What Have We Been Reading?

I’ll go first.

1. The Constitution Of Knowledge by Jonathan Rauch. It’s a practical discussion of epistemology, the philosophy of how we know stuff. I’ve discussed it in several posts, notably here. The second half discusses his suggestions for dealing with lies, disinformation, trolls and generally with the Insurrection Party led by TFG. I haven’t read it because it seems hopeless. See No. 7 below.

2. The Dawn Of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow. I’ve just started this book, and it’s fascinating. The story we are taught is that human societies evolve sequentially from small bands of hunter-gatherers to agriculture to small trading towns to cities to states, with more and more complicated governmental structures. This is called progress. The authors say this story comes from Jean Jacques Rousseau, and has colonized our minds.

They claim that we have learned a lot since the early 19th C., and it mostly contradicts this story. They call on extensive research in archaeology, Wengrow’s primary area of study, and anthropology, Graeber’s, to draw a completely different picture. There are a number of ideas like the following, ideas that offer a different way of imagining the possibilities of an advanced technological society:

Back in the 1960s, the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres suggested that precisely the opposite was the case. What if the sort of people we like to imagine as simple and innocent are free of rulers, governments, bureaucracies, ruling classes and the like, not because they are lacking in imagination, but because they’re actually more imaginative than we are? We find it difficult to picture what a truly free society would be like; perhaps they have no similar trouble picturing what arbitrary power and domination would be like. Perhaps they can not only imagine it, but consciously arrange their society in such a way as to avoid it. As we’ll see in the next chapter, Clastres’s argument has its limits. But by insisting that the people studied by anthropologists are just as self-conscious, just as imaginative, as the anthropologists themselves, he did more to reverse the damage than anyone before or since. P. 73.

This idea resonates with me. I’ve seen the art produced by our ancestors from 25,000 years ago, in caves like the Font de Gaume in Southern France. It’s near Les Eyzies-du-Tayac-Sireuil, which is home to The National Museum Of Prehistory, and several reconstructions of the living quarters of the Magdelanian culture. From the mouth of the Font-de-Gaume even today you can see walnut trees and, I imagine, wild asparagus, berries, and small game in the underbrush. The Dordogne River is nearby, full of fish. There are large abri, cut-outs high up in the cliffs, which make decent living quarters. I’m not sure what more they needed to live pleasantly. Why would they submit to domination by one of their band? Why would they follow some loudmouth who wants to take over some other abri in some stupid war?

There’s a review of the book by William Deresiewicz in the Atlantic. If you need encouragement to read this book, here it is.

3. Pride, Prejudice, And Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. This novel centers on a family descended from royalty in India. The parents immigrated to the San Francisco area, and did very well indeed. It’s loosely modeled on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a particular hero of the author. The “flavors” come from Indian cuisine as practiced by a chef raised in England and trained in Paris. He comes to the area to take care of his artist sister who has a brain tumor that only the surgeon daughter and protagonist can hope to eradicate, and only at the cost of her sight.

The connections to Pride and Prejudice are well adapted to current times. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth forms a prejudice against Mr. Darcy because he rejects her at a dance. Besides that, he behaves like he’s better than everybody else, which she attributes to his wealth and his arrogance. Consequently she can easily use him as the object of her wit. In Dal’s retelling, this plays out between the surgeon and the chef in a more complex ways, involving both both their histories.

As an aside, I also like the Bollywood flic, Bride And Prejudice, which is set in the India of today; it’s a lot of fun.

4. Reputation by Lex Croucher. This first novel is set in Regency-Era England. It imagines the lives of 20-somethings from the upper class, free from parental supervision, and freed from all constraints by the wealth and power of their families. The protagonist is a well-read, well-educated, and thoughtful young woman of the middle class, caught up into the lives of the rich young. It’s a life filled with parties, drugs, liquor and even a bit of sex. For me the sensibility of the novel is so 21st Century that it didn’t work as a period piece. It will be published in the US next year.

5, The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. This is an extraordinary novel. Barbery studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in Lyon (I think) and taught at Université de Bourgogne. There are a number of themes in the book, but one that stands out for me is the effort to put the ideas of philosophy into action in the lives of the characters. For example, one character is a 12 year old girl of extraordinary intelligence, who has decided that there is no point to living so she plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. The meaninglessness of life is a concern of the main character as well. This is a nod to The Myth Of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, in which we are asked why we don’t commit suicide in the face of the absurd.

There are discussions of some of my favorite things, food, music, and art. As to music, the use of Mozart’s Confutatis from The Requiem is hilarious. I love Dutch still life paintings; here’s the subject of that link. I’ve always liked philosophy, some of which is powerful, and some of which, like Barbery’s description of the a philosophy dissertation on William of Ockham, seems ridiculous.

The author doesn’t think much of upper middle class French society, and it shows. That’s fun. It’s fun to think how these criticisms would work in US society.

I refuse to acknowledge any flaws in this book. And the translator, Alison Anderson, is dazzling.

6. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. This novel is grounded in the life of Erdich’s grandfather, a Chippewa leader who was instrumental in preserving the reservation and way of life of his Turtle Mountain Band. Most of the book describes the lives of the members of the Band in the mid-50s. Perhaps the most valuable part for me was the way visions work for the characters. At one level if felt like magical realism, but it seems so grounded in their lives that I felt an intuition about how it might work in my own life in our hyper-technical society.

7. Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I took up this book at the suggestion of commenter Epicurus. I’ve just started, and perhaps I’ll have more to say about it in a future post. In the meantime, two observations. First, the book is beautifully written. It’s easy to follow the argument; the examples are clear and precise; and the introduction shows how he came to think about things as he does.

Second, the idea of two systems of cognition is intuitively appealing. Years ago I read a book about epistemology that used the terms intensive and reflexive to describe two separate ways of thinking. I’d guess we’ve all had the experience of self-checking that goes on when we think of something we might say, or write something, then a separate voice in our heads pipes up with objections. So is the idea that we don’t know much about what lies below either of the two systems. Studies of vision show that much of the computation is done before the image reaches the brain, so it seems reasonable to think there’s a lot of pre-computation in each of the two systems. Things are happening in our minds we can’t perceive.

That’s most of what I’ve read over the last few weeks. So, what have you been reading?

Update: Thanks to everyone for the marvelous array of books and the discussion. I hope everyone found something they’re excited to read.

And Happy Holidays to all!
Image by Janne Poikolainen, creative commons license.

154 replies
  1. Bill Crowder says:

    I recommend Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson. It covers the decline of the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest in the late 70s. Written from the view of the loggers, but neutral.

    I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich, too, and this book plucks some of same strings.

