The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve by Steve Stewart-Williams

The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture EvolveThe Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve by Steve Stewart-Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got a review copy of this back in July from the publisher through NetGalley and unfortunately had a couple of others in front of it with ticking expiration dates, as well as assigned reading for a class and a few other obstacles. I needed to devote some dedicated time to reading this because there is so much here. One other unfortunate complication came up when my ereader glitched and couldn’t verify the license…losing all of my notes from the first half of the book. Redownload, back in business, but sans those notes.

Stewart-Williams explores Darwinism, genetics and sex differences, reproduction, altruism, and cultural influences. (He also includes his takes on how to refute Blank Slaters and Anti-Memeticists in two appendices). I grind my teeth over the sections for which I lost my notes (apologies to the publisher/author – I’m sure other reviewers will be able to synopsize), but trust me that there are wealths of information to be had in there on attractions and preferences, practices, selection, offspring and rearing, monogamy, polyandry and polygyny; altruism and selfishness. And memetics.

Stewart-Williams’s analyses are cogent, his arguments sound; he pokes logical holes in prevalent (and past) theories. He supports his theses with facts and induction (with deduction thrown in.) He cautions against the “risk of mistaking elements of one’s own culture for aspects of human nature,…”

I mark this as five stars because seldom does a book evoke a paradigm shift in me (It happens, just rarely) and this book did. For twenty some years now, I have been resolved to the position that humans evolved to believe in religions – with exception, of course – and the wake-up here was a smack-in-the-face memetic solution that religions (and God) evolved for the human brain. Finally, something that makes sense to me.

Now, as thoroughly researched and eloquently composed as Mr. Stewart-Williams is in this book, he referenced at least one Disney Nature series myth when trying to make a point in his altruism section: “Like suicidal lemmings…”

I would like to read this again, but in physical form. It does not lend well to electronic reading as i couldn’t follow cites easily, or “flip” back and forth between sections as I digested the contents.

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The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth

The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English LanguageThe Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An improvement over The Etymologicon, this was quite an emjoyable and informative read. I think it is a safe bet that the reader won’t be using many of these words in casual conversation. Nor in less than casual conversation, but they’re still cool words to know.

For The Day’s Jaunt, Forsyth has arranged his exploration in 19 hourly segments, with each looking at words related more or less to that time of day. Awakening, ablutions, breaking fasts, traveling (to work), meetings about “work”, taking breaks, faking work, lunching, more “work”, making others work, oops…tea time, finally doing work, just in time to leave, picking up necessaries and necessities, supper and libations, courting, going home, …bed time. My summaries don’t tell the whole story as there are numerous side studies in each chapter.

Forsyth’s wit comes out more in this book than his first. Despite my glib thoughts about using these words in casual or serious conversation, any reader will be enriched for knowing them. I will read this again someday. If you’ve not read it, go find it and do.

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The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English PhraseThe Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delightful book! Forsyth dove (dived?) deep into the obscurities of rhetoric to enlighten this reader on the many many technical terms for the phrases, forms, devices, maneuvers (okay…I channeled Eddie Izzard on that one), figures, terms, etc. When he opened with

English teaching at school is, unfortunately, obsessed with what a poet thought, as though that were of any interest to anyone. Rather than being taught about how a poem is phrased, schoolchildren are asked to write essays on what William Blake thought about the Tiger; despite the fact that William Blake was a nutjob whose opinions, in a civilised society, would be of no interest to anybody apart from his parole officer. A poet is not somebody who has great thoughts. That is the menial duty of the philosopher. A poet is somebody who expresses his thoughts, however commonplace they may be, exquisitely. That is the one and only difference between the poet and everybody else.

he got my attention!

Packed with information, wonderfully expounded, reinforced with classic examples and peppered saltily with wit, this is a great resource. Forsyth says “This isn’t a dictionary of rhetoric, nor was it meant to be.” and yes, it is much more than a dictionary. And I don’t know what the term would be, or of there even is one, for the opposite of cliffhanger, but Forsyth mastered it, ending each chapter with a tie to the next chapter. He even hyperlinked the last word (okay, word and number) back to the first chapter! Circular!

Recommended. Now I need to read more by Forsyth…

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A SortabiographyAlways Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so grateful to the publisher and First to Read for a copy of an uncorrected proof of this! My favorite Python! John is a close second, and I’d read his autobiography…in his voice, so I jumped at the chance to read this…in Eric’s voice, of course. Steve Martin said of Idle’s novel The Road the Mars.“I laughed. I cried. And then I read the book.”

Idle had me laughing literally out loud several times before he’d gotten out of the introduction (titled “An Apology”). Of course, the life whose bright side he sings of looking at enters and it’s not all rosy, but even when he shares devastation at the loss of dear friends, he bounces back. He’s candid, human, obviously quite funny, amazingly connected (“I once tried registering [in a hotel under a fake name] as Meryl Streep, but then I felt guilty because she is so damn nice and smart. Notice how cleverly I introduced the fact that I know her. That’s name-dropping at its finest, as I said to Prince Charles only the other day.”) Really, he is amazingly connected. The number of people he’s worked with, been friends with, got invited to cruises on their huge yachts with,…
…amazing.

Steve Martin said in his blurb for Idle’s novel The Road the Mars.“I laughed. I cried. And then I read the book.” You’ll laugh, maybe cry while you read this book.

Endearing, funny, enlightening, and endearing. Yes, I said that twice. When this comes out, get it. You’ll be glad you did. Though the song will echo for days.

But there are worse earworms.

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