Astrophysics for People in a Hurry PDF Summary

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry PDFAre you in a hurry?

Do you, nevertheless, want to know something more about the universe you live in?

Well, then it’s time for few lessons in astrophysics by none other than Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting you the summary for –

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

Who Should Read “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”? And Why?

Carl Sagan – the man who made many people fall in love with science in the 1980s – had a habit of saying that astrophysics is the science of humility – in addition to science itself being a character-building endeavor.

Sagan’s widely beloved successor Neil deGrasse Tyson believes in these very same things.

And he shares Sagan’s exceptional capacity of making this clear via illustrative simplification of many seriously complex and even counter-intuitive scientific concepts.

Which is why “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” is not only a book about people who don’t have enough time to learn more about the universe but want to.

It’s also about those who have time but don’t want to.

In fact, if you ask us, it is especially about the latter.

Neil DeGrasse TysonAbout Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, popularizer of science, and, since 1996, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, fully reconstructed during his tenure.

An author of numerous essays and books – “Death by Black Hole” being the most famous one up to “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” – Tyson is probably best recognized as the host of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” the sequel to Carl Sagan’s ultra-popular 1980 series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”

Tyson has received numerous awards, including NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004 and the Public Welfare Medal awarded to Tyson by the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 for his “extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science.”

“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry PDF Summary”

It’s quite difficult to summarize a book such as “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

Not only because the subjects it deals with are grand on any scale – the creation of the universe, its structure, dark matter, dark energy, etc. – but also because Tyson presents them in a way which makes the presentation dependent on both his style and his analogies.

Once you conceptualized these, you’ll never forget what they are, in fact, standing for and explaining.

As he explains in the preface, that’s Tyson’s very goal: to make you “culturally conversant in [his] field of expertise.”

And, as you can see for yourself in this video, he is quite good at doing that:

Now, we have only about 1,000 words to recount you briefly the history of nearly everything and, of course, we are going to need to rush through Tyson’s presentation.

Which starts where it all started – including time itself.

The Big Bang.

About 13.8 billion years ago, when the universe started expanding from a very high-temperature and high-density state, creating space, time, physical laws and everything else.

Speaking of physical laws – let’s get one thing straight.

Tyson is quite adamant in insisting that most of the things he talks about are undeniably true. “The power and beauty of physical laws,” he writes, “is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them. In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion.”  

So, it’s a fact that the Earth didn’t exist for the first two-thirds of the time the Universe has existed and that it was first formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

Even more interesting, it took billions of years for the earliest plants to appear on the planet and almost a billion more for the earliest apes.

In other words, homo sapiens has been around for no more than, say, 300,000 years, which means only about 0.006% of the time the Earth is around.

And that’s where things get even more interesting: during this time, humanity – basically “stardust brought to life” – has discovered numerous physical laws and has devised hundreds of theories to explain their origin and meaning.

So, it’s basically as if the universe is learning about its beginnings through us!

While explaining Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves and the importance of their first ever detection in 2015, Tyson beautifully summarizes this full circle.

Namely, when the now-detected gravitational waves were generated (by a collision of black holes in a galaxy 1.3 billion light-years away), there were only single-celled organisms on this planet.

And while these gravitational waves were traveling, the Earth would manage to “evolve complex life, including flowers and dinosaurs and flying creatures, as well as a branch of vertebrates called mammals.”

The primates branched out of these mammals, and then – in the last 10,000 years – “a single branch of these primates would develop a genetic mutation that allowed speech, and that branch – Homo Sapiens – would invent agriculture and civilization and philosophy and art and science.”

Then came Einstein and he devised the theory of relativity which predicted the existence of these gravitational waves.

A century later, people developed technology powerful enough to see these waves, and humanity “would finally catch up with the prediction, just days before that gravity wave, which had been traveling for 1.3 billion years, washed over Earth and was detected.”

Now, that’s beautiful!

But, as deGrasse Tyson, demonstrates: it’s merely the beginning.

Since as much as we know – or, as in this case, have probably predicted well enough about the universe – there’s much more that we don’t know.

Take dark matter and dark energy, for example!

They make up most of our universe, and, still, we know nothing about them except for the fact that they exist.

It’s basically as if we know nothing about water.

So, there’s still plenty to learn.

And all of it promises to be a magnificent adventure!

Key Lessons from “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

1.      You Drink the Water Genghis Khan Once Drank
2.      Isaac Newton Robbed God of His Job
3.      The Cosmic Perspective

You Drink the Water Genghis Khan Once Drank

We mentioned water at the end of our summary.

Here’s an interesting fact about that all-important substance:

Every cup that passes through a single person and eventually rejoins the world’s water supply holds enough molecules to mix 1,500 of them into every other cup of water in the world. No way around it: some of the water you just drank passed through the kidneys of Socrates, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc.

Wow!

Or, maybe, ugh?

Isaac Newton Robbed God of His Job

Even after it was conclusively proven that the Earth is not the center of the Universe, philosophers still believed in some divine presence, because some of the planets’ motions were inexplicable.

Then Isaac Newton came, and he rendered all motion comprehensible and predictable.

What should the Creator do now? – asked the theologians. And if there’s nothing he should do, doesn’t that mean that he might as well not exist?

DeGrasse Tyson – and many other astrophysicists – don’t think that these are difficult questions.

According to them, the facts prove conclusively: even if God does exist, he has absolutely no explanatory value.

The Cosmic Perspective

If you ask us, the most important chapter of this whole book – the culmination to which all other chapters build to – is the last one, “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective.”

What it all boils down to?

First of all, that “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

And secondly, that the Earth is a nothing more than a mote. But “it’s a precious mote and, for the moment, it’s the only home we have.”

How important is this revelation, this cosmic perspective of our existence?

Well, let’s see what Tyson has to say on the subject:

Now imagine a world in which everyone, but especially people with power and influence, holds an expanded view of our place in the cosmos. With that perspective, our problems would shrink—or never arise at all—and we could celebrate our earthly differences while shunning the behavior of our predecessors who slaughtered each other because of them.

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“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Quotes”

The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. Click To Tweet

We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun. Click To Tweet

The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them. In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion. Click To Tweet

We do not simply live in this universe. The universe lives within us. Click To Tweet

People who believe they are ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon, the boundary between what is known and unknown in the universe. Click To Tweet

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Our Critical Review

“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” is mostly a collection of Tyson’s “Natural History” essays published during the decade between 1997 and 2007.

Because of this, most of it may be familiar to fans of Tyson’s work.

Even so, none of it should be boring to anyone: exceptionally well written, full of Tyson’s recognizable wit and even more recognizable analogies, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” is both an accessible and illuminating work.

So – as “BBC Sky at Night” advises – don’t rush through it.

Take your time and savor each chapter.

This book can radically alter your opinion about, well, everything.

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Oxygen Summary

Oxygen SummaryThe molecule that made the world

Do you know the nature of oxygen? Do you know what happens when you breathe?

Do you know the role oxygen has not only in keeping you alive but for the evolution of the species as well?

If not, this is a good place to start finding out the answers to those questions.

Who Should Read “Oxygen” and Why?

“Oxygen” is a book about the gas that keeps us alive, and as you will see once you read the book, poisons us really slowly.

We recommend it to all readers who would like to know the role oxygen played in the evolution of organisms, and how the world became as it is today, as well as to those who wish to understand the process of breathing and how it affects our bodies.

About Nick Lane

Nick LaneDr. Nick Lane is a prolific author who holds a degree in biochemistry from the Imperial College in London.

“Oxygen Summary”

If we ask you what is Oxygen, then you will probably tell us that it is what keeps you alive, right?

But did you know that Oxygen also kills you?

Yes, breathing both keeps you alive and slowly kills you at the same time.

With every breath you take, some toxic byproducts are produced and stored in your body, and over time these byproducts harm you.

It is not like you can stop it.

If we found the answer to this – we would have stopped aging already.

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start from the very beginning.

Today, in the air we breathe, there is around 21 percent oxygen. However, that was not the case around four billion years ago when the atmosphere had very little oxygen.

Then, after the Cambrian explosion, the only survivals on earth were plants.

In order to survive the harsh conditions, they had to do much photosynthesis and produce vast amounts of oxygen in the process.

The single cellular organisms which were not used to this amount of oxygen tried to escape it, but not being able to, they ultimately had to group themselves, and that is how the multi-cellular organisms evolved.

After some time, in the air there a lot of oxygen – almost double of today’s levels.

This percentage made it easier for cells to grow and thus the giant animals were created. However, this percentage did not only make it easier for the animals to grow, but they could also move more easily, which made hunting easier as well.

One significant name to note during our explanation of the topic is the world-renowned Marie Curie.

Curie is a Nobelist which discovered radiation. However, her discovery seemed to be fatal since she died of leukemia when she was 67.

But why is Curie important to oxygen?

Because her discoveries of radiation are closely related to oxygen as well.

Do you remember that we told you that oxygen could kill?

Well, Curie’s findings show that the biological damage as a result of radiation and oxygen poisoning are almost the same.

Wait, what?

Yes! I was just as surprised when I read this information as well!

When radiation pierces the body, it breaks water into oxygen and hydrogen, in the process producing toxic byproducts.

When you breathe, however, these byproducts are turned into water.

So, breathing is poisoning you – it just does it very slowly.

But, if it is so, how can you protect yourself? You cannot stop breathing, can you?

Filling yourself up with antioxidants is one way of doing it. Another technique is to exercise cardio exercises – to run.

Although there are many innovations nowadays, we cannot seem to answer the one question that has been pressing people forever: how to stop aging.

In the modern world, two theories of aging exist stochastic and programmed theories.

The first ones argue that aging has nothing to do with genes. This is where the oxygen poisoning theory comes into play.

The programmed theories, on the other hand, are those that believe that aging is mainly genetical.

The author of the book believes that the truth about aging is somewhere in between.

And until someone proves it – we cannot state anything for certain. However, it is quite reasonable to think that the fewer toxins we enter in our body, the slower the aging process will be.

The question is, how can we stop oxygen from producing toxins that harm us in the long term?

