Recommended Humanity Books (for modern citizens)

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

jump: biology (another page)

The Big Myth (2023) Naomi Oreskes
subtitled: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market

In the early 20th century, business elites, trade associations, wealthy powerbrokers, and media allies set out to build a new American orthodoxy: down with “big government” and up with unfettered markets. With startling archival evidence, Oreskes and Conway document campaigns to rewrite textbooks, combat unions, and defend child labor. They detail the ploys that turned hardline economists Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman into household names; recount the libertarian roots of the Little House on the Prairie books; and tune into the General Electric-sponsored TV show that beamed free-market doctrine to millions and launched Ronald Reagan's political career.
By the 1970s, this propaganda was succeeding. Free market ideology would define the next half-century across Republican and Democratic administrations, giving us a housing crisis, the opioid scourge, climate destruction, and a baleful response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Only by understanding this history can we imagine a future where markets will serve, not stifle, democracy.

From Anti-Government to Anti-Science: Why Conservatives Have Turned Against Science (2023) Naomi Oreskes
Empirical data do not support the conclusion of a crisis of public trust in science. They do support the conclusion of a crisis of conservative trust in science: polls show that American attitudes toward science are highly polarized along political lines.
quote: Over the objections of the economics department, Luhnow provided the money for Hayek to be hired, and also funded the launch of the Free Market Project, bringing together several economists who shared their vision. One of these like-minded economists was George Stigler, who would produce an edited version of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations that expunged nearly all of Smith's caveats, including his discussion of the need for bank regulation, for adequate wages for workers, and for taxation for public goods, like roads and bridges.

For Profit: A History of Corporations (2022) William Magnuson

From legacy manufacturers to emerging tech giants, corporations wield significant power over our lives, our economy, and our politics. Some celebrate them as engines of progress and prosperity. Others argue that they recklessly pursue profit at the expense of us all.
In For Profit, law professor William Magnuson reveals that both visions contain an element of truth. The story of the corporation is a human story, about a diverse group of merchants, bankers, and investors that have over time come to shape the landscape of our modern economy.  Its central characters include both the brave, powerful, and ingenious and the conniving, fraudulent, and vicious. At times, these characters have been one and the same.
Yet as Magnuson shows, while corporations haven’t always behaved admirably, their purpose is a noble one. From their beginnings in the Roman Republic, corporations have been designed to promote the common good. By recapturing this spirit of civic virtue, For Profit argues, corporations can help craft a society in which all of us—not just shareholders—benefit from the profits of enterprise.

Becoming Superman (2019) J. Micheal Straczynski

A Hugo Award Nominee!
Featuring an introduction by Neil Gaiman!
“J. Michael Straczynski is, without question, one of the greatest science fiction minds of our time.”   -- Max Brooks (World War Z)
For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics.  Yet there’s one story he’s never told before: his own. In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Marvel’s Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults—a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized—Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father’s desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past.

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family’s past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski’s personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life.  It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

Spinoza A Life (Second Edition - 2018) Steven Nadler

 highly recommended  for all citizens

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was one of the most important philosophers of all time; he was also one of the most radical and controversial. The story of Spinoza's life takes the reader into the heart of Jewish Amsterdam in the seventeenth century and, with Spinoza's exile from Judaism, into the midst of the tumultuous political, social, intellectual, and religious world of the young Dutch Republic. This new edition of Steven Nadler's biography, winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award for biography and translated into a dozen languages, is enhanced by exciting new archival discoveries about his family background, his youth, and the various philosophical, political, and religious contexts of his life and works. There is more detail about his family's business and communal activities, about his relationships with friends and correspondents, and about the development of his writings, which were scandalous to his contemporaries.

comment: Not sure if this book should here or in the science section

Life is Simple (2021) Johnjoe McFadden
subtitled: How Occam's Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe

 highly recommended  for all citizens

Centuries ago, the principle of Ockham’s razor changed our world by showing simpler answers to be preferable and more often true. In Life Is Simple, scientist Johnjoe McFadden traces centuries of discoveries, taking us from a geocentric cosmos to quantum mechanics and DNA, arguing that simplicity has revealed profound answers to the greatest mysteries. This is no coincidence. From the laws that keep a ball in motion to those that govern evolution, simplicity, he claims, has shaped the universe itself. And in McFadden’s view, life could only have emerged by embracing maximal simplicity, making the fundamental law of the universe a cosmic form of natural selection that favors survival of the simplest. Recasting both the history of science and our universe’s origins, McFadden transforms our understanding of ourselves and our world.


  • Not sure if this book should here or in the science section
  • 300 years before Galileo's arrest by the Catholic church, William of Occam was arrested and charged with heresy for questioning the Catholic church's pronouncements on science. Perhaps the best example of Occam's Razor is when William cut science away from theology (or was it the other way around?)
  • chapters 16-19 (quantum mechanics and cosmology) were an unexpected pleasure containing stuff not so simple
  • chapter 19 contains some interesting cosmological speculation from Lee Smolin of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
  • make sure you read the epilogue

The Frontiers of Knowledge (2021) A. C. Grayling
subtitled: What we know about science, history and the mind

comment: Not sure if this book should here or in the science section

In very recent times humanity has learnt a vast amount about the universe, the past, and itself. But through our remarkable successes in acquiring knowledge we have learned how much we have yet to learn: the science we have, for example, addresses just 5 per cent of the universe; pre-history is still being revealed, with thousands of historical sites yet to be explored; and the new neurosciences of mind and brain are just beginning.

What do we know, and how do we know it? What do we now know that we don't know? And what have we learnt about the obstacles to knowing more? In a time of deepening battles over what knowledge and truth mean, these questions matter more than ever. Bestselling polymath and philosopher A. C. Grayling seeks to answer them in three crucial areas at the frontiers of knowledge: science, history and psychology. A remarkable history of science, life on earth, and the human mind itself, this is a compelling and fascinating tour de force, written with verve, clarity and remarkable breadth of knowledge.

