Recommended Humanity Books (for modern citizens)

The Human Condition (biographies, economics, politics, etc.)

America: The Farwell Tour (2018) Chris Hedges

If you are worried about the rise of populism in western politics, or are worried about the next economic crash then I suggest you read the book: America: The Farewell Tour (2018) Chris Hedges. If you do not have the inclination to read another book at this time, then watch one of these video interviews with the author.

The Square and the Tower (2018) Niall Ferguson
subtitled: Networks and Power, From the Freemasons to Facebook

eye compass squareThis is a book about human networking. People who work in a large corporation (the tower) then later meet in a bar (the square) after working hours is one common example. Other examples include: religious groups, guilds, trade unions, fraternities, and masonic lodges to only name a short list of many. So I suppose "the square" might also refer to the draftsman's "set square" seen just under the compass and eye in the masonic lodge symbol pictured to the right.

The author correctly mentions that the world is transitioning from vertical hierarchies (think China and Russia or the Papacy) to horizontal networks (think many of the Western democracies or Protestantism). Perhaps this is the biggest problem with Americans thinking that Russia interfered with the American presidential election of 2016: most Americans are not aware of the shift from vertical to horizontal. Putin is probably unaware of this as well.

Political Extremism in America: Don’t blame Russia, blame Facebook and Twitter
Video-1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv9JpGc1dgY (length: 3:42)

The Agenda with Steve Paikin
Video-2: https://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/the-age-of-networks (length 29:51)

Quote (p96): The charter for The Royal Society [of London for Improving Natural Knowledge] was explicit in granting to its president, council and fellows (members), and their successors, the freedom 'to enjoy mutual intelligence and knowledge with all and all manner of strangers and foreigners, whether private or collegiate, corporate or politic, without any molestation, interruption, or disturbance whatsoever'. By contrast, the Académie des sciences in Paris was originally the private property of the crown. When it met for the first time on 22 December 1666, it was in the King's library and had an official policy of secrecy.

Comment: This is the first book I've read that has a non-conspiratorial description of the Illuminati (a group of Bavarian academics trying to promote the enlightenment between 1775 and 1785; yep only around for 10-years). Chapter-1 is titled "The Mystery of the Illuminati" while chapter-10 is titled "The Illuminati Illuminated". Ferguson explains that we would not know the name Illuminati if it were not for the Freemasons.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) Walter Isaacson

 highly recommended (also provides a unique view of life in prerevolutionary America) 

In this authoritative and engrossing full-scale biography, Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Einstein and Steve Jobs, shows how the most fascinating of America's founders helped define our national character. Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us, the one who seems made of flesh rather than marble. In a sweeping narrative that follows Franklin’s life from Boston to Philadelphia to London and Paris and back, Walter Isaacson chronicles the adventures of the runaway apprentice who became, over the course of his eighty-four-year life, America’s best writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical and ingenious political leaders. He explores the wit behind Poor Richard’s Almanac and the wisdom behind the Declaration of Independence, the new nation’s alliance with France, the treaty that ended the Revolution, and the compromises that created a near-perfect Constitution. In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin’s amazing life, showing how he helped to forge the American national identity and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.

Leonardo da Vinci (2017) Walter Isaacson

 highly recommended (also provides a unique view of life in Renaissance Italy) 

Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson weaves a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy.

A Mind at Play (2017) Jimmy Soni + Rob Goodman
subtitled: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

 VERY highly recommended (a must-have for "computer people") 

In this elegantly written, exhaustively researched biography, Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman reveal Claude Shannon’s full story for the first time. It’s the story of a small-town Michigan boy whose career stretched from the era of room-sized computers powered by gears and string to the age of Apple. It’s the story of the origins of our digital world in the tunnels of MIT and the “idea factory” of Bell Labs, in the “scientists’ war” with Nazi Germany, and in the work of Shannon’s collaborators and rivals, thinkers like Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Vannevar Bush, and Norbert Wiener.

Age of Discovery (2016) Ian Goldin + Chris Kutarna
subtitled: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance

To make sense of present shocks, we need to step back and recognize: we’ve been here before. The first Renaissance, the time of Columbus, Copernicus, Gutenberg and others, likewise redrew all maps of the world, democratized communication and sparked a flourishing of creative achievement. But their world also grappled with the same dark side of rapid change: social division, political extremism, insecurity, pandemics and other unintended consequences of discovery. Now is the second Renaissance. We can still flourish―if we learn from the first.