Key Lessons from “Oxygen”

1.      Multi-Cellular Life Developed Thanks to the Increase in Oxygen
2.      Giant Animals Can Exist Only With High Levels of Oxygen
3.      Breathing Determines the Speed of Aging

Multi-Cellular Life Developed Thanks to the Increase in Oxygen

Most of the organisms we interact with in everyday life are multi-cellular.

However, primate life was not like that. Multi-cellular organisms developed thanks to the increase in oxygen that happened because the plants that survived the Cambrian explosion started photosynthesizing a lot of oxygen to survive.

Giant Animals Can Exist Only With High Levels of Oxygen

The giant animals from the past could only exist because of the huge levels of atmospheric oxygen. When these animals live, there was 35% oxygen in the air. To compare it with, today we have only 21% oxygen in the air.

Oxygen made it easy to grow and breathe, but also it eased the movement as well.

Breathing Determines the Speed of Aging

Did you know that breathing both keeps you alive and kill you?

With every breath you take your body produces toxic byproducts, and stores them. These byproducts over some time are the cause of damage.

However, there is not a limit of how much oxygen you can breathe – it all depends on your body.

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“Oxygen Quotes”

Our bodies are historical accidents of evolution and ultimately can only be understood from an evolutionary perspective: how things got to be the way they are. Click To Tweet Mitochondria, as we have seen, are only passed on in the egg, so all 13 mitochondrial genes come from our mothers. If these genes really do influence lifespan, and we can only inherit them from our mothers, then our own lifespan should… Click To Tweet As conventionally stated, the idea that breathing oxygen causes aging is disarmingly simple. Click To Tweet Unlike infections, aging is not easily reversed: mitochondrial damage accumulates continuously. Click To Tweet The expression of normal genes in an oxidized environment is the basis of their negative pleiotropic effects in old age. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

This is not a book you pick up to read for fun, but it is filled with so many interesting information that you would not come across.

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The Double Helix Summary

The Double Helix SummaryA Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

As far as you know, scientists are serious and rather dull guys in white coats doing experiments, talking gibberish and trying to get to the bottom of all things unexplained and seemingly unexplainable.

Enter James Dewey Watson, an ambitious 24-year-old American womanizer at Cambridge who’d go so far as to even filch an idea if Nobel-worthy. The name sounds familiar?

Probably because it was one of the first you learned in your biology class. Yup – that’s the guy who discovered the structure of DNA.

And “The Double Helix” is his thriller-like account of that immensely important scientific journey.

Who Should Read “The Double Helix”? And Why?

The Double Helix” has everything a book should (and shouldn’t) have: determination and hunger for fame, against-all-odds story of success and caricatural portraits of famous people, friendships, betrayals, and even bigotry and chauvinism.

You should read it because you want to be a smarter fellow; after all, the discovery of DNA changed so many things about the world. Read it for the gossips and the unabashedly honest behind-the-scenes depictions of celebrated scientists – if you want juicy details from a world you taught had none.

Read it for the sheer joy of research – once you finish it, you’ll certainly get a better picture of the process by which scientists come across great discoveries. And read it for pleasure – if you are tired of novels and other types of fiction.

Because – sometimes – real life is just incalculably more interesting.

About James D. Watson

James D. WatsonJames Watson is an American geneticist, molecular biologist, and zoologist, a co-discoverer of the structure of DNA with Francis Crick.

For this discovery, he shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with his partner and Maurice Wilkins, “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.”

He worked on Harvard for two decades (1956-1976) and served as either director or president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory from 1968 to 2007. He resigned after making one possibly racist remark.

“The Double Helix Summary”

It was April 25, 1953.

If you were subscribed to “Nature” and opened the magazine on page 737, you would have come upon these two sentences:

“We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.”

Above them, a descriptive combination of title and a subtitle: “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid.” Below them – no more than 900 words and a simple “purely diagrammatic” figure unlike this one:

the double helix pdf

But beyond that – an event which will irretrievably change the course of history. Because what we just described was the article and the day the world first saw the double helical structure of the DNA we have grown accustomed to in the meantime.

If that doesn’t send shivers down your spine, let us rephrase that: 25 April 1953 was the day we discovered the secret of life.

Published a full decade and a half later, “The Double Helix” is James Watson’s personal account of this discovery.

You may think that it’s too scientific and unintelligible, too dull and mind-scratching for a person who doesn’t know anything about biochemistry.

But that only means that you don’t know James Watson.

A post-doctoral research fellow in Copenhagen, Watson was an ambitious man who wasn’t at all interested in the work of his mentor, Herman Kalckar. Fortunately for him, he accompanied Kackar to a meeting in Italy, where he heard Maurice Wilkins talk about his X-ray data on the structure of DNA.

So, the autumn of 1951, he went to Cambridge University and joined the group working in the Cavendish Laboratory. Officially – to work on three-dimensional structures of proteins. Unofficially – to make a discovery which will grant him a Nobel.

And, oh yes – to meet a “popsy” or twenty.

If you don’t want to lose time checking that word in your dictionary, let’s just say that it means precisely what you think it means: “an attractive young woman.”

After all, Watson was a man; and he was barely 23.

Now, when he wasn’t seducing Cambridge au pair girls, Watson was spending time with Francis Crick, who thought this book was all but a betrayal of their friendship. You think he may have overreacted? Well, this is the first sentence of the book: “I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.”

There are many even harsher about practically every single person Watson ever met during this period. Himself included.

Anyway, Watson and Crick may have had dreams of greatness, but neither of them had any clue how they were supposed to be the first to discover the structure of DNA when everybody who meant something in the world of biochemistry at the day was trying to achieve the same thing.

To put it mildly, the odds were against them.

In London, Wilkins was working with Rosalind Franklin, gathering and analyzing data. And over the Atlantic, in Watson’s home country, Linus Pauling had been studying DNA for years. And – in case you forgot – Watson and Crick weren’t even supposed to be working on DNA models.

But, you know how it goes: scarcity breeds invention – especially after hours. And, as Machiavelli once said, the end justifies the means. Michael Scott’s alteration may be even more applicable in this case: the end justifies the mean.

First, Watson managed to get an invitation to a Franklin lecture, and then, after Linus Pauling’s latest theory was found to have fundamental flaws, went to Franklin’s lab and used, without her permission or knowledge, the best X-ray diffraction image of crystallized DNA available: Photograph 51.

Now, Watson and Crick were on to something. And everybody was aware that they were. The director of the Cavendish Laboratory, Sir Lawrence Bragg, announced the discovery on April 8, 1953, at a conference in Belgium.

The press didn’t even report the story.

But, after the “Nature” article and few talks by Bragg, by the next month, the world was in awe of the importance of the discovery. Watson and Crick were stars.

A decade later, they shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Wilkins.

Unfortunately, four years before that, Rosalind Franklin succumbed to the ovarian cancer she was suffering from, at the very early age of 37.

Key Lessons from “The Double Helix”

1.      Sometimes You Need a Lot of Ambition and Stubbornness to Win a Nobel Prize
2.      You Can Make Fundamental Mistakes – Even If You’re One of the Best Scientists in History
3.      The 1950s Weren’t a Good Time to Be a Woman – No Matter How Smart

Sometimes You Need a Lot of Ambition and Stubbornness to Win a Nobel Prize

True, some scientists are in it for the potential contribution they can make to a better future for humanity. But, not few are in it for the money or the fame. And some – maybe even the majority of them – are in it because of all of that.

“The Double Helix” tells this in no uncertain terms. The reason why James Watson got interested in the study of DNA was not because of the importance of the discovery itself, but because he wanted to be the one to make it. In other words, even if Watson was working merely on his thesis, someone else would have undoubtedly discovered the model of DNA.

But, that was not the point. The point was that the discoverer would leave a mark in history and be remembered for all times.

Watson was a brilliant scientist with a brilliant mind, but he also had very human ambitions. Which, of course, meant that he felt excitement and joy the moment he realized that Linus Pauling made a fundamental flaw in his model of the DNA. “Though the odds still appeared against us,” he writes in “The Double Helix,” “Linus had not yet won his Nobel.”

And James Watson will win it because, against the Cavendish board advices, he will work after hours on his models. And because he will decide to use other people’s data instead of working on acquiring his own.

Bitter scientific rivalries?

You betcha!

You Can Make Fundamental Mistakes – Even If You’re One of the Best Scientists in History

Now, what happened with Linus Pauling?

He is, after all, a household name for a reason: the 16th greatest scientist in history (ahead of Curie, Hubble, Fermi, Euler…), Pauling is the only person ever to win two unshared Nobel Prizes. And at the time Crick and Watson had to borrow both time and money to work on the DNA model in hiding, he had both the funds and the equipment to work out a solution before everybody.

Not only he didn’t, but his model – triple helix – exhibited several serious mistakes and one fundamental flaw: a proposal of neutral phosphate groups.

You don’t need to understand what that means. You just need to compare the word “neutral” to the word which stands behind the last name of the DNA acronym: “acid.”

Now, how can anything – let alone a constitutive element – remain neutral in an acid environment, right?

Well, Pauling didn’t see that. He later stated several reasons which resulted in his mistakes, but, really, he shouldn’t have bothered. The fact is – he was merely human. And humans – even the best specimens – make mistakes.

Speaking of which: James Watson has incited a fair share of controversies himself.

The 1950s Weren’t a Good Time to Be a Woman – No Matter How Smart

Even though James Watson claims that the tragic figure in “The Double Helix” is Maurice Wilkins, that title, much more deservedly, goes to Rosalind Franklin, an X-Ray crystallographer whose data – especially, Photo 51 – was of crucial importance to the discovery of DNA.

She died of cancer four years before Watson, Crick, and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize. To add insult to injury, Watson paints her in “The Double Helix” in an unfavorable light. Not because she lacked something – but because she was a she, a woman.

In later years, Watson will repent doing that, claiming in an added epilogue that she had “honesty and generosity,” and that he had realized “years too late the struggles that the intelligent woman faces to be accepted by a scientific world which often regards women as mere diversions from serious thinking.”

Sounds like an oxymoron. But it’s the cruel reality women scientists had to face for most of the 20th century.

