The Year of the Witching ⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½

3.5-4 Stars.

This book is far from bad. It is well written and engaging, but the conversation it is trying to have feels like the idealistic musings of a child rather than a true representation of the conflicts represented in this book. That is, rather than truly analyzing this in the cruel realities of adulthood, we are stuck in the rose colored glasses of young adulthood (so naturally I think this feels more YA than adult).

Usually, I am not one to overanalyze the direction of a book so long as it is a good read. In this case it just took me out of the book. I am going to break down why that is, and in doing so I will explore broad plot directions, but not exactly telling you what happens. If you have a problem with even broad details, you may want to stop reading.

The Year of the Witching follows a young girl trapped in a puritanical society. She soon discovers her mother had ties to witches of the dark wood and becomes entangled in plagues they bring upon her land.

I thought it was obvious from the start that she would break bad, turn against her god and all the evils he represents. Instead, she is trapped within this idealistic idea of her people and her religion. Throughout this book, she remains steadfast that it can be saved. That is that idea that I could not reckon with. You don’t reform the Taliban. You don’t reform the Westboro Baptist Church even. There are some systems that are evil at its core.

This entire town is the embodiment of the patriarchy, and much like in the Witch (the film), the witchcraft is the direct challenge of the patriarchy. I was so sure that was the direction it had to be going, yet while we got close to there, it took far too long and did not go nearly far enough.

Some might argue that I am wrong because the story manages to find a conclusion that is exactly as our main character believes is right, but that conclusion doesn’t affirm her idealistic view. It merely serves to undermine the believability of the plot and worldbuilding.

That leads me to greater problem of this book. In search of an almost utopian outcome, we have characters that are simply too pure, too easily swayed. I grew up in a fundamentalist family and church. We may not have sacrificed sinners, but I know all too well about the grips of religion. Even after escaping, I know that conflict that comes with wanting to undo and break free of the shackles of the religion while everyone you love remains immersed within it. The religion of this book is basically a cult (then again, I think most religions are cults so…). These kind of mindsets don’t just go away. They are fundamental to their nature.

Yet this book would have us believe that these members would so easily go against what they’ve been taught their entire life. This is true of how the story concludes, but it is also true with the characterization of a major side character Ezira. He is a very likable and good character. He is also the son of the very wicked Prophet/leader/priest of the town. As much as we all want to believe goodness is fundamental to who we are, we are products of our environment, and never is it sufficiently explained what in his life instilled within him this empathy and willingness to challenge his religion that his father fundamentally lacks. It is far more believable that evil begets evil, and while that is not a certainty, it just feels too convenient to have this figure, of reasonable authority within their community, who happens to be as pure as the religious zealots pretend to be.

My dislike of this book started with just a general disappointment that it wasn’t going to be as dark as I had hoped. However, it’s since evolved into a fundamental disagreement with the direction the book took.
3.5-4, but closer to 3.5 stars

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation as a reflection of the modern Climate Crisis

I read the first book (not including the prequels) in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was more than a little trepidatious about Asimov’s trilogy simply because classics can always be a bit of hit or miss, and I am not that big into Space Opera’s. I should not have been worried because this first book was quite easy to get lost in.

Foundation (book 1) is the story of a dying empire, but you wouldn’t know that from the face of it. The empire as thrived for some 12 thousand years with prosperity and (I think) peace across the galaxy. The only hint that the galaxy is doomed comes from a mathematician is has become an expert in the fictional field psychohistory. Psychohistory proposes to use the data of the present and history to project forward what will happen, to various level of probability. The Foundation is the result of this mathematician, Hari Seldon, who suggests we need an encyclopedia galactica to hold all our knowledge of the arts and sciences. It is not merely a love of culture that Seldon clings to; it is the notion that an extended period of dark ages in the galaxy will come to pass and only with the Foundation do we hope to lessen (not stop) it’s severity. That is, 30,000 years of darkness, but with Seldon’s help we may shorten that to 1000 years.

Big picture, I loved the premise and the writing. It’s a little bland. Our characters don’t have much depth. The story is presented less as a coherent narrative than a progression of linear short stories (or novellas) as we begin to fall into the dark ages. As some reviewers have noted (on Goodreads), Asimov doesn’t do much to build his characters or allow them to evolve, nor he does he do much to convince the reader to feel invested in the Foundation. While I love a good character driven narrative, I personally still loved this one. I think the reason it worked was because of my inherent love of science and history. Asimov assumes the reader will have an appreciation for how necessary these aspects of our society are. Naturally, I latched on to the need to preserve scientific thought, and that alone really got me excited about the premise.

Image of Wild Fire (Reuters)

Fast forward to today, some 70 years after the books was published, and I can’t help but see similarities to the current Climate Crisis. Anthropogenic warming is incontrovertible. Denying that is like denying the covid vaccine, the moon landing, or 2+2 is 4 (is it though?). Heat waves, droughts, and floodings are happening at record rates across the world. In 1990 the IPCC predicted temperature rises between 1.5 to 4.5C by 2050; we are at 1C). They also predicted 30 to 50cm of sea level rise; we are at 20cm. That was 30 years ago. We’ve seen deniers of Covid despite the reality staring them in the face, and the problem is exacerbated in climate change because it is even harder for people to see because it requires a modicum of forethought.

Lake Mead, all time low (the height of Lady Liberty)

Even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases entirely, the negative effects would continue throughout the rest of the century. We have a global problem that is irrevocably damaging the planet, and even in the best of situations, the outcome is dire. Without concise action, the issue will magnify and eventually become irreversible; imagine trying to terraform Mars overnight because the longer we wait the more our problem becomes one of that caliber. Much like the book, we have leaders who don’t much care about what the future holds because they don’t have to live in it. It takes present consequences to promote action in the series, so at what point does that happen in the climate crisis? I fear only when it’s far too late.

Madam Speaker by Susan Page ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My interest in Madam Speaker and Susan Page

Susan Page of USA Today

Susan Page is an American journalist and biographer and the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today. Prior to Madam Speaker, Page published another biography titled, the Matriarch, a biography on Barbara Bush. I haven’t read this biography, but it is on my to-be-read shelf. I have a great admiration for Nancy Pelosi, which I will explore in a bit, but the big reason I wanted to read Madam Speaker (and eventually the Matriarch) was because of my history with Susan Page. She isn’t a major celebrity journalist. That is, she doesn’t host any television segments or any podcasts. However, she is a semi-frequent guest on some public radio/broadcasting shows. In fact, it was on NPR’s the Diane Rehm Show (now the 1A) that I first heard her discuss various political topics. I think this was around 2011-2012, when I first started listen and it made me want to be the kind of person who listens to NPR. I figured, I could try. Next thing you know, I actually really liked it.) The Diane Rehm Show was the first show I really became attached to, but in 2016, Diane Rehm retired. I really hoped Page would be her replacement (as did many others), but it went to a new face. All in all, I really like where the 1A is now, but it left me wishing there was more amazing reporting by Page to enjoy. Which is why, when I learned that she had written a book (the Matriarch), I knew I had to read it.

Diane Rehm of the Diane Rehm Show

Not long after buying the Matriarch, I realized Page was writing a new book. I did what I often do; I looked for an advanced reader copy. Sadly, it wasn’t on NetGalley, so I emailed the publisher. They didn’t answer. A few months later, I sent a snarky email (that I now wish was more cordial) about how the least they could do is say no. I quickly got a response apologizing, explaining there had been a change in employment that lead to my email being lost. The representative said “Sure!” to my request and asked for my address. I was shocked. I’ve never actually gotten a physical review copy before, so many many thanks to the publisher both for the opportunity and sheer thrill of getting to review the physical copy.

