For months now, I've been going through Godel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, a chapter at a time, on Sunday mornings.
The crowd is getting sparse. So, maybe a different book?
1) Available. Nothing out of print, nothing that costs hundreds of dollars.
2) General interest. GEB may have been a bit too esoteric.
3) Capable of sustained discussion. I love lots of types of books, but this should be a book that makes you think. A lot.
This week I have some books in a poll, and, unless there is a huge winner, I'll continue the poll next week.
Some suggestions below the fold
1. Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from fire to Freud by Peter Watson.
Peter Watson's hugely ambitious and stimulating history of ideas from deep antiquity to the present day—from the invention of writing, mathematics, science, and philosophy to the rise of such concepts as the law, sacrifice, democracy, and the soul—offers an illuminated path to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves.2. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
At the heart of this book is the revolutionary idea that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution. Rather, Jaynes presents consciousness as a learned process that evolved from an earlier hallucinatory mentality only three thousand years ago. The implications extend into every aspect if human life.3. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.
A global account of the rise of civilization that is also a stunning refutation of ideas of human development based on race.4. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt.
Until around 11,000 b.c., all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas, and Africa, farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide.
The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and geography. But how did differences in societies arise? Why weren't native Australians, Americans, or Africans the ones to colonize Europe? Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences.
He assembles convincing evidence linking germs to domestication of animals, germs that Eurasians then spread in epidemic proportions in their voyages of discovery. In its sweep, Guns, Germs and Steel encompasses the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, providing a unifying theory of human history as intriguing as the histories of dinosaurs and glaciers
5. How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror by Reza Azlan.
A cosmic war is a religious war. It is a battle not between armies or nations, but between the forces of good and evil, a war in which God is believed to be directly engaged on behalf of one side against the other.6. 1959: The Year Everything Changed by Fred Kaplan
The hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, thought they were fighting a cosmic war. According to award-winning writer and scholar of religions Reza Aslan, by infusing the United States War on Terror with the same kind of religiously polarizing rhetoric and Manichean worldview, is also fighting a cosmic war-a war that can't be won.
How to Win a Cosmic War is both an in-depth study of the ideology fueling al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, and like-minded militants throughout the Muslim world, and an exploration of religious violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Surveying the global scene from Israel to Iraq and from New York to the Netherlands, Aslan argues that religion is a stronger force today than it has been in a century. At a time when religion and politics are increasingly sharing the same vocabulary and functioning in the same sphere, Aslan writes that we must strip the conflicts of our world-in particular, the War on Terror-of their religious connotations and address the earthly grievances that always lie behind the cosmic impulse.
How do you win a cosmic war? By refusing to fight in one.
Acclaimed national security columnist–and noted cultural critic–Fred Kaplan looks past the 1960s to the year that really changed America7. A "great book". One list of "great books" is that used by St. John's college. Suggest one from the list (or other source).
Conventional historical wisdom focuses on the sixties as the era of pivotal change that swept the nation, yet, as Fred Kaplan argues, it was 1959 that ushered in the wave of tremendous cultural, political, and scientific shifts that would play out in the turbulent decades that followed. Pop culture exploded in upheaval with the rise of artists like Jasper Johns, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and Miles Davis. Court rulings unshackled previously banned books. Political power broadened with the onset of Civil Rights laws and protests. The sexual and feminist revolutions took their first steps with the birth control pill. America entered the war in Vietnam, and a new style in superpower diplomacy took hold. The invention of the microchip launched the Computer Age, and the Space Race put a new twist on the frontier myth. Drawing fascinating parallels between the country in 1959 and today, exactly 50 years later, Kaplan offers a smart, cogent, and deeply researched new take on a vital, overlooked period in American history.