Hello World by Hannah Fry – AI and why we over-trust what we don’t understand

A mathematician and advocate for technology challenges the influence of algorithms and calls for a better understanding of what we’re giving away

Are you a concerned citizen of the modern world? Do you ever worry that algorithms are stealing your data? Do you secretly have little idea what algorithms and data actually are? Then Hello World is for you.

With refreshing simplicity, Fry explains what AI, machine learning and complicated algorithms really mean, providing some succinct explanations of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, driverless cars and many other unnerving modern phenomena. She asks the reader to consider some difficult questions: would you hand over your medical records to a faceless company if doing so might improve treatment for everyone? Should a driverless car prioritise protecting its owner, or the child she is about to run over? Should a judge or a computer calculate whether a prisoner is likely to reoffend? And ...

Liquid by Mark Miodownik review – drinkable seawater and walking on custard

The follow-up to the prizewinning Stuff Matters shows a delight in innovation and makes liquid crystal displays and ballpoint pens exciting

Mark Miodownik is the science communicator’s science communicator. His last book, Stuff Matters, won the 2014 Royal Society prize; in 2017 he was awarded the Michael Faraday prize for his “excellence in communicating science to UK audiences”, and convincingly argued in that year’s Faraday Lecture that a proper grasp of materials science might help us avoid a global human catastrophe. As a writer, his tone combines exactly the right proportions of geeky wonder at the brilliance of, say, wave formation or a ballpoint pen, and patient didacticism to inspire fellow scientists and enthral the general reader. In this book, he aims to convince us that liquids are “exciting and powerful … anarchic and slightly terrifying … delightful and dangerous”. And he succeeds.

Liquid brings together wildly different substances ...

The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide by Clarence Ellis review – a valuable reminder of simpler times

The geology of pebbles and the poetry of onshore phenomena in a beautifully produced guide, first published in 1954

If you are the sort of person who feels soothed by the shipping forecast, you’ll love this book about our shores. The Pebbles on the Beach was first published in 1954, and its tone of voice recalls postwar Britain, the Light Programme and trips to the seaside. But instead of Dogger, Fisher and German Bight, it introduces us to the poetry of onshore phenomena: longshore drift, fulls and swales, heliotrope, chalcedony, swash, backwash and fetch…

Clarence Ellis was born in 1889 and, after serving on the western front, worked in further education, but his passion was pebble collecting. He has a didactic approach, occasionally strict, and once or twice poignant about the relative brevity of human life, such as when he compares the formation of sandstone to “the ‘dust to dust’ ...

How do I get my book published? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Katy Guest

Every day millions of people ask Google life’s most difficult questions. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

Before trying to answer this very important question, it is useful to ask yourself another one: “Why should I get my book published?” What do you hope to achieve by releasing your work into the world, and what would success look like to you? Because knowing what you want from being published will help you find the best way to achieve it.

Are you hoping to see your book on the shelves at Waterstones? To entertain readers on their holidays? Do you have an important story that needs to be told? Or would being a published author help in your day-to-day career? Do you want to achieve fame and fortune and retire on the proceeds of your blockbuster novel? If so, stop! The latest reports show that the average author ...

The Art of Logic by Eugenia Cheng review – the need for good arguments

From debates about same-sex marriage to white privilege … A book of pure maths applied to the real world makes the case for thinking more clearly and logically in politics

What connects Russell’s paradox, intolerance and battenberg cake? Or Euclid’s axiomatisation of geometry and sexual harassment? The definition of marriage and lasagne? They are all sets of concepts that readers will find completely sensible and illuminating by the end of this mind-expanding book about “how people construct misleading arguments, and how we can argue back”.

First, a spoiler. The Art of Logic will not teach you how to win arguments. Do not buy it as a step-by-step guide to beating Twitter using maths. Its aim is “to help achieve better mutual understanding”, as Cheng explains in a disarming final chapter: “What I want to see in the world is more good arguments.”

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The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward review – a wincingly honest coming-of-age memoir

The extraordinary, troubled life story of the model, actor and ‘Instagram poet’ has a prose-poetry all her own

Shortly after her collection of poetry, bone, was published in 2017, Yrsa Daley-Ward predicted that this memoir would be “The truest thing I’ll maybe ever write.” It begins: “My little brother and I saw a unicorn in the garden in the late nineties …” There may be truth in this memoir, but not in the traditional sense. But then, her writing is anything but traditional.

Daley-Ward made her name as an “Instagram poet”, publishing short, pithy and deeply personal lines next to selfies and carefully curated images. It is a form that has enraged some poetry lovers and delighted many more, and The Terrible will probably have the same effect. It has echoes of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, but ...

Cringeworthy by Melissa Dahl review – why feeling awkward is good for us

This lively study explains how embracing embarrassing conversations or exposing situations can improve your life

I read part of this book in somebody else’s reserved seat on an overbooked train; do train companies have any idea of the anxiety they cause when they suddenly announce that all seat reservations are suspended? As each stop triggered another mortifying conversation about seats, the book explained what was going on in our brains to make the situation feel so painful, why that matters so much to us and what we can learn from it.

