Power in Ambivalence

Power in Ambivalence

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“Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing” by Jamie Holmes

Is there power in not knowing? What do we gain when we are in the dark, confused, and unsure about where a string of events or our lives in general are going?

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes assures the reader that strength can come from ambiguity and ambivalence if we only know how to harness the doubt.

In this slim volume of 230 pages of heavily researched text (and an additional 100 plus pages of notes) there is a blend of science, history and modern events that couple to illustrate Holmes’ point that perhaps not knowing everything is a good thing. Being willing to be a patient person who doesn’t crave the closure most humans are hard-wired to go through hell and back to receive, can pay off in the workplace as well as for a more fulfilling life.

Holmes struggles with the point he may be trying to make through his series of complex speech and examples. Maybe it’s no coincidence that a book on ambiguity and confusion is an indefinite and unclear thing. Go figure.

Examples to make the point that sometimes there is no hard and fast point on things are pulled from various places including the Waco, Texas incident with the Branch Davidians; the unpopularity of Midi’s in the late 60’s and 70’s; Ducati racing and improvement strategies; natural disasters and our perspectives after the fact; card decks that aren’t all they appear to be at face value; and the very real and very terrifying over testing that happens in the medical field every day. The most effective of these examples comes across in the chapter, “Fifty Days in Texas” that highlights the negotiations behind Waco, what went right, and why things went terribly wrong when closure was seized too firmly and grey areas were miscoded to disastrous consequences.

The book is broken into three parts that include: “Making Sense,” “Handing Ambiguity,” and “Embracing Uncertainty.” Holmes uses these three parts to try and make sense of the confusion, and overall satisfies this reader.

Even with the complexity of getting through the book, the work is interesting and entertaining. I come away from the book with no solid conclusion on anything, and an inability to say anything for certain. In this respect, Holmes has succeeded in creating Nonsense.

Being a Good Scientist Prized Over Differentiation of Sexes in “Headstrong”


Headstrong 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World 

by Rachel Swaby

The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.”

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field. The book deals in facts, and these include the struggles women had to go to in obtaining education and standing in their passions within fields where they were the glaring minority.

My favorite profiles included those of Gerty Radnitz Cori, a Biochemistry scientist responsible for our understanding of glycogen; Virginia Apgar, who developed a test to establish newborn health standards; Marry Anning, a pioneer in paleontology and fossil discovery;  Tilly Edinger, a Jewish woman who encountered Nazi targeting in establishing paleoneurology; Rachel Carson, the voice behind environmental awareness and author of “Silent Spring”; Rosalind Franklin, whom developed a structure of DNA that was “borrowed” by Watson and Crick; Hedy Lamarr, an well-known actress who also worked in tandem to invent a system for coded radio waves to aid torpedo navigation during war-time; and household name Florence Nightingale, responsible among many other contributions for her statistics work and suggestions for improved hospital conditions like better lighting and quiet time for recuperation that are still being pursued today.

Headstrong was enlightening and kept my interest. I see this being a valuable tool for students in researching these scientists, and grasping the timeline of scientific discovery more fully through human interest stories such as these. For me, this would be a recommended reading for college freshman or AP high-schoolers. The work is well-researched and written, and with such a variety of topics of interest that spurred me to want to know more about each of these women.

I would highly-recommend this read to those who love science, history, feminism, and generally just a good read.


Interested? Buy it from Random House

More info on this author at: Rachel Swaby

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.