Brian's Picks


When Brian isn't teaching science to high school students or being bossed around by his daughter, he likes to read poetry, literary fiction, and books about science and philosophy.  Carl Dennis, John Banville, and Steven Pinker are a few of his favorite authors.   

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Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250256850
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Holt Paperbacks - January 21st, 2020


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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525427575
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Viking - February 13th, 2018

Contrary to uncharitable mischaracterizations, Pinker is no Pollyanna; he concedes that we face challenges in these trying times - climate change and the prospect of nuclear catastrophe quickly come to mind - but he argues quite convincingly that humans, largely through the application of science and reason, have made headway on many problems that once seemed intractable: extreme poverty, illiteracy, etc.  If we wish to tackle the problems we face us today, we can’t abandon the tools that built the progress we currently enjoy, for, while progress has demonstrably occurred, there is, as Pinker makes clear, nothing inevitable about it.

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The Overstory: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393635522
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 3rd, 2018

I have to confess that, after finishing the The Overstory, I felt something akin to Keats’s rapturous delight while poring over the pages of Chapman’s Homer - and while I am certainly no Keats, I’m not so sure Richard Powers isn’t the Homer of trees.  

In The Overstory, Powers, who won the National Book Award for his 2006 novel, The Echo Maker, has created a sort of literary zoopraxiscope in which human existence flashes against the gradual and mysterious unfolding of vegetative life.  Over the course of the novel, this backdrop serves, at times, to both diminish and lend significance to human stories that become slowly and inextricably intertwined.

While telling their stories, Powers also serves as amanuensis to the trees, transcribing chemical utterances into breathtaking prose and revealing relationships hidden beyond the daily blur of human awareness.  His vivid descriptions transform trees from inert, almost inanimate, objects into tragic figures in a centuries-long play we are just beginning to appreciate. To his credit, Powers never once wields the blunt weapons of didactic fiction, preferring instead the finely honed tools of his craft to make us feel a certain fellowship with the trees. When reading a novel, we don’t typically expect to have our worldview changed, much less feel “like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken”; but such is the power of great fiction. And such is the power of The Overstory!

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The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution Cover Image
ISBN: 9781541617599
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Basic Books - June 19th, 2018

Well-written and thought provoking, The Equations of Life reveals the ways in which life's rich variety is constrained by the universal laws of physics, directing our gaze in useful ways when it comes to the search for life elsewhere.

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Gods of Howl Mountain: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250111777
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: St. Martin's Press - March 20th, 2018

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What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465096053
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Basic Books - March 20th, 2018

An accessible history of quantum mechanics that celebrates the scientists whose experiments helped elucidate the theory's implications for our understanding of reality and warns us of the dangers of accepting the pronouncements of charismatic authorities (Niels Bohr) as holy writ.

Severance: A Novel Cover Image
By Ling Ma
ISBN: 9780374261597
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - August 14th, 2018

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She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101984598
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Dutton - May 29th, 2018

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The Long Take: A noir narrative Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525655213
Availability: Special Order - Might Not Be Available. Contact Store at 828-254-6734 for Availability.
Published: Knopf - November 20th, 2018

Gritty and sublimely beautiful, Robin Robertson's verse-novel The Long Take evokes post-WW II American in language that insists on being read aloud and savored syllable by perfect syllable.  Psychologically and spiritually exiled from his edenic existence on Nova Scotia by war experiences that leave him nearly broken, Walker travels from New York to Los Angeles, where he eventually finds work as a reporter, writing about those lost in the shadows of a city's gleaming and relentless transformation.

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The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9781476776620
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Simon & Schuster - August 14th, 2018

The Day the Sun Died Cover Image
By Yan Lianke, Carlos Rojas (Translator)
ISBN: 9780802128539
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Grove Press - December 11th, 2018