To Govern the Globe (2021) Alfred W McCoy
subtitled: World Orders & Catastrophic Change

comment: when I first attempted to purchase this book, it was sold out everywhere. So you might wish to watch this interview with Chris Hedges and Alfred McCoy.

In a tempestuous narrative that sweeps across five continents and seven centuries, this book explains how a succession of catastrophes—from the devastating Black Death of 1350 through the coming climate crisis of 2050—has produced a relentless succession of rising empires and fading world orders. During the long centuries of Iberian and British imperial rule, the quest for new forms of energy led to the development of the colonial sugar plantation as a uniquely profitable kind of commerce. In a time when issues of race and social justice have arisen with pressing urgency, the book explains how the plantation’s extraordinary profitability relied on a production system that literally worked the slaves to death, creating an insatiable appetite for new captives that made the African slave trade a central feature of modern capitalism for over four centuries. After surveying past centuries roiled by imperial wars, national revolutions, and the struggle for human rights, the closing chapters use those hard-won insights to peer through the present and into the future.  By rendering often-opaque environmental science in lucid prose, the book explains how climate change and changing world orders will shape the life opportunities for younger generations, born at the start of this century, during the coming decades that will serve as the signposts of their lives—2030, 2050, 2070, and beyond.
comment-2: BUY THIS BOOK. It corrects much of misinformation taught during my primary and secondary school history classes. For example: I was taught that European Christians expanded throughout the new worlds which benefited to poor uneducated indigenous peoples. But the truth is this: members of the Iberian World Order had received a papal bill from the Vatican which granter explorers permission to take all non-Christians into perpetual slavery. {{{ I suspect that Jesus would not be amused }}}


Mission Economy (2021) Mariana Mazzucato
subtitled: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism

Capitalism is in crisis. The rich have gotten richer—the 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 44 percent of the world's wealth—while climate change is transforming—and in some cases wiping out—life on the planet. We are plagued by crises threatening our lives, and this situation is unsustainable. But how do we fix these problems decades in the making? Mission Economy looks at the grand challenges facing us in a radically new way. Global warming, pollution, dementia, obesity, gun violence, mobility—these environmental, health, and social dilemmas are huge, complex, and have no simple solutions. Mariana Mazzucato argues we need to think bigger and mobilize our resources in a way that is as bold as inspirational as the moon landing -- this time to the most ‘wicked’ social problems of our time. We can only begin to find answers if we fundamentally restructure capitalism to make it inclusive, sustainable, and driven by innovation that tackles concrete problems from the digital divide, to health pandemics, to our polluted cities. That means changing government tools and culture, creating new markers of corporate governance, and ensuring that corporations, society, and the government coalesce to share a common goal. We did it to go to the moon. We can do it again to fix our problems and improve the lives of every one of us. We simply can no longer afford not to.

Author, Mariana Mazzucato PhD writes:

  • the Apollo Manned Space program (a public-private partnership proposed by President John F Kennedy) did more to stimulate the American economy than all other activities, both public and private, including defense spending to fund foreign wars.
    • from page 80: [because of government investment] computers went from "30 tons and 160 kilowatts in ENIAC" to "70 pounds and 70 watts in the AGC (Apollo Guidance Computer)"
    • recall that it was NASA's manned space programs that created:
      • the integrated circuit (chip) industry to build the Apollo Guidance Computer (which was more mini than micro)
        • the mini-computer industry (IBM and the seven dwarfs)
        • the micro-computer industry which resulted in personal computers, tablets, and smart phones
      • the software industry to supply the Apollo Guidance Computer with fault tolerant software
      • all these were all instrumental in creating ARPANET which later became the internet.
  • the South Korean government invested the tiny sum of 100 Million dollars into the Korean electronics industry with the intent of making Korea the leading manufacturer of digital displays like large screen televisions, computer monitors and cameras. That investment paid off in unexpected ways including the development of technology that created the smart phone business which they now own.
  • five myths
    • Myth 1: Businesses create value and take all the risks; governments only de-risk and facilitate
    • Myth 2: The purpose of government is to fix market failures
    • Myth 3: Government needs to run like a business
    • Myth 4: Outsourcing saves money and lowers risk
    • Myth 5: Government's pick winner
quote: "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. There are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest.." --- John Maynard Keyes

Pandemic 1918 (2018) Catharine Arnold
subtitled: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History

  • This book was a shocker for me because I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the great influenza pandemic of 1918 (and 1919) but I was wrong.
  • The parallels between the influenza pandemic of 1918 and COVID-19 are stocking in that humanity has not learned a damned thing since then
  • A Few Excerpts:
    1. since people had previously experienced influenza in 1916 and 1917, many shrugged then ignored warnings about this new flu which included a killer component: most patients literally drowned of pneumonia which set in during recovery (some people survived with ventilators)
    2. many people also ignored warnings that a second wave might be worse (in fact, the world-wide total number of influenza deaths between 1918 and 1919 approach 100 million which is ~ 5% of all humanity
    3.  most people, except those in the Red Cross, did not think to control infection transmissibility with masks. But people who wore masks fared much better and the photos of mask-wearing police officers directing traffic should be a warning to us all
    4. American organizations were formed to sue the federal government as well as the state of California for violating citizen's constitutional rights. One slogan read "Give me liberty or give me death" (many adherents received both)
    5. Manchester politicians ignored advice to cancel public armistice celebrations.  After the party, a second wave took off resulting in many infections and 300 deaths.
  • links:

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1980) Douglas R Hofstadter

 a great summer read while contemplating life and COVID-19

I pulled this down from my bookshelf (on the recommendation of a friend) and cannot believe I am experiencing the same joy today that I first experienced 40 years ago (some books are timeless)

