This book is almost too perfectly aligned with my core beliefs that the story of the world is one of progress. The mental architecture that I place new learning is built around a narrative of progress. The story is one technology driven change towards lower mortality, lower fertility, better nutrition, and better health. My training in both demography and history has taught me to be weary of any talk of "better days or golden ages" - as I appreciate lower child mortality, the spread of democracy, and expanded access to education.
So Ridley has written the book that conforms to almost all my prior beliefs - although he arrives at his conclusions by routes I probably wouldn't go. First, Ridley is clearly leans libertarian. He is suspicious of the role of government in promoting progress. I'd be interested in how he explains away government led policies that are responsible for so much of the progress we have enjoyed, everything from sewer projects to social security, civil rights legislation to medicare, medicaid, and the recent health care bill. I think Ridley does not give enough credit to the role of organized labor for contributing to spreading the benefits of capitalism to more people, nor does he seem to grasp the importance of government in supporting education at every level.
His dismissal of global warming as a major concern will get lots of attention for being basically wrong-headed, and I'd agree that he oversells his case and therefore gets the actions that we should be taking basically wrong. (My take…worry less, invest prudently). I like that Ridley comes out as a fan of hydrocarbons and big oil (timely given the BP disaster), and his critique of ethanol is accurate and devastating. But he misses the importance of investing in alternative energy as an engine to insure innovation, seemingly blinded by the idea of a zero sum game of social investments (which is strange as he rails against zero sum thinking). I like a book where I agree with the conclusions but disagree with how the argument is derived. This tells me that the fundamental truth of the progress story is intact - and where we need to argue and debate is around the means rather than the ends.
In Florida's new book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, places like Phoenix represent much of what has gone wrong with the American economy and social arrangements over the past 40 years. Florida argues that we need to move away from the model of low-density, car based, and spread out suburbs that Phoenix embodies. This model, according to Florida, is both unsustainable (for environmental and economic reasons), and undesirable to the emerging "creative class" of workers.
The great recession has refocused people's priorities away from owning the ever-larger home and the ever-bigger SUV towards a desire for economic agility and embeddedness in thick social/economic networks. This agility and embeddedness is best achieved in walkable cities and close-in (first ring) suburbs, ones served by mass transit and characterized by high proportions of educated knowledge workers. People want to rent rather than own, take high-speed rail and zip cars as opposed to garaging the big SUV, and be free to spend their energy on resources on human capital enhancing actives such as education, creative work, and the arts.
note - originally published in A Phoenix Future? http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning
Some day I'd like to teach a course on industries that implode. I hope we are not talking about higher education in this course, although we should probably learn from the music industry, newspapers, and the American car industry. Ingrassia's book is the best description I've read on the rise and fall of the former Big 3. Could have things been different? One lesson I took from "Crash Course" is that a fuel of failure is insularity. The car industry failed to take in new ideas because it failed to listen to any voices of outsiders. These voices included first the competition, and next their customers. What sets this book apart is how even-handed Ingrassia is in assigning blame. The unions do not get off any easier than management. Should our government have saved G.M. and propped up Chrysler (to hand over to Fiat)? Will the American auto industry recover to be able to compete effectively? Ingrassia is fairly positive on both these questions, and I find myself somewhat hopeful as well.
The Untold History of the Potato by John Reader
The best of "one subject / one food" books that I've read (and I try to read them all). The way my brain works is that I understand the world best through a narrow lens. The potato is a narrative in which it is possible to hang the major changes of civilization, including the move from subsistence to surplus farming, industrialization, and migration. Did you know that China is now the largest grower of potato's? Or that it was the potato that allowed Europe to finally escape the Malthusian trap of population growth and starvation? Wonderful, amazing and beautiful book. Since reading I've considerably upped my potato consumption (a great source of vitamins and energy with little poor effects).
The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread by Maria Balinska
A short book for bagel lovers and those interested in understanding how Jewish history and the bagel are intertwined. My bagel consumption has increased with my knowledge of both my people's history and my families staple brunch food. Not a wonderful book in terms of scale, sweep, or narrative alacrity. But the best bagel book I know about - which makes it worth reading for that reason alone.
The Hamburger: A History by Josh Ozersky
The last of my "history of the world as seen through this food" book this month - and while cannot compare the majesty of the potato book, the hamburger is a worthy addition to this library. This books seems to come out of a series of concise books on the role of specific foods in culture and history. The hamburger story provides a window into the changing food production systems and eating habits of Americans, as well as the rise of the industrial fast-food system that was largely built around the hamburger.