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“The Double Helix Quotes”

In the end, though, science is what matters; scientists not a bit. (Steven Jones, from the Introduction) Click To Tweet One must admit that his intuitive understanding of human frailty often strikes home. (Sir Laurence Bragg, from the Foreword) Click To Tweet One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just… Click To Tweet Worrying about complications before ruling out the possibility that the answer was simple would have been damned foolishness. Click To Tweet Excitedly, I pilfered Bernal and Fankuchen’s paper from the Philosophical Library and brought it up to the lab so that Francis could inspect the TMV X-ray picture. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

James Dewey Watson’s “The Double Helix” – as Robin Mackie laconically states – “combines the plot line of a racy novel with deep insights about the nature of modern research.”

In the same article – which, by the way, uncovers how close we were to never having the privilege of reading Watson’s book – Mackie writes something almost everyone who has heard its title already knows: “The Double Helix” is “consistently ranked as one of the greatest books written about science in the past century.”

So consistently, in fact, that, by now, accolades are in the book’s DNA!

(Ha – see what we did there?)

We name just three: “The Double Helix” was placed on Library of Congress’ list of the 88 “Books That Shaped America.” It was voted the 7th best nonfiction book of the 20th century by the Modern Library. And the 15th by “Guardian.”

Sounds familiar?

Possibly because you’ve already encountered upon a similar description in our list of the “best nonfiction books of all time.”

Still need our critical review?

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Silent Spring Summary | FREE PDF |

Silent Spring PDF

Our Silent Spring PDF Summary examines how Rachel Carson’s famous book almost singlehandedly brought an end to the uncontrolled usage of DDT and other pesticides, and how it inspired ecologists and environmentalists worldwide to take a stand.

In January 1958, Olga Owens Huckins, a worried American citizen, wrote a letter to “The Boston Herald,” claiming that many birds around her property had died in torment as a result of a recent aerial DDT spraying operation, directed primarily at mosquitos.

Her friend, the famous marine biologist Rachel Carson, got a copy of the letter. After reading it quite a few times, and dedicatedly researching for the next four years, she realized that the letter wasn’t merely a peculiar observation, but a painful cry for help.

Not just on behalf of Huckins. But on behalf of Nature itself.

Silent Spring” was Carson’s heart-wrenching attempt at giving Nature her voice. And, fortunately for us, the generations living after, the people of her time heard.

And responded.

Who Should Read “Silent Spring”? And Why?

Published on 27 September 1962, “Silent Spring” was almost single-handedly responsible for turning the eye of the American nation – and, subsequently, the world – to the possible adverse effects of DDT and other synthetic pesticides.

And, as former U.S. presidential candidate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore wrote in the foreword to the anniversary 1992 edition, it “had a profound effect.” And that may even be an understatement – see “Our Critical Review” section for more.

In other words, even if you haven’t read “Silent Spring,” you may already adhere to it in your behavior. If you love nature and hate chemicals – it’s Rachel Carson’s fault. Read the book she’s most famous for and find it how.

About Rachel Carson

Rachel L. CarsonRachel Carson was an American marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Soon after, she turned to writing and, during the 1950s, she completed a critically lauded and lyrically written sea trilogy.

Published in 1951, “The Sea Around Us” was so successful that it was turned into an Academy Award-winning documentary the following year.

“The Edge of the Sea” followed, together with a reissuing of her first (then poorly selling) book, “Under the Sea Wind,” recognized today as one of the “definitive works of American nature writing.”

In 1958, she started writing “Silent Spring” which she completed in 1962, even though bedridden with diseases and diagnosed with cancer which will ultimately claim her life in 1964.

“Silent Spring” started an environmentalist revolution, and irreversibly changed the course of history.

“Silent Spring PDF Summary”

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.”

That’s how “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the first chapter of “Silent Spring” commences – with a fictional story about a fictional idyllic town about to have some real-world problems.

Because, out of nowhere, a strange blight begins to creep over the area and everything starts to change. Maladies strike the animals; the farmers speak of family illnesses; several sudden and unexplained deaths baffle the town doctors.

A strange silence looms over the city; there are no birds in the sky. The spring is without voices – only silence lays over the fields and woods and marsh.

And the reason for all this?

A white granular powder – which “some weeks before… had fallen like snow upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams.”

“No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world,” concludes Carson the story. “The people had done it themselves.”

silent spring summary

Because the white granular powder has a name. In fact, over 500 of them. And they are almost all neatly packed under a falsely reassuring umbrella-term: “pesticides.” The government tells you that they are helping us fight diseases.

The truth, however, may be much closer to the moral of the bleak cautionary tale: pesticides kill. And not just insects.

And already in the next chapters – “The Obligations to Endure,” “Elixirs of Death,” “Surface Waters and Underground Seas” – Carson puts her money where her mouth is. She starts documenting numerous tragedies stemming from pesticide use. According to her, specialists interested in making them more efficient, have begun ignoring the overall picture.

The result?

Pesticides are more and more efficient in eliminating certain insects, but are less and less efficient in doing that without harming the environment.

Birds suffer, fish suffer; even the human nervous system suffers from time to time. Water treatment plants don’t remove the chemicals because some of them form irreducible toxic compounds. Thus, Carson fears, even the water may become more and more polluted in the future, resulting in the rise of cancer victims.

Here are just two examples illustrating the dark and worrying way these pesticides pollute the environment.

During the fall of 1959, writes Carson in the seventh chapter of her book, “Needless Havoc,” about 27,000 acres were heavily dusted “with clay pellets containing one of the most poisonous of all the insecticides – a chemical called aldrin.”

The purpose?

Eliminating the whole population of Japanese beetles, noted pests of over 200 species of plants, first imported in the U.S. by accident sometime before the beginning of World War I.

Some perspective before we go on.

You see, now we know that aldrin is a notorious persistent organic pollutant (POP), but back in 1962 when “Silent Spring” was published, spraying it over an area caused as much an outrage as heavy summer rain.

In fact, people were explicitly told over the radio that they can go on doing whatever they were doing at the time since the pesticide was supposed to be harmless.

It wasn’t.

Highly lipophilic – i.e., dissolvable in lipids – aldrin can’t be washed away by water easily, since, on the contrary, its water solubility is very low. So, it stays to do damage well after the dusting occurs.

Not much time passed before people started noticing a large number of dead birds all around. They couldn’t know that even the birds which survived had their reproductive systems irreparably damaged. Veterinarians reported many cases of pet poisoning – cats especially. And doctors had problems to pinpoint the reasons behind the outbreak of nausea, vomiting, chills, and fever.

The sad part of the story?

There was absolutely no need for any dusting. The number of Japanese beetles hadn’t increased for over thirty years. It was merely the cheapest pesticide available.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only way some animals – especially birds – suffered.

“Over increasingly large areas of the United States,” writes Carson, “spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of birdsong.”

A chilling description – but a largely correct one. Especially if you take into account how easily environmental changes can affect the birds.

The second story proves this best.

In 1930, Dutch elm disease – a fungus disease which spreads by spores – was accidentally imported into the U.S. from Europe. The American elm tree is directly linked to the lifestyle of robins, so a twofold alarm was raised. And in 1954, the spraying began.

Two ornithologists working at Michigan State University soon noticed how the sprayed campus transformed into a sort of “graveyard for most of the robins that attempt to take up residence in the spring.”

Why?

Because robins ate earthworms that had consumed the sprayed bark!

And as if these stories are not enough – though the book has many more – Carson points out two more reasons why spraying insecticides is not only unnecessary but downright unintelligent.

First of all, it results in a disruption in the checks-and-balances system developed by nature through the million-year-long process of natural selection.

Now, insecticides didn’t only kill harmful insects – it also killed their predators. So, in a way, in trying to eliminate our enemy, we were eradication our allies as well.

This, in turn, resulted, not only in over-reliance on pesticides – but also in insects’ resistance to them. And if you’ve ever watched Del Toro’s 1997 “Mimic” you already know where that may ultimately take us.

Key Lessons from “Silent Spring”

1.      Humans Are Part of Nature – Not Out of It
2.      Pesticides Don’t Usually Work – for Two Reasons
3.      The Dangers of the New Era

Humans Are Part of Nature – Not Out of It

Wherever there’s some system, there’s also some balance in it. The Universe itself – as giant as it is – is a system: and a self-regulated one, indeed.

The Earth is a system as well. And its biosphere a system within this system.

However, humans tend to forget that. Starting from the very fact that they’re, in fact, animals – just a bit more evolved than most. And ending with a simple truism: when you are a part of a system, you can’t make changes within it, without being affected yourself.

But, don’t let us tell you.

Hear Chief Seattle’s speech – as read by beloved mythologist Joseph Campbell. Here’s the most relevant excerpt: “Man did not weave the web of life. He’s merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Pesticides Don’t Usually Work – for Two Reasons

In a fragile system, every action counts.

Pesticides are humanity’s way of adapting this system to their needs. Because – never forget! – to the mind of a Japanese beetle, it is not really a pest. It merely eats to survive. Humans are the ones who have a problem with them – because the Japanese beetle eats the things they (the humans) like better than them.

However, the use of pesticides is based on a very simplified worldview. Namely – that you can use eradicate one species and do no damage to the other. This is not the case. In fact, by killing the insects we hate, we also kill the ones who eat them. And they, in this case, are our allies.

The second problem is pesticides is even more severe: pests become resistant after a while. And then, even we can’t think of ways to stop them.

The Dangers of the New Era

When Carson was writing “Silent Spring,” Soviet scientists had already started using the term “Anthropocene” to describe the age we’re living in. Nowadays, even journalists use the term to characterize the new era, the Era of Man.

It’s a double-edged sword this power we have, predicted and warned Carson. And, very recently, Elizabeth Colbert echoed the alarm: we’re in the middle of a new extinction of species. Unlike the five which precede it, this one’s unnatural. Or to be more exact, human-made.

The bittersweet part: we’re doing it to ourselves. And we can stop it.

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“Silent Spring” Quotes

This is an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. Click To Tweet Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and… Click To Tweet Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world… Click To Tweet Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds. Click To Tweet How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind? Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” created a social movement, an irreversible revolution of thought.

The deep ecology movement, the grassroots environmental movement, ecofeminism – these all stemmed from “Silent Spring.” The book, wrote H. Patricia Hynes, “altered the balance of power in the world. No one since would be able to sell pollution as the necessary underside of progress so easily or uncritically.”