My thoughts on Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

As I alluded to before, I have great respect for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I say that because I know many (on the left and right) have great animosity toward her). I recognize she is the quintessential politician, but I always thought there was more to admire than to hate. Even her fiercest opponents acknowledge and respect that Speaker Pelosi. Many on the right characterize her as a far leftist, but in modern times, many on the left say she hasn’t gone far enough. The tendency in politics to draw a binary is very strong. A person is good or bad with no room for complexity. I am far from unbiased, but I try to acknowledge that fact. I could go all in about the ins and outs of what I think and why, but there is nothing I can say that isn’t already explained by Page, more coherently than I could ever could.

Page vs Speaker Pelosi

Let me be clear, I don’t think Page wrote this biography to bolster the Speaker’s image. Nevertheless, it’s hard to read this and not see the respect, and likely admiration, that Page has for the Speaker. Regardless of if you agree with Pelosi’s politics, her achievements as speaker are unmatched in recent history. There will be those who disagree, but it’s important to separate animosity for politics from animosity for Pelosi. Furthermore, there will be those that judge Pelosi in a way they never would a man doing the same things. When I speak of her achievements, it assumes a mutual respect, if not for Pelosi’s politics, then of the system of governance itself and what that system is capable of in it’s most idealistic state. I often think of Leslie Knope (in the shows later seasons) and her pure belief of what government can do even if it fails to be as pure as we would like. I recognize many do not hold that view, but you don’t have to agree to appreciate why or how one might find Speaker Pelosi admirable.

Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation

Overall, this book is about about Pelosi’s life as a whole, but it feels centered on her time in politics. Pelosi’s early life is merely a filter by which to better understand Pelosi as a politician. However, it’s no secret that Pelosi is very guarded. Page compares Speaker Pelosi with First Lady Barbara Bush when she asks to see their transcripts from high school. The first lady laughed at the triviality of it; the Speaker scoffed and refused. That guarded persona is present throughout the book. Page’s attempt to work around it is one of the best parts about the book. Early on in Pelosi’s life, it seems hard for Page to separate fact from narrative when the facts are so sparse, but as the Speaker gets further into her political life, Page is able to dig deeper into every situation beyond what Pelosi is saying in their interviews.

Then congressional candidate Nancy Pelosi waves in front of her headquarters in San Francisco on April 7, 1987.

This likely makes the Speaker sound calculating or deceptive, but I would argue against that, nor does Page portray the Speaker that way. All Page does is present the Speaker as she is in a way that is intended to appreciate the subtleties of her character and motivations. She never tells you what to think, but she does her best to provide you with the information for you to make your assessment yourself. I’m leaving with an emboldened respect for the Speaker, but I’d be naïve to think my own bias doesn’t shape my view of the book. I wonder what others will think. Pelosi isn’t an angel, but no one is. The fact is, this book, in my view, conveys the fundamental motivations of the Speaker that feel true and pure.

Reflecting on Madam Speaker and Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Taylor Testifying Before the House Budget Committee on HIV/AIDS Funding, March 6, 1990

One thing this book achieved was convincing me that Pelosi is far more liberal than I gave her credit for. Time and time again she has advocated for liberal causes, from the moment she took office. Even with the healthcare bill, I got a different perspective with this book. She very much wanted a much more liberal version of the bill. She was not happy with the bill that got through. However, a series of unfortunate political events stole that win from her. She was so close and a small shift in power made it impossible. In fact, everyone was ready to give up. Obama’s own administration wanted to get past the failure. The fact that we have anything is only because the Speaker chose to do what could be done. I knew she was responsible, but I never truly appreciated just how far she wanted to go or how close she got to it. Speaker Pelosi is the epitome of what I want in a leader. She is competent, effective, and realistic. She doesn’t waste tears on what might have been; she asks what can be. She is not a god. Although, what she’s able to achieve sometimes gives that impression.

Speaker Pelosi, like Secretary Clinton, is not very personable, nor is she a very open person. Human instinct is to distrust those kind of people. That doesn’t mean our instinct is always trustworthy. So much of the good that has happened in the last few decades is thanks to Speaker Pelosi. This book conveys that, and if you’re not liberal, it conveys that Pelosi is a formidable opponent that the left is lucky to have had.

To read or not to read

illustration New York Times Book Review

From an average reader’s perspective, I thought it was written well. I listened along with Page’s narration of the book, and it was just as well narrated. Page uses her journalistic voice, but she isn’t afraid to insert emotion or inflection where necessary. What’s more, the book was just as engrossing as it was fascinating. I sat there reading about everything Pelosi did during Trump’s presidency, eager to find out if she was successful, only to remind myself, you lived through this, and it failed. That really speaks to how well the book is crafted, for me to feel like I am reliving this but from the Speaker’s perspective. For those of you who don’t read a lot of political nonfiction, I think this will be an easy book to read and enjoy.

Big picture, I’d give this between 4.5-5 stars (final rating determined after sitting on it a bit). Anyone interested in Speaker Pelosi, either as a supporter or an avid opponent, should consider reading this. I can’t promise you’ll leave with as positive a view of her as I have, but you’ll leave with a better understanding of who Speaker Nancy Pelosi is.

Gutter Child by Jael Richardson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Gutter Child was a fascinating and amazing book by Canadian author Jael Richardson. This is Richardson’s first novel, preceded only by her memoir, The Stone Thrower. I had not heard much about this book before it’s release. It was from Richardson herself that I heard of it. She was leading a discussion on the 2020 Canadian Reads competition on her Instagram feed, and it was there that she mentioned her forthcoming book next year. I did not look into what the book was about–not even its genre. However, I ordered it and requested in on NetGalley to review because of how much I appreciated her discussion on the Canada Reads novels. Fast forward to 2021 and imagine my surprise upon learning that this was the type of science fiction light dystopia that I really like in books. For whatever reason, I was expecting some mundane narrative, historical or contemporary. I was thrilled to learn it was more speculative because of how thought provoking these types of books often are. Right away, I realized this was going to be an awesome book from the writing to genre and topic.

The book is set in a fictional world with similarities to our own. The Gutter people are a group of indigenous people who were colonized by a Euro-type settler. By the time our story begins, we see the Gutter people segregated and discriminator against, forced to live as slaves to work off the debt their ancestors accrued when they fought back against the settlers. Our perspective follows that of a young girl who was taken from the Gutter people and given to one of the Colonizers to raise as their own. There are heavy racial themes in this book, and I believe our main character is brown skinned. However, race is not the key identifier for this caste system. Rather, Gutter people have marks embedded on their hands.

The story follows our young protagonist as she’s forced to learn the truth of her world, a truth she has been shielded from by her adoptive mother. The story is fast paced and depressing. As our main character learns the truths of her world so do we. This book is an analysis of the horrors done by colonizers throughout history, to bother black and indigenous peoples. In fact, some of the ideas explored are of crimes that are, at best, only recently stopped. It’s this mirroring of real world issues–both modern and historical–that really makes the book shine.

Since I read the book, I’ve heard several great reviews. Njeri from ONYX Pages review is one checking out for sure!

