A skillfully entertaining education.

SAPIENS

A GRAPHIC HISTORY, VOLUME 2: THE PILLARS OF CIVILIZATION

The second installment of the graphic adaptation of Harari’s bestselling 2014 book.

Harari, Vandermeulen, and Casanave pick up the human project at the very beginning of the agricultural revolution, advancing the narrative of human history via Casanave’s vibrant, expansive panels of artwork, many of which evoke early comic strips, and plenty of amusing, tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Our amiable guides from Volume 1—Yuval, Zoe, Professor Saraswati, Cindy and Bill (they are now farmers), Detective Lopez, and Dr. Fiction—return to lead us through the proceedings, while historical figures move in and out of the narrative to provide insightful, appealing commentary about farming, animal domestication, and other relevant topics regarding the agricultural revolution and where it has led us as a species. Kafka meanders through a few dozen pages, discoursing on the massive complexities of the human brain and memory retrieval, the proliferation of numbers and data, and, of course, the detriments of bureaucracy involved in storing, accessing, and controlling information. Harari and company have deep reservations about many of the consequences of our “achievements,” problems that have included sickness and disease, unmanageable population increase, and sheer drudgery. The proliferation of private property, a natural consequence of working the land, was undoubtedly momentous, but it also contributed to the rise of slavery, complex social hierarchies, the second-class citizenry of women and other marginalized groups, and widespread racism. Throughout, the authors seek to present a concise rendering of the full march of humankind and point out elements that are fictionalized, misrepresented, or exaggerated—and show how those elements have shaped human behavior, norms, and mores. The section on American slavery and its consequences into the present is particularly illuminating. Ultimately, balance in society is key to maintaining some semblance of order amid seemingly chaotic circumstances: “If people have faith in nothing, social order collapses, causing a lot of suffering….A big part of politics is about finding the right balance.”

A skillfully entertaining education.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-321223-7

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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