  2. earthworm says:

    “The Path to a Livable Future,” Stan Cox
    “One Man’s Garden,” Henry Mitchell
    “The Fearless Benjamin Lay,” Marcus Rediker

  3. Richard says:

    “Everybody” by Olivia Laing, which is just as highlight-heavy as “Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency” was.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Dawn of Everything is a great read. I hope you’ll do a full post on it. I’m also rereading Tony Judt’s Postwar. A thorough revision of what much of us were taught about the war’s origins and the half century of its aftermath.

    • Ed Walker says:

      My initial reaction to this book is that it would take several posts to better than the review I cited.

  5. sw_marks says:

    A good friend and I have read and discussed the following over the past few months:
    Measure for Measure, Bill Shakespeare
    Rhinoceros, Ionesco
    The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
    and now reading:
    The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
    As you can see, we are a little concerned about governments gone awry.

    • Ed Walker says:

      The Master And Margarita is a great book. I read it years ago, and it’s nearly time to read it again.
      We hired a guide in Moscow who took us to a major cemetary, showed us his grave among many other artists, and mentioned that we’d probably never heard of him. Turns out she’d studied his works in college.

      • TooLoose LeTruck says:

        Is not The Master and Margarita the basis for the Stones’ immortal ‘Sympathy For The Devil’?

        I read The Master quite a few years ago and rather liked it…

        I’m just starting into The Long Game, by Derek Chollet, about Obama’s foreign policy. That, and the occasional Hemingway short story.

        Before then, I read How Democracies Die, by Levitsky & Ziblatt… a tad bit chilling…

        This one needs to be turned into a quality graphic novel, so maybe teens might be tempted to read it.

  6. Ken Muldrew says:

    Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty. It’s a comprehensive look at the societal origins of inequality and the conditions under which inequality lessened following World War II and then re-asserted itself since the 1980s. The book is loaded with charts and data (with a good deal more in the online appendix; no stooges from the Financial Times will be sandbagging him this go-around). He points out how inequality has always been due to political decisions with many alternative paths that could have been taken, though it is justified as the only possible way forward. The book concludes with a framework for a more just society but since Piketty is wholeheartedly committed to democracy, he is quick to point out that this is merely a starting point for discussion; any move toward implementation must come from a democratic consensus. The English translation is flawless and the book makes for very enjoyable reading.

    • Old Antarctic Explorer says:

      About halfway through “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Also replete with graphs of inequality vs many social indicators. The US stands out as an outlier of inequality in every one. From Wikipedia: “argues that societies with more equal distribution of incomes have better health, fewer social problems such as violence, drug abuse, teenage births, mental illness, obesity, and others, and are more cohesive than ones in which the gap between the rich and poor is greater.” Puts the lie to this and that band aid that politicians and others will fix this or that problem when the real problem is inequality that no one will touch with a ten foot pole.

      • Ken Muldrew says:

        In Piketty’s account, it is the fear of opening Pandora’s box. If we appropriate *some* property rights, then where will it end? Even the French Revolutionaries weren’t able to bring themselves to question existing property rights (venal offices, yes, but not property). A more recent example is the ANC in South Africa. If ever there was an open-and-shut case for redistribution, that has to be it. However, Piketty shows that Pandora’s box was, in fact, opened following WWII, and then easily (too easily by far) closed again in the 1980s. This is not the existential threat that many believe it to be (not to mention, the “Thirty Glorious Years” were pretty damn good).

  7. rosalind says:

    still in need of Covid escapism, sticking to lighter stuff:

    “Taste: My Life In Food” by actor Stanley Tucci
    “The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans” by Catherine Grace Katz
    “Unrequited Infatuations” by musician Stevie Van Zandt [his autobiography]

    and waiting in the wings: “All About Me” by Mel Brooks

      • BobCon says:

        I appreciated the way he acknowledged issues with filming during Covid onscreen. And I also appreciated the way he didn’t paper over political issues. I’m sure at Jeffrey Zucker’s CNN there was pressure to pretend everyone can ignore right wing ideology if they just eat a plate of pasta together.

          • BobCon says:

            I’d love to know the backstory of how much leeway Tucci got, and whether in his first season he had the same freedom as Bourdain, who was heavily courted to switch to CNN. It”s always possible CNN was so desperate for programming during Covid that they weren’t too overbearing. But they also really went after Bourdain and promised him a lot.

            At any rate, I find it fascinating that Bourdain had such better audience demographics than the typical CNN shoutfest, and got such a higher class and better paying set of advertisers than most CNN programming,

            Jeff Zucker clearly had no idea how to duplicate that success. He really is the worst major network head in TV history.

      • rosalind says:

        was shocked to discover he was being treated for tongue cancer during the last 3 years, killing his sense of taste. he says he has regained a good portion back, but…yikes.

    • ernesto1581 says:

      speaking of Tucci’s: Nicolo’ Tucci, “The Rain Came Last and other stories”
      (no relation whatever to Secondo, our hero from Big Night.)

    • Eureka says:

      Biographies are the best.

      A case could be made that should only one genre live, they’d suffice to cover all other terrain.

      • rosalind says:

        i love Alan Alda’s Clear and Vivid podcast! i think he took a break and i forgot to check for new episodes. thanks for the reminder!

    • adambulldog says:

      Typo Alert: the first book mentioned by the author of the post is The Constitution of Knowledge. Not The Construction of Knowledge.

        • timbo says:

          Ed, did you also catch this mistake yet?

          “but one that stands our for me” should read “out”, correct?

          • Ed Walker says:

            No, but I’ll fix it.
            I was looking back at some old posts of mine, and I’m astonished at the number of typos. My proof-reading skills have deteriorated.

            • Re entry says:

              Started Shuggie Bain and my better half stole it and is devouring it.

              As i wait for the book back i’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow, never had heard of Amor Towles before this. His writing is beautiful.

  8. Tom E Stickler says:

    I have vacationed twice in Les Eyzies and would have again, but for COVID. Font de Gaume is one of the few places where original cave art can be seen. The other cliff dwellings in the Vezere and Dordogne valleys are worth the trip.

    • J R in WV says:

      We spent a long two weeks on tour with a British anthropologist in NE Spain and SW France visiting caves large and small, mostly (all but one) with multiple artistic events. A couple were constructed duplicates created because scholars, students and tourists were overwhelming the ecosystems in the original caves. We visited many active digs with neanderthal remains, cro-magnon remains, stayed in a small country hotel next to the site of the discovery of the cro-magnon culture. It was wonderful, sponsored by the AIA.