Melissa Dahl is an American science journalist who has been writing about psychology for 10 years, and her book, about the very specific phenomenon of awkwardness, “began as an attempt to permanently banish the feeling from my life with science!” Like all good scientists, though, she has changed her opinion based on the evidence she collected. Dahl now ...

The Happy Brain by Dean Burnett review – the science of happiness

The neuroscientist, comedian and science blogger rattles through studies and reflects on his own life in a quest to find the secret of contentment

As a neuroscientist, comedian and Guardian science blogger, Dean Burnett knows that science communication is both important and hard to get right. Early in this book he expresses his frustration with the way that the media often sensationalise research to sell a story. In one newspaper, the following headlines all purported to reveal the latest scientific truth about how to be happy: “Forget cash – how sex and sleep are the key to happiness”; “Key to happiness? Start with £50k a year salary”; “Why the secret to happiness is having 37 things to wear”… Readers would be forgiven for thinking that it’s all nonsense. So how does a responsible scientist condense all of the relevant research and make it accessible?

The Burnett method is to combine ...

The most beautiful books of 2017

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent won last year, but which of these six covers will claim this year’s prize?

The best looking shortlist of the year has been announced, as the Books Are My Bag readers awards reveal who is in the running in the most beautiful book of the year category. The six have been selected by booksellers for the annual event, which celebrates physical books and real-life bookshops. And in an era of ebooks and online piracy, beautiful books are more important and popular than ever. Last year’s winner, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – which was released by Waterstones in an extra shiny edition – sold 287,566 copies and helped its publisher, Profile, increase its turnover by nearly 7%.

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Alice Roberts: ‘Science needs more visible women’

Broadcaster, author, anthropologist and qualified doctor Alice Roberts is on a mission to prove that science needs to engage with the public – and be more diverse

Physical anthropologist, author, broadcaster and professor of public engagement in science, Alice Roberts is a 21st-century Renaissance woman. Her face might be most familiar from Channel 4’s Time Team, or BBC2’s Coast, or one of several Horizon programmes she has presented; but she is also a qualified medical doctor, an anatomist and the author of seven popular science books, including the Wellcome prize-nominated The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being.

Like its author, her new book Tamed: 10 Species That Changed Our World weaves together many forms and disciplines: genetics, archaeology, anthropology and history combine with personal anecdote, travelogue and little pieces of fiction to create a book that is both chatty and academic, rigorously scientific and full of empathy. It describes how ...

Male writers still dominate book reviews and critic jobs, Vida study finds

The annual Vida count of authors across the world suggests about two-thirds of those published, and the critics who review them, are men – but their intersectionality survey is less conclusive

The 2016 Vida count has been released and it demonstrates yet again that the media can’t seem to locate enough female writers. Every year Vida – the New York-based organisation for Women in Literary Arts - counts the writers featured in dozens of literary journals and periodicals across the world, and finds that the authors represented, and the critics who are evaluating those authors, are consistently about two thirds men. For the second year, the survey also looks into “intersectional” data, and analyses factors such as ethnicity, sexuality and disability, as well.

Once again, the London Review of Books “has the worst gender disparity”, with women representing only 18% of reviewers and 26% of authors reviewed. The LRB’s ...

Well done Unesco for honouring the culture of the Lake District

Wordsworth’s daffodils, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons – Cumbria has been fertile ground for countless writers The Lake District has just become the first UK national park to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, alongside global wonders such as the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon. It has been honoured for its culture as well as its landscape. William Wordsworth, perhaps the most celebrated local writer, called the area “a sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”. He was born in Cockermouth, lived in Grasmere and Rydal Mount, and found his daffodils on the shore of Ullswater. Beatrix Potter is another famous chronicler of the Lakes, though she found her inspiration for Squirrel Nutkin and other characters on her childhood holidays there. She was also crucial to ...

Well done Unesco for honouring the culture of the Lake District

Wordsworth’s daffodils, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons – Cumbria has been fertile ground for countless writers The Lake District has just become the first UK national park to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, alongside global wonders such as the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon. It has been honoured for its culture as well as its landscape. William Wordsworth, perhaps the most celebrated local writer, called the area “a sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”. He was born in Cockermouth, lived in Grasmere and Rydal Mount, and found his daffodils on the shore of Ullswater. Beatrix Potter is another famous chronicler of the Lakes, though she found her inspiration for Squirrel Nutkin and other characters on her childhood holidays there. She was also crucial to ...

