a couple of months ago

The famous dictionary that threw out the rules of grammar

My mother went ballistic when Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language appeared in 1961. She’d taught English for a time during the Depression. Then, there was a right way and a wrong way to express yourself. Rules were rules—and English teachers knew exactly what they were. But even back then the linguists […]

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a few months ago

Two data scientists explain artificial intelligence for the lay reader

Most of the books about artificial intelligence highlight such things as self-driving cars and facial recognition—the brilliant innovations in hardware and software by the engineers and coders who build the stuff and make it work. They dwell variously on the field’s potential and its impact on our lives today. This book, by two academic data […]

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a few months ago

A brilliant account of the 1918 flu epidemic

A century ago a pandemic disease far more lethal than COVID-19 killed an estimated fifty to one hundred million people around the world—as many as one out of every twenty people then alive. The 1918 flu epidemic erupted during a war that had already killed tens of millions and at a time when medical science […]

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last year

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book explains recent history

The rap about Malcolm Gladwell in exalted literary and intellectual circles is that he writes about social psychology but isn’t a social psychologist. Usually, though, the criticism is less polite. Although his books are bestsellers and widely cited in public discourse—think especially of The Tipping Point—critics are sometimes savage. Gladwell’s response is that he is […]

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last year

Climate change is worse than you think—much, much worse

They’ve been lying to us. Or, better put, shading the truth. And I’m not referring to the climate deniers in the White House and Congress. We know they’re lying. The problem is, the scientists who have been warning us about climate change aren’t telling the whole truth. In fact, that bad habit is so widespread […]

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last year

A top copyeditor explains how to write clear English

So, chances are you’re convinced you know perfectly well how to write clear English. But, just to be sure, take this quick quiz: How many of these rules do you follow when you write? Never begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” Never split an infinitive. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Contractions aren’t […]

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last year

An AI expert worries about the robots of the future

“I believe that one day we will create machines that think,” writes AI researcher Toby Walsh in his new book, 2062. “We will invent machines that are superior to us. They will be stronger, faster and more intelligent than us.” However, he notes, they will think in ways very different from us. “A faster-thinking dog […]

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last year

How to make humans smarter, stronger, and healthier

If you follow biomedical news in at least a cursory fashion, you may be aware of current work with brain implants. Researchers have proven in laboratories that they can help the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and stroke patients to communicate when they’re otherwise unable to do so. But Ramez Naam’s More Than Human will […]

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a couple of years ago

Dinosaurs live today: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

Yes, dinosaurs live today. You’ll learn a lot in this lively personal account by a passionate paleontologist. Quick: how many different species of dinosaurs can you name? T. rex, of course. Brontosaurus. Triceratops, maybe. Velociraptor, of Jurassic Park fame. Possibly also Pterodactyl (correct name: Pterosaur). If you’re really well informed, you might cite several others. But […]

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