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HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion

Sandra Craft

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HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« on: August 21, 2020, 07:56:31 AM »
Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American at Home and Abroad, by Firoozeh Dumas. A collection of humorous vignettes by the author of Funny in Farsi, primarily centered on the misadventures of her Iranian immigrant family.  (256 pages)

Monster of God: the man-eating predator in the jungles of history and the mind, by David Quammen.  The significance of alpha predators (specifically, in this book, the Asiatic lion, crocodiles, tigers and brown bears) and the humans who live alongside them.  (528 pages)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.  Dillard's personal narrative highlights one year's exploration on foot in the Virginia region through which Tinker Creek runs. The result is an exhilarating tale of nature and its seasons.  (288 pages)

A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons, by Robert M. Sapolsky.  Two stories in one: the documentary of a life studying and living with baboons in the wild; and the memoirs of living in some of the wilder parts of Africa.   (304 pages)

Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, by Lydia Kang and Nate Pederson.  Looking back with fascination, horror, and not a little dash of dark, knowing humor, Quackery recounts the lively, at times unbelievable, history of medical misfires and malpractices.  (344 pages)

Annals of the Former World, John McPhee.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning view of the continent, across the fortieth parallel and down through 4.6 billion years.  Like the terrain it covers, Annals of the Former World tells a multilayered tale, and the reader may choose one of many paths through it. As clearly and succinctly written as it is profoundly informed, this is our finest popular survey of geology and a masterpiece of modern nonfiction.  (720 pages)

The Sky's the Limit, by Anna Magnusson.  In 2004, Vicky Jack completed the Seven Summits - the highest mountains in each of the seven continents. Whilst pursuing her climbing dream, she also carried on a high-flying career. This book tells her story.  (212 pages)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: a memoir, by Haruki Murakami.  Based on Murakami’s journal about training for the NYC marathon, it’s about writing, running and how they intersect.   (188 pages)

Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

xSilverPhinx

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2020, 06:22:28 PM »
Damn those look like good books. :tellmemore:
I lose myself infused in something more than what they've seen
I'm not a slave to greed
I don't embrace your make believe
I've never been for sale no matter what they think I need



Sandra Craft

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2020, 06:52:17 PM »
Damn those look like good books. :tellmemore:

I have high hopes for all of them.  :bigspecs:
Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

Sandra Craft

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2020, 06:23:48 AM »
OK, it's A Primate's Memoir for September.
Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

Davin

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2020, 09:15:51 PM »
I was putting the book into my queue and it auto filled in the author's name. A previous book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, was read in this book club in September of 2018. I barely remember that book now, I should go back and reread the book reviews for it.

https://www.happyatheistforum.com/forum/index.php?topic=15928.0

Also, I'll likely be starting reading on the 7th since I'm still finishing another book.
Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

Sandra Craft

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2020, 11:56:09 PM »
I was putting the book into my queue and it auto filled in the author's name. A previous book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, was read in this book club in September of 2018. I barely remember that book now, I should go back and reread the book reviews for it.

https://www.happyatheistforum.com/forum/index.php?topic=15928.0

Also, I'll likely be starting reading on the 7th since I'm still finishing another book.

I remember the Zebras book well -- not likely to forget a book with dancing zebras on the cover, or that made neuroscience sound fun to me!  Did not remember it was also a September book, cool.  Someday I would like to get ahold of the most recently updated version, I think the one I read was two updates behind.
Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

Davin

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2020, 08:35:07 PM »
I finished this book two days ago. I was going to do my review today but HAF was messed up for me, I'll try to give my review tomorrow.
Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

Sandra Craft

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2020, 02:07:53 AM »
I finished this book two days ago. I was going to do my review today but HAF was messed up for me, I'll try to give my review tomorrow.

I'm still reading it but I can tell you one thing -- this has definitely killed my starry-eyed view of field research.
Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

Davin

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2020, 11:12:06 PM »
I finished this book two days ago. I was going to do my review today but HAF was messed up for me, I'll try to give my review tomorrow.

I'm still reading it but I can tell you one thing -- this has definitely killed my starry-eyed view of field research.
Mine too.

I got too busy with work, I will try to write my review up on Monday.
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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2020, 12:38:26 AM »
I'm eagerly awaiting your reviews. :tellmemore:
I lose myself infused in something more than what they've seen
I'm not a slave to greed
I don't embrace your make believe
I've never been for sale no matter what they think I need



Davin

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2020, 06:55:21 PM »
A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky

The book focuses mostly on the life the author lived while researching baboons, though there is still a bit of the research in there. It spans a few decades and covers several aspects of the life of a baboon researcher in Africa. The book starts off with a bright eyed and bushy tailed student looking for adventure and armed with confidence, wit, and naiveté about how the world works. And throughout the book the author describes how the events changed and tempered him.