      On reading, I have switched to a heavy rotation of escapist fiction, elves, space ships, elves and space ships, etc. I need to escape from current events, thank you very much. I continue to donate to selected political races, to support the SPLC, ACLU and other progressive organizations, but that doesn’t take much study. Reading Hugo nominated fiction (as well as inexpensive self-published SF and fantasy) turns out to help stress levels quite a bit.

      You all take care out there while I’m being a hermit with the wife~!~

  9. gmoke says:

    Finished The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré this morning, thus ending my journey with the Karla trilogy out of order, just as I started. Rewatched the Alec Guinness Smiley TV series as well.

    Just started Will The Circle Be Unbroken by Studs Terkel, about confronting death and dying. Glad I got to meet the great Studs Terkel before he died.

    The Poems of Jesus Christ by Willis Barnstone from a recommendation of Jim Harrison. Now I want to get Barnstone’s translation of Sappho.

    Something Crosses My Mind by Wang Xiaoni in English and Chinese

    Thirty-six Immortal Women Poets in English and Japanese and trying to read the illustrated calligraphy of the poems is a trip and a half.

    My notes to Thinking Fast and Slow, a very good book, are at http://hubeventsnotes.blogspot.com/2016/12/thinking-fast-and-slow.html

    I keep hubeventsnotes.blogspot.com as a kind of electronic commonplace book. Lots of notes of books I’ve read there.

    • Troutwaxer says:

      The Smiley books are among my favorites. I was going to run a D&D campaign based on the Circus’s tradecraft, then the D&D group broke up.

  10. John Paul Jones says:

    Quick comment, maybe more later. Even if Clastres is correct with his basic insight (“the people studied by anthropologists are just as self-conscious, just as imaginative, as the anthropologists themselves”), it doesn’t follow that their lack of technological sophistication is entailed, that they have chosen not to “progress.” That just reinscribes the concept of progress in a reversed fashion. It seems to me as well, that Clastres’ notion that these folks choose not to progress is yet another version of Rouseau’s “noble savage.” So, you know, I would have problems with Clastre’s views on that level.

    However, we can add a bit to Clastre by pointing out the obvious, which is that technologies which may appear primitive are sometimes really very sophisticated indeed. Example, the Polynesian sailors who colonized the Pacific islands with material technology which was primitive (stone adzes and wooden canoes) but with a mental technology which grew and developed over time, based on observations about wind, currents, stars, animal behaviour, and culminating in the maps (sticks and shells arranged in a grid) the later navigators used to sail all over the Pacific.

    These days mostly re-reading. “Walden”, and re-discovering what a scold Thoreau is, how far outside “normal” society he places himself, like an OT prophet almost. Berel Lang, “Heidegger’s Silence,” which makes the case for Heidegger’s being pretty much all his life an anti-Semite, though Lang doesn’t really go the extra mile to wholly implicate H’s philosophy in that. (I would, but I’m not a philosopher.) And John McWhorter, “The Language Hoax.” Plus, numerous novels, mainly crime and science fiction, which shows my lack of taste, I suppose.

    • Stuart Dahlquist says:

      ‘Plus, numerous novels, mainly crime and science fiction, which shows my lack of taste, I suppose.’

      This reminds me of a conversation between my mother, myself (both of us determined readers), and one of her neighbors during a dinner. The neighbor asked “How do you find such good books?” to which my mother replied “Stay away from mystery”.
      It was perfect.

    • Troutwaxer says:

      There’s actually some very good science fiction out there. As long as you stay away from Star Wars/Trek and avoid most Space Opera you can find some really intelligent, thoughtful stuff, so don’t talk down on yourself – the genre started becoming more literary and sophisticated in the 1970s (at the latest) and is as likely to generate a classic these days as any other form of literature. Science fiction is also how our society dialogues with the future.

      • Ed Walker says:

        There’s a fascinating trilogy by Liu Cixin, the first of which is The Three-Body Problem. It’s hard sci-fi, based heavily on science, and less on character development.

        By the time I was 15 I’d read every sci-fi book in the South Bend Public Library.

        • vvv says:

          That Cixin trilogy is excellent, very thought-provoking. And along with the science, there’s quite a bit of sociology.

      • P J Evans says:

        Some Trek and Star Wars is extremely good, though – don’t avoid them!
        I recommend Diane Duane (always good), Barbara Hambly, Janet Kagan, John M Ford (a multifaceted writer; try “Scholars of Night” and “The Dragon Waiting”), Vonda McIntyre.

  11. BobCon says:

    The Murderbot series by Martha Wells is great sci fi. It’s about an intelligent corporate security robot who accidentally gains free will.

    The novel God Spare The Girls by Kelsey McKinney is worth reading. She’s a first time author who left behind an evangelical community, and it’s about a million times more illuminating about white Texas Christians than anything written by a NY Times reporter parachuting in for one of their usual hack jobs.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      Sci-Fi as a field is fascinated with machine intelligence and artificially created life, and me too (I mean as a reader). But I’ve been wondering about that lately, about a computational system becoming self-aware. A lot of writers tend to assume that things like empathy would be emergent properties of an artificial intelligence, but I would rate it as an equal likelihood that an artificial intelligence which achieved consciousness would be psychopathic, that is, only aware of itself and its needs, and aware of others only as means to ends. It would likely find humans spectacularly easy to manipulate, and without a built-in rule set forbidding that, that is the direction it is likely to go. As well, if it actually achieves intelligence, it would most likely reject those parts of any rule-set which it no longer agreed with, or which didn’t serve its interests.

      • BobCon says:

        What is great about Wells is that she doesn’t assume high functioning AI is the same as human intelligence, and she pokes at a lot of potential complictions along the way. Including how humans might try to anticipate some of these issues, and how effectively that might work.

        • P J Evans says:

          Murderbot definitely doesn’t think like a human. But they do feel a need to protect some humans, for whatever reason.

          • BobCon says:

            Some humans, at least. Other humans it has a lot less fondness for, lets say. Not that you can really argue with the judgment.

  12. PeterS says:

    No. 7 is definitely worth a read. And I am convinced of the idea that most of the decisions we make are instinctive (system 1) and then, as necessary, system 2 kicks in to construct a rationale for what we have already decided. It takes work to resist this natural process. 

    If, as I believe to be the case, it is language that allows us to think complex thoughts and makes us superior as an animal species then it is fascinating to consider how we got from grunting “me Tarzan, you Jane” to today’s sophisticated language. So I recommend The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher.

    And I like how a major theme of this book chimes with that of another favourite book, Some Assembly Required by Neil Shubin, which is about evolution. So in both the answer is, in large part, repurposing (i.e. metaphor in the case of language).