The Undoing Project (2016) Michael Lewis

Science Under Siege (2015) CBC Radio

 highly recommended for all citizens

Not a book; This is a series of CBC radio programs aired first June-2015 on "Ideas" with Paul Kennedy

Are we living through an Anti-Scientific Revolution? Scientists around the world are increasingly restricted in what they can research, publish and say -- constrained by belief and ideology from all sides.  Historically, science has always had a thorny relationship with institutions of power. But what happens to societies which turn their backs on curiosity-driven research? And how can science lift the siege?  CBC Radio producer Mary Lynk looks for some answers in this three-part series.

Comment: in part one I learned that the reason why Europe leaped ahead of China four hundred years ago was primarily due to the work of Francis Bacon who convinced the English government to:

Enlightenment 2.0 (2014) Joseph Heath

Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy. What’s more, the crazies seem to be gaining the upper hand. Rational thought cannot prevail in the current social and media environment, where elections are won by appealing to voters’ hearts rather than their minds. The rapid-fire pace of modern politics, the hypnotic repetition of daily news items and even the multitude of visual sources of information all make it difficult for the voice of reason to be heard.

In Enlightenment 2.0, bestselling author Joseph Heath outlines a program for a second Enlightenment. The answer, he argues, lies in a new "slow politics." It takes as its point of departure recent psychological and philosophical research, which identifies quite clearly the social and environmental preconditions for the exercise of rational thought. It is impossible to restore sanity merely by being sane and trying to speak in a reasonable tone of voice. The only way to restore sanity is by engaging in collective action against the social conditions that have crowded it out.

CBC Podcast

Book Reviews:

The main problem with political thinking (comments and observations):

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) Thomas Piketty

At the very minimum, the Introduction to this book should be required reading for every citizen in the western world. The remainder of the book extends the work of Adam Smith (the first economist) and John Maynard Keynes (the first macro economist).

Links:

Excerpts from Section 3, Chapter 7 "Inequality and Concentration: Preliminary Bearings"

Comments and General Observations

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public Vs. Private Sector Myths (2013) Mariana Mazzucato

Okay so on of the biggest myths popularized in the past 30-years that government gets in the way of business. This book is proof that this myth is false. In reality, governments do the lion's share of all the research while assuming all the risk. It is only at this point when corporate entrepreneurs step in to take credit for all the innovation.

Publisher's Blurb: This new bestseller from leading economist Mariana Mazzucato – named by the ‘New Republic’ as one of the ‘most important innovation thinkers’ today – is stirring up much-needed debates worldwide about the role of the State in innovation. Debunking the myth of a laggard State at odds with a dynamic private sector, Mazzucato reveals in case study after case study that in fact the opposite situation is true, with the private sector only finding the courage to invest after the entrepreneurial State has made the high-risk investments. Case studies include examples of the State’s role in the ‘green revolution’, in biotech and pharmaceuticals, as well as several detailed examples from Silicon Valley. In an intensely researched chapter, she reveals that every technology that makes the iPhone so ‘smart’ was government funded: the Internet, GPS, its touch-screen display and the voice-activated Siri. Mazzucato also controversially argues that in the history of modern capitalism the State has not only fixed market failures, but has also shaped and created markets, paving the way for new technologies and sectors that the private sector only ventures into once the initial risk has been assumed. And yet by not admitting the State’s role we are socializing only the risks, while privatizing the rewards in fewer hands. This, she argues, hurts both future innovation and equity in modern-day capitalism. Named one of the ‘2013 Books of the Year’ by the ‘Financial Times’ and recommended by ‘Forbes’ in its 2013 ‘creative leaders’ list, this book is a must-read for those interested in a refreshing and long-awaited take on the public vs. private sector debate.

Some Example Successes: RADAR, SONAR, aerospace, space flight, microelectronics, internet, IT-revolution, GPS, biotech, nanotech, clean-tech. Today, ARPAe (ARPA energy) is responsible for the lion's share of new energy research.

The Republican Brain (2012) Chris Mooney
subtitled: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality

Bestselling author Chris Mooney uses cutting-edge research to explain the psychology behind why today’s Republicans ("conservatives" for those people outside of the USA) reject reality—it's just part of who they are.

From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy and much more. Why won't Republicans (conservatives) accept things that most experts agree on? Why are they constantly fighting against the facts?

Science writer Chris Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats ("liberals" for those people outside of the USA) to oppose new ideas and less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs.  

Certain to spark discussion and debate, The Republican Brain also promises to add to the lengthy list of persuasive scientific findings that Republicans reject and deny.

