Where This Meets That
After a few weeks of, ahem, lower-brow Friday Fives, today I’m diving deep and assigning you some “stretchy” reading to stretch your minds. These five books cover every broad scientific and humanistic field, to some degree, and all are quite well written and accessible to “inquiring minds”. If reality TV and standard election year “he said, she said” mumbo jumbo finds you wanting, you just might find some magic in these books.
I happened upon this book in a country store on Blood Mountain, Georgia, during a trip with my parents. I have always been in love with the randomness of life, and this book fit me like a glove. Murchie writes with poetic adoration and infectious enthusiasm for darn near everything, from genetics to economics to astronomy and spirituality. This is probably one of the most meaningful books I’ve ever read, introducing me to countless new concepts and understandings about a whole universe of things.
Guns, Germs, & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond, 1997
How did we get here? Why is the political and economic order of the modern world as it is? Diamond’s fascinating study delves into an evolutionary history of military, disease, and industry to give us some meaty ideas to chew on. It is interesting to think about how much some peoples have benefited (and others suffered) from otherwise seemingly minute cultural trends many millenia ago. Particularly interesting is Diamond’s presentation of western history.
The World Without Us – Alan Weisman, 2007
We humans are unprecedented agents of global change. We transplant vegetation and animals across oceans, redirect rivers and streams, and alter entire countrysides every day. What happens when we, as a species, disappear from Earth? What will we leave behind, and how quickly will nature forget about us? Particularly interesting (and alarming) to me was Weisman’s analysis of the city substructure beneath Manhattan. It gave me a much deeper appreciation for the post-9/11 peril the city faced that I did not recall being covered in the news media.
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel – Michio Kaku, 2008
Science-fiction teems with richly imaginative technologies that have captured the hearts and minds of kids for generations. Lightsabers, force fields, quantum leaps, and teleportation were all notable fancies of my youth, but what basis have they in reality? Kaku is a rare breed of physics guru: he is an excellent communicator and has flourished over the past decade as a writer. Here he breaks down these and other sci-fi technologies that we all know and love to give us hope for which ones might one day be realized.
The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology – Ray Kurzweil, 2005
A couple years ago, in a post titled “The Future Today”, I expressed the notion that, along with mass and acceleration, technology should also be a component of relativity. I closed that post questioning whether we might one day “achieve such a pervasive state of immediacy . . . that we actually render the future obsolete”. Not long after posting, I read this book by Kurzweil that explores, essentially, the same question. In many ways, the book reads like a man desperately grasping for the hope to escape the inevitability of death – and, actually, that’s what Kurzweil is (he was profoundly effected by his father’s death). As a result, it would be easy to dismiss some of Kurzweil’s predictions as outright insane, but that’s not the case. Not technically, at least. Kurzweil’s aggressive time table for the approaching “singularity” (i.e., the moment when our biological species will fuse so completely with technology that we will, in effect, fundamentally change humanity as a species in general) is not so much limited by our capabilities but by our cultural acceptance of how far we are willing to embrace our technologies and how quickly. Nevertheless, his forecast for technologies coming rapidly down the pike is pretty mind-blowing.
What “stretchy” reading can you recommend?