Soon after “Silent Spring” was published, the pressure of the public resulted in the formation of Environmental Defense Fund. A few years later, the Environmental Protection Agency – described as “the extended shadow of ‘Silent Spring’” – was established, and by 1972 (a decade after “Silent Spring” first saw the light of day) DDT use was restricted to emergency-only cases.

But, the most significant victory of “Silent Spring” is something much less tangible than an act banning the use of DDT. It’s the way the book verbalized ecology as a new way of thinking about the world around us. As a title of a recent book on Carson describes it, it’s the way of “the gentle subversive.”

“Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ played a large role in articulating ecology as a ‘subversive subject’” – writes Gary Kroll in an interesting essay, “as a perspective that cut against the grain of materialism, scientism, and the technologically engineered control of nature.”

Unsurprisingly, “Silent Spring” is considered by many to be one of the greatest nonfiction books ever written. 78th according to the editors of “National Review;” 16th in the opinion of the editors of the “Discover” magazine.

And David Attenborough claims that “Silent Spring” is “the book that most changed the scientific world,” other than Darwin’s “Origin of Species.”

And who are we to think otherwise?

Far from it:

Read it, reread it – never forget it. The world is too young to be silent.

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The Greatest Show on Earth Summary

The Greatest Show on Earth SummaryThe Evidence for Evolution

By now, you’d think that developments in genetics should have vindicated Darwin once and for all. Unfortunately, one-third of Americans don’t believe in it, with another third thinking that it was actually guided by God.

In “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Richard Dawkins tries to clear things up.

About Richard Dawkins

Richard DawkinsRichard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist and ethologist. He was a Professor of Zoology at the University of California at Berkley and a Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.

A revered public intellectual and a beloved science popularizer, Dawkins has authored numerous books on biology and atheism, including “The Selfish Gene,” “The Blind Watchmaker,” and “The God Delusion.”

“The Greatest Show on Earth Summary”

“This book,” writes Richard Dawkins in the preface to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “is my personal summary of the evidence that the ‘theory’ of evolution is actually a fact—as incontrovertible a fact as any in science.“

And, when you think about it, really, what is there to debate about? The evidence for evolution is everywhere around us.

Just look at all the dog breeds!

Most of them are man-made, through a careful process of selection, which, for some breeds, has lasted for thousands of years! Because, intuitively, people knew that reproduction works by combining half of the genes from the father with half of the genes from the mother. And with these genes, unique characteristics are also passed on.

Thus, by artificially choosing the mothers and the fathers, people created breeds with the characteristics they specifically wanted in them.

Well, the same thing happened with evolution as well. The only two differences: it happened naturally, and it lasted for millions of years!

But, you may wonder, if everything started from common ancestors, how is it possible that there are so many species on the planet today?

Simply put, it’s because these common ancestors evolved separately. In the early days, due to the super continent separating into few other continents; then, because of earthquakes and floods within these continents. And, sometimes, because of strange occurrences we can’t even imagine.

For example, green iguanas arrived on Anguilla in 1995 – by floating on pieces of driftwood!

Out of the numerous iguanas which probably started the journey, only 15 made it to the Caribbean island. The other died of hunger and injuries. These 15 were the strongest; in other words, their genes deserved to be passed on.

That, right there – that’s natural selection for you!

And, believe it or not, decades from now, the Anguillan iguanas will start to differ greatly from the green iguanas that were their grandparents. That has happened and we have observed it! Namely, in 1971, scientists moved a small population of lizards from one Mediterranean island to another. What they found in 2009 was a new lizard subspecies.

Add time – and that’s how trillion of species were created!

And the mechanism is all but commonsensical.

For example, if some genetic mutation happens in an antelope giving it longer legs and making it faster, that specimen will have better chances to survive and procreate. Consequently, the gene responsible for the longer legs will have a better chance of mutating further. Of course, this will affect the cheetahs as well: only the fastest among them will survive. The others will die out of hunger.

So, both antelopes and cheetahs will strive to be faster. Evolutionary biologists call this process the evolutionary arms race.

But, despite the differences, there are also many similarities between species; relicts of the time they diverged in the evolutionary tree. For example, bats have wings and humans hands – but their skeleton is homologous, i.e. it follows the same layout.

In other words, in some distant history, humans and bats had a common ancestor. Bat wings are actually elongated and stretched finger bones – and the other way around!

Speaking of relics – do you know that you have a tail?

Key Lessons from “The Greatest Show on Earth”

1.      Evolution Is Not a Theory – It’s a Scientific Fact
2.      Your Body Betrays Your Evolution – And Forever Will
3.      We Will Never Find a Crocoduck – And That’s Evidence for Evolution

Evolution Is Not a Theory – It’s a Scientific Fact

One in two Americans believe that evolution is a theory. And a wrong one, mind you!

However, this is simply not true. Evolution is not a theory, nor just a good scientific hypothesis. It was the latter back in the 19th century when Darwin proposed it. By now, it has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

In other words, whether you believe in it or not, evolution definitely happened.

Your Body Betrays Your Evolution – And Forever Will

Creationists believe that the Earth is no older than 6,000 years (the Bible says so, apparently) and that there was no time for evolution to work its magic. Moreover, that the earth’s age is a conclusive proof that God created all life on earth as it currently is.

But, this begs few questions.

First and foremost, why did God bother to give you a tail you will never ever need? And why do you have an appendix? Or wisdom teeth?

Next, have you ever wondered where do goose bumps come from? The answer is: from the you’re your ancestors needed to regulate your body temperature.

Thirdly, why did God create an eye which actually looks upside-down? Instead of bothering the brain to correct the image, he could have made a perfect eye, couldn’t he?

And finally, do you know that the human genome contains a gene which, in most other mammals, produces a Vitamin-C-synthesizing enzyme? Humans don’t need the gene. But it’s still there. Turned off and disabled.

We Will Never Find a Crocoduck – And That’s Evidence for Evolution

In 2007, Kirk Cameron – yes, the guy from “Growing Pains” and “Like Father Like Son” – and Ray Comfort presented a strange argument against evolution. Namely, if it happened, then why aren’t we able to find a fossil of a crocoduck, an animal with the head of a crocodile, and the body of a duck.

The answer is: because evolution doesn’t work that way. True, crocodiles and ducks have some common ancestor – but probably it looked like neither of them. In fact, if we actually do find a crocoduck – then we’ll have to rethink the concept of evolution.

But, don’t worry: we’ll never find one.

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“The Greatest Show on Earth” Quotes

Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colours. Click To Tweet Why would an all-powerful creator decide to plant his carefully crafted species on islands and continents in exactly the appropriate pattern to suggest, irresistibly, that they had evolved and dispersed from the site of their evolution? Click To Tweet Even if it were true that evolution, or the teaching of evolution, encouraged immorality that would not imply that the theory of evolution was false. Click To Tweet If the history-deniers who doubt the fact of evolution are ignorant of biology, those who think the world began less than ten thousand years ago are worse than ignorant, they are the deluded to the point of perversity. Click To Tweet It would be so nice if those who oppose evolution would take a tiny bit of trouble to learn the merest rudiments of what it is that they are opposing. Click To Tweet

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The Demon-Haunted World Summary

The Demon-Haunted World PDFScience as a Candle in the Dark

If there’s any part of you interested even slightly in astronomy and cosmology, you probably owe a lot to Carl Sagan. He popularized these disciplines as nobody before him. And in “The Demon-Haunted World” you can see how he managed to popularize skeptical and scientific thinking as nobody ever since.

About Carl Sagan

Carl SaganCarl Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist and astrophysicist, and probably the man responsible for bringing these disciplines to the mainstream. His 1980 TV series, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”, is the most watched scientific TV series in history, so far seen by half a billion people in over 60 countries.

He wrote many bestselling books; among them: “The Dragons of Eden”, “Broca’s Brain” and “Pale Blue Dot.”

“The Demon-Haunted World PDF Summary”

You probably think of scientists as nerdy guys in white coats who solve equations and experiment on rats. You may even think that they are working on boring stuff that doesn’t concern you.

Well, have a look around: almost everything you see was once devised by some kind of a scientist. The very fact that you’re reading this article is a tribute to the power of science.

It was the mind of a scientist where the Internet was invented, where the smartphones and the laptops were first born.

And it all stemmed from something scientists adore: skeptical, or critical thinking.

The Demon-Haunted World” is a book which explains why skeptical thinking is practically the only actual way of thinking and how you can practice it best.

And it starts by exploring uncritical thinking.

For example, in the Middle Ages, people believed that demons called incubi entered women’s rooms and impregnated them during the night.

Sounds funny?

It’s not – because thousands of Americans report being abducted by aliens every year. Without offering a single shred of evidence for it! And millions believe that they are right. According to Carl Sagan, neither of these two groups uses its mental capacity to think skeptically.

Because, if they did – they’d understand that, by the same logic, I can claim many odd things. Such as, for example, that I have an invisible dragon in my garage. (See our “Key Lessons” section for more.)

And that’s dangerous for many reasons. What’s not – is challenging other people’s beliefs.

And that’s what science does. And, by doing it, makes humanity better. First of all, by helping it avoid dangers; then, by improving the material conditions of the poor through technological advancements; and finally, by allowing us to grapple with some of the most important questions.

But, lack of science is dangerous for society as well.

Because, then, people can be easily manipulated into believing the completely wrong things. For example, racial segregation. Concepts such as slavery (see: drapetomania) and the Holocaust happened because scientific theories were left untested.

And governements protected them.

Science makes mistakes, but it’s democratic and it’s based on few concepts democracy is also based upon. Some of the most important among them: diversity, skepticism, trial-and-error, the quest for objectivity.

It is the last which makes science wondrous and beautiful. And even more miraculous than religion. Just think about it: is it a greater miracle to be created by an omniscient being or by stardust?

Well, science says the latter is, in fact, undeniably true:

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff”

Key Lessons from “The Demon-Haunted World”

1.      Don’t Hide Invisible Dragons in Your Garage
2.      Learn How to Form a Good Hypothesis
3.      Use Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit on a Daily Basis

Don’t Hide Invisible Dragons in Your Garage

Few centuries ago, Descartes realized that the only thing he can be sure about is his ability to question things. Sagan agrees: skeptical thinking is what has gotten us – as a species – thus far. Everything else is bushwa!