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

3.5 Stars out of 5 stars

A great discussion about the history of String Theory and the recent ideas in the field

I’m a fan of String Theory, but I came to this book more than two decades after it was written. Because of that, one thing bugged me throughout this book. How much has actually changed in one of the most fringe areas of physics? The book starts out with a recap of basic physics (i.e. quantum vs relativity). The problem is I am familiar with all the ideas explored in this book. I’ve read all but Brian Greene‘s newest book, Until the End of Time, before this, and that, coupled with all the other material I’ve consumed, made the recap feel more distracting than anything. While I am a big proponent of constantly reconsuming things, especially ideas outside your realm of expertise, this book is necessarily less well developed as everything that has come since. The sign of a good scientist and author is to learn how to communicate better with time. It isn’t particularly bad, but it was easy for me to zone out.

Clip from “Loose Ends” where Greene gives basic intro to what String Theory is.

Then we get into string theory. Even here, most of the major ideas I was familiar with. I was hoping to leave this book with a better appreciation of the finer details of the theory, but I found it was most effective at communicating the broad ideas. Then the finer details were really hard to get through and failed to make a lasting impression. I feel like this book would have been a much more positive experience if I had read it earlier in life because it would have been an excellent introduction to the field and precursor to Greene‘s own follow up book, The Fabric of the Cosmos. I do think it is time I return to Greene‘s other novel, The Hidden Reality, which was the first book of his I ever read; that was with very little background.

If you’re interested in learning more about this theory, I highly recommend watching the Loose Ends video I posted at the top of this post. For a brief review, string theory is a theory that the smallest things of nature are these tiny vibrating strings of energy, where the vibration of each string is what defines the type of particle it is (e.g. quarks, neutrinos, electrons, etc.). These strings can perfectly reproduce our current model of particle physics, but it comes at a cost. 1) it requires the existence of many more dimensions, and 2) it suggest all of our particles have a twin symmetric particle. Why don’t we see these other dimensions? They are small and folded in onto one another. If you have a problem with the idea of tiny dimensions, I found it helpful to remember our current 3D space used to me much much more constricted before they began to expand. They don’t say this explicitly, but my mind figures, perhaps the process of expansion only applied to the 3 dimensions we see. I wonder what Greene would say to that logic? Take it with a grain of salt. This theory is fundamentally mathematical, and we have yet to show it experimentally.

An example visualization of how smaller dimensions may be curled up on themselves out of view from us.

The physic’s true success is in connecting Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity because the math of the two fundamentally disagree with one another (i.e. I think in particular situations like a black whole with large gravity in and very small spaces). The true beauty, as Greene suggests, is not that it necessarily needs to be a description of reality; it is that String Theory proves the two laws are reconcilable. It may be that this is not necessarily the true description of our reality. Nevertheless, it shows that a connection can exist. Now is it worth believing? That’s where things get really complicated.

A diagram from the Loose Ends video above. The math connects the two fundamental, conflicting, sides of physics. That is, general relativity and Quantum Mechanics. However, above the third row there is no experimental data confirming this.

The theory itself, I love despite my issues with the book. It’s a fascinating concept with compelling motivations. There are many Goodreads reviewers who seem to approach string theory with a level of cynicism. Some who dismiss it because they struggle to understand it. Others who dismiss it because it breeches into the currently unknowable. However, there is a strong argument to be made about using the information we have available to best describe the nature of the universe. As we strive to improve these descriptions we can push ourselves forward in hopes that it can be improved further. That may or may not happen. The problem I have with opponents to this theory is that they seem comfortable dismissing a theory that may very well be the nature of reality simply because the physics is so difficult to constrain. Such a mindset will merely ensure that what is currently unknowable remains unknowable.

The Large Hadron Collider was hoped to show indirect evidence for String Theory. The energies and technology needed to observe strings are far outside our wheelhouse, but string theorists had hoped the energy at the LHC would be enough to produce the larger by products of the theory, the symmetric particles that we have yet to observe. This did not happen. However, string theorist had already noted it may be more difficult to reach the energies needed than those achieved with the LHC. The simplest explanation as to why string theorists were unable to simply make a fixed prediction of what energies are needed to produce the predicted particles is that there are a large array of possible configurations of string theory. At one time, it was small enough to brute force the process, but we now recognize far too many solutions exist to truly test them. It is, in that way, currently unfalsifiable. Nevertheless, we are brought back to the point I made before: it is still the best way we have to describe reality.

If you are interested in this topic, you could read this book. It’s worth noting most people I see enjoyed this book much more than myself. However, there is an ample supply of more recent resources you can pursue too, or you could read the book and follow up with the most recent discussions available. Here are some of the resources I sought out. The first video I posted at the top of the blog was a fantastic discussion about the history and current state of SH hosted by Greene at the World Science Festival in 2019. Sean Carroll did a discussion with Greene, where Brian Greene put his bets at String Theory being a real description of reality at 50/50 shot (obviously an off the cuff comment). This was a great casual discussion. Another episode of Sean Carroll‘s podcast had a more formal, string theory specific, discussion as well. Lastly, Greene discusses String Theory, black wholes and other topics with Leonard Susskind (one of the founders of String Theory) in the late 2020 on the WSF YouTube channel.

Of these, if you are coming in blind, I would recommend you check out the WSF YouTube discussion first. If you’re someone more familiar with it, you may find these other resources interesting too. Lastly, there is, of course, Greene‘s adaption of this book on PBS which I have not watched, but I will soon.

The first episode of the Elegant Universe on NOVA (also available on the PBS site, see above link)
Sean Carroll Discussion with Brian Greene
Sean Carrol discussion on String Theory with Dr. Clifford Johnson
Greene discusses an array of topics with Leonard Susskind, including string theory.

The Disordered Cosmos by Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check out my video review.

The Disordered Cosmos is probably the best book I have read all year. The book starts focusing on cosmology and particle physics giving a broad background. Then it evolves into being a focused discussion on the author’s primary focus of research, one area being Dark Matter. In this way, it works well as a science book. She gives a good background of the science in a way that I think really helps get the reader interested in what it is she does and the cosmos. This is common in science writings, especially in cosmology. I found her writing as good as, if not better than, many people who write popular cosmology books. I have noticed some reviewers complain because they find this section difficult to get through, but I would urge you not to be turned away because of this. There seems to be this assumption that if you can’t understand everything in a book then it isn’t worth reading. Well, I’ll tell you a little secret: no one understands moderately advanced topics in science their first time exposed to it. It takes time, and part of that process means being willing to get confused. You’re likely to still leave this big with a better appreciation for the science than when you started. If you’re interested in pursuing it further, then you can, and if not, that’s okay too. This is still meant for the average reader.

I think what really makes this book shine is when it transitions into being a larger conversation about race in science. She starts with discussion about the science of blackness, for example focus on melanin. She uses ideas in space physics to study blackness to give a new perspective on what it means to be black. The decision to do this is both fascinating and an effective transition from the cosmological discussion to the broad sociological discussions she has in the book. She goes on to discuss life as a scientist. She explores what it means to be a scientist, especially for her as a queer agender black Jewish fem scientist. In doing so, she explores how discrimination and racism has integrated itself into the institutions of science and the process of science itself. Then she goes on to talk about the ways in which it needs to be improved. One of the major ideas she explores is on the interconnectedness of everything. As a physicist, she is able to take this to a quantum level, but it extends far beyond that. Everything we do in science is influenced by the society we live in, including the colonial and racist mindsets within said society. If we do not acknowledge how we interact with our science, then we will continue to do flawed science. Part of that means ostracizing other voices and leading to the low level of scientists who are black or who challenge the traditional gender binary.

