Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Books shaping who I am these days

There is no particular order to review here - though a few down the list were exceptionally great - one reshaped the way I think about my life and several others . . . well, they did too! ha!

An intriguing thinker, ahead of his time. A larger review of this intriguing book ends with this: “Trump and his fellow populists claim that America’s elites have been corrupted beyond the point of saving: they promise not to turn them towards the true and the good, but instead to destroy them. In the context of this right-wing fury, Bloom’s attacks on the university may seem to only reinforce what has by now become a widespread anti-intellectualism. If the university campus is nothing more than an island of philosophy surrounded by the vulgar masses, an elite playground for “useless” learning, right-wing populists might have a legitimate case for dismantling it. But in the age of Trump, Bloom’s suggestion that elite education has a role to play in saving democracy from itself may nonetheless be worth returning to.”  

In the spirit of the preceding book by Bloom, though with varied perspectives about elementary and secondary education, Gatto offers a critique of the educational system that causes us to “churn out” “automatons” (my words) more than creative, thinking, ingenious young persons.

I learned some new ways to think about Buddhism and Buddhist thinking.

One of several books I’ve needed to read to better understand perspectives of women and persons of color.  Her TEDx talk is great. She’s published other books that are on my radar!

This book was actually a bit difficult to read - though it was a wonderful “meanderinga” and yet deeply connected journey on how words work!  Imagine sentence after sentence making connections to one another based on the “word plays” available in language - that was this book.  Delightful for anyone who loves words!

A former student recommended this book and I’m so glad he did.  Imagine an exploration through every possible interpretation and possible way of viewing Abraham and Sarah in relationship to their son Isaac.  Not so much a piece of exegetical or Biblical inquiry - though rooted in that - and more an exploration of the history of interpretation.  Several new ways to think about the characters and story that helped me rethink what I might know about these persons and these stories from Genesis.

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World by Haemin Sunim.  Click through to the Amazon link and read the reviews and comments. The book does exactly what it claims to do in it’s title.  Here’s a single review from Amazon. “A remarkable guide to how to live a life of unpretentious authenticity and compassionate engagement. In Haemin Sunim’s brief essays and aphorisms, the insights of Buddhism have fully become the stuff of life itself.” —Robert Buswell, Director of Buddhist Studies, UCLA”

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection by Louisa Thomsen Brits.  This was one of the most influential books I read in 2017 - and I think about it nearly everyday.  Since nearly every book I post about on this blog is a book I check out from the library - it is a significant commentary to say that I bought a copy of this book on Hygge for my wife, for several friends, and I downloaded an album that I listen to every other day or so since reading this book.  That Album is here.  I read this back in November of 2017 - and just realized as I commented on the book by Sunim, that I never commented on this book by Brits.  I probably never noted it - as I was too busy sending emails about it.  This book has helped me to think about new ways that I wish to live my life.  I loved it.  It is likely one of few that will have reshaped the way I think about living/being in the world. I recommend the audio of this book over the print edition - mainly to capture nuance and speed of the reading from the author.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Thomas M. Nichols.  Along with other books I’ve read about education and the University and the way we think - and how our social norms are shifting about how we think . . . this book was intriguing.  From the book’s cover: “As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.  Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.”

Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski.  I loved this book.  I grew up in the home of a science teacher who lived what he taught. When I was in high school I excelled in Science classes and thought I would move into a field of Chemistry or Physics.  This book explains the intricacies of the mysteries/physics of “mundane” things - in a way that “opens the veil” to let us see the micro and macro level issues moving and shaping the world around us.  I’ll re-read this book.

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn.  I’ve had to check this book out twice and, in truth, have not yet finished every chapter and story. A testimony to the fact that we - and those around us - can make a difference in the world - for the good!  From the cover: “With scrupulous research and on-the-ground reporting, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn explore how altruism affects us, what are the markers for success, and how to avoid the pitfalls. In their recounting of astonishing stories from the front lines of social progress, we see the compelling, inspiring truth of how real people have changed the world, underscoring that one person can make a difference.”

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.  I’ve read much of what Jamie has published since . . . about 2005 or so. Though - not all of it. The man is seriously the smartest and most kind person I have ever met.  I am not kidding.  Read it simply because he is a GREAT human - and brilliant.  And, read everything he’s published.