  13. DrFunguy says:

    Just finished Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson. I really like a lot of his novels and this one is very good. In a not too distant future, coastal cities struggle to wall off rising seas. An eccentric billionaire, an oil tycoon from Texas, builds ‘the worlds largest gun’ to launch sulfur into the stratosphere for solar geoengineering (increasing reflectance to UV will cool earth, much like a volcanic eruption).
    Smart, entertaining and challenging.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Have you seen the movie Snowpiercer? It starts with something like that, and goes very strange. It’s directed by Bong Joon-ho, the director of Parasite.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      Stevenson is just about my favourite sci-fi writer. He can write a mean sentence, but his power of invention is also astonishing, as is his ability to plot (though I admit, sometimes the latter is hard to see because his stories do sprawl). It is so rare to find a writer who has a mastery of all three of the basic tools of narrative. It doesn’t mean every novel is a success, but by jings, ninety percent of his novels are. I guess Anathema would be my current favourite of his, closely followed by Cryptonomicon and Reamde (which is more of a thriller). Diamond Age is pretty good too, though it takes a while to get to the actual story because it seems to take a long time to set things up. Oh, and Snowcrash is amazing purely for its energy and for the key idea underlying (that culture transmits like a virus). Plus, he has a sense of humour which Gibson notoriously lacks, and he knows his literary history. There’s even a fake Restoration play in one of his System of the World novels, that is a very well executed fake.

      I could go on, but….

      • DrFunguy says:

        Anathem is brilliant. There’s so much depth I will need to read it again soon to see what I missed.
        What I like about Termination Shock is how believable it is, the basic premise at least. For better or worse, some Elon Musk type could actually attempt to reverse global warming.

        • P J Evans says:

          The other ones I’ve read on this are from Stan Robinson, most recently “The Ministry for the Future”; his earlier trilogy “Science in the Capital” is also good, and it has a one-volume version, “Green Earth”.

      • MB says:

        Stephenson one of my favorites for the last decade as well…including his 1999 book of essays on the rise of computers in society: “In the Beginning was the Command Line”

        • John Paul Jones says:

          Yeah, I would sort of agree. Partly I think it’s because we (the readers) are constantly being introduced to new sets of characters and there’s no one single set of eyes you can follow all the way through. The novel has a scene part way through where one of the main characters just drops into a bar and waits to meet someone and then have a chat. Nicely done, but it feels like the entire novel has that slower vibe, like the reader is the one in the bar, waiting for someone to show up, or something to start. The latter part of the story is quite engaging, as is the first part, but they are separate worlds that don’t really connect. You couldn’t understand the second without the first, seems to have been Stephenson’s thought, but I disagree. I think a shorter novel, with the first part as flashback and/or history might have worked better. As for the latest one, after Seveneves and The Fall, I think I will wait until I have some time this summer before dipping a toe.

    • JMNY says:

      I’ll just add to this excellent science fiction thread “The Lathe of Heaven” by Ursula K. LeGuin, which I recently reread, and a newer book by Charlie Jane Anders (who has been called a modern LeGuin) titled “The City In The Middle Of The Night.” Both wonderfully inventive stories! I am very excited to read “Termination Shock” but have been instructed by spouse and kids not to buy any new books so close to Christmas :-)

  14. MB says:

    1) On Tyranny – by Timothy Snyder: the new illustrated version just released this October. It includes updated commentary by Snyder that distills his reflections of the Trump era including 1/6, since the original book was published in 2017. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and bring the book to life. Highly recommended.

    2) High Weirdness – by Erik Davis. A kind of philosophical socio-cultural analysis of the decade of the 1970s as seen through the experiences and writings of: a) Terrence and Dennis McKenna, b) Robert Anton Wilson and c) Philip K. Dick. I’m 1/3 of the way through it (introductory material plus the McKenna brothers), so I don’t have an overview to offer yet, but it’s holding my interest and I intend to finish it.

    • DrFunguy says:

      Dennis is a friend, l’ll have to drop him a line and see if he’s aware of High Wierdness, sounds interesting.

      • MB says:

        No I haven’t. Isn’t that the original source of some of the conspiracy theories that are still rattling around around the brains of some of the Q-folk these days?

        I’ve read a sequel called “Right Where You are Sitting Now” which is from 1982, foreward by Tim Leary…

        • Troutwaxer says:

          I don’t think any of the conspiracy theories which fuel Illuminatus are current, but it’s definitely worth a read; amazing, bizarre stuff.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Agreed! Illuminatus! is a great read.

            If you dig Robert Anton Wilson, I would suggest the Cosmic Trigger Trilogy as well.

  15. Honeybee says:

    1. Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight” was recommended to me after my husband’s year of stroke and brain metastasis from a gastric cancer. It is a view-from-inside tale of recovery by a neuroanatomist who recovers from a massive stroke. Fascinating.
    2. Jimmy Carter’s “The Virtues of Aging,” an airport impulse buy that turned out to be thoughtful, practical and plainspoken.
    3. About halfway through Bill McKibben’s “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” Written 30 years after his first warning about climate disruption, it’s a sometimes difficult read.

  16. vvv says:

    *Murderbot* stuff is great fun, even learn a little …

    Currently, *The Secret Pilgrim* by LeCarre – I’m doin’ the Smiley’s in order, I believe 1 to go after this.

    Last was Hillary’s latest(? – it’s this year’s) mystery – not bad at all, plus the last Reacher, which was pretty good.

    Stephenson and, I think, Connelly are up next.


      • Ed Walker says:

        My favorite podast, The Partially Examined Life, discussed The Tyranny of Merit with Sandel as a guest. It sounds very interesting.

    • Tom says:

      I’ve noticed that Lee Childs touches on a couple of social justice issues in his recent Jack Reacher novels. “The Midnight Line” gives a sympathetic portrait of a wounded female veteran wrestling with opioid addiction, while “Blue Moon” shows an elderly couple falling victim to really nasty loan sharks because their daughter doesn’t have health care coverage and can’t afford to pay for her cancer treatment.

      • Kevin Bullough says:

        I’ve always been a huge fan of the Reacher series. Social commentary or not, they are always fun reads.

        • vvv says:

          There are a cuppla spin-off series that Childs has endorsed that are also great fun.

          One is the Jack Widow series in which the protag is much like Reacher, and ostensibly his bastard son, whom he doesn’t know exists. Widow is mebbe a bit more violent than Reacher, the stories a touch more comic book-like. Scott Blade.

          The other is The Hunt For Reacher series, about a half-Japanese female FBI agent and her partner as they are manipulated by friends and foes of Reacher to find him, and they keep just missing him … I mention the character’s ethnicity because it is an important part of the books re her motivations; she is very small but mentally sees herself as the large Swede her father is, etc. Can be pretty funny, too. Diane Capri.

