This week, I’ll be heading down to sunny Florida for vacation- rather, I should say driving down to sunny Florida– so of course I will be bringing my tablet and will need to buy some books for the (very long) drive down.
Here are some fun reads for the summer months whether you’re a beach bum or bumming around the house.
1. First, take some time and read up on some novels by Jane Austen, then pick up Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Game theory–the study of how people make choices while interacting with others–is one of the most popular technical approaches in social science today. But as Michael Chwe reveals in his insightful new book, Jane Austen explored game theory’s core ideas in her six novels roughly two hundred years ago. Jane Austen, Game Theorist shows how this beloved writer theorized choice and preferences, prized strategic thinking, argued that jointly strategizing with a partner is the surest foundation for intimacy, and analyzed why superiors are often strategically clueless about inferiors. With a diverse range of literature and folktales, this book illustrates the wide relevance of game theory and how, fundamentally, we are all strategic thinkers.
Although game theory’s mathematical development began in the Cold War 1950s, Chwe finds that game theory has earlier subversive historical roots in Austen’s novels and in “folk game theory” traditions, including African American folktales. Chwe makes the case that these literary forebears are game theory’s true scientific predecessors. He considers how Austen in particular analyzed “cluelessness”–the conspicuous absence of strategic thinking–and how her sharp observations apply to a variety of situations, including U.S. military blunders in Iraq and Vietnam.
Jane Austen, Game Theorist brings together the study of literature and social science in an original and surprising way.
While we joke that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can’t compare to those of other animals. For instance, the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than fifty times his size. Female cichlids must guard their eggs and larvae–even from the hungry appetites of their own partners. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh them by four orders of magnitude. Why do these gender gulfs exist? Introducing readers to important discoveries in animal behavior and evolution, Odd Couples explores some of the most extraordinary sexual differences in the animal world. From the fields of Spain to the deep oceans, evolutionary biologist Daphne Fairbairn uncovers the unique and bizarre characteristics–in size, behavior, ecology, and life history–that exist in these remarkable species and the special strategies they use to maximize reproductive success. Fairbairn describes how male great bustards aggressively compete to display their gorgeous plumage and large physiques to watching, choosey females. She investigates why female elephant seals voluntarily live in harems where they are harassed constantly by eager males. And she reveals why dwarf male giant seadevils parasitically fuse to their giant female partners for life. Fairbairn also considers humans and explains that although we are keenly aware of our own sexual differences, they are unexceptional within the vast animal world.
Looking at some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Odd Couples sheds astonishing light on what it means to be male or female in the animal kingdom.
3. A Glossary of Chickens by Gary J. Whitehead. Some poetry on the beach or while swaying in a hammock- picture perfect.
With skillful rhetoric and tempered lyricism, the poems in A Glossary of Chickens explore, in part, the struggle to understand the world through the symbolism of words. Like the hens of the title poem, Gary J. Whitehead’s lyrics root around in the earth searching for sustenance, cluck rather than crow, and possess a humble majesty.
Confronting subjects such as moral depravity, nature’s indifference, aging, illness, death, the tenacity of spirit, and the possibility of joy, the poems in this collection are accessible and controlled, musical and meditative, imagistic and richly figurative. They are informed by history, literature, and a deep interest in the natural world, touching on a wide range of subjects, from the Civil War and whale ships, to animals and insects. Two poems present biblical narratives, the story of Lot’s wife and an imagining of Noah in his old age. Other poems nod to favorite authors: one poem is in the voice of the character Babo, from Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, while another is a kind of prequel to Emily Dickinson’s “She rose to His Requirement.”
As inventive as they are observant, these memorable lyrics strive for revelation and provide their own revelations.
4. The Fairies Return Compiled by Peter Davies- Revisit some classic fairy tales with a modern twist.
Originally issued in 1934, The Fairies Return was the first collection of modernist fairy tales ever published in England, and it marked the arrival of a satirical classic that has never been surpassed. Even today, this reimagining of fourteen timeless tales–from “Puss in Boots” to “Little Red Riding Hood”–is still fresh and bold, giving readers a world steeped not in once upon a time, but in the here and now.
Longtime favorites in this playfully subversive collection are retold for modern times and mature sensibilities. In “Jack the Giant Killer,” Jack becomes a trickster who must deliver England from the hands of three ogres after a failed government inquiry. “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” is set in contemporary London and the world of financial margins and mergers. In “The Little Mermaid,” a young Canadian girl with breathtaking swimming skills is lured by the temptations of Hollywood. And Cinderella becomes a spinster and holy woman, creating a very different happily ever after. These tales expose social anxieties, political corruption, predatory economic behavior, and destructive appetites even as they express hope for a better world. A new introduction from esteemed fairy-tale scholar Maria Tatar puts the collection in context.
From stockbrokers and socialites to shopkeepers and writers, the characters in The Fairies Return face contemporary challenges while living in the magical world of fairy tales.
5. The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science by Neil Downie- For when you are at home and feel like doing actual activities on a summer day.
The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science is Neil Downie’s biggest and most astounding compendium yet of science experiments you can do in your own kitchen or backyard using common household items. It may be the only book that encourages hands-on science learning through the use of high-velocity, air-driven carrots.
Downie, the undisputed maestro of Saturday science, here reveals important principles in physics, engineering, and chemistry through such marvels as the Helevator–a contraption that’s half helicopter, half elevator–and the Rocket Railroad, which pumps propellant up from its own track. The Riddle of the Sands demonstrates why some granular materials form steep cones when poured while others collapse in an avalanche. The Sunbeam Exploder creates a combustible delivery system out of sunlight, while the Red Hot Memory experiment shows you how to store data as heat. Want to learn to tell time using a knife and some butter? There’s a whole section devoted to exotic clocks and oscillators that teaches you how.
The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science features more than seventy fun and astonishing experiments that range in difficulty from simple to more challenging. All of them are original, and all are guaranteed to work. Downie provides instructions for each one and explains the underlying science, and also presents experimental variations that readers will want to try.