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As we watch COVID-19 science evolve in real time, the pandemic emphasizes how important open inquiry is to the pursuit of knowledge. A number of writers and thinkers are now taking up this mantle of curiosity and critical thought, penning books that question mainstream narratives on all manner of topics. From critiques of contemporary leftism to explorations of overlooked areas of research and histories of taboo language, these new titles probe the big issues of our time – and invite lively discussion and debate

The War Against Viruses: How the Science of Optimal Nutrition Can Help You Win, Aileen Burford-Mason (Patrick Crean Editions, 224 pages)

The War Against Viruses: How the Science of Optimal Nutrition Can Help You Win, by Aileen Burford-MasonHandout

Aileen Burford-Mason is an immunologist, former professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine and specialist in evidence-based nutrition. In The War Against Viruses, the bestselling author argues that too little emphasis in the pandemic has been placed on maintaining a well-fed immune system. Burford-Mason stresses that nutrition is not top of mind for researchers and clinicians and lays out arguments for why it should get more attention. “The immune system is an exquisitely sensitive indicator of the adequacy of nutritional intake,” she writes. But in the last year and half, the idea that nutritional strategies might be helpful in the fight against COVID-19 has been “missing from the public health debate.” The writing here is straightforward and accessible, and Burford-Mason provides simple dietary guidelines for improving immune health. A fascinating and timely read.

Canceling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left, Ben Burgis (Zero Books, 136 pages)

Canceling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left, by Ben BurgisHandout

Increasingly, the most trenchant critiques of the left are coming from the left itself. Ben Burgis is part of that trend. He’s a philosophy instructor at Georgia State University Perimeter College, a columnist for Jacobin magazine and a popular podcaster. In this new book-length essay, he lays out a penetrating, and often hilarious, assessment of the modern left. In the process, Burgis mulls over, among other things, a convention of the Democratic Socialists of America (of which Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a member). The 2019 convention was repeatedly derailed by interruptions from delegates who demanded that the audience stop standing up (it’s distracting), stop whispering (it upsets those who are prone to sensory overload and triggers those with anxiety), stop clapping (instead use jazz hands), stop waving signs and stop wearing “aggressive scents.” Burgis points out that the DSA was live-streaming the convention and that participants knew it – and expresses bafflement that “everyone seemed to think ‘we’re building the kind of movement where no one is allowed to make a loud noise’ was a good face to present to the world.” The book is thus dedicated to members of the DSA, the left media and academia who are helping “to push back against the nonsense critiqued in this book” and “to create a smarter, funnier and more strategic version of the left.”

Nine Nasty Words – English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever, John McWhorter (Avery, 288 pages)

Nine Nasty Words – English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever, by John McWhorterHandout

This meditation on why profanity has so much power has become a New York Times bestseller, and with good reason. The lively book takes George Carlin’s famed 1970s routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” as its starting point, and moves on to explore the origins and impacts of the most taboo language of our own time. John McWhorter is famous these days for his heterodox writing on race – his next book, on the “woke” anti-racism movement, is serialized at Substack and due out in the fall – but Nine Nasty Words reminds readers that the Columbia University linguistics professor is a word-nerd first and foremost. The outing is packed with fascinating historical tidbits and thought-provoking queries on culture and politics, all relayed in playful prose. A delight from start to finish.

Transcending Racial Divisions: Will You Stand By Me?, Christine Louis-Dit-Sully (Zero Books, 216 pages)

Transcending Racial Divisions: Will You Stand By Me?, by Christine Louis-Dit-SullyHandout

Christine Louis-Dit-Sully is a writer and academic in the U.K. who grew up in France, raised by parents from the West Indies. In Transcending Racial Divisions, the humanist thinker argues against the ascendant school of anti-racist thought, which she believes encourages racial essentialism. “Until a couple of years ago, I was feeling that the problem of racism was getting much better,” she writes in the introduction. “It seemed that, increasingly, most people did not simply see a black woman but actually saw me, a specific individual with my own good and bad sides. Imagine my consternation when I noticed that we seemed to be entering a time when, again, I was no longer an individual, a difficult person to deal with, a person who loved scientific research and who is now realizing that her increasing passion for gardening may be an indication of her age. It seemed to me that I was again simply a black woman whose opinions and beliefs were apparently determined by her race and by others.” Transcending Racial Divisions is a thought-provoking analysis of identity politics – and a call for other ways of thinking about race.

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t, Julia Galef (Portfolio, 288 pages)

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t, by Julia GalefHandout

American podcaster Julia Galef is part of the growing rationalist movement; she’s host of the Rationally Speaking podcast and co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality. In her debut book, she outlines an intellectual toolkit to aid open inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge – and to avoid political polarization, tribalism, echo chambers and confirmation bias. The Scout Mindset breaks down the truth-seeking, discovery-oriented mind frame and its benefits, offers anecdotes from people who have utilized it and gives exercises for how to cultivate it. Much of it comes down to one simple, thoroughly liberating concept: being willing to change your mind.

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