Like, for example, the invisible dragon in your garage. If Sagan comes to your house and asks for a permission to spread flour on the floor so that he can see his footprints, it’d be nice of you to allow him. Because if you suddenly realize that the dragon floats in the air, you’re just making stuff up to be right; you don’t care about the truth.

After all, as Sagan would ask, “what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.”

Learn How to Form a Good Hypothesis

As you can easily deduce from the above story, good hypotheses have few traits that other claims don’t.

First of all, they are testable. Or, in other words, if astrologers are so good at seeing the future, why don’t they predict for you the winning lottery numbers? Simply put: because you can test this. You can’t sentences such as “one beautiful summer evening, you’ll discover your strengths and talents”.

Secondly, you can independently confirm a good hypothesis. Or, to pose this as a question: why there are never witnesses whatsoever for any case of alien abduction?

Thirdly, good hypotheses are based on truths exclusively – not on half-truths. For example,

And, finally, good hypotheses take real causality into consideration. Say, you get a little tipsy from drinking a glass of half water/half wine, a glass of half water/half brandy, and a glass of half water/half whiskey, it’d be wrong to conclude that it’s the water making you drunk.

Use Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit on a Daily Basis

Sagan offers a great “baloney detection kit” for everyone to use. It consists of many tools. Never forget to use the more important ones on a daily basis.

For example, always ask about the source from where the information comes. Next, try to see if that source has some kind of an agenda; if the information works to support it, then take it with a grain of salt. Thirdly, try to falsify his theory.

Next, see if the theory explains some of the anomalies the old theories were unable to. Fifth: learn if the theory adheres to the rules of the specific field. And, last but not least, understand fallacious arguments and remember the most common types among them.

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“The Demon-Haunted World Quotes”

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality… The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both. Click To Tweet For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Click To Tweet The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media. Click To Tweet Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine. Click To Tweet Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our ignorance about ourselves. Click To Tweet

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The Really Big One

The Really Big One Summary

“The Really Big One” is an earthquake that “will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.”

About Kathryn Schulz

Kathryn Schulz

Kathryn Schulz is a Pulitzer-winner and The New Yorker staff writer.

“The Really Big One Summary”

Not long ago, scientists have discovered that there is a fault line in the Pacific ocean that has been the reason behind more than seven large-magnitude earthquakes in the past 35 centuries.

They found it while studying the “ghost forest” near Washington Coast, and came up with the conclusion that almost all trees suddenly died between 1699 and 1700 because they were inundated with salt water.

They believe that this fault line can and will trigger another massive earthquake followed by a tsunami by 2015 which will be “the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.”

The changes of this earthquake happening are one to three.

The Juan de Fuca oceanic plate is sliding underneath the North American tectonic plate in the zone that runs offshore from Northern California to Vancouver, Canada, otherwise known as the Cascadia subduction.

Scientists have reasons to believe that there will come a time when a “backstop” will cause the North American tectonic plate to “rebound like a spring.”

However, the rebound of even a small part of the subduction zone will cause an earthquake with a magnitude of as much as 8.6.

This earthquake could be compared to the 2011 disaster in Japan.

Can you imagine what will happen if the entire fault line opens up?

An earthquake with a magnitude up to 9.2.

But that is not all.

The rupture will cause the continental shelf beneath the ocean to ”drop by as much as six feet and rebound 30 to 100 feet to the west.”

This will trigger a tsunami that will endanger about 140,000 square miles along the Northwest coast of the Pacific.

Studying the potential effects of the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that it will kill more than 13 000 people, a number that can rise if the disaster happens during tourist season. It will also injure 27 000 and displace as much as a million other people.

The Pacific Northwest coast is particularly prone to be hit because of the lack of different seismic safeguards, such as an early warning system.

Key Lessons from “The Really Big One”

  1.      The Discovery of the Fault Line
  2.      A Possible Disaster
  3.      Expected Victims

The Discovery of the Fault Line

Not long ago, while studying the “ghost forest” near Washington Coast, scientists have discovered that there is a fault line in the Pacific ocean that has been the reason behind more than seven large-magnitude earthquakes in the past 35 centuries.

A Possible Disaster

The rebound of even a small part of the subduction zone will cause an earthquake with a magnitude of as much as 8.6, while if the entire fault line opens up an earthquake with a magnitude up to 9.2 can be expected.

Expected Victims

If it happens, this disaster will kill more than 13 000 people; it will injure 27 000 more, and displace as much as millions of others.

“The Really Big One” Quotes

We now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. Click To Tweet The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Click To Tweet

The numbers do not fully reflect the danger – or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it. Click To Tweet
The gap between what we know and what we should do about it is getting bigger and bigger, and the action really needs to turn to responding. Otherwise, we’re going to be hammered. Click To Tweet

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Best Nonfiction Books of All Time

Naturally, our first idea for our final list – best nonfiction books of all time – was making “a best of the best” list. After all, we already made for you no less than 16 lists, and choosing the best book of each of them would have been a perfect finale to our wonderful list-making journey of the past year.

(Which, by the way, we hope you enjoyed it at least as much as us.)

However, halfway down making such a list, we realized that there were so many great books we didn’t have a chance to include anywhere else. So, we decided to make a U-turn! Instead of compiling books from our lists, we decided that each of our top nonfiction books should be a unique entry.

Yes, that meant that this list would be bereaved of many highly deserving classics. From the top of our heads: “The Diary of a Young Girl”, “Night” or “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (top biographies), “Civilization and Its Discontent” (top psychology books), “Capitalism and Freedom” and “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, And Money” (top economics choices) or half of our top history books.

But, it also meant that we’ll provide you with 15 more reviews of 15 more exceptional books by 15 more exceptional people. Although, we would have wanted to include at least as many even here.

Enjoy!

#1. “A Dictionary of the English Language” by Samuel Johnson

A Dictionary of the English Language SummaryContrary to popular belief, this is not the first dictionary of the English language. However, it is certainly both the most influential and the most admirable one. As Walter Jackson Bate wrote, Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary” “easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever.”

No, this is not a biased opinion! And a simple comparison may be the only argument you’ll ever need to read as evidence.

Namely, the Académie française took 55 years and the dedication of 40 scholars to complete their Dictionnarre; it included about 30,000 words. Samuel Johnson spent 8 years to compile a list of 40,000 words. And all were thoroughly defined and meticulously illustrated with over 114,000 quotations!

And he did it all – by himself!

There’s nothing even remotely similar to Johnson’s endeavor in all of human history! His dictionary was so good that was unanimously considered the preeminent work of its kind for almost a century and a half, until the “Oxford English Dictionary” came out.

Bonus: some of the definitions in the dictionary are really funny! Such as “Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.”

#2. “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant

Critique of Pure Reason SummaryBarely thirty years after Samuel Johnson transformed the way people think about the English language, German philosopher Immanuel Kant transformed the way people think about – well, anything. A miraculous achievement, considering the fact that Kant almost never left his hometown, the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad).

First published in 1781 – before being revised six years later – “Critique of Pure Reason” attempts to give an answer to the question “how do we know.” A question as old as time, you might say, but a question with so many answers before Kant as well.

Kant didn’t like this, so he tried to explain away the confusion and put an end to all speculation once and for all. However, he didn’t want to resort to some easy answers, such as the skepticism of René Descartes and David Hume. So, he went on to develop about a thousand-page long theory of the relationships between pure reason and human experiences.

And, magnificently, philosophers worldwide agree that he did quite a good job. Although, to be perfectly honest, some time passed before anyone understood what Kant was saying.

Bear that in mind if you ever want to leaf through its pages. You’ll definitely need some help.

#3. “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto Summary1848 was one of the most tumultuous years in human history. Revolutions broke in over 50 countries around the planet, and almost each and every one in Europe. Objective historians have rightly dubbed 1848 as the Year of Revolution. The more hopeful ones have opted for a more poetic title: People’s Spring.

Well, a month before the actual commencement of that year’s spring (February 21, 1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published a very brief political pamphlet which would go on to change the course of human history.

Widely considered the most influential text of its kind in history, the three-part “Communist Manifesto” is a summary of Marx and Engels’ ideas about the nature of society and politics.

The first part, “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” states from the outset the main premise: “history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” The second part, “”Proletarians and Communists,” lists and explains the measures necessary to achieve a classless society. Finally, the third part “Socialist and Communist Literature,” sets apart communism from other similar doctrines.

Some love it; others despise it. Nevertheless, the ideas presented in “The Communist Manifesto” have been hotly debated ever since its publication.

And will be – for any foreseeable future.

#4. “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” by Henry David Thoreau

Walden SummaryIn 1845, Henry David Thoreau – then merely 28 years of age – left behind the materialist America of his time to live a life of seclusion and solitude in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s country cabin near Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

He stayed there for two years, two months and two days. And nine years later, he gave the world his account of his experiences, “Walden,” a book so influential that, as John Updike noted it “risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.”

If you’ve ever watched “Dead Poets Society,” you probably already know its (a bit jumbled-up, though) introduction by heart: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

What you may not know, however, is that “Walden” is the most radical way in which Thoreau tried to practice his ideas of civil disobedience. Expounded more thoroughly in another essay of his, the concept – and “Walden” – would influence figures as diverse as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

A book for all the ideologists out there. For all times.

#5. “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill

On Liberty SummaryJohn Stuart Mill was raised to be a genius; so, he became one of the greatest of his, or, for that matter, all times. He contributed to so many areas of human knowledge that he is often considered to have been “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century.”

However, his short book titled “On Liberty” seems to have stood the test of time like no other of his books. It’s still widely read and widely commented. A copy of the book, for example, is regularly passed to the new president of The British Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party as a symbol of his office.

Written as an attempt to apply Mill’s favored philosophical doctrine (utilitarianism) to the state and society in general, “On Liberty” analyzes the relationship between governments and individuals, and between authority and freedom. It tries to uncover where one’s freedom ends and where someone else’s begins. And, finally, it tries to show how we can remain democratic without falling victims to an unexpected “tyranny of the majority.”