Matt Haig: ‘I think books can save us. They sort of saved me’

How to follow a bestselling memoir about depression? With a novel about a 400-year-old adventurer …Matt Haig and I meet in a flat in London, the morning after the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena. Typically, he has already spent several hours battling racists and trolls on Twitter (he has a very large following), but he doesn’t seem stressed. “I’m actually quite relaxed; I like this period just before I get really neurotic [about the launch of a new book],” he laughs. As for social media: “I tweet more when I’m writing more ... I’ve got quite a distracted brain anyway.” Haig is probably best known for his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive (it was in the top 10 bestseller lists for nearly a year) – a warm and moving memoir-cum-self-help book about his first descent into depression, aged 24, and his subsequent efforts to climb out of it. Haig is also the ...

Rebus at 30: Edinburgh celebrates

RebusFest, featuring Ian Rankin, is taking place all over the city, dedicated to ‘the many facets of the irascible old rogue’, DI John RebusHappy 30th birthday to DI John Rebus, who will be celebrated all over Edinburgh this weekend with his creator Ian Rankin and their publisher, Orion. RebusFest is taking place at venues around the city, dedicated to “the many facets of the irascible old rogue”, according to the publisher. Appropriately, the Highland Park Whisky masterclasses are all sold out. Rankin conceived of Rebus in his bedsit in Arden Street, Edinburgh in March 1985; the books are bestsellers on several continents. Rebus himself is now technically retired, but nevertheless marked his birthday this week with a No 1 bestseller, Rather Be The Devil, which is also longlisted for the McIlvanney prize for crime books. Continue reading...

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett review – a life in music

Read the novel, then buy the album: the lyrics that punctuate this tale of a songwriter’s life and loves have also been set to music
When it comes to listening to pop music, there are two types of people: those who pay attention to the lyrics and those who don’t notice them. The former are drawn to artists such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen; the latter end up choosing a song about breaking up as the first dance at their wedding. Greatest Hits is a novel for music lovers who pay attention to the words. Now in her 60s, Cass Wheeler is an “ex-musician. Ex-mother. Ex-daughter. Ex-wife.” She is at home, in the remote farmhouse where she lives alone after huge personal loss and a spell in rehab. Spending one day forcing herself to listen to her entire back catalogue, she compiles “a very particular kind of ...

Political favourites: the books politicians claim to have read

Theresa May says she’s read all the Harry Potter novels, but won’t discuss which character she resembles While France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, can apparently quote Molière from memory, and Justin Trudeau has read “just about everything” by Stephen King, Theresa May claimed on Wednesday, during a visit to a school, that she has read all of the Harry Potter books. When pressed, though, she refused to say which of the series’ characters she most resembles. “I don’t think I’m similar to any of the characters,” she snapped. Related: Theresa May – what lies beyond the public image? Continue reading...

Frequent readers make the best lovers, say dating-app users

Heavy reading increases empathy – and makes users of dating sites more likely to click on your profile A dating website claims to have discovered what kind of reading preferences make one more attractive to potential partners. According to eHarmony, women who listed The Hunger Games among their favourite books saw the biggest boost to their popularity, while men who read Richard Branson’s business books were approached most often. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a hit for both genders. But crucially, reading anything is a winning move; men who list reading on their dating profiles receive 19% more messages, and women 3% more. This welcome news does not come out of the blue. Last year, the dating app My Bae also announced that people who used reading tags on its profiles were more successful in finding dates. More recently, research from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, showed ...

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg review – difficult, selfish, a true-to-life heroine

This single-woman-about-town fiction is not like Sex and the City or Bridget Jones’s Diary – it is a warts-and-all portrait of independence The blurb for Jami Attenberg’s fifth novel, about a single, childless 39-year-old New Yorker, makes it sound like ideal reading for a 40-year-old, childless, London-based book reviewer. The novel, we are promised, will pose such questions as “What if I don’t want to hold your baby?” “Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce?” and “Why does everybody keep asking me why I’m not married?” So far, so Carrie Bradshaw? Maybe, but that’s where the similarity ends. If All Grown Up is like any recent single-woman-about-town fiction, it is not Sex and the City or Bridget Jones’s Diary, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s darkly comic series Fleabag, which appeared on BBC3 last year, with its solitary, uncompromising heroine, her damaged past gradually ...

The parliamentary book awards: in literature at least, Labour come out on top

From Alan Johnson’s latest to a biography of Attlee, the first ever parliamentary book awards went mainly to left of centre authors or subjects It’s been a great year for the Labour party … from a literary perspective anyway. The 2016 parliamentary book awards, which were handed out on Tuesday, all went to left of centre authors or subjects: Alan Johnson’s The Long Winding Road won best memoir by a parliamentarian; Called to Account by Margaret Hodge (right), about the government’s use of public money, was the best non-fiction; Melvyn Bragg’s novel Now is the Time was the best fiction; and John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem, won the title of best political book by a non-parliamentarian. The winners were voted for by parliamentarians and the ceremony presided over by Gisela Stuart MP, a former bookseller. Ed Balls sadly didn’t score a 10 with these judges, but ...