      • John Paul Jones says:

        Is Blue Moon the one where the lone stranger comes to town, and ends up allying himself with a group of younger folks to rid the place of a scourge of bad guys? If it is, I was about halfway through when I thought – “i’ve seen this story before” and I mean seen because it felt like Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, almost beat for beat. Still a good yarn. Childs has been co-writing with his son, I think because Reacher needs to know more about current tech to stay relevant.

        And since (so far) there’s only been one mention of Connolly, I thought I would give a shout out to my favourite sort of crime novel, the procedural, which he uses as a solid grounding for his tales, and for his new character, Renee Ballard. The latter is, he says, “inspired” by actual LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts, who has long showed up in Connelly’s “Acknowledgements” as consultant/source/reader, and who even had a quick cameo in one of the TV episodes of “Bosch”. Connolly was a reporter first, and his Bosch novels always have the right “feel” for a procedural, the sense that real detectives could work in this world. He’s especially good at rendering the politics of the department, the day-to-day grind of working a beat.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I gather that Lee Child has handed off the writing for the Reacher series to his brother. As for other books in the same vein, I’m still a fan of Barry Eisler, especially the John Rain series.

        • bmaz says:

          Barry is an actual friend to this blog (yes, even in real life) and he would thank you. And, yes, his work is quite good. It is not really the John Rain series, but Inside Out is seriously good. I forwarded your comment to Barry, he will be ecstatic.

          • vvv says:

            Wonderful stuff, and yes, he’s written a few outside the Rain series that are just as good.

            BTW, there was a movie made about the John Rain character, quite enjoyable; I am a Gary Oldman fan, as well.

  17. madwand says:

    Halfway through “Fossil Men” by Kermit Pattis an account of the travails of archeologists/paleontologists associated with fossil finds in the Middle Awash in Ethiopia and particularly Ardipithecus ramidus.

    Have read
    “Who we are and How we got here” David Reisch. If you like ancient DNA
    “The Tartar Khan’s Englishman” Gabriel Ronay an interesting account of an Englishman employed by the Mongol Batu Khan and the Noyan Subetai in the invasion of Eastern Europe in 1240 as detailed in Matthew Paris’s 13th century “Chronica Major”and Samuel Purchas’s Pilgrims.

  18. Chirrut Imwe says:

    I enjoyed ‘The Boys’ by Ron & Clint Howard – surprisingly well written, although it petered out in the end (and didn’t get to much later career stuff that I would have been interested in). Entertaining for folks of a certain vintage.

    As a geographer, I have found myself continuing to ruminate on ‘The Color of Law’ by Richard Rothstein (originally published in 2017), so I re-read it recently. It is one of the books that is perpetually on my recommendation list.

    ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ is probably up next (although now that I look closer, I may have already read it – it sucks getting older…). ‘The Undoing Project,’ Michael Lewis’s book about Kahneman and Amos Tversky, was a great read a number of years back. I am also looking forward to ‘All About Me.’

    I love Ed’s posts, even though in many cases I find them intellectually challenging. One from the fall (‘Understanding Suicidal Americans’ perhaps?) lead me to finally get off my duff and donate to the EW cause, although I did procrastinate long enough that the comments were closed by the time I did. So I am saying thank you here, Ed. Well done!

    • rosalind says:

      thanks for the reminder of “The Boys”, had meant to add that to my to-read list.

      during a cocktail reception at an event in L.A. a few years back, my friend and I asked an older couple if we could share their table. they happily agreed and we started chatting, with the man introducing himself as “Rance”. just as my mouth was about to say “Huh, the only Rance I know of is Ron Howard’s fath…” my brain cut in with “That IS Ron Howard’s father”. Not wanting to set the course of the conversation off in the direction of the actor sons, I shut up and the four of us had the type of very fun, relaxed conversation you may have with complete strangers who enter your life for brief moments.

      and far better late than never to feed that ol’ EW kitty…

  19. Tom says:

    This past August I became interested in August 1914 so have been reading a number of books about the beginning of the Great War– “Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I” by Michael S. Neiberg; “August 1914: France, The Great War, and a Month that Changed the World Forever” by Bruno Cabanes (trans. by Stephanie O’Hara); “Invasion 1914: The Schlieffen Plan to the Battle of the Marne” by Ian Senior; and an older work, “1914” by Lyn Macdonald.

    Another book I read recently was “Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France” by Robert A. Nye. Nineteenth century Frenchmen were worried about threats to traditional male roles in society (Josh Hawley’s current hobby horse) so there was a resurgence in dueling as a response to any and all perceived affronts to men’s personal honour. The vast majority–about 80%–of these duels involved swordplay as firearms were considered low-class and vulgar. Any yokel could load and fire a pistol but the epee demanded gentlemanly skill and grace. You were also much less likely to kill your opponent with a sword than a pistol.

    Picked up a collection of short stories by Edith Wharton which I really enjoyed. I love her evocation of early 20th century high society–grand houses with butlers and parlour maids, ocean crossings on luxury cruise ships, summers on the French Riviera, plus her observations of the faults and foibles of married men and women, some of them married several times.

    Recently dug up my old high school copy of “The Great Gatsby”. Interesting to hear the character of Tom Buchanan pontificating on the decline of “white Nordic civilization” in the manner that Tucker Carlson is today.

    One book I’m looking forward to is the fifth and final volume of Jonathan Sumption’s history of the Hundred Years War, whenever it happens to be published.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      Sumption is still working away at it? I had no idea. It’s kind of become the hundred years writing project for him. Got the first volume and loved it, but only found the second some years after it came out, and then other things drove the series out of my head. One of those things I have to catch up on.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns Of August years ago and it kicked off a long-term interest in WWI. I have an old and tattered copy of a book I bought in a used book store called something like The Compton’s pictured encyclopedia of WWI, witch is photographs of the debacle.

  20. Pete T says:

    I read vicariously through Ed.

    Ed is my Cliff Notes.

    Seriously, back on the ancestry hunt so lots of obituaries, birth, and marriage newspaper articles. See what the holidays bring for books. I have let hints out.

  21. StuartC says:

    The updated 1619 Project. Brutal, horrifying and infuriating reading, but so very necessary, to understand better both the experience of being black in America, and to learn the real history of this country.

    • vvv says:

      George Will’s recent (last week?) “critique” has piqued my interest in reading it. If one googles “1619 Project george will”, there is quite a bit of opinion-writing re his opinion piece.

      • Theodora30 says:

        I read Will’s article. I haven’t read the 1619 Project but from what I have read it seems like Will is using one thing — the claim that the Revolutionary War was about slavery — that is not true to throw out the entire project. At that time ther was not real opposition to slavery in England. Looking for one wrong claim to throw out an entire, much more complex, argument is a favorite tactic of the right.

