Every year, Point of Inquiry invites scores of great authors on the air as guests. So as 2012 draws to a close, we thought we’d compile a list for you of some of the best recent books by authors featured on the show this year.
Below, you’ll find a link to the book, a brief write-up, and a link to our interview with the author. If you somehow missed out on these titles (or these interviews), now’s the time to catch up!
—Chris Mooney & Indre Viskontas
This latest offering from Dr. Sacks harkens back to the books that made him famous: Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by infusing curious tales of brains gone awry with sensitive insights into what it means to be human. The author is not content to list symptoms of a disordered mind or treat hallucinatory experiences as characters in a freak show, and though the science of hallucinations remains relatively unknown, Dr. Sacks takes us through the looking glass and shows us how commonplace and illuminating our fantasy worlds can be. This book is a great gift for anyone interested in magic, illusion and sensory creativity.
Dan Ariely has built a compelling body of scientific work charting the depths of deception. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares to call himself a critical thinker or who wants to understand why we behave the way we do when left to our own devices. The author is not only a prolific, thorough and imaginative scientist, but also a gifted writer and a superb story-teller. You will have plenty of fodder for dinner party conversations, taking you through the dark winter months.
Have a friend or relative who thinks scientists are boring, fuddy-duddies set out to reduce the complexity of our universe to a set of equations? Then this is the perfect book for you. With humor, wit and a fast-paced conversational style, Stuart Firestein tracks the real scientific method – one that drives scientists to devote lives and careers in the pursuit of knowledge. It’s not fueled by information, data or answers, but rather by questions and the vast space of what remains to be known.
4. M.G. Lord – The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice
Feminism comes in many forms these days and is often misunderstood and misused. Can young women today find an unlikely role model in Elizabeth Taylor, an actress dogged by the Catholic Church because of her sex appeal and promotion of secular ideas, including gay and lesbian rights? Cultural critic and acclaimed author M.G. Lord explores the contributions of Elizabeth Taylor to feminism—and her struggles against the Church—in her latest book. For the movie buff who delights in reconsidering classic films and the icons that inhabit them.
Not yet out in the US (preorders available, coming in January) but already a best-seller in the UK, this book is the latest offering from Britain’s most accessible and followed psychologist. Victorian philosopher William James had a theory about emotion and behavior: It isn’t that our feelings guide our actions (feel happy and you will laugh). On the contrary, it is our actions that guide our emotions (laugh and you will feel happy). With this book, Wiseman uses his trademark humor to hammer the final nail into the coffin of the self-help movement: don’t just think (or read) about changing your life. Do it.
Jonathan Haidt’s breakthrough book on the origins of our political differences—and our religious proclivities—traced the fiercest divides of today back to differing moral emotions that, in turn, are rooted in our deep evolutionary past. After reading it, you’ll never look at politics in the same way again. And… you’ll never again make the mistake of assuming that it’s rational!
Writers like Richard Dawkins have long since established that there’s no need to invoke God to explain the origins of human beings, or the origins of life. Now, physicist Lawrence Krauss takes the next step—you don’t need God to explain the universe either! It might just be the sort of thing that happens from time to time. If you haven’t yet, you definitely want to read the book that kicked God out of physics—for good.
8. Joe Romm – Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga
In a stunning display of intellectual versatility, the physicist and climate hawk Romm gives us a treatise on rhetoric—the neglected art that is critical to political and persuasive success. If you’ve every convinced someone (or, more likely, failed to) this book explains why.
9. Lisa Randall – Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World
Randall’s lucid account of the triumphs of modern physics would be required reading anyway. But now that the Higgs Boson appears to have been discovered at the Large Hadron Collider, getting this book is even more imperative. Randall covers the Higgs saga in great detail, and provides a deep understanding (mostly lacking from media coverage) of what this discovery really means about matter and the universe.
Americans may not be very enamored of their government in general. But as Neil Tyson explains in his latest book, our government’s space agency—NASA—is something very different and very special. It’s the gem of our federal bureaucracy, channeling all of our hopes and inspiration… which is why, Tyson says, this agency must pave the way for our transformative future in space.