For those who are interested, there was a recent(ish) paper specifically on this topic in AGU Publications titled, “Double jeopardy in Astronomy and planetary science: women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment,” Clancy et al., 2017. This discusses just how prominent an issue this is within our (the planetary science and astronomy) community. Furthermore, if you are interested in exploring more books on science, gender, and race, I would direct you to the list of books Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein says inspired her in the writing of her book.

Now I could go on and on about this book, but I think really the best bet for you is just to pick it up and read it. I recommend it for everyone. While it may be someone esoteric in its science, I think you are seriously depriving yourself if you do not give it a shot. If you decide to pass on it because of the science, you would also be missing out on more nuanced conversation about science, representation, and the black experience in science. Read this book!

Check out my vlog reading this.

Check out me discussing it in my recommendations videos for great books by women authors.

2020 Reading Review

I started writing about what I was reading in 2019. It started with a post where I talk about what I am reading. In the summer of that year, I started reading more, and my reading post turned into ongoing individual review posts. A few months later, I learned about Booktube which triggered an even larger jump what I read and my activity on my blog. My reading was flourishing, and I loved talking about it. This took a good deal of my time. I liked the idea of getting a Booktube channel, but I didn’t see how I could possibly have the time. In January, I was single again and had a lot more time, so I figured it was now or never.

I wasn’t sure if I could sustain the channel, but I decided to give it a shot. I think it was going well early in the year. Then the pandemic happened, and working from home really reshaped my life, paving the way for my channel to solidify itself. Now, reading is one of the many things I obsess over. Naturally, this obsession comes with an obsessive study of what I’m reading. I do enjoy this process, and Booktube has proven to be the perfect outlet for that passion. It also helps motivate me (and justify) the making of detailed statistics like this. It works out well because these reviews are also important to ensure I’m getting the most out of what I’m reading and that I am reading a good diverse set of books.

This last year I read about 212 books (I say about because I may be missing a comic or something) equating to about 72,500 pages. There is a lot to be understood by breaking this down by month. January was when I started my channel, and it was also when I was pushing myself to read as much as possible using the techniques I had ascertained from booktuber. While there is a dip in February (perhaps from classes or a reading slump), things increase as the pandemic starts. April is the month I really hit my max potential where I read a lot, but this was also when I started watching more TV. In fact, I watched Westworld and listened to several podcasts, so it is interesting how I was still able to reach such heights.

Number of Books Read per month

However, in May several things change. First, online classes began. Second, I made a goal to try to read less because I had obsessed so much over it that I let it stress me out. That goal doesn’t last as I start to creep back up in the summer, especially in August. Although, on the whole I do tend to read less. Even still, it was in October I began considering a new goal of limiting my TBR strictly to ~15 books or 1550 books. It seems to had made an impact. In December I read the least I had all year, yet I stayed home with two weeks off for the holiday’s.

Books by page length

There is less to learn from the range of book lengths, ratings, and publication dates of what I read. I see these more as goal oriented stats. My average book length is 342 pages plus or minus 150 pages (standard deviation) with a median of 329 pages. Standard deviation is a measure of the amount of variation; think of it as the boundary where most of the books are. The median just tells us there are plenty of shorter books despite a few longer ones making my average length a nearly 350 pages. The goal here is longer books. I have no other reason other than the satisfaction of finishing a long book.

Books by Rating

My average rating is too high at 4.08 stars with a median of 4.00. I feel like this is similar to course grades. You want the average to be in the middle. Like may be a 3, but I struggle to really give low ratings. This really doesn’t matter, but it feels akin to oversaturating the market with gold. It loses its value. What’s more, the purpose is to illustrate the range of quality I experience, and I fear I am limiting myself.

Books by Publication date

The average year published was 2005 with a median of 2017 and a standard deviation of ~30 years. The oldest was 1818 and the newest was this year (2020). I’d like my median to be more extreme especially since average doesn’t mean nearly as much as the median does here. I think it is easy to get distracted by flashy new things, and in doing so, I ignore a range of quality content that has more than flash by surviving the test of time. Perhaps that is a little extreme, but I think you get my point.

Pie chart splitting books read by genre, color coded into nonfiction (orange/yellow), general fiction (green), Horror/thriller (red /pink), and fantasy (purple) and science fiction (blue)

My favorite stat is the range of genres. Note, I choose one but most have multiple. A lot of scifi-fantasys overlap into the over genre. Classics are basically any older work. Historical can be fantasy. Usually, I will mark what I consider to be the dominate genre or a genre I am trying to get more of. I am very happy with this. It shows my love for scifi, fantasy, and horror as well as for history, politics and memoirs. I want to read more general fiction, but I think this year was a pretty good listing as is. I am blown away that nearly a third of what I read was nonfiction.

Now I want to look into the diversity of what I am reading with a focus on queer representation and authors of color.

Books by gender, with a special distinction for trans and non-binary authors

One of my biggest shortcomings has been my lack of non cis authors. At the very least I can read one a month, but I’d like to read more. To be clear, this isn’t just a quota. By allowing groups to go underrepresented, I am doing myself a disservice. Some of the best books I read this year were by non-binary (NB) authors. My goal in 2021 is to ensure at least 1 NB or trans author each month to ensure I continue to consider this when choosing what I want to read. Granted, part of this was a matter of looking for authors and buying books that will allow me to achieve this. 2020 was good for that, so I am very hopeful for a better year this year.

Books by ethnicity (note, Asian refers to east-asian)

Reading by a diverse range of authors by race has been a difficult thing to track and work towards. Race and ethnicity are not the same, and trying track this is not always straightforward. As with NB and trans authors, these people are not just quotas to be met, and I have to be aware of that while also trying to ensure I am not letting my bias drive what I choose to read. On the whole, ~1/3rd people of color (POC) is not a bad way to end the year. I don’t have a hard number that I am aiming for. Instead, my goal is to continue to improve. If I am at 1/3, I can push to a 1/2. While I read a large fraction of black authors, I ended up breaking what I read down to ensure other groups didn’t go underrepresented. I strive to ensure I seek out a range of voices, and this helps me think about that. That is especially true on a quarterly basis as I can look back and be aware of my on going tendencies. In this, I can be more cognizant and avoid just boiling this down to a monthly quota.

Books by queer representation (queer author or protagonist)

As a queer person, I am very disappointed with my queer representation in my books. As with everything, the goal is to improve; first I can strive for 1/3 and then a 1/2. Again, these are stories that I can both learn and connect to. My queer identity is an ongoing part of me that I am still learning about, and books are one of the many ways I learn to think about it while also empathizing with others.

POC authors of queer representation

In this year end review, I decided to consider a new data point. That is, I wanted to consider intersectionality within the queer books I am reading. It is a decent amount, but as with everything else, there is room for improvement. I should also add, I am still toying with how and what to consider for intersectionality. I would love recommendations for those who think there are other areas worth studying. I went with this analysis in part because I am partly limited by the data I have, but can gather some new data moving forward.