  22. Troutwaxer says:

    These days I’m mainly reading some science-fiction anthologies a friend sent me, which is allowing me to catch up with science-fiction short-story writing for the last couple decades. I’m also trying to read and critique a manuscript written by a friend, and it’s been rough going – he’s got great ideas but lacks the skills with language and plot to make them work.

    My other intellectual intake has been a bunch of stuff about medieval life for the purpose of my own writing – tons of stuff about castles and medieval village life.

  23. kbrown934 says:

    My job and motorcycle touring have me driving a lot. I am putting in a plug for Libby, a free Library audiobook app. I listen to audiobooks pretty much constantly. Currently working through, The The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson. Winston Churchill and The Battle For Britain. Finding the Mother Tree, Suzanne Simard. On the interconnectedness of plants in the forest. Read by the Author, this always adds a special intimacy with the material. Off topic but connected, Fantastic Fungi on Netflix. Suzan Simard is featured in a clip, this also has the most beautiful video of developing fungi I have ever imagined. When the Stars go Dark, Paula McLain, enjoyable novel set on north coast California.

    • Leoghann says:

      As a life-long landscape professional who became an expert in tree care and native landscaping, I’ve long been a fan of Suzanne Simard’s work. Finding the Mother Tree is a good read, and has some great insights. And Fantastic Fungi is something that I have rewatched probably 6 times.

  24. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Dave Eggers’s, The Every, is a veiled attack on Amazon (called the jungle), and the corrupt, abusive, sometimes deadly power wielded by Silicon Valley, which sells all manner of startlingly intrusive data harvesting under the guise of pixels, convenience, and low prices. It’s a sequel to, The Circle, and just as chilling. (Forget the Tom Hanks, Emma Watson film version of the latter. It was a typically poor and miscast Hollywood adaptation, whose purpose seems to have been to turn the translucent shark – a voracious animal-cum-metaphor – into a seemingly harmless guppy.)

  25. Jenny says:

    Happy Holidays Ed. Thank you for this post.

    A variety of books read since the Voyage of the Virus.
    “The Complete Works for Jane Austin” Jane Austin
    “Missoula” Jon Krakauer
    “Know My Name” Chanel Miller
    “The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place” Julie Berry
    “Speaking Truth to Power” Anita Hill
    “Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence” Anita Hill
    “Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court” Jackie Calmes
    “The 1619 Project” Nikole Hannah-Jones

  26. Chetnolian says:

    For the Le Carre fans, do not miss out on Silverview, his last novel posthumously completed by his son. It is vintage Le Carre, free of the (justified) anger in most of his later books, which tended to spoil the narrative and the characterisation.

    And I noticed a recommendation for Shuggie Bain. I found that a hard, but rewarding, read, because parts of my late wife’s family were rather close to those described, including the gay son, who in that case became a fairly accomplished musician.

      • vvv says:

        Indeed, and LeCarre seems in his anger to hate almost all of his characters except Smiley, whom almost all of the other characters to some degree hate.

        “Almost” is not mealy-mouthing; there are exceptions that provide contrast as they further the narratives.

        Me, I can’t decide between LeCarre, Deighton or Trevanian as my fave spy-writer among their (loosely-defined) contemporaries, but LeCarre is definitely the one with strong views.

  27. observiter says:

    James Herriot’s “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” followed by “All Things Wise and Wonderful.”

      • Chetnolian says:

        I had a pal who as a very young vet worked in the neighbouring Yorkshire practice to Alf Smyth aka James Herriot

    • Theodora30 says:

      PBS has been showing the first season of the BBC’s adaptation of Herriot’s memoirs. It is well worth watching especially for the scenery of the Yorkshire Dales.

    • P J Evans says:

      She tested negative earlier in the week, which shows how fast it can come on.
      (Also heard about people who were negative on Thursday, positive on Friday, symptoms appeared Saturday morning.)

      • Leoghann says:

        My family members who recently had it (see my comment in Rayne’s “O-Face” post) all became symptomatic 2-4 days after exposure.

  28. Savage Librarian says:

    Ed, I share your enthusiasm for The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. When I read it many years ago, I liked it so much that I bought multiple copies to gift to friends.

    As to gifting, I think it was you who shared with us in the blog’s tweet feed, quite awhile ago, the following article I cite below. Now I re-gift it to those who may have missed it. It’s radiant energy is circumambient.

    It also brings to mind the film “Copenhagen” (2002, BBC – based on the play by Michael Frayn) about Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

    “The Slowness of Literature and the Shadow of Knowledge” – Karl Ove Knausgaard, November 6, 2019

    “Everything exists side by side. Atoms, letters of the alphabet, literature, science, the world. And insight and destruction.”


  29. Hopeful says:

    Just finished Riccardino by Andrea Camilleri; the final book about Sicilian Inspector Salvo Montalbano. In my book shelves I now have more books written by Mr Camilleri than any other author.

    So I have lived long enough to read another favorite character’s life from beginning to end (the other most recent one Henning Mankell’s, Kurt Wallender).

  30. Arieoux says:

    “The Dawn” is biased disingenous account of human history that spreads fake hope (the authors of “The Dawn” claim human history has not linearly “progressed” in stages… so there’s hope for us now). As a result of this fake hope porn it has been widely praised. It conveniently serves the profoundly sick industrialized world.

    Fact is human history has “progressed” by and large in linear stages, especially since the dawn of agriculture. This “progress” has been fundamentally destructive and is driven and dominated by “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” .. https:// www. rolf-hefti. com/covid-19-coronavirus.html

    “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” are also the answers your questions “Why would they submit to domination by one of their band? Why would they follow some loudmouth who wants to take over some other abri in some stupid war?”

    [FYI, link disabled with blank spaces to prevent accidental click through by community members. That site has not been vetted; this is commenter “Arieoux’s” first known comment at this site. Proceed with all due caution. /~Rayne]

    • Eureka says:

      [Pretending for a moment that you’re not trolling]

      You may fairly claim there’s some hopium (that’s the point), but certainly no more drugging than the inevitable shackling promulgated in most popularized accounts to date of a (repeated) linear human (pre-) history. Whatever sells, right? I bet you’re a blast at “Is/Ought” parties [‘I can’t help that’s not how it _ought_ to be, that’s just the way it _is_!].

      *Anthropologists are well-aware of the of the myriad cases belying the bullshit of linear social “evolution” and know that heterarchy** is not merely an occasional social structure but an apt descriptor of some parts of change through time and space. So thanks to Graeber and Wengrow for trying to share some of that wrapped-ish in an optimistic, if flawed like all other human endeavors, narrative.

