Nature and Science
Europe: A Natural History by Tim FlanneryWelcome to: Europe, the tropical archipelago that formed 100 million years ago and, following floods, ice ages, and other events, transformed into the geographically and biologically diverse region we know today.
Look for: the "hell pigs" of the Oligocene period, the two-foot long proto-hedgehog Deinogalerix, and Europe's first hominids -- the human-Neanderthal hybrids that colonized the continent 38,000 years ago.
What's next? Confronting the existential threats of climate change, according to Australian author and paleontologist Tim Flannery.
Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith GriselWhat it's about: a behavioral neuroscientist with a history of substance abuse examines addiction from a scientific and personal perspective.
Media buzz: Author Judith Grisel appeared on NPR's Fresh Air to discuss both the book and her experiences with addiction.
Food for thought: Grisel notes, "The opposite of addiction, I have learned, is not sobriety but choice."
No Beast So Fierce: The Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, The Deadliest Animal... by Dane HuckelbridgeWhat it's about: the notorious Champawat Tiger, which killed more than 400 people in Nepal in the early 1900s -- and the intrepid hunter that tracked her down and killed her.
Read it for: a suspenseful account of the hunt, evocative descriptions of the tiger's territory, and reflections on environmental issues.
For fans of: John Vaillant's The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.
Figuring by Maria PopovaWhat it is: a lyrical exploration of the connections between great minds throughout history.
Why you might like it: Starting with Johannes Kepler and concluding with Rachel Carson, Figuring's discursive narrative follows an idiosyncratic, erudite path that blends science and art.
About the author: Maria Popova is the creator of the popular and expansively multidisciplinary Brain Pickings blog.
Humanimal: How Homo Sapiens Became Nature's Most Paradoxical Creature... by Adam RutherfordWhat it is: a thought-provoking look at human evolution that examines similarities and differences between humans and other species.
Reviewers say: "a refreshing and perspective-altering view of the complex history of life on Earth" (Publishers Weekly).
About the author: Geneticist and science journalist Adam Rutherford is the author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.
Focus on: Artificial Intelligence
Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James BarratWhat it is: a sobering look at the existential threats humanity may face once ANI (artificial narrow intelligence) begets AGI (artificial general intelligence), which in turn will beget ASI (artificial superintelligence).
What does that even mean? Once machines reach human levels of intelligence, it's only a matter of time before they attain superintelligence -- and our inferior human brains can't even fathom how that will play out.
Try this next: scholar and AI expert Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence, which offers a philosophical view of artificial intelligence.
Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence -- And Where It's Taking Us Next by Luke DormehlWhat it's about: journalist and documentary filmmaker Luke Dormehl surveys the field of artificial intelligence from its Cold War origins to the not-too-distant future.
Reviewers say: Ray Kurzweil, writing for The New York Times, calls Dormehl "the rare lay person...who actually understands the science (and even the math) and is able to parse it in an edifying and exciting way."
Try this next: George Zarkadakis' In Our Own Image, a comprehensive history of "thinking machines."
Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins by Garry KasparovBackstory: In 1997, world chess champion Garry Kasparov played against IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer -- and lost.
And now? Kasparov examines the development of machine intelligence through the lens of chess, including a detailed and insightful post-mortem of his match with Deep Blue.
Reviewers say: this book reads like "an absorbing, page-turning thriller" (The Guardian).
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max TegmarkWhat it is: an MIT professor's largely optimistic take on the future of AI -- and the ultimate fate of humans.
What sets it apart: In conversational style, Life 3.0 presents an overview of the field of artificial intelligence, while addressing some of the social and ethical issues that accompany it.
Supplementary materials: flowcharts, diagrams, and explanatory sidebars.
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