, The Book of the Year 2018 is an eye-opening tour of yet another incredible year you didn’t know you’d lived through.

I built no schools in Kenya by Kirsten Drysdale

In September 2010, Kirsten Drysdale was tricked. Her friend called with a job offer too curious to refuse; a cruisey-gig as a dementia carer for a rich old man in Kenya. All expenses-paid, plenty of free time to travel or do some freelance reporting. There seemed no good reason to say no so she got on a plane. Only Kirsten’s friend hadn’t given her the full story. It was only on arrival in Nairobi that she discovered the rich old man’s family was fighting a war around him, and that she would be on the front line. Caught in the crossfire of all kinds of wild accusations, she also had to spy on his wife, keep his daughter placated, rebuff his marriage proposals, hide the car keys and clip his toenails, all while trying to retain her own sanity in the colonial time warp of his home. Meanwhile, the Kenyan army was invading Somalia, Al-Shabaab was threatening terror attacks, the East African bodybuilding scene beckoned, and Kirsten discovered she had long-lost cousins running a bar on the other side of the city. I Built No Schools in Kenya is a travelogue-tragedy-farce about race, wealth, love, death, family, nationhood, sanity, benzodiazepines, monkeys and whisky. It is almost entirely true.

Born a crime by Trevor Noah

One of the comedy world’s brightest voices, Trevor Noah is a light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race and identity, sharing jokes and insights drawn from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. As host of the US hit show The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he provides viewers around the globe with their nightly dose of biting satire, but here Noah turns his focus inward, giving readers a deeply personal, heartfelt and humorous look at the world that shaped him. Noah was born a crime, son of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the first years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, take him away. A collection of eighteen personal stories, Born a Crime tells the story of a mischievous young boy growing into a restless young man as he struggles to find his place in a world where he was never supposed to exist. Born a Crime is equally the story of that young man’s fearless, rebellious and fervently religious mother – a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence and abuse that ultimately threatens her own life. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Noah illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and an unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a personal portrait of an unlikely childhood in a dangerous time, as moving and unforgettable as the very best memoirs and as funny as Noah’s own hilarious stand-up. Born a Crime is a must read.

GuRu By Ru Paul

A timeless collection of philosophies from renaissance performer and the world’s most famous shape-shifter RuPaul, whose sage outlook has created an unprecedented career for more than thirty-five years. GuRu is packed with more than 80 beautiful photographs that illustrate the concept of building the life you want from the outside in and the inside out. ‘You’re born naked and the rest is drag.’ As someone who has deconstructed life’s hilarious facade, RuPaul has broken ‘the fourth wall’ to expand on the concept of mind, body, and spirit. This unique perspective has allowed RuPaul to break the shackles of self-imposed limitations, but reader beware, this is a daily practice that requires diligence and touchstones to keep you walking in the sunshine of the spirit. Once you’re willing to look beyond the identity that was given to you, a hidden world of possibilities will open its doors. Throughout the history of humans on this planet, there’ve always been shaman, seers, and mediums who are able to interpret both high and low frequencies and remind humans to look beyond the surface for the truth of who we really are. And who we really are is an extension of the power that created the universe (aka: God in drag). FYI: most people are not willing to hear or accept that. That is RuPaul’s secret for success, not only in show business, but in all aspects of life, especially in navigating the emotional landmines that inhibit most sweet, sensitive souls. If you think this book is just about ‘doing drag’, you are sorely mistaken because for RuPaul, drag is merely a device to deactivate the identity-based ego and allow space for the unlimited.

The Uncollected plays of Shaun Micallef by Shaun Micallef

Shaun Micallef is without doubt one of Australia’s premier comedians, writer, producer, presenter, host, actor, author, broadcaster, bon vivant, gadfly, troubadour, dancer, impresario, trick-cyclist, acrobat, lion tamer, poet and elite sportsman. But did you know that he is also an internationally renowned playwright? No? Typical. It’s a stain on our national character that this doyen of theatre does not get anywhere near the credit he deserves or attention he craves in this country; mute testimony to Australia’s cultural cringe and inveterate dumbness. From Broadway to the West End, his name is mentioned in the same breath as Mamet and Ray Cooney; and in the salons of Paris he is worshipped as a God. His plays, uncollected until now, are irrefutable proof that when it comes to listing the world’s greatest dramatists, the name Micallef should be inserted in there somewhere. Even if you have never been to the theatre before, just holding this book in your hands as you are now will change your life forever. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, your body will spasm convulsively – you may even be so moved that you will open the book and read it.