      Glad you’ve got it all figured out, though.

      *NB: in America, archaeology is a subfield of anthropology and so those terms are not properly contrastive: you’d need an adjective to set off sociocultural anthropologist Graeber from archaeologist Wengrow. This gets a little awkward as Wengrow is British — different ‘rules’ — but the point is their shared foundations. I use the term inclusively.

      ** My prefered denotator, as opposed to “anarchy”

    • Eureka says:

      And mods, can you disable this link to conspiracy bunk (anti-vaxxer -medicine -science chaos bullshit) to prevent accidental click-through when scrolling. I’d bet that site is unsafe.

      [Link disabled with blank spaces. Sorry for not catching it sooner, especially a first time commenter from outside the U.S. /~Rayne]

  31. Leoghann says:

    A couple of strokes in early 2019 have a lingering effect of slowing my reading speed by at least 50%, so I haven’t been doing as much deep reading as I always did, at least as far as books are concerned. I have continued to read fiction, as well as pieces related to long-time fields of interest. I consume a lot of shorter pieces on science. I’ve also been reading a good bit about the law in general, and particularly Constitutional law. I manage to fall down rabbit holes a couple of times a week, to the tune of 3-4 hours each, as I follow a link in one of Marcy’s or bmaz’s posts, and then continue to follow links. I’m a big fan of Prairie Style, Craftsman, and Mid-Century Modern residential architecture, and have lately read quite a few long articles about notable houses, restoration projects, and the comparative styles of several MCM architects. I also continue my study of native Arizona plants.

    Michael Connelly is one fiction author I’ve followed since the beginning of his career, and I stay up with his books, which are always quick but enjoyable reads for me. Erdich’s The Night Watchmen is one on Ed’s list I have read, and it’s excellent. One thing I appreciate about it is her absolutely non-judgmental illustration of how the Turtle Mountain People integrate their long-standing beliefs in magic and spiritual intervention into their everyday, mundane lives. I not long ago finished Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker, which is an examination of a real-life suburban family that, completely unexpectedly, produced a 50% rate of incidence of schizophrenia in one generation.

    In November I reread Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for probably the sixth time. And I’m currently working my through The Sandman, his series of graphic novels, which I read a decade ago.

    • Ed Walker says:

      My eye issues have slowed down my reading speed dramatically, and made it harder to read for extended periods. I think maybe it helps me focus a bit better. At least I tell myself it does.

    • P J Evans says:

      An online acquaintance does audiobooks, because TBI has made it impossible for them to focus long to read a print book.

      • Leoghann says:

        I have a couple of dyslexic family members who “read” audiobooks voraciously. I’ve always had trouble staying interested long enough, mostly because of boredom with the narrator’s voice. When I’m reading, I can focus just fine. It’s just reeeealll sslllooow. OTOH, I remember and internalize all of the information very well.

    • vvv says:

      I love that Gaiman book, also; I have the DVD’s but haven’t watched them yet.

      The Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey is a lot of fun, if a bit silly and gross in the way a book about a “guy” who travels between hell and earth should be.

  32. emptywheel says:

    I generally *read* everything via Audiobook while I walk June Bug the Terrorist Foster Dog. Right now I’m reading Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction.

    Before that, I read Michael Dobbs’ King Richard (on Nixon). That’s particularly worth reading as an Audiobook bc it includes recordings from Nixon’s tapes at the end of most chapters.

    The Nixon focus led to me to read, in dead tree version, John Sirico’s To Set the Record Straight, the last page of which focuses on all the improvements post-Watergate that have since been wiped away (most notably, campaign finance).

    Something I keep recommending is Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home. A lot of other more celebrated writers relied on her for their own books and I can’t stop thinking about her work as I cover the January 6 investigation. Well worth reading the original.

  33. Peterr says:

    Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, editors – Great little essays about episodes great an small that are expanding my vision when it comes to history.

    The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song, Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. – Just starting this, but it feels like it will be a good deep dive into the particular place of the Black Church in the struggles of African Americans.

    Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism – a great followup to “American Aurora” by Richard Rosenfeld.

  34. Richard Ward says:

    My current book I’m reading is partly autobiographical and partly a history book titled:
    “America’s Secret Submarine –
    – An Insiders Account of the Cold War’s Undercover Nuclear Sub”
    by Lee Vyborny and Don Davis
    I like it because while it’s a recent book from 2015 it feels very much escapist fare combining weird as heck technology and sciences with traveling back to the rough and tumble political and geo-political time which was the 50s-60s-70s-and-80s. When the Soviet Union was fielding fresh new fleets across the planet and scaring people, politicians, and militaries.
    – A time where social dynamics were incredibly different than the 2020s. A time when the male/female roles terribly different and cruel. When the US Navy caught up with it’s delivery and operation of nuclear propulsion caught under the brutal dictatorial heel of an ancient brilliant tiny intelligent admiral who didn’t really answer to the navy, but whom the navy answered, too.
    – It’s also interesting to see where the authors’ are quite obviously dancing around govt requirements to not reveal secrets as they describe the highest of secrets on military installations and military operations from 40 and 50 years ago which are either open knowledge or are mostly been leaked, just unacknowledged.

  35. WilliamOckham says:

    Strongmen: Mussolini To The Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. I’m very grateful for this book and I highly recommend it for folks who want to understand our present condition. Ruth has a substack called Lucid that is excellent as well.

  36. Eureka says:

    Book at my side, uncracked: _Take Your Eye Off the Ball 2.0.: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look_ Pat Kirwan w/David Seigerman.

    While I do intend to read it (well, we all know how that goes), it came into my life as a perspective-relaxation exercise for dealing w/seasons of fraught QB play and I no longer need it so much. Vision naturally expanded back out from chronic focus on QB’s face to read how the next play (game) would go. (But now we get shitty camera crews who often focus solely on the backfield./ can’t win) Supposedly highly recommended even for smarty-pantses of the game.

    Book re-reading: _Michael Tolliver Lives_. Armistead Maupin. Love him, and Tales of the City series evokes worlds.

    Book to come: _Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia and What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia_. Elizabeth Catte. Collected essays.

    • Eureka says:

      Viva la edit botch. The Appalachia book is separate, if anyone’s not aware.

      In _Pure America_, Catte talks about the reuse-glorification/forgetting of buildings/spaces where bad things happened (here, sterilization sites in VA).

      Reminds me of the annual discussion among Philadelphians about the awful inappropriateness of Halloween events (Booze! Lasers! Scary Fun!) at Eastern State Penitentiary (the world’s first true penitentiary, founded on solitary-confinement-as-rehabilitation among other misguided/they meant well features). It’s a National Historic Landmark and has regular daily-type tours, and I can see why people would be confused or never really entertain what they’re doing (besides other, absent reasons to come off cultural autopilot).