The writing style is very good, very enjoyable for me. The author provides enough detail to describe exactly what is going on without repeating things or wasting time going into too much detail or providing a lot of extra details. The chapters are clear and focused making things easy to follow and keeping my interest up.

There are a lot of life lessons learned from the author living through scary, funny, and ridiculous situations. One of the scariest for me as a reader was when he was taken in by a small gang and forced to drink nothing but coke, never eat, and never sleep for several days straight before finding a way to escape. On the surface, they treated him nicely, only in action were they revealed to be bad people. Another scary point was when he was mugged and robbed by soldiers. Up to that point, he had believed he could talk his way out of any situation. He also goes into all the bribery and common scams that went on.

There were a lot of good times as well. There's a fun story about how they had tricked some Masai into thinking that they drink baboon blood like the Masai drink cow blood. Some interesting people he met throughout the years. The driver he met before he fell victim to the gang that tortured him for days.

And then there are the irritating stories about the bureaucracy and bribery required to save a species. I don't want to get into it, but it is very frustrating to read. And at the start, being stuck in a foreign country with the person responsible for sending your money forgetting time and time again until you're left starving and without the working equipment required to do what you're there for is something I can relate a little to, though luckily not to that extreme.

All in all, it was a very good book to read. There are a lot of good stories and experiences in this short book. Makes me feel like if I was hanging out with the guy during all that, that no matter what happened, at least we'd find a way to have a good time. If you're interested in doing some fieldwork in another country, I very much recommend reading this book first so that you have some idea about what to expect.
Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

Sandra Craft

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2020, 02:43:35 AM »
A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky

The writing style is very good, very enjoyable for me. The author provides enough detail to describe exactly what is going on without repeating things or wasting time going into too much detail or providing a lot of extra details. The chapters are clear and focused making things easy to follow and keeping my interest up.


Still haven't finished, and beginning to sweat it a bit, but wanted to comment that this is something I also appreciate about Sapolsky.  I have a feeling he's also an amazing teacher.  I'm almost certain I could listen to a lecture from him on brain chemistry without falling asleep.
Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

Sandra Craft

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2020, 10:06:30 PM »
From my FB page:

Right off the top I want to say that not since Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars" has a book so quickly and efficiently destroyed all my naïve, starry-eyed notions about something.  In Roach's case, it was the wonder and excitement of space travel, in Sapolsky's it's the thrill of field research.

It's not that I object (too much) to having my eyes opened -- increased exposure to reality is always a good thing -- but damn, I'm not sure making 40 yrs at a desk in a cubicle with two weeks a year off for a vacation at Disneyland sound worth doing is a good thing.

The book covers the 20 some years of Sapolsky's life in the neuro sciences when he'd spend 3 months out of every year studying baboons in Kenya, and one troop in particular to whom he gave mostly biblical names.   Sapolsky starts out in the usual starry-eyed way but soon gets that knocked sideways.

Altho Sapolsky does make a number of friends, some life-long, while in Africa he also had to deal with unending corruption and bribing of Government officials, scams from half the people he met and assorted humiliating or terrifying encounters, most of which could be put down to dealing with a totally different culture than the one he was raised in.  It made me not only want to stay home, but stay home under my bed.  Granted I'm easily discouraged, but still.  And it's not like Sapolsky wasn't sometimes his own worst enemy in these encounters:

"The Tanzanian army had swept up the western side of Lake Victoria and looped east to Kampala.  The north of the country was still in control of Amin's people, as was the whole eastern side bordering Kenya.  The Tanzanians concentrated on the eastern front and managed to open u a narrow corridor to the Kenyan border.  That was the day I entered Uganda from Kenya.

I had wanted to travel at the end of this stretch with the baboons.  I was feeling, atypically for me, a journalistic reflex, a desire to see history being made, and I was moved by this particular history -- dancing in the streets, a freed people.  I spent my years at college flirting with the Quakers and, intellectually, thought that it would be important for me to test the ideals of pacifism that I was toying with by observing an undeniably just war.

