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Science Books

May 24, 2007

The Uncertain Sciences
Bruce Mazlish (2007)
ISBN: 1412806305

While the so-called "hard" sciences appear to leap from one groundbreaking discovery to the next, their "soft" science counterparts - comprised of disciplines dealing in fuzzy human social interactions, such as psychology, and philosophy - look positively stagnant. As our lives look set to continue their symbiotic relationship with science and technology, does this trend illustrate how the humanities have lost their relevance - a paradigm shift in how we define ourselves as human? Esteemed cultural historian Bruce Mazlish argues that the social sciences are pivotal to understanding our humanity, our essence of being, and that we should persist in not only keeping them relevant, but increase our efforts in making them more robust. Thankfully, Mazlish is never flippant, or new-agey in his approach about how to accomplish this; fully aware that developing a science capable of effectively embracing the core of our humanity is easier said than done. Mazlish points out the intellectual quagmire the positivists and postmodernists got themselves into while attempting such a daring feat. In spite of this, Mazlish remains cheerfully optimistic that such a goal can be achieved, pondering such things as what might be produced if someone were to successfully merge mathematics with morality. One might argue, however, that the messy, paradoxical nature of the social sciences perfectly reflects what it means to be human. When all is said and done, The Uncertain Sciences is an ambitious proposal, with complexities immediately evidenced by the collective presence of otherwise unrelated thinkers such as Foucault, Asimov, and Faraday. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to see how Mazlish makes the connections. Who knows, as we continue to embrace our brave new world ever more tightly, The Uncertain Sciences may turn out to be essential reading.

The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World
Robert McGhee (2007)
ISBN: 0226500896

Many folks may consider the merciless wilderness of the Arctic tundra, inhabited only by a thinly-spread, hardy population, to be Earth's final frontier. Well, that mythic vision is not strictly true, according to Robert McGhee, curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Throughout most of The Last Imaginary Place, McGhee dispels these romanticized notions of a virgin Arctic tundra, penetrated by only the most courageous, or most foolhardy, of adventurers. Couching his own 30-year experience of the Arctic within an historical perspective, McGhee describes how the people of the Arctic spent thousands of years trading with the outside world. Furthermore, McGhee cites evidence proving that migrations in and around the North Pole occurred en masse for at least the last 2,000 years. The implications are that today's Arctic peoples - the Chukchi, Innuit, and Nenets, among others - are the result of numerous contacts with traders and visitors from distant lands. We know about this rich, lively culture, says McGhee, through archaeological expeditions in combination with oral and written records. One standout chapter deals with the meeting that took place between the Innuit and the Vikings in the North Atlantic, a relationship which was to last roughly 500 years, before ending around 1400. The Last Imaginary Place is not burdened by weighty terminology and jargon, and would be suitable for anyone interested in getting to grips with the Arctic, its peoples, and related contemporary issues.

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