Where I am getting my books from

Lastly, I want to consider where I am getting my books from. To be clear, I listen to almost all the books I read, but I like to consider if it is a book I don’t own physically (which the goal is to own it first). If I don’t own it or it isn’t on my to be read (TBR) shelf, then why isn’t it? This is usually for book clubs and advanced reader copies as well as rereads. I try to keep book clubs of books I don’t own to a minimum. My level of rereading is more than 2 a month which I am perfectly happy with because there is so much to be had from rereading. I would like to read and review more ARCs, but that’s because I request so many. Naturally, I should request less. Lastly, I want to consider my TBR shelf.

My TBR shelf has grown significantly in the last couple years because as I read more I bought more. Technically, 3/4s of what I read is on my shelf, but a big portion of those are new books, so the question arises, am I reading my older (longer owned books). If I am, can and will I read my newer books? To answer this question, I began tracking how long a book is on my TBR shelf. That is, I track how long I’ve owned a physical copy of a book. Using this, I can see just how well I am addressing my older books.

A normalized view of how many books I read in 2020 (red) and is on my physical TBR (blue) by how long I owned them before reading them. The normalized values are just to make the two comparable.

This graph says a lot. First, I bought a lot of books in the last year and a half, and I have a lot of books preordered (less than zero). As a result, a lot of what I read are books I’ve owned for a short period. The goal is to read older books on my TBR, but if I own more newer books, naturally I will read more newer books. What this figure shows is that the books I read roughly reflect what I own. I may only read a few books that have been on my TBR shelf for 3-6 years, but the total number of books on my shelf that I have owned that long is also much lower.

In 2021 I have a book buying ban, or I have a ban on ordering new books to add to my TBR. I will still allow myself to buy books I review via ARC or that I have read but don’t own physically. I am still restricting how many books I will let myself read that are not on my shelf (outside of ARCs), so I think this should be fine. That said, I kind of gamed the system by preordering a lot of books in 2021.

All in all, 2020 was a great reading year, and I am looking forward to 2021.

Camelot’s End by Jon Ward ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to NetGalley and Twelve Books for an e-arc of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check out my live election vlog where I read this and talk all about it!
Camelot's End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic  Party: Jon Ward: 9781549149702: Books

I heard about this book on an NPR show and was intrigued by the premise. The story follows President Carter in his reelection campaign for president as he is challenged, as an incumbent president, by Ted Kennedy. This was news to me. Nobody challenges a sitting president. Except, this time, someone did. This comes before my time, but it’s recent enough to feel modern. That was why I asked for a copy to review. It ended up being even more relevant than I realized.

Camelot's End review: throwing shade on saint Jimmy Carter

Ted was a Kennedy, raised like royalty with the privilege of his family, and this is in stark contrast to Carter came from a much smaller background. His father was a peanut farmer, but he left the farm for the Navy where he got a Bachelor of Science. After his father’s death, he left the Navy to return home. There was little money to be had from his father’s death, so we essentially a lowly farmer. He began having political aspirations that would drive him into the Georgia Senate and eventually governor. He ran on a platform of antisegregation, but it was still a very problematic one. He never really lied, but he worked really hard to mislead southern whites to make them think he was your traditional southern democrats. This was the first indication of his political mindset. He was not afraid to put on the fact that was needed.

Is there a peanut farmer from Plains in the field of 2020 Democrats?

I have to say, this was all mind boggling to me. I have had such an elevated view of Carter, but this turns him into a bit of a…well politician. I don’t hate the act of politicing, but I can’t help but question his authenticity. Did he believe what he said? He definitely fought for it, eventually, but was that because he wanted that or because he saw a path to victory with it? I don’t know the answer, but I need to learn more about him. This book really motivated me to do that.

On the flipside, Kennedy’s background was, as I said, like a Kennedy. He was designed for public office, and he was driven by much of the entitlement that came with being a Kennedy. It’s really interesting because he was arguably more progressive than Carter. That would end up being part of the platform he used against Carter. Although, I can’t help to ask how much was true convection versus entitlement.

I’m not as interested in delving into Kennedy’s background. I believe he joined the senate before he would challenge Carter (I read this a month ago now), but he was always seen as a potential contender. The only reason he didn’t challenge Carter in his first go was due to his history of major politic scandals. The biggest one being his, likely drunk, driving a car off a bridge into a lake. He escaped, but the same can’t be said for his girlfriend (or someone he had on the side, because he was a major womanizer). The real kicker here, is Kennedy just left the scene. If had a called for help, she would have a survived. Evidence suggest that she survived for, I believe, up to an hour after. Somehow, this did not end his career. He would go on to serve in the senate until his death. It is mindboggling but also too easy to believe given his race, gender, and class.

Ted Kennedy Killed Pregnant Mary Jo Kopechne In Car Crash

I left this book with a much lower opinion of both of them. Not that Kennedy was very memorable. They both had their problems, and this book spends maybe a third of its time talking about just this. I absolutely applaud it for that. I think it was necessary for Ward to give us sufficient context for everything that led to this challenge. Of course, a big player was also the many failures of Carter who was universally hated even by his own party, but understand, the feud between Kennedy and Carter was still fairly personal.

It was a tight campaign, but Carter managed to eventually pull though. I am less interested with the final details than the comparisons to today. Carter would go on to lose reelection to Ronald Regan. A racist celebrity with zero experience. I can’t help but see the contrast with a more recent campaign. Not long ago, a democrat ran for office. She was not an incumbent, but it was pretty well understood she’d win reelection. I am not critiquing her opponent for running. Primaries are a part of the process. However, this ideolog ran on a sense of purity, like Carter. He demonized and ostracized his opponent. Even as it was clear (more clear than even with Carter) that he would not win. Even after losing, he failed to really support his candidate. The result was we got a Regan-esk politician with not actual understanding of how to run.

Reagan and Carter in 1980 Presidential Debate - HISTORY

Of course, Trump is arguably worse than Regan. What’s more, Clinton was a woman, and it’s interesting to see how Bernie has played with Biden, likely in part because of the damage he sees he caused. To be clear, neither Carter nor Clinton were perfect, but we can’t ignore the role they played in this process. Clinton was far more prepared for office than Carter. I can’t help but question whether Carter was even prepared. Sure, he had a background in science, but he was still very new to politics. His identity as an outsider is part of what helped get him elected. Although, I can’t help but compare him to Pete Buttigeg, a sweet talking politician who easily loved but lacks much experience. I want to learn more about Carter’s time in office, and I intend to. Nevertheless, his time in office seems to be accept as a bit of a debacle.

This Week' Transcript: Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump  - ABC News

All in all, I loved this book. It gave me everything I wanted and more. I felt engaged and eager to discuss what I was learning. What’s more, I felt the strong urge to continue learning even about Kennedy who I still don’t care much about. Lastly, this book shattered my opinion of Carter, and forces me to reckon with my own tendency to idealize politicians.

Dead Presidents — I'm always happy to add more in-depth Presidential...


Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Filmed review.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life was written by Ruth Franklin. Franklin is an American literary critic who spent six years researching Shirley Jackson’s work and life to write this book. Once published, she was awarded several accolades for her efforts. Among those, the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction, the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. And after reading this myself, I can unequivocally say that she absolutely deserves the praise.