Just like any of the books on this list, “On Liberty” has been as much lauded as it has been criticized. However, just like them, it’s also still thought-provoking and debated. A testament to its greatness.

#6. “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin

On the Origin of Species SummaryThe same year Mill published “On Liberty,” one man published a book which will largely overshadow its significance. A book which – some may argue – has overshadowed almost every single nonfiction book ever written, bar one or two it rubs its shoulders with at the peak of the pedestal.

The full title of the book: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” You already know the author: Charles Darwin.

Written for the general public – so as to attract more attention – “On the Origin of Species” argued something nobody had ever dared before. Namely, that living organisms have a common ancestor and that their diversity is the result of random selection.

No gods, no divine will. Merely Mother Nature, in all its haphazard glory.

It’s practically impossible to overestimate the effects Darwin’s theory would have on every living person. And when twelve years later Darwin would apply the theory of evolution he devised here to humans, the circle would be completed.

Because “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex” would be the first book to argue that humans are not an exceptional species.

And that – there’s so much humbleness and beauty in this finding.

#7. “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus SummaryAustrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was such a colorful person that a short biography would do no justice to either his life or his larger-than-life personality. For now, suffice to say that he is considered to have been “the most perfect example… of genius” even though he published just one fairly slim book during the 62 years he was given to live and think on this planet.

And that volume is “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” – in all of its 80 pages and 526 numbered statements.

Written during the period of the First World War, the “Tractatus” is comprised of no more than seven main propositions, each as seemingly comprehensible as thoroughly inscrutable as the next one.

Want to have a go?

Here is the first one: “the world is everything that is the case;” it’s followed by seven sub-propositions which may help you understand it; or not. Either way, they won’t prepare you for the second one: “What is the case (a fact) is the existence of states of affairs.” Cue 79 apparently elucidating statements. (Click here for the whole structure.)

Now, you’re probably wondering how then the “Tractatus” ended up being on our list?

Well, because almost every single sentence of it has been scrutinized and/or challenged by almost any thinker who matters. Not the least – by Wittgenstein himself. A bit strange if you take into consideration that, at the time he published it, he claimed, in a Kantian manner, that the “Tractatus” had solved all philosophical problems.

Even stranger in view of the last – and by far most famous – of his seven propositions. This one’s a beauty: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

#8. “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One’s Own SummaryIt was precisely something many had remained silent about that an English modernist writer by the name of Virginia Woolf wanted to speak about in 1929. And in “A Room of One’s Own” she did. In her familiar exuberantly fluid, and sumptuously beautiful prose. A lifetime interest for her – style – wasn’t as important this time around.

It was what she wanted to convey through it. A message which echoed through time and space. It isn’t just to her talent to summarize it in a sentence, but, since it’s hers, will be unjust. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

As axiomatic as it may sound nowadays, when Woolf wrote it, it was both frowned upon and as radical as a political manifesto.

However – and fortunately – it set the foundation for feminism; and, through it, for women’s rights. Because Woolf was the first one to ask the right question. It’s not “why have there been no talented women artists and scientists up to the nineteenth century”; it’s: “why no talented women artists and scientists ever got the chance to employ their talents?”

We already quoted her fairly straightforward answer above.

#9. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell

The Hero with a Thousand Faces SummaryWhen it was published in 1949, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” was one of the most thorough analyses of how similarly world mythologies have shaped the stories of their heroes’ journey to greatness. In the meantime, it has also become a sort of a manual for creating long-lasting works of art.

You probably don’t know it, but whether it’s “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter,” “Watership Down” or “Beauty and the Beast” – they all consciously owe their structure to Joseph Campbell’s investigations and his idea of the monomyth. Borrowed from Joyce, Campbell uses this word to speak about the fundamental architecture of the archetypal hero’s journey. And he summarizes thus:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Of course, there are many episodes interspersed with this narrative, but, even those are shared throughout cultures. Why? Because we’re all humans and because some stories are buried deep within our subconscious.

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” strives to uncover the arche-stories. While warning us that if we ever forget them, we’ll forget being humans as well.

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#10. “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan

The Feminine Mystique SummaryVirginia Woolf may have been the first one to remind women that they are as much as humans as men. However, Betty Friedan was the author who really shook women to their core, waking them from centuries of stony sleep. And showing them the way to a world where women can be equal to men.

Published in 1963, “The Feminine Mystique” is widely considered to have been the book which launched second-wave feminism. It was originally intended to be an article about the results of a survey Friedan conducted of her former Smith College classmates on their 15th-anniversary reunion. But, nobody wanted to publish the article. So, Friedan authored a whole book.

As she famously put it herself, about “the problem that has no name.”

You see, what Friedan discovered is that most of her friends were unhappy. Contrary to popular belief, what made them unhappy was the fact that they were expected to be wives and mothers.

And – herein lies the nameless problem – nothing more.

And each suburban wife, wrote Friedan, struggled with this problem alone. “As she made the beds, shopped for groceries… she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all’?”

Friedan was sure it couldn’t be. And she gave voice to all the women who shared her feelings.

And the world changed.

#11. “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” by Hannah Arendt

Eichmann in Jerusalem SummaryA Jew who left Germany soon after Adolf Hitler’s rose to power, Hannah Arendt is considered one of the most significant modern political philosophers. So influential is she that – as many would argue – the book we’ve chosen for our list isn’t the one she’s most famous for. That one is, in fact, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” where she carefully examines the roots of Nazism and Communism.

However, we went here with “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a book smaller both in length and in scope; but, in our opinion, also a book whose conclusions are much more related to the human nature and, thus, much more relevant and frightening.

Based on Arendt’s “New Yorker” reports about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, the book famously argues that Eichmann, one of the organizers of the Holocaust, was not a gruesome monster, but merely averagely intelligent “joiner.”

Or, in other, much more worrisome words, a person just like anybody else. He boasted of no exceptional intelligence or hatred, and he wanted to belong to some community.

But therein lies the rub: it was exactly because of people like him that the Holocaust was made possible. Evil has no movie-like qualities, and you can’t really detect it the way you can detect a serial killer in a slasher movie.

As Arendt famously said, evil is banal. And almost anyone, under the right circumstances, can become its agent.

#12. “Orientalism” by Edward Said

Orientalism SummaryAll humans belong to the same species. However, it seems that cultural differences have created chasms between them. Only recently we started understanding the greatest one, the West/East schism.

And it couldn’t have been written by anyone else other than Edward Wadie Said, a public intellectual born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, and raised and educated in Cairo at a British Anglican Christian school. All in all, by his own admission, “an uncomfortably anomalous student.”

But, “Orientalism” stemmed out of this discomfort. It strives to describe the cultural representations of some Eastern cultures (Asia, North Africa, Middle East) in the works of the authors who belong to the Western literary canon.

The results themselves are nothings short of expected. Predictably, Western writers never saw the inhabitants of these places as people of real flesh and blood, but as underdeveloped caricatures residing in an exotic world of myths and legends.

However, the consequences are far-reaching. According to Said, in time, the ruling elites in these Eastern societies realized that they could use these stories to exert authority and influence over their subjects. So, they internalized the Western narratives – and actually started turning into what they were wrongly portrayed to have been.

So, “Orientalism” is not only about culture and literature. It’s also about power and freedom.

#13. “The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA” by James D. Watson

The Double Helix SummaryThere are not many events in modern history that can compare – both in terms of instant impressions and eternal effects – to the publication of a single two-page article in the 171st volume of the scientific journal “Nature” on 25 April 1953.

Titled “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” and signed by Francis Crick and James D. Watson, the article has been variously described as a scientific “pearl” and as “the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century.”

Could it be any different?

What the article first described was the double helix structure of the DNA. Or, to put it in laymen’s terms – there, on these two pages, lay the answer to one of science’s fundamental mysteries.

The origin of life.

Fifteen years later, one of these two scientists, James Watson, wrote “The Double Helix”. An intimate autobiographical account of the discovery of DNA, “The Double Helix” was voted the 7th best nonfiction book of the 20th century by the Modern Library, and was placed on Library of Congress’ list of the 88 “Books That Shaped America.”

Important and immensely popular, the book has inspired a fair share of controversies as well. Which, of course, makes the book even more appealing.

#14. “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes” by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time SummaryWe really wanted to include a book by Einstein or Newton in our list; however, we opted for Stephen Hawking. And that already says a lot about how much we value the British physicist and his most celebrated book.

However, the reason why we preferred Hawking to Einstein or Newton is a blatantly obvious one. Namely, during the past two decades, “A Brief History of Time” has sold more than 10 million copies. You can’t say that about many books – let alone scientific treatises.

Because, even though it’s bereaved of the technical jargon associated with similar books, “A Brief History of Time” is still a serious study about serious matters. Such that go even beyond the questions answered by the discovery of DNA.

In it, Hawking writes about the origins and the eventual death of our universe; about concepts such as the Big Bang, time-space continuum, quarks and gravity; and, finally, he discusses two different theories which try to explain the existence of the universe – Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum physics.

Nobody has ever succeeded in bringing the world of cosmology and astrophysics as close to the general public as Hawking. And, unsurprisingly, in 2002 BBC poll, he was voted the 25th Greatest Briton of all time.

#15. “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction SummaryThe most recent entry on our list is one we felt we had to include in spite of it being published in 2014. Because we want you to take its subject matter as seriously as a heart attack. And because, in a way, “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert talks about some things which, if you don’t, there will be no writers left to write, and no readers to compile lists like this.

A winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, “The Sixth Extinction” argues that we are currently in the middle of a modern extinction process. However, unlike the previous five, this one’s man-made. Consequently, it’s also preventable.

However, the extinction will probably not be prevented, because, as Kolbert shows, humans are in a state of absolute denial. She compares this denialism to the one pre-Darwinian people had in view of prehistoric mass extinction. Most of them simply didn’t believe that any event could be powerful enough to wipe down a whole species from this planet.

Now, we know for sure that they were wrong. Unfortunately, we have invested enormous amounts of energy to – well, repeat it.

The result? Kolbert demonstrates that, if our estimates are correct, almost half “of all living species on earth” may be extinct by the end of 21st century.

