Dog-ear: Happy City, Sightlines, The Science Delusion

Since 2007, Orion has given an annual award to a book that deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about the relationship between people and nature, and achieves excellence in writing. What follows are short reports from Orion staff on some of their favorite Orion Book Award contenders. In April, five books published in 2013 will be chosen as finalists for the 2014 Orion Book Award; one will win.


When Enrique Peñalosa became mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, he told citizens that he couldn’t make them as wealthy as Americans, but he could make them happier. How? By making Bogotá a more pleasant place to live. He shifted funds from highway expansion projects to a series of connected parks and bikeways, and he beefed up public transportation options while closing portions of the city to motorized traffic for a day a year. “A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both,” the mayor said. So begins Charles Montgomery’s delightful book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. Can rethinking urban design improve our lives significantly? Absolutely. Read this book to find out how. —Andrew Blechman

A particularly uncanny moment in Kathleen Jamie’s new essay collection Sightlines comes as she is looking through a microscope at a liver sample with a pathologist: “I was admitted to another world, where everything was pink. I was looking down from a great height upon a pink countryside, a landscape. There was an estuary, with a north bank and a south. In the estuary were wing-shaped river islands or sandbanks, as if it was low tide.” Eww? Or beautiful? In another essay, Jamie trains her gaze just as keenly on the massive, marvelous whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling of a museum . . . bones that get cleaned with toothbrushes. —Hannah Fries

When’s the last time you were told that your brain is “a complex machine,” or that falling in love is just chemical trickery? If you’re as frustrated with these pronouncements as I am—if you wish a brain could be appreciated for its braininess, or love for its loveliness—then chances are good you’ll find comfort in rogue philosopher Curtis White’s The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers. Here’s White on a branch of science that seems especially attached to describing the world as a machine: “Neuroscience is wonderful in the way that the Hubble telescope is wonderful. Its investigations into the structure and organization of the brain are fascinating, but it no more tells us of the origins of consciousness (or creativity) than the Hubble tells us of the origins of Being.” —Scott Gast


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