Elon Musk (2015) Ashlee Vance

 highly recommended  for all techies, nerds, and hackers

I am half way through this book and can't believe Musk's accomplishments (so far). This guy is a modern day Howard Hughes crossed with Thomas Edison "simultaneously creating products in three industries" and "employing many tens of thousands" while his peers in silicon valley only talk about their future do-next-to-nothing app for smart phones. ALL TECHIES NEED TO READ THIS BOOK (Steve Jobs should be rolling in his grave; BTW, everyone knows that Steve Jobs could not code; apparently Elon Musk's coding skills include assembly language and C++ which should be good enough for any nerd's CV / résumé)

Permanent Record (2019) Edward Snowden

 highly recommended  for all citizens

Whatever you previously thought about Edward Snowden will be changed for the better after you read this book. (full disclosure, I had no intention of reading this book until I watched the Oliver Stone movie titled "Snowden" in 2020)

Why Trust Science? (2019) by Naomi Oreskes

Why the social character of scientific knowledge is the reason why we can trust it

Do doctors really know what they are talking about when they tell us vaccines are safe? Should we take climate experts at their word when they warn us about the perils of global warming? Why should we trust science when our own politicians don't? In this landmark book, Naomi Oreskes offers a bold and compelling defense of science, revealing why the social character of scientific knowledge is its greatest strength "and the greatest reason we can trust it. Tracing the history and philosophy of science from the late nineteenth century to today, Oreskes explains that, contrary to popular belief, there is no single scientific method. Rather, the trustworthiness of scientific claims derives from the social process by which they are rigorously vetted. This process is not perfect -nothing ever is when humans are involved - but she draws vital lessons from cases where scientists got it wrong. Oreskes shows how consensus is a crucial indicator of when a scientific matter has been settled, and when the knowledge produced is likely to be trustworthy. Based on the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University, this timely and provocative book features critical responses by climate experts Ottmar Edenhofer and Martin Kowarsch, political scientist Jon Krosnick, philosopher of science Marc Lange, and science historian Susan Lindee, as well as a foreword by political theorist Stephen Macedo.

How to Change Your Mind (2018/2019) Michael Pollan

Midway through the twentieth century, two unusual new molecules, organic compounds with a striking family resemblance, exploded upon the West. In time, they would change the course of social, political, and cultural history, as well as the personal histories of the millions of people who would eventually introduce them to their brains. As it happened, the arrival of these disruptive chemistries coincided with another world historical explosion—that of the atomic bomb. There were people who compared the two events and made much of the cosmic synchronicity. Extraordinary new energies had been loosed upon the world; things would never be quite the same. The first of these molecules was an accidental invention of science. Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD, was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938, shortly before physicists split an atom of uranium for the first time. Hofmann, who worked for the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Sandoz, had been looking for a drug to stimulate circulation, not a psychoactive compound. It wasn’t until five years later when he accidentally ingested a minuscule quantity of the new chemical that he realized he had created something powerful, at once terrifying and wondrous. The second molecule had been around for thousands of years, though no one in the developed world was aware of it. Produced not by a chemist but by an inconspicuous little brown mushroom, this molecule, which would come to be known as psilocybin, had been used by the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America for hundreds of years as a sacrament. Called teonanácatl by the Aztecs, or “flesh of the gods,” the mushroom was brutally suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church after the Spanish conquest and driven un- derground. In 1955, twelve years after Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD, a Manhattan banker and amateur mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson sampled the magic mushroom in the town of Huautla de Jiménez in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Two years later, he published a fifteen-page account of the “mushrooms that cause strange visions” in Life magazine, marking the moment when news of a new form of consciousness first reached the general public. (In 1957, knowledge of LSD was mostly confined to the community of researchers and mental health professionals.) People would not realize the magnitude of what had happened for several more years, but history in the West had shifted.

interviews with the author:

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: (length: 3:42)

The Agenda with Steve Paikin
Video-2: (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

Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments in uncertain situations. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis's own work possible. Kahneman and Tversky are more responsible than anybody for the powerful trend to mistrust human intuition and defer to algorithms.

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.

  • Science Under Siege, Part 1 :: Dangers of Ignorance - airs Wednesday, June 3, 2015
    • Explores the historical tension between science and political power and the sometimes fraught relationship between the two over the centuries. But what happens when science gets sidelined? What happens to societies which turn their backs on curiosity-driven research?  
  • Science Under Siege, Part 2 :: The Great Divide - airs Thursday, June 4, 2015
    • Explores the state of science in the modern world, and the expanding -- and dangerous -- gulf between scientists and the rest of society.  Many policy makers, politicians and members of the public are giving belief and ideology the same standing as scientific evidence. Are we now seeing an Anti-Scientific revolution?  A look at how evidence-based decision making has been sidelined. 
  • Science Under Siege, Part 3 :: Part 3: Fighting Back - airs Friday, June 5, 2015
    • Focuses on the culture war being waged on science, and possible solutions for reintegrating science and society. The attack on science is coming from all sides, both the left and right of the political spectrum. How can the principle of direct observation of the world, free of any influence from corporate or any other influence, reassert itself? The final episode of this series looks at how science can withstand the attack against it and overcome ideology and belief.
  • Podcasts:

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:

  • allow scientists to publish freely without requiring the preapproval of a government censor (as was the case in places like Italy and China)
  • actively promote scientific research by funding education, universities, and scientific organizations like The Royal Society which was formed in 1660 under a royal charter by King Charles II

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).