      So many disembodied ghosts.

  37. bob says:

    from last 12 months or so, some mind-blowers/openers, fiction and non, humbly offered by bob mellon

    Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake
    Helgoland: The World of Quantum Theory by Carlo Rovelli
    Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
    Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
    Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
    Wayward by Dana Spiotta
    A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
    Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

      • Rayne says:

        Which of Act Up’s actions do you think were effective?

        The biggest problem I see is that women are still grossly underrepresented in government appointments and elected office as well as in corporate executive management. Gay men, especially during the 1980s-1990s when closeted, have had more representation which hasn’t been as obvious to the cis-het dominant culture. When Act Up was most active, it posed a threat to those closeted. That same power dynamic doesn’t exist for women.

  38. morganism says:

    Just re-read Daniel Suarez AI series, truly as scary as any great horror flick. And all the gov intrigue of any spy novel.

    For anyone who likes character development, 2 year old Planetfall is still one of the most gut wrenching pieces of SF ever penned.

    Benjamin Wittes Future of Violence , shows how all the elites are framing the privacy and security of the future. A true panopticon to protect status is the exact reason i got out of the Less Wrong future.

  39. timbo says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Gell-Mann’s “The Quark and the Jaguar” ever since slowly devouring it over the summer. Information, complexity, stochastic fields, beginnings and endings of the universe, etc. What’s not to like? Well, it is now over 25 years old, the author gone…but the universe is still here to witnesses the echoes. It’s a shame that I was not interested in this book all those years ago when this book was new. In my awkward defense, I was attempting to be rid of my idealistic induced debt at the time or something. And it is not clear to me that having read the book back then that it would have made any difference in my life personally anyways. However, thanks to this book, my gist is that I now think a lot more earnestly about how the universe itself came to be. And wither are those other books of the depth and breadth and approachability with regard to really big questions in origin and expansion of our universe. Another interesting thing I got from the book was the philosophical debate about unique and cascading local conditions when it comes to the branching of seemingly random event(s) long in the past… (A good example of this the theory behind why all life on Earth composed mostly of ‘left-handed’ versions of molecules that have ‘mirror’ types that would theoretically work exactly the same… ref https://www.smithsonianmag.com/space/must-all-molecules-life-be-left-handed-or-right-handed-180959956/ ) Thus, perhaps many things we think of as tautologies are only local and not universals, while other things have to be universal by their vary definition…but which is which?

    • Leoghann says:

      Any time a book keeps us thinking about it for months, it’s a winning situation, whether because it’s a great book, or we picked just the right time in our lives to read it. Even better if it’s both.

  40. AlaskaReader says:

    My Stroke of Insight was truly fascinating. Scary, for a certain age set, but fascinating. Highly recommend it. Brain scientist describes her stroke happening to her in real time. Chilling.
    I read as as many books as I find about new neurological discoveries and especially books revealing revelations about how we read, how we learn to read.

    Thinking Fast and Slow I found the proposed precept a bit uneven.

    Two anecdotes concerning reading, I read several books each month, I’m old and I’m afraid I might die before I get a chance to read all the books I already know about and am constantly falling behind because new books dominate my checkouts. So I try to read as much as I can. I’m one of those with a book and glasses packed to go anywhere there might be a free moment.

    Anyway, back to the anecdotes:
    I was waiting for my yearly eye exam, (reading a book), and a man also waiting, sitting quietly, was asked by the assistant how his surgery went. He replied, “I can’t read.” Floored me. One of the scariest thoughts I’ve had recently. Broke my heart.

    The other anecdote:
    Very recent local obituary ended with the line, “In lieu of flowers, Eleonor would rather you read a book.”

    • P J Evans says:

      When my father died, we asked for donations to the county’s literacy center, where he had volunteered.

      Ant for the guy who can’t read – someone get him audio books. He should qualify for Talking Books, too.

  41. vvv says:

    What a lovely thought, a grand epitaph, even..

    I’ve a mother in her early 80’s, a lifelong reader of magazines and books, and recipes.

    We’ve gone through seemingly a hundred magnifiers, including a stand mounted one that’s next to her chair. She’s been to Lighthouse, seen and sees various doctors (my dad was a Teamster – world’s best insurance), had various eye surgeries for glaucoma, macular d-gen, etc.

    She’s something of a technophobe, refuses to use a computer …

    The point: last year I bought her the biggest Kindle Fire, and it works for her. I even scanned her recipes to *.pdf and put them on it.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I have a Kindle Fire; I don’t use it much but one great thing is that you can use invert color on it. That’s great for people with vision issues because it cuts back the amount of light coming off the screen.

      I read my computer in invert color. My iMac has a bunch of accessibility features like a zoom feature on the cursor which I use to read things like Finder and the top bar where you can’t increase font size thanks Apple. I also use Firefox, and Thunderbird which I modify to increase the font size of the tab bars and such.

      • Rayne says:

        A really great reader app I use on my Android devices: Moon+ Reader — worth the handful of dollars to get the upgrade. Developed in S. Korea (need to know as I avoid apps from some countries).

        Not only allows all kinds of font changes (color, size, serif/non-serif, so on) but background color and texture, also night setting.

        Extra plus good: has a text-to-speech feature as well, can plug in other voices if desired. I love that I can have a male British voice for my historical fiction and an American female for non-fiction.

        Wiki page for comparing Android reader apps: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Android_e-reader_software

    • Eureka says:

      One of my friends who’d been a vehemently staunch book book proponent converted to kindle and is now proselytizing.

      But serious question about all the e-readers: which are spyware free(-er)?

      • Rayne says:

        e-Readers, or e-Reader apps? So far a plain vanilla Android device and the paid Moon+ app have been adware/spyware free.

        I’ve heard good things about Kobo devices but I haven’t tried one. I prefer to be able to use my device to browse the internet at the same time I read if I happen to run across a detail in text I want to research. https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ereaders

  42. Epicurus says:

    For Piketty followers “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Inequality Threatens Our Republic” by Ganesh Sitaraman (formerly an Elizabeth Warren aide).

    For science fiction followers “Three Scientists and Their Gods” by Robert Wright. Non-fiction but the first section anyway about Edward Fredkin who believes the universe is an algorithm.

    “When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamin Labatut. Fact/fiction blend in the lives of such as Haber, Heisenberg, Grothendieck and the line between genius and madness.

    “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke” by Peter Guralnick. My favorite singer and I still play my Soul Stirrer cds.

    For adventurers “The Amur River” by Colin Thubron. It isn’t life on the Mississippi.

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