I first experienced White Castle in college in St. Louis, a place that required minimal dollars and sobriety. If I had known the White Castle was the first mass market hamburger chain I might have thought of the experience of eating their mini burgers (sliders) somewhat differently. The story of McDonald's is beautifully told - both as a case study in post WWII capitalism and for the larger economic and social implications of mass-produced food. We have become so negative about McDonalds, with all of us reading the Omnivores Dilemma and Fast Food Nation (and watching Food Inc. and SuperSize Me etc.). It was good to read a book that explained the rise of McDonald's and the other fast food hamburger joints as a part of a larger story - one that we should not condemn even if we choose not to participate. Lovely writing, good length, and a necessary complement to our understanding of how we produce and consume our food.
The companion book to The Female Brain (which I think helped me understand my wife, daughter, and mom - although they are yet to agree). Being the owner of a male brain myself, I was pleased to receive an owners manual (seems a little late at 40 - but shoos complaining? Turns out that all the ways my brain fails to help me make good decisions are understandable, if not excusable, by the mix of hormones and wiring that evolution has left my brain to cope with my environment. My male brain changes as I age due to the effect of age related hormones and changes in biochemistry.
Understanding the biological and hormonal routes of my emotions may help me recognize a gap between the reality I perceive the reality that those around may be interpreting. Like most brain books, the central message is that we are dealing with an enormously complex apparatus that may not always cause us to act in our best interest (as evolution cares about passing on genes, not making us or those around us happy). In the future I'm going to use my brain to think about the hormones and molecules being released at any given time when things start to fire wildly (causing stress, anxiety, anger, etc. etc.) - in an effort to recognize that with the passage of time the world may feel somewhat different.
The Male Brain has been pretty well panned in the reviews I've read. My advice is that if you are not a neuroscientist to start than you will get lots out of the book (I did). Brizendine is a good writer and a good storyteller. She may simplify - but simplification in this case advances rather than detracts from understanding.
The Ask: A Novel by Sam Lipsyte
If you fall into any of the following categories please consider reading "The Ask". Work in higher education. Born between 1965 and 1975. Want to laugh your ass off.
You can read more thoughts on The Ask at my IHE blog - http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/an_ask_for_a_new_digital_model
Next: A Novel by James Hynes
Another GenX sort of higher ed guy story. A genre in which I can relate. Nice companion to The Ask. A good reminder to perhaps take ourselves and our institutions a little less seriously (as Hynes show the consequences for not doing so can be dire indeed). Absorbing and smart - Next is a novel to be read first.
Lowboy is probably technically good (what do I know) but too depressing and mannered for my tastes. Well-reviewed and well-crafted, not my idea of a good time.
Originally published in my InsideHigher Ed blog http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/read_the_bad_facebook_book
This recommendation is only for people who work in higher education. Civilians should stay away.
I have 3 reasons why you should read The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, by Ben Mezrich. (None of these reasons have anything to do with the book helping you figure out your Facebook privacy settings).
But before I jump into my 3 reasons to read the book, I'd like give you 3 reasons as to why this is not a good book:
Bad Book Reason 1 - Accuracy: You can pretty well assume that many (if not most) of the details in the book are inaccurate. Zuckerberg did not agree to be interviewed, so therefore all of the first person accounts that the narrative is based on will be largely self-serving and one-sided.
Bad Book Reason 2 - History: This would have been a much better book if Mezrich had done his homework better about the history of Internet startups and the technologies and companies that preceded Facebook. We learn little about either, although both are critical in understanding the rise and impact of Facebook.
Bad Book Reason 3 - Sociology: Mezrich's description of both campus and start-up life resemble neither reality that
I'm familiar with. It is as if he telling the story of someone else telling a story of college and company life, as opposed to actually going and spending time in either environment.
Now that I've told you the 3 reasons why this is a bad book - I want you to forget them all and read the book anyway.
Here are my reasons to read:
Reason to Read 1 - Lessons: Despite every shortcoming, I was left with a powerful feeling that we (people who work in higher education) should be doing everything we can to catalyze (fertilize?) the next Facebook. The Accidental Billionaires is really the story of a bunch of college kids who spent most of their time doing non-college type things (classes, studying, etc.), while devoting the bulk of their attention to their start-up ideas. This is not an original thought, but what if we could harness "the propensity to truck, barter and exchange" (Adam Smith) directly in our curriculum?
Reason to Read 2 - Therapy: As a survivor of the original dot-com bubble (1999 to 2001 with Britannica.com Education), this book helped me work through my own deep-seated psychological issues. Okay, maybe this is a slight exaggeration. But it was fantastic to revisit again the pure excitement of taking an idea, starting up a new business, and having people throw money at you.
Reason to Read 3 - Fun Factor: This bad book is a blast to read. Fast paced, absorbing, and often funny. If you keep your expectations low (the secret to happiness in all things), you will enjoy spending time with the Accidental Billionaires.
Have any of you read the book?