Through the language glass, The double helix, A Lion in Paris, The psychology of persuasion – AKA MY MOST RECENT READINGS

Dear readers,

How are you? A lot has happened in the past few weeks, we had friends and relatives staying at our place, there was my birthday and we even had a flight cancelled by Ryanair! (Nothing tragic, we were offered tickets for another flight instead).

Today I wanted to write a post about the books I’ve read in the past few months. Those were books I found interesting, books that taught me something I didn’t know before, or books that made me laugh and cuddled me, page after page.

 

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The first one I’d like to mention is: Through the language glass: why the world looks different in other languages. When I first saw this book, I thought it was going to be related to how we express an idea depending on the language we are speaking in. I have the feeling that when I speak in Italian I organise thoughts and words in a different way than when I am speaking in English, as the latter is more simple and straightforward. However, it was not about that at all.

The first part of the book deals with the words we use to describe colours. I could have never imagined that that is actually the cause of a  h u g e  argument among linguists that started centuries ago and have not been solved yet. It turns out that some languages don’t offer a wide vocabulary to describe colours, while others have developed a complex system that includes a number of shades. Just think of light blue in English, that is not considered as a different colour to blue, and the word azzurro in Italian, which we don’t regard as blu. This first part is very interesting but also very detailed and I would have found that boring, if it wasn’t for the style of the author’s writing. He’s extremely witty and fun to read, which is unusual but strongly appreciated in a research book.

The second part deals with funnier topics, such as languages and gender – in English human beings are associated with a gender (she or he), while objects are referred to as it. On the contrary, in Italian each and every object is a she or a he, nobody and nothing is an it. The book includes example taken from an impressive variety of languages, I am reporting only the ones related to the languages I speak.

Another curious thing I discovered by reading that book is that not every language describes the world using left and right. Some languages use cardinal points (north, west, south and east), so there are people for whom it is quite normal to say things like: your bag is north the chair.

Overall, I’d say I loved this book. It is written in a very enjoyable style, it is full of practical examples and it really helps the readers open their mind by showing how language narrows our experience of reality and that by taking into consideration a completely different language, we can discover unthinkable perspectives.

 

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The second book I’d recommend is: The double helix: a personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA. I bought this book because it was mentioned in another book, called The story of Science where this teacher, Susan Wise Bauer, suggests readings that made the history of science that are easily accessible to readers with no scientific background.

I liked that book as it really is a personal account of the life of the author at the time, when scientists were trying to solve the complicated puzzle of the DNA structure. Lots of studies had already been published on the topic and different scientists had contributed adding yet another piece of information, but it was James D. Watson and Francis Crick who finally rearranged that data together and came up with the double helix structure.

I found this book very honest, as the author talks about his journeys around Europe, his attempts to convince the university to pay for his research, the relationship with his sister and the parties and dinners with the fellow colleagues in a very open way. At the end of the book you can see he was indeed a brilliant man, with luck on his side, but he was no super hero, just a normal human being like you and me.

 

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The last book I wanted to mention is A lion in Paris. It is a book published by Tate, I found that in the book shop of an exhibition here in London, at the Saatchi gallery. It is a book for children with wonderful illustrations and a very tender story. It talks about this lion who’s looking for an exciting place to live and arrives in Paris, where no one seems to care about him. He will then discover there’s much more to it for him in the city.

I am also constantly looking for a place to live, which must be the reason I’m so attached to this book. Each time I read it, the world stops spinning for 10 minutes and the illustrations take me back to Paris, where I had one of the best holidays in my life.

 

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At the moment I’m reading Influence: the psychology of persuasion, which talks about all the techniques companies use to make us buy products with the aim to teach readers how to take advantage of those tricks. I’ve read only a few chapters, but I have to say it is an incredible book. I will include that in another post though, as this one is already quite long.

 

As usual, I hope you enjoyed the reading and please let me know what are the books you like or if you’ve read one of these books as well!

Love

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