Comments:

Tear Down This Myth (2010) Will Bunch
subtitled: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy

So the other day I was exercising at the gym while a poorly educated (you could tell by the grammar) right-wing nut-bar next to me preached a pro-conservative sermon about Saint Ronald Reagan, savior of the free world. I am apolitical so did not offer any counterpoints; but it would have been pointless anyway because you can never argue with "true believers" (especially those who only see politics as a team sport but are unable to articulate the differences between "progressive conservatives" like Churchill and "big business conservatives" like Thatcher and Reagan). While "this preacher" droned on I kept thinking: isn't this the same guy who "fired the air traffic controllers which signaled everyone else that it was okay to attack unions and the middle class", "who's free-trade policies resulted in the creation of a new American phrase: the rust belt", "diverted money from Iran to the contras in Nicaragua then lied about it", "allowed the just-broken up Bell System to begin shifting back in the direction of a monopoly", "instituted Reaganomics (also called the trickle-down economics)", "who's policies ended up creating the Savings and Loan crisis", "created the Strategic Defense Initiative also known as Star Wars (I still remember Caspar Weinberger looking on in stunned silence during the announcement)", "added 2 trillion to the nation's debt"?

Later that evening I was Goggling some stuff about Reagan when I stumbled on this book: Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy which is obviously titled after Reagan's famous speech where he said "Mister Gorbachev. Tear down this wall". So I bought the book (even though I am apolitical) which turned out to be a very good read as well as a refresher about American and world history between 1981 and 1988. But even if you don't buy this book, take some time to read the reviews here: https://www.amazon.com/Tear-Down-This-Myth-Right-Wing/dp/1416597638/

Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft (2011) Paul Allen

Steve Jobs (2011) Walter Isaacson

Shocking revelations:

Comments:

Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (2008) Christopher Hitchens
subtitled: Books That Changed the World

Philadelphia Writer "Thomas Paine"Thomas Paine's critique of monarchy and introduction of the concept of human rights influenced both the French and the American revolutions, argues Vanity Fair contributor and bestselling author Hitchens (God Is Not Great) in this incisive addition to the Books That Changed the World series. Paine's ideas even influenced later independence movements among the Irish, Scots and Welsh. In this lucid assessment, Hitchens notes that in addition to Common Sense's influence on Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, Paine wrote in unadorned prose that ordinary people could understand. Hitchens reads Paine's rejection of the ministrations of clergy in his dying moments as an instance of his unyielding commitment to the cause of rights and reason. But Hitchens also takes Paine to task for appealing to an idealized state of nature, a rhetorical move that, Hitchens charges, posits either a mythical past or an unattainable future and, Hitchens avers, disordered the radical tradition thereafter. Hitchens writes in characteristically energetic prose, and his aversion to religion is in evidence, too. Young Paine found his mother's Anglican orthodoxy noxious, Hitchens notes: Freethinking has good reason to be grateful to Mrs Paine.

RELENTLESS: True Story of Ted Rogers (2008) Ted Rogers

Edward Samuel Rogers and the Revolution of Communications (2000) by Ian A. Anthony

Valley Boy (2007) Tom Perkins

iWoz (2006) Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith

The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream (2005) Jeremy Rifkin

The American Dream is in decline. Americans are increasingly overworked, underpaid, and squeezed for time. But there is an alternative: the European Dream - a more leisurely, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable way of life. Europe's lifestyle is not only desirable, argues Jeremy Rifkin, but may be crucial to sustaining prosperity in the new era. With the dawn of the European Union, Europe has become an economic superpower in its own right-its GDP now surpasses that of the United States. Europe has achieved newfound dominance not by single-mindedly driving up stock prices, expanding working hours, and pressing every household into a double- wage-earner conundrum. Instead, the New Europe relies on market networks that place cooperation above competition; promotes a new sense of citizenship that extols the well-being of the whole person and the community rather than the dominant individual; and recognizes the necessity of deep play and leisure to create a better, more productive, and healthier workforce. From the medieval era to modernity, Rifkin delves deeply into the history of Europe, and eventually America, to show how the continent has succeeded in slowly and steadily developing a more adaptive, sensible way of working and living. In The European Dream, Rifkin posits a dawning truth that only the most jingoistic can ignore: Europe's flexible, communitarian model of society, business, and citizenship is better suited to the challenges of the twenty-first century. Indeed, the European Dream may come to define the new century as the American Dream defined the century now past.

quote: "Europeans should congratulate themselves for producing the most humane approach to capitalism ever attempted"

For a fair economic comparison of the USA to Europe
the author asserts that you must create a table comparing "American States" to European "Countries" (think "United States of Europe") ordered by economic output, then compare the entries line-by-line. Here is a partial list taken from data found on pages 65-66. Notice how Europe wins every time? Why do Americans continue to believe that they are number one in everything?