Bleak? In need of immediate action?

Well, that’s what books can do.

And why we need lists like this one to guide us through the libraries of history.

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Sapiens Summary – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens Summary

MicroSummarySapiens presents a work on the evolution of humanity. In it, the author Yuval Noah Harari rewrites the history of the human being through time. Turning to striking facts such as the development of communication, the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution, the book addresses the central points of our evolution and explores the positive and negative points of these developments. Also, Sapiens also addresses the future of humanity, where these revolutions will lead man and what we will become. Let’s together understand our origins and where do we go in this microbook?

A Brief History of Humankind

From all kinds of creatures, humans were the ones that rose to the top. Why? What is so special about them?

From the dusk of our species, up until present day – our summary of “Sapiens” tells you the story of humankind.

Who Should Read “Sapiens”? and Why?

We are so small, a fraction in the universe, and yet, we have come to dominate the planet.

How and why were we able to do this?

“Sapiens” explores all aspects of human history that brought together made us who we are at present.

We recommend this book to readers interested in evolution, and most of all to readers who want to understand how we wound up living in a capitalist community.

About Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah HarariYuval Noah Harari is an author and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He specializes in world and military history.

“Sapiens Summary”

You know, us humans are pretty unique.

From all species, we were the ones that survived, transformed and ultimately dominated the whole planet. Now, we are even moving further and trying to colonize space.

So, whenever you feel like we are not much, think about that.

However, how did we manage to get this far?

We will start at the very beginning, from the dusk of our species.

Humans first appeared in East Africa, about 2.5 million years, and, as far as we know, evolved from Australopithecus.

These early humans, such as Homo erectus and Homo rudolfensis started migrating and moved from East Afrika to other more suitable environments.

This migration led to the need for adaptation and thus, humans evolved into more types of Homo, including Homo neanderthalensis in Asia and Europe.

Homo sapiens of what we know as modern humans appeared later, around 300 000 ago.

sapiens pdf

The Different Species Of Humans

When people think of their ancestral species, they imagine a linear evolution. According to this idea, one species of one genus evolves into another species, which results in a third – until it reaches Homo sapiens.

That is an easy way to think about evolution, but it is not 100% accurate. In fact, many species of the same genus lived in the same period, evolving and changing to adapt to their ages.

A “genus” is a group of species that share a common ancestor, and for humans, this common ancestor is Australopithecus – a type of monkey that lived about 2.5 million years ago.

The roots of humankind are in the eastern regions of Africa, but after 5 million years in this area, some humans, for unknown reasons, have decided to wander to other African regions, as well as parts of Asia and Europe.

Several new species began to emerge with the dispersion of humanity around the world. The dwarves Homo floresiensis lived on an Indonesian island.

The island they chose was deficient in food and other resources, and so the smaller ones who lived among them (and needed less food) lived more comfortably, while the higher members of the species died.

On other islands, there were more tropical species, some of which we are still discovering today.

The Ice Age made it very difficult for any species to survive in Eurasia. To survive in these temperatures and climates, humankind needed to be stronger and more durable than its brothers and sisters who lived elsewhere.

That generated the evolution of the most resilient individuals of the species Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus.

Homo erectus evolved to be very resistant and durable and managed to survive for 2 million years – a record for any human species.

East African humans, however, continued to evolve into multiple new species, but no human species has been as successful in the world as the East African species known as Homo sapiens.

They have thrived to this day and have spread all over the world.

Pros And Cons Of Human Beings

What differentiates Homo sapiens from other members of the genus? What made them what they are now and what made them reach the top of the animal kingdom?

When we look at the ancient history of humankind, some important evolutionary observations appear.

One of the most important things that differentiated the ancient human from the other four-limbed animals was their ability to stand.

That gave all Homo genus members capacity to see farther than other species, giving them a better chance of observing prey or potential dangers.

Standing walking also meant that human hands were available for other tasks, giving humans great versatility that other species did not have.

Humans also had bigger brains than most other animals. To illustrate, the average mammal of 60kg has a brain of 200 cubic centimeters. Sapiens, on the other hand, has a brain of 1,200 to 1,400 cubic centimeters, which gave it incredible cognitive power.

This brain power has a high cost. The brain needs the energy to work, and the great brain of human species spends about 25 percent of the body’s total energy when i is resting.

Compared with the other apes that spend around 8%, you can begin to understand why humans were not as strong physically compared to other species.

Since our bodies spend so much energy to keep the brain active, less energy remains for all other functions.

As for other mammals, humans are born prematurely. A human newborn is frail and helpless against predators looking for a meal.

Other mammals, on the other hand, are born weak, but they can move and think. They also need care, but not as much as human newborns.

These differences have weakened humans as a species, but have also differentiated them. The power of the brain was a debilitating aspect in the beginning, but over time it became one of the greatest advantages of the human being.

Cognitive Revolution And Power Of Human Communication

Humans began to rise in the ranks of the animal kingdom around 70,000 years ago when revolutionary methods for sharing information began to emerge between them.

Developing languages shared by human groups allowed species to gather, exchange, and receive information in ways that other animals were not able to do, leading to a major change in the way of life of humankind.

This change is known as the Cognitive Revolution.

The idea that humans thrived because they were the first animals to discover how to communicate is false. Language was shared by other species; it was common in the ancient world and even today.

Using gestures, noises, and other actions, animals communicate general information with their relatives, such as information about nearby predators or mating.

However, although this type of communication is efficient, it is also very basic. An animal can use its language to make other animals aware that there are good fruits to eat, but it can not give the location of the fruit without going there.

An animal can learn that a hungry tiger is close but can not know where or when. The power of human language, on the other hand, lies in its complexity.

Humans can use their language to communicate specific information such as the exact location of a predator, the best time to find food, the dangers of traveling alone in an area, and so on.

Another difference in human language is that it is commonly used to argue about other people – a behavior that is not seen in the language of other animals.

Humans are by nature social creatures and need communication and community to thrive.

The ability to refer to other humans brought a sense of community to the ancient sapiens. Also, humans could retain the information communicated, allowing them to record the stories, the world around them and even completely fabricated things.

Humans have built a society around this communication, forming bonds and increasing their chances of survival.

Changes Brought By The Revolution Of Agriculture

The ancient world was rich in resources waiting for men. Fleshy animal herds, abundant edible vegetation, and even nutritious insects were only part of the quest.

Humans used to gather food and natural resources as they were found, eating what they needed and putting together or leaving the rest.

The earth’s resources were numerous, so a change was not necessary. This changed drastically 10,000 years ago when the agricultural revolution began.

We do not know what brought about this change, but sometime between 9,500 and 8,500 BC, humans in the world began cultivating edible plants and domesticating animals, which led to the farmer’s lifestyle.

This may sound positive, but it was a dangerous change for humans in general, completely altering their daily life and incorporating more work and stress.

The amount of food and resources increased, but this led to the development of social hierarchies in which hardworking farmers were at the base of the pyramid.

Moreover, as the human body was evolved for hunting, climbing and other similar tasks, the alternative tasks of agriculture required large evolutionary changes in several species.

Farming and resource gathering helped humans thrive and led to greater organization and concern for the future, but it also fostered greedy behavior.

The still nature of the farm made humanity much more territorial, fighting against predators, plagues and even against other humans to protect their land.

Moreover, the population boom was so great that humanity could not return to its old habits even if it wanted to. There was no turning back.

With the development of society, humans began to organize their hierarchies and put the top decision-making leaders and the workers at the bottom.

By 8,500 BC, large villages began to form and, by 2,200 BC, the first empire was formed with one million people and an army of about 5,000 soldiers.

The Development Of Human Societies

The construction of today’s world has demanded much learning from the human being. Humanity did not need much knowledge when it survived only by collecting food.

Attitudes such as gathering food, climbing trees and making basic tools were very simple or even innate to the ancient man. In the developed and hierarchical world of the Agriculture Revolution, actions have become much more complicated.

The body naturally knows how to yawn, how to cough and how to climb, but does not know how to respect its leaders, cook meat or how to find information. People needed to learn to live in the new society that humans had created.

To help teach people to live in society, humans have gradually developed ways of storing information. The solution was a series of significant symbols, which later became known as ‘the first writing’.

Along with the hierarchy, this made government an important tool to ensure that society functions as it should.

In the last centuries of the Before Christ years, humanity was beginning to cluster into empires, which were spreading.

An empire is a political order that governs a large and diverse group of people, with a continually expanding frontier and a thirst for conquest.

There were many empires, but there were still more groups of people to be ruled. However, as these people were conquered by greedy emperors, they began to mingle. This has led to a great reduction in the diversity of human beings in that period.

We will never know whether these changes in society were good or bad for human evolution, but each advance has carved out human culture to this day. Still, it is undeniable that the most shocking revolution was yet to come.

The Scientific Revolution And The Transformation Of The World

The most radical change in the way of living and working of human beings is not so old.

In fact, it started only 500 years ago. Incredible advances in the areas of technology, military power, innovation, and breakthroughs have led to a new way of promoting the breakthroughs.

These factors resulted in the  Scientific Revolution.

Under the Scientific Revolution, humankind has consolidated its dominance over the planet. Over the past 500 years, humans have increased their production levels from $ 250 billion to $ 60 trillion. They have increased their daily calorie intake from 13 trillion to 1,500 trillion.

Humans also went through another population boom, rising from 500 million Sapiens to 7 billion. What caused these changes?

A large part of the progress of the Scientific Revolution can be attributed to the change in scientific thought – or, more specifically, to a willingness of the scientific community to admit ignorance.

This allowed scientists to search for truths, rather than simply constructing ideas based on assumptions that might be wrong.

Modern science also tries to observe the world around it, more than ancient science did. It uses these observations to create theories about how the world works. But possibly the most obvious difference in scientific thinking is the pursuit of power.

Theories of modern science are no longer developed solely for the sake of research.

Now humanity is investigating things with the intention of using them, developing new technologies to help us learn even more about the world and aid human life.

The scientific advances achieved by this revolution have changed the planet for better or worse, as well as all the species that live in it.

Thanks to scientific progress, there is now enough weapons in the world to eradicate humanity.

However, modern science has also given us the power to feed the poor, provide help to those in need and respond to global crises quickly.