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

  • Since there are no formal definitions of "upper class", "middle class", "lower class", many economists just divide the population into thirds
  • Piketty uses "top 10%", "middle 40%", and "bottom 50%" so he can better compare European and American societies over the past 200+ years.
  • According to Piketty, extreme inequality almost always contributes to, or triggers, conflict (the French Revolution is one example)
  • Inequality of labor income across time and space which I have excerpted here so I can insert highlights
    Class Name Category
    By Size
    Inequality of Capital Labor Income
    Upper Class top 10% 20% 25% 35% 45%
    Middle Class middle 40% 45% 45% 40% 35%
    Lower Class bottom 50% 35% 30% 25% 20%
    Gini coefficient    0.19 0.26 0.36 0.46
  • Comments:
    • Apparently the USA already has the highest level of inequality of the western world but is projected to get much worse
    • Comparing the USA (2010) to Scandinavia (1970s-1980s), the societies appear inverted
  • Inequality of total income across time and space
  • Inequality of capital ownership across time and space
    which I have excerpted here so I can insert highlights
    Class Name Category
    By Size
    Inequality of Capital Ownership
    Upper Class top 10% 50% 60% 70% 90%
    Middle Class middle 40% 40% 35% 25% 5%
    Lower Class bottom 50% 10% 5% 5% 5%
    Gini coefficient    0.58 0.67 0.73 0.85
  • Comments:
    1. the middle class (40% by size) owned 40% in egalitarian Scandinavia
      • upper class (10% by size) owns 50% (flipped?)
      • lower class (50% by size) owns 10% (flipped?)
    2. notice how the lower class never seems to drop lower than 5%
    3. notice how the middle class also hit a 5% wall in 1910 Europe (could the 5% mark represent a boundary for extreme capitalism?)
Comments and General Observations
  • Piketty provides good reasons why progressive income taxes and progressive estate taxes were introduced to deal with inequities with triggered the French Revolution
    • comment: in theory, everyone resents the government that appears to swoop in for their cut after the death of a parent. But the best way to think about this is to remember the members of the first estate (church) and the second estate (nobility) were sitting on a lot of wealth while paying no taxes at all. So to be far, everyone should feel it a civic duty to pay income and estate taxes. It's patriotic.
  • If you share the view of many that the economy is a complicated machine and capital is the lubricant then you are forced to this logical conclusion: concentrating too much capital in the hands of too few will cause the machine to seize. In essence, lack of lubricant slowed economic recovery after the crash-of-1929; The ramp up of: progressive income taxes, estate taxes, and preparation for world-war-2 put more lubricant back into the American machine
  • Example triggering events (from me):
    • Britain's military expenditures throughout the world in the middle 1700s caused financial problems at home which the British parliament attempted to shift to their colonies. The Tea Act was one example and this was one of the triggers of the American Revolution. (no taxation without representation)
    • France's expenditures (including financial and military support of the American Revolution) caused extreme inequality in France (population of 30 million) which triggered the French Revolution
    • The Russian Empire's expenditures (including financial and military contributions to World War One) caused extreme inequality which triggered the final Russian Revolution in 2017
    • Assigning sole blame for World War One to Germany (even though it was triggered by the assassination of Austrian Arch Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo -AND- was complicated by the actions of many countries miscommunicating) brought huge reparation payments. This triggered extreme poverty in Germany which lead to the rise of Hitler and the madness which followed.
  • Food for thought
    1. France's support of the American Revolution was approved by the Emperor with the support of the nobility (who were both of the second estate) who paid no taxes. It was citizens (the third estate) who paid taxes that felt the brunt of the poor decisions made by upper-class twits.
    2. Russia's support of World War One (defending the Kingdom of Serbia which was attacked by Austria-Hungary in retaliation for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand) was fully approved by an enthusiastic Tsar Nicholas II who grossly mismanaged the war effort. Once again, it was the citizenry who shouldered the burden.
    3. Most people seem to have missed the point that the American Tea Party movement started in 2008 when many citizens were seeing government bailouts of Wall Street but no similar bailouts of Main Street. The parallels between pre-revolutionary France and modern day America are strikingly similar with very rich Americans taking on the role of the French Nobility (they want a say but they do not want to pay). To make matters worse, modern American society is fully armed; many with military-style assault weapons. Unless something is done to stop inequality, I fear there is trouble on the horizon.
  • Apparently the largest amounts of pay-inequity are coming from English-speaking countries (United States, Britain, Canada, Australia) where super-managers have their invisible hand legally in the till. Many people in the west concoct various justification stories, and here are a few:
    • corporate success is due to technology-related increases in productivity (which ignores the fact that the same technology is available to non-English speaking countries).
    • larger compensation packages are required so we can hire the best talent (which ignores the demand-supply curve taught in Economics-101; if the supply of CEOs is large then this oversupplu should result in lower pay, not higher)
    • We have all heard another justification which is "pay for performance" but we all know that all lot of what happens may be due to luck.
  • In 1776, moral philosopher Adam Smith published his theories of capitalism in The Wealth of Nations to assist with social/societal problems appearing at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Over my short 60 years on planet Earth, I have heard numerous western capitalists quote selected one-liners from Wealth of Nations while failing to mention other issues in that book (like productivity, division of labor, accumulation of inherited wealth, etc.) and this has resulted in a form of extreme capitalism I am certain Adam Smith never imagined. Furthermore, most people today would agree that Industrial Revolution has been largely replaced by the Information Age which means humanity now requires a kinder gentler form of capitalism than what we have seen so far. I am certain there are many capitalists who disagree but but let me point out that Smith never imagined globalization. If he were publishing his magnum opus today it would have been titled Wealth of Humanity. Perhaps Piketty's book will eventually be seen as a follow-on to Wealth of Nations

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

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.  

  • Goes beyond the standard claims about ignorance or corporate malfeasance to discover the real, scientific reasons why Republicans reject the widely accepted findings of mainstream science, economics, and history—as well as many undeniable policy facts (e.g., there were no “death panels” in the health care bill).
  • Explains that the political parties reflect personality traits and psychological needs—with Republicans more wedded to certainty, Democrats to novelty—and this is the root of our divide over reality.
  • Written by the author of The Republican War on Science, which was the first and still the most influential book to look at conservative rejection of scientific evidence. But the rejection of science is just the beginning…

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.