European Country GDP ($ Billion) GDP ($ Billion) American State
Germany $1,866 $1,344 California
United Kingdom $1,400 $799 New York
France $1,300 $742 Texas
Italy $1,000 $472 Florida
Spain $560 $467 Illinois
Netherlands     New Jersey
Sweden     Washington
Belgium     Indiana
Austria     Minnesota
Poland     Colorado
Denmark     Connecticut
Finland     Oregon
Greece     South Carolina

comments:

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005) Harvey Kaye

Philadelphia Writer "Thomas Paine"The second chapter covers 18th century life in England (which helped forge Paine's intellect) and justifies the purchase of this book. For example, while it was true that all Englishmen had civil rights, full civil rights were only granted to:

Men, who owned land, who earned more than £40 per year, who were Anglican.

This meant that a wealthy upper class had more rights than members of the lower classes, and god help you if you were up against one of them in a court of law. Life in 18th century America was not much different where you only needed to be a White Man of property.

Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2004) Niall Ferguson

Is America an empire? Certainly not, according to the USA government. Despite the conquest of two sovereign states in as many years, despite the presence of more than 750 military installations in two thirds of the world's countries and despite his stated intention "to extend the benefits of freedom...to every corner of the world," George W. Bush maintains that "America has never been an empire."

"We don't seek empires," insists Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "We're not imperialistic."

Nonsense, says Niall Ferguson. In Colossus he argues that in both military and economic terms America is nothing less than the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Just like the British Empire a century ago, the United States aspires to globalize free markets, the rule of law, and representative government. In theory it’s a good project, says Ferguson. Yet Americans shy away from the long-term commitments of manpower and money that are indispensable if rogue regimes and failed states really are to be changed for the better. Ours, he argues, is an empire with an attention deficit disorder, imposing ever more unrealistic timescales on its overseas interventions. Worse, it’s an empire in denial—a hyperpower that simply refuses to admit the scale of its global responsibilities. And the negative consequences will be felt at home as well as abroad. In an alarmingly persuasive final chapter Ferguson warns that this chronic myopia also applies to our domestic responsibilities. When overstretch comes, he warns, it will come from within—and it will reveal that more than just the feet of the American colossus is made of clay.

Other Literary Diversions

Asimov's Guide to the Bible (1982) Isaac Asimov (PhD in Biochemistry)

 highly recommended for Judeo-Christians wishing to learn more about life in ancient times

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015) Mary Beard

Opening the book in 63 BCE with the famous clash between the populist aristocrat Catiline and Cicero, the renowned politician and orator, Beard animates this “terrorist conspiracy,” which was aimed at the very heart of the Republic, demonstrating how this singular event would presage the struggle between democracy and autocracy that would come to define much of Rome’s subsequent history. Illustrating how a classical democracy yielded to a self-confident and self-critical empire, S.P.Q.R. reintroduces us, though in a wholly different way, to famous and familiar characters―Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Augustus, and Nero, among others―while expanding the historical aperture to include those overlooked in traditional histories: the women, the slaves and ex-slaves, conspirators, and those on the losing side of Rome’s glorious conquests.

Forged: Writing in the Name of God (2011) by Bart Ehrman
subtitled: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to non specialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else's name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman's introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book's main point, is especially valuable.

"The God Delusion" (2006) by Richard Dawkins

Misquoting Jesus (2005) by Bart Ehrman
subtitled: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why

When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact they had upon the Bible we use today. He frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultraconservative views of the Bible. Since the advent of the printing press and the accurate reproduction of texts, most people have assumed that when they read the New Testament they are reading an exact copy of Jesus' words or Saint Paul's writings. And yet, for almost fifteen hundred years these manuscripts were hand copied by scribes who were deeply influenced by the cultural, theological, and political disputes of their day. Both mistakes and intentional changes abound in the surviving manuscripts, making the original words difficult to reconstruct. For the first time, Ehrman reveals where and why these changes were made and how scholars go about reconstructing the original words of the New Testament as closely as possible. Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes -- alterations that dramatically affected all subsequent versions of the Bible.

The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (1998) by Robert B. Strassler

The Roman Republic (1966) Isaac Asimov
The Roman Empire (1967) Isaac Asimov

I had always intended to read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. Last month (2008) I found new hardcopy copies in a Toronto book store but was shocked to learn that a boxed set of six volumes encompassed ~ 4100 pages of small print. Although the price was very reasonable, I was not prepared to read that much history at this time. A short time later I stumbled upon these two gems by Isaac Asimov.

The Roman Republic (1966) by Isaac Asimov

The Roman Empire (1967) by Isaac Asimov

Cosmic Consciousness (1901/2008) Richard Maurice Bucke

Comments:

Humanity's Coming Dark Age (a warning)

Humanity's Coming Dark Age - The rise and fall of empires
The Rise and Fall of Empires (published: 2003-01-29)
Symptoms before each collapse: ignorance, superstition, religious fundamentalism, xenophobia, intolerance, rejection of science

Click here to read more


Back to Home
Neil Rieck
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.