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  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2017/09/22 Permalink
    Tags: , geek love, neil degrasse tyson, stephen hawking   

    10 Books Non-Geek Parents of Geeks Need to Read 

    Having children is one of the most powerful aspects of existence—the opportunity to mold and educate a new human, to shape their personalities and moral code. Or, try to anyway—sometimes your kids go in directions you never expected. One day they’re perfectly happy watching Spongebob, the next, they’re binging Doctor Who and reading X-Men comics. That’s right: while you were busy researching how to afford Ivy League colleges, your kid evolved into a geek.

    Don’t panic. Geeks built the world, they keep it running smoothly, they founded Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. Plus, you’ve got books on your side—reading the 10 books below won’t make you into a Geek yourself, but they will give you the necessary background to avoid tip-toeing around your geek child with a permanently confused expression on your face.

    Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
    Heinlein’s influential sci-fi novel isn’t for everyone, but in it he captures the unique combination of brilliance, superiority, terror, and loneliness that defines many geeky folks’ early life experiences. The story of a human raised on Mars by Martians who returns to Earth as the ultimate outsider, it explores that painful outsider status in a way that resonates with many smart kids, while introducing a ton of concepts (and fun words like grok) that have become foundational in geek culture.

    A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Maybe a better place to start is with some foundational scientific concepts. If your kid is getting into the sci-fi, they’re probably also getting into the science behind it—so having at least a glancing acquaintance with the field will help you keep up. Hawking and Tyson both wrote their books with the non-scientist in mind, but these works aren’t dumbed-down. Instead, they present incredibly advanced concepts in a jargon-free, but intelligent manner.

    Gödel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter
    One of the fundamental aspects of the geek mindset is curiosity—not about one specific thing, but about everything. Thoughts can jump alarmingly quickly as connections are made, which can sometimes make conversations a little tricky. Hofstadter’s famous book is like a deep-dive into the geekiest brain ever; just following the ebb and flow of his thoughts, and his brilliant wordplay, logic games, and intellectual experiments will be fascinating and delightful even if you don’t quite get all of them. Don’t worry—most people fail to “get” something in this book. It’s a lot to take in, but even making the attempt will put you on the right wavelength.

    Neuromancer, by William Gibson
    Another sci-fi classic that offers clues to the cyberpunk and programming subculture that your geeky kid is somehow magically well-versed in. Although dated, Gibson’s novel established so many of the tropes that reign in modern-day sci-fi, it’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the thrill of hacking together your first app—or simply hijacking the neighbors’ Netflix password.

    Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
    Another writer who “gets” the geek subculture. Neal Stephenson’s classic novel not only offers up some (again, slightly dated) examples of the geek approach to life, but also gets into the headspace of people who want answers and aren’t waiting patiently for someone to deliver them. As you read, you’ll run into a bunch of terms and concepts (like the concept of an avatar) that are common today—and then you’ll realize Stephenson coined them decades ago.

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
    If you want to get your geek’s sense of humor, start here, with the geekiest of comedy sci-fi novels. Adams himself was pretty geeky, a lover of gadgets and technology and an early adopter of the personal computer, and his humor runs the gamut from obscure technologies to philosophical puzzles with hilariously unconventional solutions.

    Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, by Tom Bissell
    Geeks love games. Well, most people love video games to some extent, but the geeks of the world own the gaming space, so understanding the thrill of video games (if you don’t already) is essential to being able to understand your kids. Bissell’s approach is readable but thorough, seeking to cut through the surface concepts of games simply being mindless entertainment and the crazier theories about games inspiring violence and sociopathic behavior, concentrating on what video games mean for mental and emotional development—and how it’s probably not a bad thing to let your kids enjoy the heck out of these entertainments. Video games, after all, are complex, vibrant imaginary worlds that can teach kids to use their wits, to love solving puzzles, and to deal with uncomfortable situations in a safe way.

    Playing at the World, by Jon Peterson and Empire of Imagination, by Michael Witwer
    Role playing games (RPGs) are often misunderstood—and considered the geekiest of geek pursuits. While RPGs are cracking the mainstream as more and more people discover the intense, deep-dive pleasures of total immersion in a fictional universe, they’re still difficult to understand for the non-geeks of the world. These two books will help illuminate what makes RPGs so fun, getting into the history, the mechanisms, and the basics of a good RPG experience. Read them, and you’ll understand better the next time your kid references a “saving throw” or a 20-sided die.