I am by no means a Shirley Jackson super-fan. Rather, I wasn’t, but that may have changed after reading this fantastic biography. I’ve read some of Jackson’s biggest works, the Haunting of Hill House, the Lottery short story collection, as well as both of her personal memoirs, Life Among Savages and Raising Demons. Of course, there are many other works I haven’t read, perhaps the biggest being We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Any hesitation I had about reading her other works has vanished. Franklin has inspired me to read Jackson’s entire list of work, and reread this biography when I’m done to fully appreciate the depth and significance of Jackson’s work.

I originally sought out this biography after reading Life Among Savages, Jackson’s first memoir, in October of 2019. I had hoped to get a look into Jackson’s psyche because I knew how significant her work (e.g. the Haunting of Hill House) is in the horror genre. Imagine my disappointment when I came to find out that it is less a memoir and more of an outtake of what it’s like to be a housewife in the 50s (or what you’re expected to be). There’s nothing really discussing her personal life outside of her kids; never is there a mention of her life as a writer. There is the hint of what might be satirical commentary on her life and society, but overall, the book comes across as somewhat antiquated. I couldn’t decide if the book is Jackson being cleverly critical or just doing exactly as it seems, trying to paint herself as the “perfect” housewife. I ended up thinking it must be somewhere in between. Franklin goes deep into what Jackson was trying to get at with these memoirs and what motivated her to write them, and it seems I was mostly right about it being a mix of critic and showcasing. My point here is that the memoir left me wanting. I realized it was never meant to be an honest peak into Jackson’s life.

I approached this biography hoping for a deeper dive into her personal life as well as into her mind. Thankfully, that is exactly what I got. This biography excels because it is more than just an outline of her life; it’s a detailed look at how her life fed into her work and vice versa. Franklin’s expertise as a literary critic really shines through in this aspect. This is as much a critical analysis of Shirley Jackson’s literary works as it is of her life. As someone who has come to enjoy reading memoirs and biographies of celebrities and other significant people in history, I must say this is one of the best that I’ve ever read. Sure, I am biased as a fan of Jackson, especially after learning more about her, but objectively speaking, there is so much here to love.

It is at times almost academic in its detail, but never is a dull. The hardest part is adjusting to just how dense the story is, but it quickly morphs into a compelling story of Jackson’s life. This book is very long—over 600 pages, but never was I bored. I found myself lying in bed at night listening to the audiobook eager to find out what happened next. Needless to say, this book is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved it.

That said, there are caveats. Because this is a literally analysis, Franklin walks us through every single significant work that Jackson wrote. That means spoiling the big reveals and walking us through the arc of Jackson’s books and stories. That includes how the story originates and how it eventually morphs into what we read today. Of course, if you haven’t read all of Jackson’s work and intend to, you absolutely should read those first. I’m not the kind of person who is bothered by spoilers. Plus, I’m often very forgetful, so hopefully it won’t affect my enjoyment when I get around to reading Jackson’s other works.

While I highly recommend you read Jackson’s works before this biography, the exception to that would be Jackson’s memoirs. I mentioned before how the memoirs felt very calculated and almost disingenuous. It’s interesting to hear Franklin discussion of these, and given the somewhat dated nature of these memoirs, I think that they would work better if read with Franklin’s analysis as a frame of reference. Sure you could read the memoirs, then the biography, and reread the memoirs for a complete experience. Except, I don’t think her memoirs are worth the added effort of rereading. The most fascinating side of it comes from Franklin’s analysis. Quite frankly, if you aren’t a Jackson fan working your way through all of her works, I don’t think they’re worth reading in the first place, but that’s your decision to make.

Memory and Delusion | The New Yorker

As a person, Jackson doesn’t come across as the most likable. There are aspects of her life that a very pitiful; she has “a rather haunted life” indeed. She suffered in a mediocre marriage with a husband who was not good to her. She had a mother who was insufferable and unfair, and that doesn’t even consider the everyday struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society. As a result, she suffered with addiction to alcohol and drugs that were prescribed to her. She also struggled with her weight. All of this would lead to her untimely death before the age of 50.

There are other details that were interesting to learn about. One thing that really stood out for me was her friendship with Ralph Ellison. I never knew how close they were, and Franklin seems to suggest that the two’s friendship may have fed into their work. It makes me want to reread his book, Invisible Man (not to be confused with HG Wells the Invisible Man). Another thing worth noting is that there were moments in Jackson’s life where she expressed some homophobic ideas. Franklin says she is a product of her time, but it is disappointing nonetheless. I also find it hard to sympathize with someone who comes from wealth. At the same time, Jackson’s story is humanizing because it shows how even people of a higher class have their own struggles. Besides, Jackson wasn’t rich her entire life even if her parents were well off. They still struggled, and that was very much apparent throughout Jackson’s life.

No one is perfect, and that is especially true for Jackson. Nevertheless, I’m still left mesmerized by Jackson as a person and as a writer. This was a fantastic book as I’ve made abundantly clear. There are plenty of biographies I have loved reading, but few add as much to the conversation as Franklin’s work. What’s more, rarely does the person being discussed feel quite as significant as Jackson does. Part of that is Jackson herself, but it’s also a biproduct of Franklin’s hard work. 5/5 stars

The Halloween Movie Tag where I talk briefly about Jackson’s adaptions, among others.
Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery full short film adaption (1969)
Trailer for the largely praised, the Haunting, based on the Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
The trailer for the 2018 TV adaption (loosely adapted).

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reread July 2020

Check out my reading vlog!

I reread this a 2nd time as I read the e-arc for McGuire’s newest companion novel, Over the Woodward Wall, see that blog post. I loved it even more getting the extra insight into the side story of Over the Woodward Wall.

Reread April 2020

The Stay Home Reading Rush vlog.

What the fork was 2019 Josh thinking (giving this 4.75 stars). This book is flawless. I think I had such high expectations going in I was overly critical, to the point that I docked it points for a non issue.

This story is so we’ll crafted and the perfect mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s also time travel which is the best thing ever. End of story. The one complaint I had last time was about the depth of our villains; this go around, it became very obvious to me why they are the way they are.

God I loved this book. I kinda want to read it again but I should pace myself before I overdue it.
5/5 star

First Read – October 2019

Introduction 10/21/19

I decided to read this because Lala at the booksandlala youtube channel spoke so highly of the book. It is a scifi-fantasy story about two siblings with potentially god-like powers for nefarious purposes. I seems like everything I would love. Plus, McGuire is the author of another series I’ve wanted to read called the Wayward Children. It’s the winner of Hugo and Nebula awards.

My biggest fear her is the hype. There is something special about going into a book you think and hope you are going to like, and then you read it and do love it. Here, there is the opinion of someone I value significantly (granted with limited data). I don’t want to set my expectations too high. Still, I think this is going to be a lot of fun.

Update 10/22/19

I’m almost done. I have a 1/4th left, and I hate it’s almost over. Everything about it is fantastic. I’ve actually stopped reading it to prolong the ending. I am starting my next book in hope that I will get invested in it, so when this is done, I have something else I’m also excited for and into. This story is very well told. I almost wish it was longer just because it is so fast paced. It is very long, nearly 500 pages I think, so it is hardly lacking in material.

I think the biggest flaw in this for me is the basis for the magic. It isn’t badly done. McGuire uses pseudoscience like Astrology, Homeopathy, and Alchemy as a real device by which to do this magic. It’s fiction, but I can’t help but cringe at how so many people don’t see it that way. This is the skeptic in me. It doesn’t lessen the quality of the book, nor do I think most people will be as put off by it as me.

