John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire writes “Shelf Life,” a books column, every other week. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism (Crown Forum).

Does Language Shape Thought?

 

The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language By John H. McWhorter (Oxford, 208 pages, $19.95) Chinese has an extraordinary number of verbs meaning “carry.” If I carry something on a hanging arm, like a briefcase, the verb is ti; on an outstretched palm, tuo; using both palms, peng; gripped between […]

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I Remember, I Remember

 

Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our PastsBy Charles Fernyhough(Harper, 320 pages, $26.99) How far back is your earliest memory? What age? In a recent Canadian study cited by Charles Fernyhough, the average was four and a quarter years. “Very few memories dated from before the […]

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Chasing Down the Ghost in the Machine

 

Writing The Principles of Mathematics in the spring of 1901, Bertrand Russell got stuck on a simple problem in the theory of classes (we would nowadays say “sets”): “Whether the class of all classes is or is not a member of itself.” In his autobiography Russell recalled: “It seemed unworthy of a grown man to […]

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

 

What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at NightEdited by John Brockman(Harper Perennial, 500 pages, $15.99) Fifty-five years ago British novelist, mandarin, and ex-scientist C.P. Snow gave a lecture at Cambridge titled “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” Snow deplored the mutual aloofness that, he said, existed between scientists and […]

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Bring On the Anti-Gravity Shield!

 

The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity By Pedro G. Ferreira (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages, $28) On November 25, 1915, Einstein presented his new equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in a short three-page paper,” this author tells us. Thus was the General Theory of Relativity born, […]

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Chinese Lives

 

Hard Road HomeBy Ye Fu(Ragged Banner Press, 176 pages, $17) Taking humanity at large, perhaps the greatest service any person of our time could perform for future generations would be to bring rational, consensual government to China. That such a populous nation, with such high general levels of industriousness and intelligence, and with such a […]

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21st Century Spock

 

The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and ParentingBy Alfie Kohn(Da Capo, 280 pages, $25.99) Child-raising is something everyone can have an opinion about. We were all children once. We interacted with other children—siblings, classmates. If we are middle-aged, we have probably raised children of our own. Many of us […]

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I Think Therefore I Am…What?

 

Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and PredictionEdited by John Brockman(Harper Perennial, 432 pages, $10.90) Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the public lecture, at which some person of eminence or accomplishment would address a hall full of curious citizens. The Internet equivalent is supplied by nonprofit foundations like […]

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A Zeal for Different Opinions

 

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political DifferencesBy John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John A. Alford (Routledge, 304 pages, $29.95) The sentry in Iolanthe wondered at how “Nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little […]

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American Excess, Chinese Success

 

Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and ChinaBy Stephen Roach(Yale, 345 pages, $32.50) China forecasting is a mug’s game. The terrible example before us all is Gordon Chang, who in 2001 published a book titled The Coming Collapse of China, which predicted that within five to ten years the Communist Party would be chased out of […]

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