Enjoy!

Books to Help You Launch a Blog

For the past few weeks we have been looking at social media options that help support your side business.  Today we are focussing on the Granddaddy/mummy of them all – the blog.  Blogs allow us to share our thoughts and connect with other people on pretty much any topic.    Whether you want to start blogging for personal enjoyment, to support your professional goals or to develop a business idea,  here are titles that will inspire and help you get started. 

The One Hour Content Plan by Meera Kothand

This is a great tool for those of us who like a bit of structure and a “big picture” overview before we plunge into a project.  Meera Kothand is a digital marketing specialist, and this is her method for generating a year’s worth of blog post ideas in an hour or less. The secret is to set regular blogging goals, and to never forget the purpose of your blog.  The One Hour Content Plan contains downloadable worksheets and templates to help you work through Meera’s actionable ideas.  This mix of business / marketing and writing advice will help you craft a cohesive, authentic blog that will support your public/professional persona or business.

Likeable Social Media (Third Edition): How to Delight your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and be Generally Amazing on all Social Networks that Matter by Dave Kerpen

You know a book must be good if it is onto its Third Edition in eight years. Likeable Social Media is not just about how to get more “Likes” on Facebook; instead it is about how to develop likeable business practices and likeable content that capture customer loyalty, build communities and strengthen reputations in the long run. This latest revision offers strategies about newer social media platforms such as Snapchat, and news and tactics on the latest tools and options.  The direct, conversational tone of the book is easy to read and feels like Dave Kerpen has become your personal mentor. 

The Essential Habits of 6-Figure Bloggers by Sally Miller

If you’ve ever dreamt of making a living as a blogger – or want to know how to make money from your blog – then you need this book.  In The Essential Habits of 6-Figure Bloggers, Sally Miller interviewed 17 top bloggers to learn the strategies, habits and mindsets that have helped them become successful.  These bloggers make six- or even seven-figure salaries from blogging – when most bloggers struggle to make a tiny fraction of that. The bloggers all took different paths to success, but showed that persistence and smart work habits are essential.  The tips and advice they shared are sensible and practical, and can help to improve the focus and quality of any blog.

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom & David Kelley

Creative Confidence is not specifically about blogging, but is a guide on how we can use creative thinking to become more productive and successful in our lives.  Tom and David Kelley are brothers and co-founders of the award-winning design firm, IDEO – innovation and creativity is their life’s work.  They wrote Creative Confidence in order to inspire and help everyone realise their creative potential.  Using many interesting anecdotes, and ideas based on design / iterative thinking, the Kelleys show that greater creativity can be learnt – by trying new things without fear of failure, and by learning from our mistakes.

Influencer: Building your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media by Brittany Hennessy

If you’ve ever scrolled through your Instagram feed and thought, I wear clothes, eat avocado toast and like sunsets, why can’t someone pay me to live my best life? Then this book is for you – Influencer is a detailed guide on how to nurture your social media presence – including your blog and your personal brand – into valuable social influence.  With her experience from both sides of the industry – starting as a blogger, eventually entering senior marketing roles in influencer strategy for various companies – Brittany Hennessy is able to offer a range of tips and tricks  to help you.  She is also refreshingly honest about the flipside of the influencer lifestyle – the amount of hard work and attention-to-detail required to live that picture-perfect life.  Essential reading.

365 Blog Topic Ideas: For The Lifestyle Blogger Who Has Nothing to Write About by Dana Fox

Dana Fox fell in love with the creative potential of the internet as a teen, then went on to build a successful career as a graphic artist, web designer, and blogger.  She is now paying it forward, sharing tips and tutorials on how to start blogging, through her blog I Can Build a Blog, and this book, 365 Blog Topic Ideas.  On each page there is a basic topic, such as “7 things found on the net this week”.  These are great starting points that also prompt you to modify or expand to suit the tone and focus of your own blog.  There is also a section full of holiday and seasonal ideas.  365 Blog Topic Ideas is a great resource for getting started, injecting variety or helping you become unstuck in your blogging.