    The post 10 Books Non-Geek Parents of Geeks Need to Read appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:30 pm on 2017/05/16 Permalink
    Tags: how stuff works, neil de grass tyson, , stephen hawking   

    11 Books That Make Science Easy 

    Science has given us video games, microwave burritos, and self-driving cars. It is the backbone of modern civilization. Yet many of us shy away from anything resembling scientific education, reasoning that it’s too boring or too complex. That’s where the following ten books come in. Written by some of the smartest folks in the world, all they are crammed full of scientific knowledge, and reading them will definitely make you smarter. Yet, they’re all also accessible and fun, written in plain, understandable prose that lays out complex concepts simply.

    Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Tyson is not just one of the smartest men in the world, he’s one of the most personable and charismatic. His book is, therefore, fun. He doesn’t use a lot of scientific terms, but instead explores space, time, and the known universe in simpler ways that even folks who have never had any scientific training will find incredibly easy to understand. It’s like having a conversation with your really smart, really funny uncle.

    A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
    Hawkings’ masterwork of popular science writing, which introduced complex concepts like light cones to the layman, is made even more fascinating and easier to grasp by its detailed illustrations. The smartest man alive (sorry Neil!) distills a lifetime of scientific investigation and thought into a book guaranteed to improve your understanding of the laws of physics.

    Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
    The gold standard of science writing for the common person. In an easygoing, patient style, Sagan explores the biggest ideas in science with a contagious, wide-eyed wonder. If you’ve watched Sagan’s classic TV show of the same title, you will undoubtedly hear his unique voice as you read, which only adds to the experience.

    Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli
    Originally written as magazine articles aimed squarely at readers with zero scientific background, these seven essays aren’t lessons—they’re discussions. They will inspire (or reignite) a desire to understand our universe. Rovelli understands that it is that curiosity—that drive to comprehend and use knowledge for our own purposes—that makes people into scientists.

    A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
    Bryson is a non-scientist approaching awe-inspiring scientific concepts with a layman’s perspective and a writer’s mastery of language. The end result is a book that will explain science to you in a fun, relaxed way. The sheer breadth of the material Bryson covers is stunning. Plus, it’s Bill Bryson, so you’ll be entertained as heck the entire time.

    Six Easy Pieces, by Richard P. Feynman
    Richard Feynman is not only one of the most famous physicists in modern history, in life he was also a popular teacher. This collection of legendary lectures Feynman gave at the California Institute of Technology changed how science was taught, and remain delightful no matter your level of scientific knowledge. They’re just fun—Feynman’s enthusiasm for knowledge shines through on every page.

    The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart
    Sometimes the difference between mastering a concept and being bored to tears by it is context. If you enjoy an adult beverage from time to time, Stewart’s awesome book will be the easiest introduction to botany (with a dash of chemistry) you’ll ever read. She explores the plants that produce our favorite alcoholic beverages—and includes guides to growing your own to mix homegrown cocktails (otherwise known as the science of mixology).

    The Accidental Universe, by Alan Lightman
    Lightman is a novelist as well as a physicist, and writes with a clear-headed ease. In seven essays, he explores the impact of seven new theories or discoveries on the human condition—on philosophy, faith, and our shared understanding of the universe and how we fit into it. The end result makes the science anything but dry and dull—because Lightman connects it to the core of our existence.

    Neurocomic, by Hana Ros
    If you think about it, our bodies are just life support systems for our brains—the brain is where we exist, in every sense. Yet most of us understand nothing about the most complicated organ in our bodies. This book offers a lush, imaginative trip through the human brain. It reads like a dreamy adventure, but after you’re done you’ll know a whole lot more about how the brain works, and why we’re us.

    Nothing, by New Scientist
    Many aspects of the universe are defined by the lack of something as opposed to the presence of something, and you won’t realize how important understanding nothing really is until you read this collection of essays from New Scientist magazine. It offers a range of surprising perspectives on the concept, from the absence of consciousness, to the absence of matter, to how the concept of zero has evolved throughout history.

    What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe
    Written by the guy behind geeky, science-positive comic xkcd, this is the perfect book to remind you that learning can be fun. Munroe offers impeccably researched answers to the tough and bizarre questions xkcd fans have asked him. For example, can you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns (clearly one of the most important questions of our time)? And just what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? The lively and informative text is illustrated by Munroe’s trademark stick figures.


    The post 11 Books That Make Science Easy appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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