I have a category of books that I want my Dad to read. These books share the theme "the world is getting better, not worse - and the future is brighter than the past". My Dad begs to differ. He is wrong, but he is entitled to his misguided views. (The next book on this list will be The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley - other books include The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook and The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created by William J. Bernstein
Kotkin grounds his optimism in solid demographics (my Dad's profession - one reason why I'm so excited to hear from him where Kotkin gets it wrong). Kotkin's basic argument is that the United States will reap a demographic dividend of relatively high fertility and immigration rates, one that will result in growing demand for goods and services and an expanding pool of talent, energy and innovation. This growth will be centered in our increasingly vibrant and diverse suburbs, but even the old industrial cities will benefit as their low costs drive in-migration.
Kotkin takes the "anti-suburb and anti-growth" pundits head-on, noting (accurately) that people choose to move to suburbs for amenities such as good schools and good housing. Jobs and culture tend to follow the people, a cycle that increases both productivity and brings new opportunity. The description of Manhattan, Boston, and San Francisco has "luxury cities" is priceless - with Kotkin arguing that the new cities (concentrated in the South West spread all over) may get less cultural attention but will be the places of opportunity for our children and their immigrant neighbors.
Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America's New Rootless Professional Class by Peter T. Kilborn
People who work in academia tend to have little understanding about how the rest of the world makes a living. I'm doubly worse, haven grown up in an academic household. I'll never forget my first non-academic job (for Britannica.com during the bubble), when I was shocked that people actually worked all summer. So I particularly cherished each page of "Next Stop, Reloville" (yes page…sadly no audiobook version is available) - an amazing piece of long-form reporting that brings into focus the invisible class of "relo's". A "relo" is a worker (or their family) who relocates for work. The culture in corporate America is to move employees from job-to-job-to-job, in promotions that often require a move to another city. Whole communities in and around of Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas and many other places have become "relo" destinations, prized for their affordable real estate, business friendly tax structures, and proximity to growing markets. Climbing the ranks of corporate America usually means being willing to relocate every 5 to 7 years, bringing spouses and kids in tow. At the highest levels, relocation may mean an international move as well. These people are largely invisible because nobody track their aggregate movements, and the "relo's" themselves often do not lay down deep enough roots in a community to cause much disruption when they leave. This is a terrific book - combining sociology, economics, and history - essential for understanding how professional and family life have changed in response to larger economic forces.
This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson
Some Takeaways - originally published at my IHE blog. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/some_takeaways_from_this_book_is_overdue
I think if I were an academic librarian the book might be somewhat annoying. Johnson's strength and her weakness is that she is not a librarian, rather a librarian groupie. She has an outsider's appreciation for the librarian profession and the workings of a library. As an outsider, however, I think she misses some (if not most) of the big issues, challenges, and trends facing the discipline. This goes doubly so for the world of academic libraries. I hope that Johnson's passion and respect will inspire someone embedded in an academic library to write an account of this world for the non-specialist reader.
--The more time I spend thinking about the library world the more I realize how little I know and understand. I'm not sure if my lack of understanding is due to my own limitations of perspective (coming from a teaching and technology background), or due to some inherent insularity of library culture. An example of my own lack of knowledge about library culture and structure is how struck I was by Johnson's description of the growing cadre of disruptive librarians. These are librarians, some of whom are academic librarians, who are engaged in challenges to the library and institutional status quo using online tools such as blogging and social media platforms. What surprised me is how much more diverse (and sometimes radical) librarians are compared to both my image and my colleagues in computing. The fact that librarians are so engaged in rethinking their profession and institutions probably would not come as a surprise to any librarian, but to an outsider this is an eye-opening notion. You will have to tell me if this observations means that librarians should be spending more time talking and engaging to non-librarians about their ideas and plans for change and re-invention, or if non-librarians need to spend more time hanging out with our colleagues (at library conferences, library blogs etc.).