Reality is not what it seems: the journey to quantum gravity by Carlo Rovelli.  This book was akin to the Storm in a Teacup, though not as “everyday” and “ordinary” in its presentation.  A fuller review of Carlo’s work is here.  Physics - it’s minuscule issues of finiteness - and it’s largeness of infiniteness - amaze me.  A review from online about this book: “Some physicists, mind you, not many of them, are physicist-poets. They see the world or, more adequately, physical reality, as a lyrical narrative written in some hidden code that the human mind can decipher. Carlo Rovelli, the Italian physicist and author, is one of them…Rovelli's book is a gem. It's a pleasure to read, full of wonderful analogies and imagery and, last but not least, a celebration of the human spirit.”—NPR Cosmos & Culture”   Or, this great line in a review of the book: “this book by Rovelli will not fit easily into a pocket, but its lapidary integration of science and literature is a marvel.”  

Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies by Dick Gregory. I have no recollection of knowing Dick Gregory before reading this book - though he has stood alongside and been in the lives of “every” important American Black person in the past few decades (or so he narrates.)  From his perspectives in entertainment and music industry - and justice work among Blacks, writing as a Black person - he was able to say things I had not heard and I was able to discern new vistas of Black experience I had not yet encountered or understood.  I met new characters and came away with new ideas. This is a book I plan to re-read.  And, I enjoyed the audiobook version as the author reads in his voice, with his pace, with his emphasis.  Read the publisher’s full book description for more.  A good, good read. 

No Logo: 10th Anniversary Edition with a New Introduction by Naomi Klein.  I had not read Klein . . . that I know of.  And yet, it seems apparent to me that she has shaped culture (and/or persons I’ve read elsewhere) as she critique(d)(s) Capitalism, Branding, Clothing(Mall) Industry and more.  From another reviewer: “In No Logo, Klein patiently demonstrates, step by step, how brands have become ubiquitous, not just in media and on the street but increasingly in the schools as well. (The controversy over advertiser-sponsored Channel One may be old hat, but many readers will be surprised to learn about ads in school lavatories and exclusive concessions in school cafeterias.) The global companies claim to support diversity, but their version of "corporate multiculturalism" is merely intended to create more buying options for consumers. When Klein talks about how easy it is for retailers like Wal-Mart and Blockbuster to "censor" the contents of videotapes and albums, she also considers the role corporate conglomeration plays in the process. How much would one expect Paramount Pictures, for example, to protest against Blockbuster's policies, given that they're both divisions of Viacom? Klein also looks at the workers who keep these companies running, most of whom never share in any of the great rewards. The president of Borders, when asked whether the bookstore chain could pay its clerks a "living wage," wrote that "while the concept is romantically appealing, it ignores the practicalities and realities of our business environment." Those clerks should probably just be grateful they're not stuck in an Asian sweatshop, making pennies an hour to produce Nike sneakers or other must-have fashion items. Klein also discusses at some length the tactic of hiring "permatemps" who can do most of the work and receive few, if any, benefits like health care, paid vacations, or stock options. While many workers are glad to be part of the "Free Agent Nation," observers note that, particularly in the high-tech industry, such policies make it increasingly difficult to organize workers and advocate for change.”

World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer.  I audio read this book while I was traveling - and I found that I was distracted by issues (traffic on the roads!) and missed out on entire sections in my ability to track to entire argument of the book.  I was fascinated by what Foer argues for and I do want to come back to better understand. In its essence, we are leaving ourselves subject to be manipulated by the forces of data and AI in ways that 99.999% of us don’t think about - and perhaps in ways that we do not want . . . and yet we give our data to AI and it now shapes what we see and who we become!  From the publisher: “Elegantly tracing the intellectual history of computer science—from Descartes and the enlightenment to Alan Turing to Stuart Brand and the hippie origins of today's Silicon Valley—Foer exposes the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology. The corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, he argues, are trampling longstanding liberal values, especially intellectual property and privacy. This is a nascent stage in the total automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life. By reclaiming our private authority over how we intellectually engage with the world, we have the power to stem the tide. At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become.”

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