New and noteworthy – 26 January 2017

Guide for a scientific career, suitable for ages 8 and up; the cultural temperature of ‘climate’; on why gender inequality is still with us; and the Russian Revolution from below

January 26, 2017
Man sitting on chair looking at blackboard full of scientific figures and graphs
Source: iStock

Skills for a Scientific Life
John R. Helliwell
CRC Press

A “semi-retired” scientist stirs more than a dash of memoir into 34 limpid chapters of intentionally “first principles” focused, career-spanning advice, neatly bookended by an introduction aimed at schoolchildren, “How do you know you are suited to be a scientist?”, and a conclusion giving pointers on explaining the scientific method to a new generation of pupils. In between: sage words on mentoring and research collaborations, time management and chairing meetings, refereeing and reviewing, impact and patents, social media and gender equality.

Weathered: Cultures of Climate
Mike Hulme

“Before the cultural politics of climate change can truly be understood, I believe a richer understanding of the idea of climate itself is needed,” observes Hulme of an “imaginatively fruitful” idea and how it has been “historicised, known, changed, lived with, blamed, feared, represented, predicted, governed and, at least putatively, redesigned”. From seasonal affective disorder to indigenous knowledge and J. R. R. Tolkien to Kyoto, this cross-disciplinary study concludes by asking whether the human condition has outgrown the usefulness of climate as an idea, as “the ‘new normal’ of climate is simply that there can be no normal”.

The Persistence of Gender Inequality
Mary Evans

“You’ve come a long way, baby”: in a perceptive, focused essay whose reference points span George Eliot, Helen Fielding, Hannah Höch, Rosa Luxemburg, Andrea Dworkin, Beatrix Campbell, Dawn Foster, Lisa Mckenzie, Pussy Riot, Mark Carney, Zygmunt Bauman and Adam Smith, Evans returns more than once to a cheap little advertising slogan whose blithe, apparently liberation-celebrating tone rings ever hollower. Why is gender inequality – like the poor – still with us? The two aren’t unconnected: “without the recognition of the universal human experience of being born into conditions of social inequality…we will never be able to recognise, let alone address, inequalities of gender”. Highly recommended.

A People’s History of the Russian Revolution
Neil Faulkner
Pluto Press

“The Bolsheviks have much to teach us,” concludes this vivid and readable Left Book Club title by a former Socialist Workers’ Party member who decries that group’s “tragic” degeneration into a “self-referencing and self-perpetuating sect” and who, not coincidentally, says that revolutions must be built by the masses and not by “self-appointed vanguards”. Taking Trotsky as his guide and drawing on first-hand testimony, Faulkner looks back to an “explosion of democracy and creativity”, arguing that Lenin was a democrat, the revolution was a mass movement and Stalinism was counter-revolutionary. A valuable perspective on a world-shaking event.

Beheading the Saint: Nationalism, Religion, and Secularism in Quebec
Genevieve Zubrzycki
University of Chicago Press

The political and aesthetic revolt of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s changed Quebec from a “priest-ridden province” to a secular, progressive society, sundering ties between national and linguistic identity and Catholicism. But faith lives on as “the skeleton in Québec’s closet, or a palpable absence, like phantom limb pain”, argues Zubrzycki in an unprecedentedly nuanced study that uses the annual Fête nationale of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day as a point of departure. Recent debates over “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities and the use of religious symbols in public life (from hijabs to the crucifix hanging in Quebec’s National Assembly) “seemed to centre on religion, [but] the core of the controversy was the nation”, she notes.

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