Modern science is also more than an institution of discovery. It can be used to drive the industry by developing more efficient ways of working in many areas.

The impact of the Scientific Revolution has been felt throughout the world, making the world we live in entirely different from that of only 500 years ago.

The Future Of Humanity

From the beginning, humanity has used its advantages to overcome other creatures. But perhaps the greatest achievements of humanity lie in their ability to overcome their natural barriers.

The future of humankind could progress naturally, as it always did, but when it reaches its limits, the future may follow in different directions.

Humanity can extend its life and find solutions to its natural defects using robotic engineering, something that is already happening.

Today we already have experimented with small animals and insects involving computer implants created for the improvement, creating organic hybrids and perfect bionic beings.

Humans already use similar technology to help prolong or improve life, such as pacemakers and hearing aids.

However, new technologies will go even further. Humans now have technology that allows amputees to control robotic arms operated by thought.

Technologies like these can go even further and be used in the future to correct any physical problem.

Advances in artificial intelligence are also proliferating. Work began in 2005 on a revolutionary project that recreated the human brain inside a computer.

By using circuits and metals instead of neural networks and fats, humans may be able to explore the inorganic.

The most exciting advances are in biology. Bioengineering has allowed great feats of genetic personalization.

Sex changes, human parts developed in the laboratory and many other issues are already healthy in the world, but the possibilities of genetic combinations can achieve great deeds.

What if there was a genetic modification that would make a person stronger or smarter? What if two human beings with these modifications had children? The baby would be stronger and smarter as well, but would not be more a result of man’s natural evolution.

In the future, bioengineering could give us the power not only to observe the next steps of human evolution but also to protect them.

Our ancestors – a brief explanation

They were not very different in a special way. They walked upright, had big brains, were highly social and used tools, but that was no different from other types of humans.

Yet, they were the ones that preserved and spread all over the world, while the other species disappeared.

You might be asking yourself: why?

Scientists have come up with two theories to explain this.

The first one is the interbreeding theory which argues that Homo sapiens merged with other species by starting to mate with them.

Conversely, the replacement theory suggests that Homo sapiens had superior skills and technology, and thus pushed other species toward extinction. How? By violence, of course.

Both of these theories are likely, and most probably the truth lies somewhere in between.

Okay, but if other species went extinct because of Homo sapiens and the advantages they had, how did it come to the point when humans were superior to others?

The answer to this question is logical: the human brain. Humans have a uniquely structured brain, which, around 70 000 years ago got transformed through an evolutionary leap otherwise known as cognitive revolution.

This transformation made them more advanced and gave humans a sudden improvement in cognitive reasoning and brainpower.

So, humans used their improved brain capabilities to outperform and surpass their rivals.

They began forming more sophisticated communities, they improved their hunting tools and techniques and even started a primitive form of trade.

These developments, although they might seem simple from a modern point of view, were very significant. Being advanced like that meant that Homo sapiens could survive even in the harshest of environments since they could find food and resources for sustainable unlike other species of human.

Another thing that the cognitive revolution made possible was the journey to unknown places, i.e., it made humans travel and colonize even the most remote areas in the world.

Starting from Africa, humans spread out all over the world.

Soon we will move to successfully colonizing space.

Key Lessons from “Sapiens PDF”

1.      The Importance of Language
2.      The Creation of Agricultural Societies
3.      The Future of Humanity

The Importance of Language

Language is the best symbol of human sophistication. Human language is far more complicated than communication forms that other species use.

The development of language is one of the most significant points in human history.

Why?

Language allows people to pass on valuable lessons, dangers, and most significantly – abstract concepts and ideas.

Hence, they can create myths, and as you know, myths are the basis of human culture, and therefore, identity.

The Creation of Agricultural Societies

Societies changed to agricultural communities for two reasons.

First, the change to agriculture was not overnight, and by the time people learned that farming was slow and not immediate as hunting it was already too late.

Second, agriculture has one big advantage which erases most of its faults – it is more efficient. Efficiency was crucial when the population grew.

Turning to agriculture conditioned the emergence of trade and later, money.

The Future of Humanity

We know our past, but how about what we can expect in the future?

Technological and scientific developments are moving toward finding the cure for aging and discovering eternal life.

So what are the limitations that we encounter?

At the moment are mostly of legal and ethical nature. However, such barriers cannot last long, so it is possible that soon, we will no longer exist as Homo sapiens. Instead, we will become superspecies, part human, and part machine.

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“Sapiens Quotes”

You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. Click To Tweet How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. Click To Tweet One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Click To Tweet The romantic contrast between the modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for… Click To Tweet History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Yuval Noah Harari tells the history of humankind in a fun and entertaining way. His focus is on the three types of revolution: cognitive, agricultural and scientific, and how those points in evolution changed humankind.

He does not write about facts only, he also explores and discusses topics to which there is no real answer at the moment. Hence, he explores not only what happened, but what could have happened if some things were different.

Humans are born small, weak, and helpless. Without the force of a gorilla or the speed of a leopard, we were initially bred to harvest fruits and plants. But one day, a spark of progress began within that small genre.

Somewhere between our first rudimentary tools and the present time, humanity has grown from the bottom of the food chain to become the dominant force on the planet.

Now, humans are looking to the future that is under their control. No longer dependent on natural evolution, fate is in the hands of Homo sapiens.

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The Lucifer Effect Summary

The Lucifer Effect SummaryUnderstanding How Good People Turn Evil

How many times have you asked yourself “why are people so evil?”

Well, we have the answer!

It turns out that our nature is not the one that decides on which side of the good/evil line we fall, but the circumstances that surround us.

Now, let’s expand this conclusion more in detail.

Who Should Read “The Lucifer Effect”? and Why?

Can you guess the meaning of the title?

Lucifer was an angel who challenged God’s authority and was sent to hell along with other fallen angels. There he becomes Satan, the personification of all evil.

You can already guess what “The Lucifer Effect” is about. Good can indeed go bad.

But how does this happen? What are the preconditions for turning evil?

We recommend this book to all readers who want to get a better understanding of human nature, as well as to those who wish to know why good people can turn evil.

About Philip Zimbardo

Philip ZimbardoPhilip Zimbardo, famous for his Stanford prison experiment, used to teach psychology at Stanford University. He is also an author and a former president of the American Psychological Association.

“The Lucifer Effect Summary”

Try to think of a time when you took something that was not yours, while no one was watching.

Most people have a memory of something like that.

No, it is not the greatest of evils, but it shows that sometimes we are willing to do things which we would not do if the situation did not allow it.

However, in our conception of the world, we adopt the notion that some people are born evil, and that is it.

The truth is somewhat different. In reality, the line between good and evil is fragile, and people can pass it.

So pointing fingers and the assumptions that only evil people do evil deeds are wrong.

So, what makes good people do bad things?

Psychologists and psychiatrists focus on dispositional causes, or the inborn traits of our behavior such as character, genetic, pathologies.

However, although we do carry these attributes with us, there are some situational causes which are more responsible for our behavior than our inherent characteristics.

Just think of the way you behave around your friends and the way you act around small children. You can see a different image of yourself, can’t you?

What we want to say is that personalities and human character are not static. They do change, according to the circumstances and the social contexts that surround you.

This perception is called the situational approach to comprehending human conduct. What it means is that you become what you need to become based on the situation you are in.

Okay, it is clear that some circumstances can turn ordinary people into monsters. But what are the specific factors?

One vital aspect of the transformation of individuals is obedience to authority. It does not matter what “authority” is – it can be a human, a set of rules, or an institution.

What is important is that most people choose to be obedient even if it means to be cruel.

Authority figures, as history shows, can turn from good to evil as well. Followers rarely disobey. They also follow the change.

Another thing that can cause evil deeds to happen is a lack of personal responsibility.

In these cases we talk about deindividuation which leads to carrying out evil actions, when you believe are anonymous. Studies show that people are more tempted to be evil when they think that no one will recognize them.

Disguising one’s appearance and acting in places where the chances of being recognized are low are two ways to inspire deindividuation.

Most people around the globe believe they are morally upright. But history is full of examples of cruelty to humans, from fellow humans.

How can we justify this?

By dehumanization, or the process of stopping to see someone as fully human. Understanding this concept is critical in comprehending discrimination, prejudice, and racism.

When others are seen as inhuman, they automatically become unworthy of moral considerations and thus are targets of cruelty.

Another enabler of evil is the ability to cover evil deeds with words that make them sound justifiable and even reasonable. In other words, a cover story can justify immoral action.

The term cover story is used in social psychology, while in real life situations, we know this concept under the term “ideology.”

With the right ideological frame, evil deeds can be masked not only as good but as honorable as well.

We mentioned a lot of evil enablers. And indeed, there are many.

Right now you might be wondering about the complete opposite. If evil can happen in so many ways and because of so many things, then what does it take to be a good person?

You will find some of the answers in the key lessons below.

Key Lessons from “The Lucifer Effect”

1.      Do Not Avoid Responsibility
2.      Stop Obeying Unjust Authority
3.      What Makes a Hero?

Do Not Avoid Responsibility

Always consider yourself responsible for your choices, and stop any excuses that may arise in your mind. If no one can see you, it does not mean that what you are doing is not happening.

Stop Obeying Unjust Authority

Start thinking for yourself, and if you ever feel that authority is unjust, stop following and obeying it. Always questions the ideologies that people present to you that justify evil acts.

What Makes a Hero?

It is one thing to avoid evil, and it is entirely another thing to do something about it.

Two main characteristics define heroes.

First, heroes do something while everyone else is passive. And second, they are altruistic and put others before themselves.

We all have the potential to become a hero or a monster. The choice is yours.

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“The Lucifer Effect” Quotes

If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples. Click To Tweet Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can kill you. Click To Tweet The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces. Click To Tweet Heroes are those who can somehow resist the power of the situation and act out of noble motives, or behave in ways that do not demean others when they easily can. Click To Tweet The level of shyness has gone up dramatically in the last decade. I think shyness is an index of social pathology rather than a pathology of the individual. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Zimbardo connects the dots from being an angel to becoming evil. His writing is detailed and comprehensive and is a wonderful read for all readers interested in psychology.

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