White Magic is the weirdest book I have ever read. I knew it would be weird before I started it; the reviews I read were so mixed, and none of their writers seemed to know how to describe it, either. Before starting the book, I wrote, “. . . there’s definitely something to be said for just jumping into a book that people have loved to an extent that it was indescribable.”
The day after publishing this post, I feel I must add a small caveat. I’ve realized since reading the book and writing this review that Katha Pollitt is opposed to the usage of gender-inclusionary language surrounding abortion. While she did not use gender-inclusionary language in the book, I tried my best to use it in my review when I could. Pollitt goes further into her justification for this in this article, but I urge you to read this response article by physician Cheryl Chastine explaining why Pollitt is not justified in excluding non-cisgender people from her abortion arguments. Chastine did an amazing job. In giving cisgender women the right to bodily autonomy, we do not need to be erasing people with diverse gender identities from claiming that same right.
After owning the book for over two years, this week I finally stopped procrastinating reading Katha Pollitt’s 2014 persuasive powerhouse of a book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. Ironically, my timing had nothing to do with the recent “heartbeat bill” in Texas, but the urgency that the bill caused definitely lit a fire under me to enthusiastically jump into the book. If you want the context around the pro-choice argument, then I can’t recommend Pro enough.Read more
On the surface, Dick Teresi’s Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science—from the Babylonians to the Maya is an eye-opening and thought-provoking book on the history of non-Western science. It is a book I would recommend to anyone who believes in the “Greek miracle,” who takes Carl Sagan’s words about the Ionian birth of science at face value, and generally anyone who wants to take a less white, less Western perspective on both science and history as wholes. However, anyone who reads this must also be able to question what they are reading, ask for the author’s sources and motivation, and be ready to think for themselves despite the author’s biases.
In my quest for both truth and empathy, I discovered geneticist Adam Rutherford’s book How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (And Don’t) Say About Human Difference. I find combating racism to be very important, and I find great joy in reading about science. This book was a perfect mixture of both of these, which is great regardless of my preferences, because it turns out (unsurprisingly) that science is the best way to debunk racist claims anyways.Read more
I first encountered Jesse Wegman’s Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College on display at a Half Price Books store soon after the book was published in 2020. My first impression was feeling like the book was unnecessary. I had never heard anyone arguing in favor of the Electoral College, and honestly I didn’t know of anyone who really supported it. I certainly agreed with the title, that the College ought to be abolished, so I felt like reading a book to explain why would be a waste of time. I later changed my mind (granted, after the 2020 election had taken place) and decided that I wanted all the information to make sure my opinion on this debate was an informed one.
If you’ve read Cosmos by Sasha’s father, and you’re wondering what the universe’s immensity and grandeur mean for humanity, then you will love this book. The title comes from a quote (from Carl’s novel Contact) written by Ann Druyan, Sasha’s mother and Carl’s wife. The quote says in its entirety, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” Cosmos explores the vastness. Sasha’s book explores the rest: how we, the small creatures, can use love to make it bearable. The subtitle, Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, gives us a hint on how to do that.Read more
For years, I’ve considered myself a feminist. I’ve believed that feminism was part of a dichotomy where society is made up of two groups: women and men. Barring the obvious problem of ignoring nonbinary people, I hadn’t taken into account that feminism is concerned with many more than two groups. Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot reminds us that feminism is about much more than just white women paying more for razors and not being able to fit their smartphones in their pockets. Hood Feminism exposes the honestly terrible job that we white women have done in including everyone in this movement: especially women who are not cis, straight, and white.Read more
As I said in my last post, this week I am reviewing A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong About Human Evolution, a collection of essays by twelve anthropologists critiquing Darwin’s book on human origins, Descent of Man, chapter by chapter and telling us whether Darwin’s ideas have withstood the test of time over 150 years. I was particularly excited about this one, both because I got to see the Leakey Foundation’s promo livestream with panels from many of the authors and because the book serves as a shining example of scientists denying dogma in science.Read more
If you’re reading this blog, then chances are that you have a pretty good grasp on what Christianity is. But did you know that Christianity as we know it almost didn’t succeed in early centuries? You may have heard whispers of various ancient sects of barely recognizable Christian beliefs, and it turns out that the rumors are true. The ancient Christians that we know—whether we love them or hate them—had to struggle against their competitors known as the gnostics, better known to history as heretics.
For centuries, historians have known about the gnostic Christians and their texts only through the writings of their enemies, the orthodox or catholic Christians (which gave rise to the many denominations of Christianity existing today). You can imagine how hard it was to understand the gnostic point of view with their only documentation being from those who despised them. So it was immensely exciting for historians when the gnostic gospels themselves were discovered near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1946. The discovery was an exercise in patience, though; it would be thirty years until an English translation of the full library would be published in 1977. Elaine Pagels must have gotten to work quickly, then, as her book The Gnostic Gospels was published in 1979.Read more