Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nevermore: Happy City, Sunshine on Scotland Street, Anthill, Just Babies, & Execution of Noa P. Singleton

Summary by Kristin

Jud kicked off the Nevermore discussion with Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery.  This book examines the elements in city design that bring people closer together, or keep them further apart.  The proliferation of automobiles has changed the way people live, in spread-out suburbia as opposed to denser urban areas, although this may be changing as crime patterns change and the cost of commuting continues upwards.  The group consensus was that for a “Happy City” people just want to live where they can trust other people and feel safe.

Next, Jud introduced Sunshine on Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, an installation in the 44 Scotland Street series.  He commented that even though the story is serialized, the author provides a lot of back story in each volume, so they can be read alone, but it is best to get the full story by starting at the beginning.  As usual on the fictional Scotland Street, people are taking care of each other.  Young Bertie is caring for a neighbor’s dog and becomes convinced that the dog is sad.  Thus, it’s time for a visit to a psychiatrist (for the dog).

Another reader brought one of her Christmas gifts—Anthill by E.O. Wilson.  This is the only fiction book written by a prominent biologist.  Wilson has often been the center of controversy as he introduces new ideas about biodiversity and what he calls the "myth" of evolution.  Wilson is also considered the world authority on myrmecology, the study of ants.  Our reader said that this was a nice fiction story, but that the author definitely placed a dissertation on ants right in the middle.

Next, a couple of readers discussed Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom.  A discussion of nature versus nurture, this book proposed that much of human morality is inborn, with very young children tending to be empathetic and helpful.  On the negative side of good and evil, one suggestion is that what we call evil today may be the remnants of the violent urges that were required for survival in earlier hunter-gatherer cultures.

Back to fiction, another reader talked about The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel by Elizabeth L. Silver.  Noa is a woman on death row, convicted of first degree murder, but never spoke in her own defense.  A well-known attorney with a personal connection to the case visits Noa just a few months before her scheduled execution, and attempts to persuade Noa to tell her full story in exchange for a possible lessening of the sentence to life in prison.  Our reader commented that this book shows how coincidences in your past may lead you to something that you can’t escape.

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