  • This book has nothing to do with intelligence or so-called "theories involving hard-wiring of the brain" (because the human brain is hardwired to be soft-wired). For those who think in terms of "nature vs. nurture" it might be wise to think in terms of "nature and nurture". Why?
    • nurture plays a roll since we initially learn from those around us, and these people tend to be parents. On the flip side, early ideas might be unlearned by expanding beyond our local groups as usually happens when shipped off to college
    • nature plays by changing the size and shape of various brain regions (like the amygdala which is the seat of emotions vs. the anterior cingulate which orchestrates reasoning)
  • Do not read this book if you think you can change the other side. Like the Amish, they have all your facts but have come to different conclusions. If change comes it will be their personal decision.
  • Do read this book if you are curious as to why conservatives think-what-they-think, say-what-they-say, and believe-what-they-believe
  • The author gives evidence to support the assertion that, on average, your liberalism dial increases as you become more educated. On the flip side, your conservative dial increases as you become more wealthy. I'm not sure which takes precedent when you are both educated and wealthy.
  • The author gives evidence to support the assertion that, on average, conservatives tend to see issues as black-or-white while liberals tend to see issues as shades-of-gray. He also quotes conservative publishers who support this claim. I wonder if a liberal US president would have authorized attacking Iraq in 2003 on the flimsy evidence surrounding WMDs (Weapon's of Mass Destruction) which turned out to be nonexistent.
  • Conservatives play politics as a team sport (maybe twice as much as liberals). If a conservative team member says something stupid, conservatives tend to collectively circle the wagons rather than publically criticizing. Meanwhile if a liberal says something stupid then this error will be criticized by both sides (much to the delight of conservatives) 
  • My Observations: almost everyone alive today has some difficulty understanding arguments used by the Roman Catholic Church (between 1610 and 1633) against Galileo who dared publish a book claiming "the Earth was not the center of the universe".
    1. First off, it is plain to all that Galileo was the role of "liberal" in this debate while the Church was playing the role of "conservative".
      If we were only talking about religion, then Jesus played the liberal role (change) while the Sanhedrin played conservative (status quo).
    2. Secondly, the arguments used by the church only make sense if they were using "their own facts". Which set of facts "were more correct" could have been solved by simply staying up late a few evenings to view (through a telescope) four moons orbiting Jupiter. But there are no records indicating representatives of the Church ever did this. So in the final analysis this affair was managed as if hosted by lawyers rather than scientists.
    3. Likewise, today we see arguments where each side presents "their own facts" from "their own experts" on issues like "vaccines" and "climate change" which could be resolved by doing further observational tests (reading peer reviewed publications from qualified experts who employed the scientific method first published by Francis Bacon then popularized by Isaac Newton). Not doing this places us firmly in the same lawyer-vs-scientist conflict as happened ~ 400 years ago.
    4. Many political people today see the modern world in a binary split between left/liberal and right/conservative which appears to ignore the fact that perhaps 60% of society is located squarely in the center
    5. In my community it appears that liberals seem happier than conservatives. In fact, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't hear a conservative complain about something then go on to claim that life would be better if only {whatever} changed.

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:

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

  • I didn't know that minicomputers were the key to Microsoft's 8-bit BASIC? Apparently all target micro platforms were simulated on minis. Gates and Allen started doing this at Harvard when they wrote Altair 8800 BASIC on a DEC PDP-10 running TOPS-10. They continued this in Albuquerque by leasing PDP-10 time from local schools. When they moved to Washington they decided to buy a brand new DECSYSTEM-20
  • I didn't know that Microsoft wrote TRS-80 BASIC (for the Radio Shack "a.k.a. Trash 80"); Commodore BASIC for the Commodore PET; and AppleSoft BASIC for the Apple2 (a.k.a.  Apple II plus )
  • I skipped over the few chapters related to "owning sports teams" because I don't care about that stuff

Steve Jobs (2011) Walter Isaacson

Shocking revelations:

  • giving a speech to university students telling them the secret to success is "loss of virginity" and "consuming LSD" (wtf?)
  • constantly crying through-out his whole life. (was this due to LSD or unhappiness related to a vegan diet?)
  • studied Zen Buddhism and meditated throughout his life but appeared to be the most materialistic person in North America (and a first-class prick)
  • appeared to hate the social imperatives of the French (re: Danielle Mitterrand's questions during her tour of the Macintosh factory) and yet thought of himself as an artist and considered living in Paris.
  • accused others, including Microsoft, of stealing Apple's ideas then released adverts with quotes like "good artists copy, but great artists steal"
    • add to this the fact that the whole mouse-based graphical interface was stolen from Xerox
  • telling people "their software was crap" when he himself did not know how to write a computer program
  • closing the Macintosh architecture just after IBM opened the PC architecture (IBM was attempting to emulate the openness of the Apple 2)
    then having the gall to release an advert suggesting IBM was like "big brother" in George Orwell's book 1984 while Apple was in the role of the athletic woman smashing the screen.
  • Sticking with 1984 as a metaphor:
    • it was Jobs who projected the cult of personality
    • it was Jobs who was the purveyor of newspeak and doublethink (see IBM comment above)
    • it was Jobs who engaged in propaganda and historical revisionism
    • if Big Brother actually existed, he would have been envious of Jobs' Reality Distortion Field
  • I am convinced dropping LSD would produce many more societal dropouts than corporate success stories. Do not follow his example
  • Throughout the book, I thought "either Jobs was constantly on LSD, or was bipolar, or schizophrenic, or all three". But the remark about Narcissistic Personality Disorder on page 266 seemed to hit the mark.
  • Why are people still referring to this guy as a genius? True Apple talent could be found in people like Steve Wozniak, Bill Atkinson, and Andy Hertzfeld to only name three of many. Wozniak is fond of saying that he would be nowhere without Jobs but I think he is wrong. Wozniak would have eventually hooked up with someone less egocentric while more humane.
  • Steve Jobs told everyone he was a Buddhist. I hope he believed in Karma and I hope he will be reborn as a software developer who will work for an immature boss who drops LSD and throws temper-tantrums