--My other big takeaway from This Book is Overdue is a new appreciation of the centrality of the moral code that motivates librarians. I had not fully grasped the degree to which librarians are dedicated to the the non-market distribution and availably of information. Nor had I fully understood the central librarian ethic of privacy and confidentiality. Does academic computing have anything comparable in terms of outlook and orientation. We have debates about open source, transparency, and open curriculum - but I don't think we have anything close to the cohesive philosophy that peoples access to information should not be dependent on resources, status or position that seem to be universal amongst librarians.
For those of you thinking about reading This Book is Overdue, I'll warn you that the first half of the book is much better than the second. Again, I hope that my academic librarian colleagues do read the book, if only to discuss and make plans to write a better one.
Grade: BThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
Now I finally understand the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. I mean, I understood that in general too many people took out mortgages they could not afford, and when housing prices stopped going up each year that many of these people could not refinance or sell and therefore could not pay their loans. What I did not understand, prior to reading The Big Short, was the credit default swap and how Wall Street and the big insurance companies got themselves in so much trouble that they needed to be bailed out. This is a fun book to read because Lewis is at the top of his game as a storyteller. In lesser hands, the people profiled in the book to advance the sub-prime meltdown narrative would not have been nearly as compelling. With Lewis telling the tale, however, we learn about the antecedents of the great recession through the personalities of a marginalized and somewhat anti-social group of traders and analysts whose outsider status let them see what nobody else saw, and make millions in the process. This is really a story of how sometimes the outsider, willing to go against the conventional wisdom and the customs of the dominant elite, are able to over turn entire systems while shedding sunshine on uncomfortable realities. I'm going to make it a point to seek out the eccentrics in higher ed, and listen to what they have to say.
The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
A worthy addition to the brain bookshelf. Not quite as good as Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina , on par with Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life by Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt. The stories of our brains plasticity will, well, blow your mind. The fact that so much of what science thought about how our brains worked turned out to be wrong tells us how difficult it is to understand those 3 pounds sitting inside of our skulls. The idea that our brain's inherent neuroplasticity holds out hope for greater wisdom and intelligence as we age is a hopeful one, while at the same time we must recognize our brain's unhelpful tendencies to form patterns of thought that are sub-optimal. Doidge has a good story to tell, he understands the science, but is somewhat limited by his skills as a storyteller. The story of our changing understanding of the brain is one that deserves to be told by our very best writers.
The City and the City by China Mieville
My colleague Laura Librarian recommended this book, thank you. The whole category of speculative fiction is not one that I knew existed. She compared it to The Yiddish Policemen's Union: A Novel by Michael Chabon. Apparentely Mieveille has a loyal following, and has a pretty interesting background. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Miéville
The City is challenging and rewarding - a book that takes some time to get one's head around (at least for me). A novel set in a counter factual but seemingly real world of geopolitics, customs (and sometimes technology), calls into question some beliefs about how the world is set-up. Part police procedural, part social commentary, and part something else (sci fi?), this novel is impossible to characterize, difficult to put down, and hard to get out of my head.
Solar by Ian McEwan
'It's a catastrophe. Relax!' - originally published at my IHE blog - http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/it_s_a_catastrophe_relax
So Nobel laureate Michael Beard assures us all of the the inevitability and consequences of global warming, in Ian McEwan's smart and hilarious new book Solar.
Sometimes I feel faintly embarrassed, spending all this time and energy on learning technology while doing nothing to contribute solutions to the world's most pressing problems: hunger, poverty, climate change etc. etc. Shouldn't we be talking about more important matters than Blackboard and the iPad?
I guess with a stretch we could argue that education is the key to progress, and advances in education are increasingly catalyzed by technology, ergo our work in educational technology is driving progress. Ridiculous, I know. We do what we do because nothing is more fun than working where learning and technology meet - if any improvements come out of our work then this is a nice benefit.
How do we get authors who are somewhere in the same ballpark of McEwan to turn their attention from global warming and theoretical physicists to educational technology and learning technologists? McEwan clearly studied up on his physics and climate change facts to write Solar, making the story of the 5 time divorced, seductive and corpulent Dr. Beard simultaneously fantastical and educational. We need a novelist to tell our story.