What I have been asking myself is whether this is a favorite of the year. This story is great. It is well written. The plot is well crafted and unique. The characters are largely good characters. The big bad feels a little one dimensional, but most of our other characters are flawed yet well meaning. There is some mystery around the motivations in this book. So, we may get more background to flesh out our main villain. My favorite set of characters are of course the main characters, that is the siblings.

I really appreciate the dynamic they have and the love they share for one another. It’s an easy thing to relate to as someone with two sisters. Siblings are, for at least a part of your life, your best friend, and the bond you share outmatches and outlasts the bonds we share with others. I am really hoping for some heart wrenching moments towards the end. There have already been tough moments between the siblings, and one moment early on almost had me crying. That’s really what solidified the dynamic between the two for me.

Finished 10/28/19

This is a fantastic story founded in characters we are invested in. The story itself is the perfect mixture of science fiction and fantasy. My favorite types of stories are those that incorporate a bit of both but are still grounded in real everyday life. That made this story easy and fun. However, it goes deeper with how it explores the ideas of family and a sibling bond as I mentioned before.

The biggest faults I found in the story were the villains. They felt one dimensional, and they never got fleshed out. There really isn’t a more stereotypical villain then one that seeks to take over the world. What’s more the story’s conclusion (light spoilers ahead), while not exactly predictable, feels like what we would expect.

McGuire still maintains some mystery about the fate of the world. The siblings are real people, but they’re also more than that. They are something not even they understand. What might happen if they ascend to their full power may be itself dooming to the earth. If they don’t, they will just be replaced with another pawn for the main villain. Is it a lose lose or is there hope?

All in all, the story is near perfect in its telling. While the villain is a caricature, our “heroes” are real characters that we can connect to. 4.75/5 stars. I hate not giving it a full 5 stars. I can’t help but wonder if I am being overly critical because I came in hyped up. I remember Viscous was similarly hyped, but I definitely enjoyed this story more.

Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll ★★★★★

I was granted an ebook ARC of Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll by the Publisher Dutton on NetGalley to provide a fair and honest review.

See my full review and discussion on my YouTube Channel!


I am beyond grateful to be offered the opportunity to review this book. I just recently finished one of Carroll’s older books, and it is one of my favorites of the year. I know this book is already out. Nevertheless, the copy I was granted expires on the 31st of December, so intend to finish it before then to provide feedback for the copy I received. When I reviewed From Here to Eternity, I tried to review each part of the book. I think the result was a bit of mess; it was also a lot of work. Here, I will stop after each chapter to very briefly summarize his points and to discuss how effective it was as a chapter. Summarizing it will help me get a sense of how well I really understand it. Basically, I’m blogging my entire experience with the book. When I’m done, I’ll summarize my thoughts above my blogging experience (right after this).

Final Thoughts

I absolutely adored this book. I am so grateful to NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this. I didn’t even realize it was already out, and I ended up using the audiobook (also amazing) to read the book. I still am happy I got the ARC because I may not have read it otherwise. I have only just started on NetGalley. I am a fan of Carroll, so I wanted the chance to review his newest book early. Even if it was already out, I may not have read it without the ARC because that was really the biggest motivator (the need to provide a review).

Otherwise, I might have read a different book by him because I was honestly very afraid of this book. The first time I saw the synopsis (prior to finding it on NetGalley), I read quantum mechanics and thought this was not for me. I have never understood it and was unlikely to start trying now. Then, with the added incentive, I decided to give it a try. Dear Sagan am I happy I did. I left this book feeling as though I actually understand quantum mechanics. Then add on the extra benefit of being beyond fascinated, intrigued, and excited by his discussion of Everett’s Many World’s hypothesis. I go in depth in my thoughts on that in my live blogging where I responded after each chapter. I would refer you there,, if you are interested in reading that.

All in all, this book did everything I want from a science book. It challenged my fundamental way of thinking all the while in a clear and structured manner. What’s more, it is one that doesn’t shy away from the tough parts of science while not creating a story that completely hinges on your reader to have an expert level understanding to follow along. I highly recommend this book and Sean Carroll (and his podcast Mindscape). This will probably be one of my top 10 books of the year. 5/5 stars

I will probably do a review on my channel as well, but that will be in a week or so when I have time.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 10/10
Content: 10/10
Structure: 10/10
Summary: 9/10
Engagement: 10/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Comprehension: 8/10
Pacing: 9/10
Desire to Reread: 10/10
Special: 10/10
Final Rating: 4.785/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance (see blog for more details).

Live Blogging

Started 12/13/19

The book is already out, so I should be okay to quote it. Lastly, I am reading this via the e-arc in conjunction with the audiobook (on Scribd). The audiobook is narrated by Carroll himself, and it is very well done. If you haven’t already, check out his podcast, Mindscape where he gets guests to discuss leading topics in science. I mention that here because the first thing I noticed was how much the audiobook was like listening to this podcast. It feels natural well performed.

Carroll uses the Prologue of this book for a very simple purpose. He is here to talk to us about Quantum Mechanics, but before he does that, he has to make has to make us care. He takes a subject that, I suspect, most people assume is resolved, and explains why what we think we know is wrong. What’s more, he hints at how he intends to make us look at Quantum Mechanics in a brand new way. He does it in a way that highlights how skilled a science communicator he is, and it gets me beyond excited to dig deeper into this book.

Part One: Spooky

Continued 12/14/19

In Chapter 1, His first step is to explain exactly what quantum mechanics tells us, generally speaking, and where it sits within the realm of physics. Basically, it is a foundation chapter. He discusses how quantum mechanics compares to classical mechanics in how we go from a world of concise reality to one of probability. He sums it up as follows: “What we see when we look at the world [through quantum reality] seems to be fundamentally different from what actually is.” Quantum mechanics works similarly to classical; that is, the system is set up and is let to evolve. The difference comes with the act of measuring. The fundamental problem addressed in this chapter is to understand that quantum theory, as it currently exists, doesn’t explain how reality works only that it is how it is.

The concept seems simple enough, and his background feels like a good description of what quantum mechanics is. In Chapter 2, Carroll takes us on a journey to how this all came to be understood. He tries to make his point, stated in Chapter 1, that there is something missing in our understanding. Carroll explains the difference between epistemology which is the state of our knowledge versus ontology which is the state of reality. Essentially, this says there are ways of getting to the result without fully understanding how we got there. I get a little lost as he transitions to thinking about QM in a different manner. He treats the idea of a wave function as reality. where everything is literally a wave and when we observe it as otherwise, we aren’t observing a fact of reality, simply a piece of reality lacking a bigger picture. The impression I get from this is that the problem with QM isn’t an ontological one but an epistemological one.

I can’t pin point exactly how he goes from each point to the next, but I find his explanation overall effective. I’ve never quite understood what it meant to be a wave function. Now I think I do. Waves aren’t just a construct, they are a fact of reality, where reality acts fundamentally different than we perceive it in classical mechanics. That is, the universe is as much in a state of superposition as the quantum particles that make it up. That leads Carroll to the idea of Many Worlds, where many worlds are simply an extension of quantum theory. “The potential for such universes was always there,” and each world is a realization of that each position. This may be the best explanation of the many worlds theory that I’ve ever read (not a cosmologist). What’s more, Carroll doesn’t hold back that this could be wrong, and he takes the time to address other possibilities.