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

  • As president and CEO of Rogers Communications Inc., Ted Rogers is at the head of a communications and media company that operates Canada’s largest wireless carrier, its largest cable provider, 53 radio stations, 70 consumer and trade magazines, the OMNI and CityTV networks, and other properties as diverse as The Shopping Channel and the Toronto Blue Jays. Outspoken, sometimes controversial and always forward-thinking, Rogers is a legendary innovator whose brand stands among the top in Canadian business. Now, for the first time, Ted Rogers tells the story of how he built Rogers Communications into one of the largest companies in Canadian history—and in only one generation. The tragic, premature death of his father, radio pioneer Ted Rogers Sr., left his family with little except the burning desire to reclaim what they had lost. From an early age, Ted was fascinated with radio and television; he once strung wires out of his dorm room to a roof-top antenna to bring in U.S. programming to Toronto before the city had any stations. As a law student, he invested everything he had in an FM station, buying CHFI when only five percent of the market actually owned an FM radio. Success with CHFI led to the creation of Agincourt TV station CFTO. Rogers is characteristically frank about his successes and his failures. Over the years, he has faced challenges to his domain, sometimes risking so much that it nearly cost him everything. Each time, however, he has returned stronger than ever. Written in a highly accessible style, A Practical Dreamer will appeal as much to Main Street as to Bay Street. Filled with backroom deals, on-air battles and the often outrageous exploits of this communications visionary, A Practical Dreamer will ring true as the most fascinating business memoir of the year.
  • CFRB = Canada's First Rogers Batteryless
  • CFTR = Canada's First Ted Rogers
  • Ted Rogers Senior was the inventor of the A. C. Vacuum Tube (a.k.a. Alternating Current Valve).
    Note: this following information was not described in this book:
    • Prior to the development of the A. C. Vacuum Tube, radio transmitters and receivers were powered with three battery strings. The "A" string was used to power the filament (a.k.a. cathode), the "B" string was used to power the anode, the "C" string was used to bias control grid. When your table-top radio was dead, you had to take it to the local radio shop for repair (or call the local neighborhood geek)
    • Before Rogers' invention a naked filament acted as the cathode. Rogers modified the cathode by replacing the filament with a metal emitter which is only heated by the filament. Since the filament is electrically isolated from the emitter, it can now be powered by A. C. rather than D. C.

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

  • A book about Edward (Ted) Rogers Sr. and his contributions to radio communications including the A. C. Vacuum Tube and Toronto radio station CFRB (Canada's First Rogers Batteryless)

Valley Boy (2007) Tom Perkins

  • This guy is somewhat of a cool character with an EE-CS from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.
  • He made his first million by setting up a company named University Laboratories Inc. to manufacture and sell research lasers. His next big success was to transform Hewlett-Packard's computer division into a world wide megalith. After that he was involved in the creation of Tandem Computers. As a venture capitalist, he was  behind Compaq, Genentech, SUN Microsystems, and Google.

iWoz (2006) Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith

  • Steve Wozniak designed the Apple-1 and Apple-2 single handedly with no help from anyone else
  • Steve Jobs is an enabler:
    • He enabled Apple to startup as a company
    • He convinced Wozniak to quit HP and work fulltime at Apple
    • He convinced Wozniak to use Alan Shugart's new 5.25 inch (13.3 cm) floppy disk drive in Wozniak's Apple DOS system
  • How could a cool technology engineering company have morphed into a technology marketing company?
  • When I read how the Apple-3 and Macintosh employees basically dumped upon the Apple-2 employees (who were carrying everyone else), I was reminded of one of the chapters of "Inside Stupidity" where many companies produce products to compete with themselves. It's almost like the egos of the "incoming suits" in are trying to trump the efforts of the "outgoing bluegenes" and all other issues are secondary.

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 they are number one in everything?

(US Billion)
(US Billion)
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
  • all numbers are in US dollars (2003-2004)
  • only five rows of numbers were provided in the book but the reader is directed to external reference 3-19 titled:
    "A Comparison of the Top 25 United States GDPs with the Top 25 European Union GDPs"
    U.S. Department of Commerce: Bureau of Economic Analysis - November 15 2002 -
  • Click here for recent numbers from 2015:
  • the American press is fond of calling Greece's economy as "a basket case". If this assessment is true then what should we say about US states, like South Carolina, or any others that didn't make this list?
  • in 2016 the UK public voted (in a non-binding referendum) to leave the EU in a move called BREXIT (British politicians later voted to make it binding)
    • LEAVE took the majority in England and Wales.
    • REMAIN took the majority in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
    • It appears that these differences will (eventually) shatter the United Kingdom into their respective countries thus signalling another end-of-empire
    • the decision to leave was been attributed to right-wing populism (caused by a combination of "job losses due to automation" as well as "migrant immigration triggered by the military actions of Britain, France, and the USA which collectively brought down the governments of Iraq and Libya")
    • so now we have a chance to perform a real-world experiment. Just as Germany was broken into two pieces by political ideology (and then later recombined with the East doing much worse than the west) we will now be able to measure what will happen to various countries who are attempting to go-it-alone.
    • update: much of the international financial district of London (clearing houses, etc) has moved to Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.

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 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 Biochemistry)