Ah, this is nonsense.  I was twenty-one and wanted an adventure.  I wanted to scare the shit out of myself and see amazing things and talk about it afterward.  And for the previous month, I had been missing someone badly, and I thought that going to a war would make me feel better bout it.  I was behaving like a late adolescent male primate."

It was a real relief whenever the next chapter turned out to be about the baboons.  Not that baboon society is any better than most human societies, but at least they have a good excuse for behaving like that. 

There was one story in particular that I thought showed a full range of baboon behavior, and that made me think also of humans, given some rather obvious changes in minor details.  The set-up is that the troop has been meandering around, not expecting any trouble, when they run right into a sleeping lion, waking her.  Male baboons all run for the safest trees, females grab their young and follow, lion can't make her mind up who to chase and catches no one.  Thwarted lion on the ground, baboons screaming in trees all around . . .

"Then all of us -- the lion, the baboons, and I -- noticed the two kids.  They were yearlings, off on the edge, who had climbed up a tiny sapling of a tree, one that bent nearly horizontal within about five feet of the ground, one that would deter a lion for about ten seconds.  They were Afghan's and Miriam's, and both moms had been cut off at the opposite end, the lion between them and their kids.  General panic and hysteria, as the lion began toward the sapling.  Now, the outdated primatology textbooks would go on about how the alpha male would now come to the rescue, as per his job description.  And, as I've noted, what actually happens is that a genetic self-interest holds sway -- someone will usually do something self-sacrificial only if it involves saving close kin, saving someone who shares a lot of genes with them.  Tough luck for these two, neither had a really obvious father who had been claiming them . . .

Most of the big males wa-hooed their heads off at the excitement of having a good view of what was going to happen next, the females were alarm-calling, Afghan and Miriam were running up and down the tree frantically, when, from out of nowhere, Benjamin comes tear-assing in.  If during his brief reign as the alpha male he had shown how little he understood modern evolutionary thinking by trying to kidnap the adult Devorah against the menacing Menasseh, now he was showing a similar lack of scholarship -- there was no way in hell either of these kids was his.  But he comes roaring in, yelling, threat-grunting, and gets to the base of the sapling before the lion, and plants himself there. 

The lion approaches, Benjamin begins snarling and lunging, canines bared.  I'm horrified, stunned, mesmerized -- as is everyone else.  The lion approaches, Benjamin begins to back up the tree, and you can basically see him will himself forward again.  He could jump down and run to safety in a second, but he lunges forward, snarling like a lunatic.  And it's working.  The lion has stopped, now about five feet away, flinching each time Benjamin lunges.  She tenses for a spring, lifts a paw . . . and paws at the ground a second and then walks off.  Screw it with this crazy baboon in my face, and she returns to where she'd been napping.  The two kids run down the tree to their moms.

I'm not sure what I was expecting next.  That Miriam and Afghan would groom Benjamin for the rest of time, or at least organize a parade for him.  That all the guys would slap him on the back.  Everyone continues alarm-calling at the lion for a while and then abruptly returns to feeding, meanwhile Benjamin bounces around up in a tree, breaking branches in some form of agitated displacement.  The rest of the day passes without incident."

I'm not sure what displacement means here, but I think Bennie was just working off some excess adrenalin -- I mean, he played chicken with a lion and won!  And I also think Benjamin should have gotten that parade, esp. since he's one of the ones to die a bit later as a consequence of a human-caused outbreak of TB among the local baboons.

Overall, I found A Primate's Memoirs enthralling, depressing, charming and exasperating all at once.  I recommend it.
Sandy

  

"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2020, 06:00:32 PM »
I enjoyed reading these reviews! :tellmemore:

I lose myself infused in something more than what they've seen
I'm not a slave to greed
I don't embrace your make believe
I've never been for sale no matter what they think I need



xSilverPhinx

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Re: HAF Book Club: September poll and discussion
« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2020, 06:01:33 PM »
A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky

The writing style is very good, very enjoyable for me. The author provides enough detail to describe exactly what is going on without repeating things or wasting time going into too much detail or providing a lot of extra details. The chapters are clear and focused making things easy to follow and keeping my interest up.


Still haven't finished, and beginning to sweat it a bit, but wanted to comment that this is something I also appreciate about Sapolsky.  I have a feeling he's also an amazing teacher.  I'm almost certain I could listen to a lecture from him on brain chemistry without falling asleep.

He is! Some of his Stanford lectures are available on Youtube. :grin:
I lose myself infused in something more than what they've seen
I'm not a slave to greed
I don't embrace your make believe
I've never been for sale no matter what they think I need