I love to read. But probably like you, it isn’t easy to find time to sit down with a good book.

Then I started taking the train to work. Ba-da-boom: reading time! Just have to make sure I don’t miss my stop at the station.

Here are brief reviews of some of the books I’ve read lately and would recommend. Maybe there’s something here you’d like too.

book cover for Mapping the Heavens

Another great science book: Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos, by Priyamvada Natarajan.

The author is a professor of astrophysics at Yale, but she also loves maps, so she worked the idea of maps into her book about great discoveries in science.

Really interesting, well-written and easy to follow. I bet you could sit down with her and talk about anything in science and she'd find a way to make it interesting and easy to understand.

Natarajan also shared her thoughts on how scientists sometimes let their personal views affect how they approach their work, clinging to theories that they can't let go of, or dismissing new ideas without giving them a fair shake. They're smart, but they're human too.

Great read—highly recommended.

book cover for Catcher in the Rye

Somehow I was never assigned Catcher in the Rye in school. My son has this book on his summer reading list, which made me think I should check it off my reading list too.

Glad I did. Funny, poignant, written in an unusual voice. Great book for teenagers—adults too. And now, I finally know what the title is about.

book cover for What is Real?

Another science book for me: What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics, by Adam Becker. Sounds a bit heavy, I know, but this was an interesting read. It's as much about human behavior as it is about science.

So here's the crux of the book: a handful of scientists devised the theory of quantum mechanics in the 1920s, and it's been fabulously successful at predicting the behavior of atoms and subatomic particles. It's also been useful in devising new inventions in electronics and computers. Great, right?

Trouble is, scientists don't fully understand the foundations and implications of quantum mechanics. Their solution to this awkward situation has been to "shut up and calculate." The brave (or foolish) few who dared to challenge weaknesses in the theory saw their careers ruined.

This is a great book about the perils of conformity and the stubborn heroes who stick to their principles, ask the hard questions and sometimes find answers.

book cover for The Soul of America

Just finished The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, by Jon Meacham. He described times in US history when people acted out of fear, hatred and frustration, which led them to do bad things and support bad leaders. The KKK reign of terror. McCarthy’s red-scare inquisition. Strom Thurmond-led opposition to civil rights for all.

Then Meacham tells of historical events that demonstrate “love of fair play, generosity of spirit, reaping the rewards of hard work, and of faith in the future.” Grant’s campaign to successfully end the (first) KKK reign of terror. FDR’s New Deal. Truman’s desegregation of the Armed Forces. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. These leaders couldn’t have done these things without the support of the people.

So if you’re feeling blue about the state of our union, this book might cheer you up.

“The people have often made mistakes, but given time and the facts, they will make the corrections.”Harry Truman
book cover for Lost in Math

I thought this was an interesting read: Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, by Sabine Hossenfelder. It’s about scientists in physics working on exotic theories and their struggle to back these theories with experimentation.

But the experiments aren’t working, and some scientists are coming up with clever reasons why: Clearly there must be other parallel universes in which this theory does work. It has to—the math behind the theory is so beautiful and elegant, it must be true.

Wow. I wonder if I could get away with that: “But I’m right in a parallel universe!”

Hossenfelder’s book is funny, informative, and astonishing. Not all scientists are pulling this excuse, but some are. Great book.

book cover for Black Holes and Time Warps

I just finished reading Black Holes & Time Warps, by Kip Thorne. I’ve been on a black-hole-kick ever since I saw a PBS documentary on NOVA, Black Hole Apocalypse. (Great show!)

Thorne’s book was a fun read. It’s mind-boggling that black holes even exist, and a kind of escapism to read about them. I’m amazed that scientists have been able to learn about these things. Imaginative thinking (and lots of math). Thorne explains it in a way that’s easy to follow. Well, as easy as it gets when you’re talking about curved spacetime. Cool stuff.

book cover for Better Web Typography

Here’s another design book: Better Typography for a Better Web, by Matej Latin. This one caught my eye because it teaches techniques for building websites with a consistent style using the latest techniques with Sass (Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets).

This book has one foot in the world of graphical design and the other in web technology. It’s good for both designers and software engineers who work on websites.

book cover for Never Use Futura

This is a good book for anyone who’s into graphic design or has to make typography decisions: Never Use Futura, by Douglas Thomas.

I was looking for headline fonts for a website and marketing collateral. Something modern, but not too weird. I stumbled on this book and decided to check it out. I knew Futura has been widely-used (which is why someone told the author not to use it), but I had no idea: Nike, Volkswagen, Supreme (who copied their style from Barbara Kruger)… Great typeface, and this book was a fun read.

book cover for Grant

Read a wonderful new bio of Ulysses Grant, by Ron Chernow. I’ve read many histories of the Civil War, and I thought I knew a fair bit about Grant, but Chernow’s book opened a new door into understanding Grant, including his compassion for others, which is hard to fathom given the brutality of the campaigns he waged during the war.

This book also does a great job of describing what culture and society were like at the time. This is who we were, and it’s fascinating. Explains a lot about who we have become today.

book cover for The Late Show

I’m a big fan of Michael Connelly books, especially the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller series. Connelly has started a new series with this book, The Late Show, introducing Detective Renée Ballard.

Ballard is a different kind of detective. For one thing, she surfs. Okay, no more spoilers, but this book has Connelly’s trademark background setting in SoCal, with interesting characters (and their issues) and riveting action. I liked this book a lot and look forward to the next one.