 highly recommended for Judeo-Christians wishing to learn more about life in ancient times
  • I just (2016.11.xx) purchased this all-in-one book through
    • I have always wanted to read this book but internet tools have now enabled me to purchase a hard copy
  • It weighs-in at 1295 pages and consists of two other previously-published books:
    • Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old Testament (1967)
    • Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The New Testament (1971)
  • Asimov apparently researched this book using various sources like:
    • The Authorized Version (a.k.a. The King James Bible)
    • The Revised Standard Version
    • Saint Joseph "New Catholic Edition"
    • The Jerusalem Bible
    • The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text
    • Anchor Bible
    • A New Standard Bible Dictionary (Third Revised Edition)
    • The Abingdon Bible Commentary
    • Dictionary of the Bible
  • I wished I would have read these books during the time of my mandatory (as far as my parents were concerned) 3-years religious study which culminated in my Christian Confirmation at age 13. Why? This is easier to read than the Bible since it includes much historical commentary about the people and cultures of the time (secular history is tied with biblical events -AND- there are a lot of maps)
    • most references to Ethiopia actually mean Nubia
    • many people of-the-faith believe the first 5-books of the Bible are literally true when, in fact, they are an amalgamation of two Hebrew cultures (the southern Kingdom of Judah in the northern Kingdom of Israel) which are merged after the Babylonian Exile. Add to this the fact that many of the stories of the first four books are repeated again in Deuteronomy which can me "second law" or "second telling (a.k.a. retelling)"
    • a rational comparison of the so called synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke) shows that they are not so synoptic after all. Mark was written first. Mathew was derived from Mark and written for a Jewish audience. Luke was derived from Mark and written for a Gentile audience -and- may have been derived from a document written to defend the life of the then-arrested Paul of Tarsus. Only one book mentions
    • the gospel of John is completely different. For example, this gospel claims that Jesus was in Jerusalem for three subsequent Passover events while the other gospels say Jesus was in Jerusalem for one week prior to one event which saw him put to death. It would appear that the writings of John are used by some misguided Christians to support their views on anti-Semitism.
    • Saul (St. Paul) was considered a Greek but never lived in Greece. In fact, he was a free-born Roman citizen from Tarsus, Cilicia. He was educated in Jerusalem by the leading Pharisee Gamaliel.  Saul called himself a Pharisee and may have been involved in the stoning (to-death) of Steven
    • Saul speaks many times of an affliction associated with Satan (one place is found here: 2 Corinthians 12:7). People in ancient times believed that epilepsy was a symptom of temporary demonic possession but Asimov's Commentary makes a good case for Paul's vision on the road to Damascus also being a symptom of epilepsy. Asimov writes on page 1048: "If so, epilepsy changed the course of the world"
    • The books of Luke and Acts were both formalized after the death of Paul but may have been derived from a common single book written by Paul's friend "Lucias of Cyrene" for Paul's defense while under arrest by the Romans.
    • Sergius Paulus was the Roman proconsul of Cyprus. After Saul successfully converts this Roman official to Christianity, he (Saul) changes his name to Paul.
      question: is this a clever bit of P.R. by Saul to associate himself with this very high-profile Christianization while at the same time disassociating himself from the stoning of Stephen?
    • Was the "speaking in tongues" real or was this just the impression of the uneducated when hearing speakers switch between their local tongues and Greek?

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 the name of someone else 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

  • This book is the author's response to the attacks on America 2001-09-11 (aka 9/11) and London 2005-07-07 by Islamic Extremists but is equally critical of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. It is an attempt to increase rationalism.
  • Many people told me this book was very one sided but I must disagree. I found it a joy to read. The Darwinian speculations on why every society contains a religious component reminded me of "The Selfish Gene". If you liked that book you'll like "The God Delusion"
    p.s. this book will not convert you into an atheist but reading it will make you much less likely to do violence in the name of religion.

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

  • This revised edition of Richard Crawley's classic 1874 translation is enhanced with more than 100 maps, extensive annotations, brief biographies of important figures, and invaluable historical, political, and cultural background.
  • Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta "a possession for all time," and indeed it is the first and still most famous work in the Western historical tradition. Considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom. However, this classic book has long presented obstacles to the uninitiated reader. Robert Strassler's new edition removes these obstacles by providing a new coherence to the narrative overall, and by effectively reconstructing the lost cultural context that Thucydides shared with his original audience. Based on the venerable Richard Crawley translation, updated and revised for modern readers. The Landmark Thucydides includes a vast array of superbly designed and presented maps, brief informative appendices by outstanding classical scholars on subjects of special relevance to the text, explanatory marginal notes on each page, an index of unprecedented subtlety, and numerous other useful features. In any list of the Great Books of Western Civilization, The Peloponnesian War stands near the top. This authoritative new edition will ensure that its greatness is appreciated by future generations.
  • Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War is one of the great books in the Western tradition, as well as its first true historical narrative. Editor Robert Strassler has annotated this classic text to make it more accessible to modern readers and added dozens of maps for easy reference. A helpful introduction places Thucydides in proper historical context and a series of short appendices focus on particular aspects of life and war during the period. But the bulk of the book itself, where Thucydides chronicles the long struggle between Athens and Sparta, enjoys an unexpected freshness on these pages--partly due to Strassler's magnificent editorial labors, but mostly because it's a great story resonant with heroes, villains, bravery, desperation, and tragedy. Every library should have a copy of Thucydides in it, especially libraries on military history, and The Landmark Thucydides is without question the best version available.
  • NSR Initial Comments:
    • Strassler thought this project would require two years of his time but he invested nearly 10 years.
    • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens compares the life of peasantry living in London and Paris in the years leading up to the French Revolution
    • This book may as well have been named A Tale of Two (Hellenistic) Cities as it compares the lives of citizens living in Peloponnesia (Sparta) with those living in Athens during the time of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) which broke Greece in every way imaginable
    • Peloponnesia was first settled by Pelops (a very rich man) who thought that being rich was a sign you had hade made it (meritocracy). Therefore, poor people should not be supported by the rich. In fact, poor people should not be allowed to vote. Pelops' descendants inherited his wealth while their friends inherited political power (oligarchy). These rich families practiced the art-of-war by placing their own male children in military schools starting at the age seven. With no Peloponnesians to work the fields, they attacked neighboring states taking captured prisoners home work the fields as slaves. When the area of Peloponnesia was starting to become too full, the Peloponnesians blocked immigrated and even discussed building high walls.
    • In the end, the Spartans attacked Athens for no other reason than these two:
       1) the Spartan conservatives feared their way of life was being threated by the Athenian liberals
       2) the Spartans thought the Gods would be punish them in the next life for not taking action in this one.
      Sparta Athens
      conservative liberal
      oligarchy democracy
      superstitious less so
      religious less so
      militaristic more interested in developing: philosophy, logic, mathematics, science
      army navy (during times of war; merchant marines otherwise)
      institutionalized slavery (required so that Spartan men could join military schools starting at age 7 rather than working in other ventures like agriculture) slavery was frowned-upon
      kept no written records (everything we know about Sparta comes from others) kept written records about themselves and others
  • Related Links:

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 which starts circa 200 AD
  • Especially after learning that this was a favorite by Winston Churchill -and- was the inspiration for the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
    So success is not a mystery, just brush up on your history, and borrow day by day.
    Take an Empire that was Roman and you’ll find it is at home in all the starry Milky Way.
    With a drive that’s hyperspatial, through the parsecs you will race, and you’ll find plotting is a breeze,
    With a tiny bit of cribbin’ from the works of Edward Gibbon, and that Greek, Thucydides
  • In 2008, I discovered a complete new boxed set in a Toronto book store (unabridged; all six volumes published as +20 books; 4100 pages of small print). Although the price was very reasonable (under $200 IIRC), I was not prepared to invest that amount of time reading ancient history.
  • A short time later I stumbled upon these two gems by Isaac Asimov.
    • comment: is is possible that Asimov was attempting to produce a more complete (while less detailed) version of Gibbon's classic?

The Roman Republic (1966) by Isaac Asimov

  • weighs in at 257 pages and covers the years of 1000 BC to 753 BC (first year of Rome) to 27 BC (Octavian is named Augustus)
  • several tidbits of many:
    • "Senate" is derived from the Latin word for "old men". Senators advised the government as a wise father would advise his family. Therefore, senators were known as "patricians" which is the Latin word for "father"
    • "Circus Maximus" literally means "large ring". Gladiators get their name from their broad short sword which was called "a gladius"
    • Early rulers were given the title "Praetor" which is derived from Latin words meaning "to lead the way". Later on when two leaders were required by law, the title was replaced with "Consul" meaning "partner". Consuls needed to "consult" each other on every decision.
    • "Proletariat" comes from a Latin term meaning to bring for children, since to the ruling aristocracy, the poor seemed to have no other use than providing children to serve in the legions)
    • "Plebeians" come from a Latin word meaning "common people".
    • Plebeians were allowed to appoint representatives who were known as "Tribunes" (a name originally given to the leaders of a tribe)
    • "Censor" comes from a Latin word meaning "to tax".

The Roman Empire (1967) by Isaac Asimov

  • weighs in at 277 pages and covers the years of 26 BC to 476 AD
  • several tidbits of many:
    • Octavian was given...
      • the title "Princeps" which means "first citizen". This word is later developed into "Principate" and also "Prince".
      • the title "Augustus" which implies "one who is responsible for increasing (augmenting) the good of the world"
      • the title "Imperitor" which means leader. It is from this word that we end up with "Empire"
    • Senatorial historians were always rewriting history to make emperors seem much more evil. Although it is true that Tiberius  retired to the isle of Capri, his old age along with his Stoic life-style makes it highly unlikely that retired to a life of sexual debauchery as portrayed in many movies.
    • Starting in 142 AD, the Romans began constructing Antonine Wall in Northern Scotland which was about 160 km (100 mi) North of Hadrian's Wall. (I knew about Hadrian's Wall but had never heard of this one)

Cosmic Consciousness (1901) Richard Maurice Bucke


  • I first read this book in 1970 but 40-years later someone mentioned this title which prompted me to give it a second read just for literary/philosophical reasons
  • Do not confuse 'The Illumination' or 'Divine Illumination' with The Enlightenment. On top of that, this is neither a work of science or religion which forces us to default to philosophy.
  • The author's initial hypothesis seems to be based more upon biological evolution than religion but remember that he had no knowledge of DNA and/or genes. He describes the evolution of the mind from "no consciousness" to "simple consciousness" then to "self consciousness". Although this change happened during the evolution of humans in the past millions of years, it also happens currently as a human baby develops into an adult (this second fact can be used as a indicator to tell us when traits appeared in our evolution). And just as new traits are introduced slowly over time (like color vision), he claims that all of humanity will eventually evolve past self consciousness into a new state which he calls Cosmic Consciousness. He claims that people like Buddha, Jesus, Paul of Tarsus and Mohamed were the first humans to cross over, but eventually this trait will be in the majority rather than the minority.
  • It should goes without saying that changes in one's brain will not be transferred into an afterlife.
  • Through evolutionary theory we know that having enhanced vision or hearing will lead to increased survival opportunities, I fail to see how the "Cosmic Sense" will be of any evolutionary value unless it means the end of violence, terrorism and war. If that is the case than one can easily leap to other philosophies based upon extrapolations from sci-fi entertainment (The Jedi pursuit of "The Force" from "Star Wars" or "The Vulcan pursuit of logic" from "Star Trek" or two popular examples of many).
  • Trying to keep an open mind here: we all know that Homosapien (wise man) has only been around for 200,000-300,000 years. Whenever I hear far-future descriptions of life on Earth (say, a billion years from now) I am surprised that many people assume that humanity will witness the event from our current form. So we should not be too quick to dismiss this idea of a new way of thinking although every good scientist would say "there is absolutely no proof for any of this, other than Bucke's observation, so this will always remain in the realm of hypothesis"
  • I now recommend you contemplate the words of the 1970 song Melancholy Man from the album A Question of Balance by the group The Moody Blues which you can listen to here:
    I'm a melancholy man, that's what I am; All the world surrounds me, and my feet are on the ground; I'm a very lonely man, doing what I can; All the world astounds me and I think I understand; That we're going to keep growing, wait and see. When all the stars are falling down; Into the sea and on the ground; And angry voices carry on the wind, A beam of light will fill your head; And you'll remember what's been said; By all the good men this world's ever known. Another man is what you'll see, Who looks like you and looks like me, And yet somehow he will not feel the same, His life caught up in misery, he doesn't think like you and me, 'Cause he can't see what you and I can see.
    • The GREEN line conveys humanity's mental evolution
    • The RED line coveys the illumination.
    • The PURPLE line conveys what an illuminated being might see looking back (the unenlightened person's life is caught up in misery)

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

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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.