Continued 12/27/19

Chapter 3 felt like an introduction to quantum mechanics. Carroll provides a reader with the history of the science that lead to our current understanding. He concluded by explaining how the scientific community came to the understanding that quantum mechanics is fundamentally probabilistic despite many attempts to assign it a deterministic nature. It was a fine review, but I found myself wondering what the point of it all was until he spelled it out that they never really explored the implications. Overall, I can’t help leaving the chapter unsure what it means to be probabilistic. Ideally, that is the point; I just wish I could, as a reader, have ascertained his point without him spelling it out.

Continued 12/28/19

Carrol is an apt story teller and science communicator. He uses Chapter 4 to explore probabilities, or more specifically, the nature of uncertainty, further. It seems the most important thing to understand is that the wave and uncertainty descriptions are not a broad description that works with gaps of knowledge. The physics that governs this world is fundamentally different than the rules of classical mechanics. I’ve got a background in that area, and it makes sense to me.

Continued 12/30/19

He finishes his discussion by focusing on the nature of what it means to be a wave. It was probably the most difficult material he has covered yet but still easily understood. He gets into a conversation on spin that feels esoteric and a bit over my head. Luckily, he doesn’t leave us stranded. He uses the information to guide us in our understanding. The nature of waves is a confirmed fact. The act of measuring quite literally appears to alter the wave like nature of a “particle.” I think he explains it best but it is fascinating.

Chapter 5 is what feels like, a concise discussion of the nature of entanglement. It is a doozy. I’m here reviewing the material trying to make sense of what Carrol is saying, but I am having a tough time. It seems entanglement is when two electrons share the same spin. The trick is, their spins are in superposition, and they don’t consolidated until measured. The trick is, once one is measured then the other is guaranteed to be measured as such too. What I don’t get is how we know this isn’t a correlation; why must it be an entanglement.

If a photon is used to force particle a into a fixed spin that doesn’t change the spin of what it is entangled to, it only passes that entanglement on to the photon used to change the spin. That suggests a shared dynamical relationship not an intrinsic entanglement. I have to assume there is an independent way of identifying them as entangled.

My initial impression at the start of the chapter was that entanglement is the way the wave function of the universe (or of these two particles) is intertwined. That is more than a coincidental correlation. All that is to say, the chapter is complicated, and I hope it becomes clearer later in the book.

Part 2: Splitting

Chapter 6 was easier to read. It discusses the nature of decoherence and it’s implications on the many worlds hypothesis. I can’t say I left the chapter absolutely convinced, but it was a much more compelling story to read. Now we are getting into the nitty gritty.

Chapter 7 tackles the nature of probability and the effect on the multiverse. I think the first very compelling point was how it doesn’t feel like we live in a multi-world universe, but the same was said about the earth rotating or the earth orbiting the sun. Sometimes, our intuitive senses aren’t enough. I found this chapter immensely fascinating. The nature of probability means all that can happen does happen. Now I’ve heard that before, but I’ve always wondered what the realistic effect is on the macro scale (vs micro/atomic).

If the position or spin of an electron can be in superposition, what difference does that make on the classical physics of the world. I still don’t really know, but one fantastic point Carroll makes is how we can discuss probabilities. Say we do a random number generator our interpretation of that will vary. If we assume the RNG is quantum (which Carroll’s actually is) then a string of 16 spin directions (1/0) will produce a world where every possible line of 1’s and 0’s exists. In that world, Carroll’s use of this list in his discussion would be directly effected by unlikely results like all 1’s or weird patterns. It’s fascinating to think of the different directions his book and life would take in those scenarios. It’s debatable how big of an effect it would have, but it’s a substantial example of a direct influence of these quantum superpositions on the macro world.

Carroll finishes the chapter exploring how we might differentiate between more likely scenarios. This part highlights my biggest problems with the book which my inability to comprehend the more esoteric discussions. That said, Carroll continues to keep us grounded by walking through each piece such that I leave understanding (I think) the points he is trying to make. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to study what he’s saying to fully appreciate every step along the way.

The fascination continues in Chapter 8 as Carroll begins to attack, head on, the question of whether the Many Worlds perspective is (1) the most logical conclusion and (2) really science. The quintessential simplicity of the theory is that anything else would have to add on or change the laws of quantum mechanics as we understand it. Basically, if you want to deny the existence of an infinite number of worlds, you have to complicate our own. As far as occurs razor is concerned, that just doesn’t work. Then as far as science, it is said that a theory must be falsifiable, and one cannot deny that the law that implies the multi-world perspective is entirely falsifiable simply by disproving the laws of quantum mechanics.

Chapter 9 is dedicated to the opposing theories that have been proposed to counter the Everett Many-Worlds interpretation. I thought it was a great overview and comparison. To be fair, we have multiple theories condensed to one chapter with 2/3 of this book to talk about Everett’s view, but I thought it Carroll did a good job defending against them. Granted, I may struggle to explain this myself without further review.

What we got in Chapter 10 is really what I’ve been waiting for all along. He talks about the implications on us. He delves into the question of free will, consciousness, and whether these quantum processes can really be assumed to extend to the choices we make. He makes a compelling case that it is unlikely that our choices are in fact quantum. That is to say, the processes that govern it are probably not probabilistic. Nevertheless, he talks about opportunities that we might introduce such randomness into our decisions. We can use quantum number generators to help make decisions to ensure multiple versions of our-self, however minor.

My thoughts while reading chapter 10

Now, I came to this revelation last month, and ever since, I’ve been striving to make decisions by it. Right now, I’ve used it to decide which books (or the order by which) I read. This may be minor, but books can have profound effects on us. I can imagine a world where I read one book and not another and it seriously effecting me. This book is a prime example of that. I may expand on this discussion in another post, but I’ll summarize with how exciting I find this all to be. The ability to actively create multiple versions of one’s self is so enthralling to me.

Part 3: Spacetime

Continued 1/28/20

In Chapter 11 Carroll begins to explore what this actually means for reality. That is, where are the other worlds, and how are they connected to us. My understanding is that these states all coexist in the quantum realm, but there is something about our entangled selves that then experience these physical laws for our specific reality given. However, the others can be thought to be there, experiencing reality slightly different. I think he did a good job explaining this. It is still very abstract but overall a good take on how this relates to the greater universe.

Continued 1/31/20

I found Chapter 12 to be a bit esoteric. He seems to be discussing the nature of quantum field theory, and, while interesting, I didn’t understand the point as it relates to the Many Worlds interpretation. I think he was trying to highlight the fundamentally difference between the way reality works in quantum mechanics than in how we perceive reality. That is to say, particles aren’t strictly what we perceive them to be. Perhaps this suggests the same may be true for Many Worlds? It may be that it has nothing to with that and Carroll is branching off into another tangential area of research.

On that note, Chapter 13, the last chapter, is all about quantum gravity. He makes sure to be very clear: this is purely hypothetical. Quantum gravity may be an intriguing idea, but it is not yet on the same level as say even the Many Worlds interpretation which at least is based on an understood scientific idea. I think it did a really good job bringing this section to close. While it is very theoretical and ongoing research, I can better appreciate how chapter 12 was building up to this idea which is essentially that space, and maybe time, is emergent. That is, the nature of entanglement of particles brings space into existence as we perceive it. As such, that might explain why we perceive our world from a different world where the quantum state is a bit different.

Epilogue and Appendix

This was pretty straightforward close to the book. I like that he read the appendix (or selected parts) on the audiobook.