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We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion! 
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
I am not sure if this one has been nominated or discussed, but The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby is one of my all time favorite non-fiction books. It is social commentary, circling the ever growing problem of anti-intellectualism in America. The New York times has a review of it: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/books/11kaku.html

Excerpt from article - There are few subjects more timely than the one tackled by Susan Jacoby in her new book, “The Age of American Unreason,” in which she asserts that “America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism.”

This book is probably the best social commentary I have read to date. It illustrates Americas need to achieve higher standards of learning, and is completely accurate in all accounts. Definitely worth the read. If you like Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, you will love love love this book.


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Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:55 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
hmrush wrote:
If you like Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, you will love this book.

We did read this one a while back, hmrush (see list below, about 1/3 way down). I'm interested in your appraisal of it, because though I admired Freethinkers, I thought Jacoby was way off her stride in Unreason. I also liked Postman's book.



Mon Feb 22, 2010 11:11 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
My other (lighter) suggestion would be a book by James Surowiecki entitled "The Wisdom of Crowds".

Smart people often believe that the opinion of the crowd is always inferior to the opinion of the individual specialist. Philosophical giants such as Nietzsche thought that "Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups". Henry David Thoreau lamented: "The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest member." The motto of the great and the ordinary seems to be: Bet on the expert because crowds are generally stupid and often dangerous. Business columnist James Surowiecki’s new book The Wisdom of Crowds explains exactly why the conventional wisdom is wrong. The fact is that, under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. Groups don’t even need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart. Even if most of the people within a group are not especially well-informed or rational, it can still reach a collectively wise decision. Why? Because, as it turns out, if you ask a large enough group of diverse, independent people to make a prediction or estimate a probability, and then average those estimates, the errors each of them makes in coming up with an answer will cancel themselves out. Not any old crowd will do of course. For the crowd to be wise it has to satisfy four specific conditions, but once those conditions are met, its judgment is likely to be accurate.
Surowieki concentrates on three kinds of problems. The first are cognition problems (problems that are likely to have definitive answers, such as: "How many books will Amazon sell this month?"). The second are problems of coordination (problems requiring members of a group to figure out how to coordinate their behaviour with one another) and the third are problems of cooperation (getting self-interested, distrustful people to work together-- despite their selfishness). The brilliant first half of the book illustrates this theory with practical examples. The second half of the book essentially consists of case studies with each chapter talking about the way collective intelligence either flourishes or flounders. Much of this part deals with business topics such as corporations, markets and the dynamics of a stock-market bubble.

Surowieki has an engaging, direct style defending his surprising central thesis in entertaining ways by, for example, talking about laying bets on football games and political elections; traffic jams; Google; the Challenger explosion and the search for a missing submarine. The Wisdom of Crowds is an entertaining book making a serious point and by the end of the superb first half the reader has been made to accept that, while with most things, the average is mediocrity, when it comes to decision-making the average results in excellence. --Larry Brown


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Last edited by oblivion on Mon Feb 22, 2010 1:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Feb 22, 2010 1:11 pm
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
I came across this one, Value of Nothing, by Raj patel, and would like to throw it into the mix. It argues that "we must abandon our appetite for perpetual economic growth or face extinction" (The Week , Feb. 26, p. 20)

The Value of Nothing: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think, by Raj Patel, HarperCollins, 250 pages, $26.99

(Excerpts from a review from the Globe and Mail)

“ Today's financial crisis is no mere anomaly," Patel argues.

“There's a widely shared opinion that normality will ultimately return to the world economy,” writes Patel, a renowned economist who divides his time among several institutions. “But it is a consensus view that rests on a narrative of [economic] bubbles being exceptions to the standard.” If our assumptions about the stability and wisdom of markets were flawed, as former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan famously admitted to U.S. Congress in 2008, “then our faith in a gentle return to earth is misplaced, for there is not, and never has been, any solid ground beneath our feet.”

Patel argues that our problem isn't just the size of our stimulus package, but a deep misapprehension about the relationship between society and economy that dates back well before the great crash of 2008. And, more to the point, it is our propensity to over-value destructive things – such as financial derivatives and crude oil – and under-value truly valuable things – such as sustainable food production, our global climate and other so-called externalities that market society has often neglected. This results not only in bad outcomes, but “indelible inequalities in power.” In other words, if today's quest to regain yesterday's growth fails under the stress of 21st-century challenges, it likely won't be Wall Street paying the price.

Consequently, today's financial crisis is no mere anomaly, Patel argues, but a continuation of a struggle over resources, property and government that dates back to the privatization of common lands in the early decades of England's Industrial Revolution. “The perpetual quest for economic growth has turned humankind into an agent of extinction, through the systematic undervaluing of the eco-systemic services that keep our Earth alive,” he writes. “In short, the consumer economy takes a great deal for granted, for free, and is constitutionally unable to pay for it.”

With epic scope, The Value of Nothing poses a spirited exploration of everything from the influence of market extremist Gary Becker of the Chicago School of Economics (and contemporary of Alan Greenspan) to social movements on food sovereignty and participatory budgeting that show us what real democracy is, or should be, about. Even the Dalai Lama's views on economic justice are tied into Patel's own views about how to fix things (hint: more democracy and more activism).

What I like about this book is that is a work of engaged ideas, particularly Patel's investigation into the consciousness of market society. (“Seeing the world through markets not only distorts our sense of our selves, but projects our disability onto everyone else.”) What I like less is the book's nascent ideological assumption that readers, alongside governments and financial elites, need to be disabused of any attachments to markets or private property. We're told that it is corporations, not people, who are to blame for the great environmental disasters of our time, despite the fact that, at last count, the planet boasted approximately 600-million climate-killing automobiles and a great many more drivers. Private property and sustainability may seem fundamentally incompatible, an assertion that is interesting but lacks proof.

Patel also rejects the use of market-based tools like carbon pricing to combat things like climate change. In other circumstances, this might be a tremendous statement of principle, but given that we have relatively little time to reshape whole economies in the face of advancing climate change – and eliminate vast energy and environmental subsidies in the process – rejecting carbon pricing or any other solution tainted by capitalism seems, well, a little precious.

Patel's arguments are well-crafted and will likely, and predictably, find agreement among many who will purchase the book. But his real contribution is something bigger than another attack on neo-liberalism and the Chicago School of Economics. This is someone who has done field work around the world, listened prolifically to non-experts, and come away with a political modality that isn't just ideology, but speaks to human flourishing itself. “The opposite of consumption isn't thrift,” says Patel. “It's generosity.”

Gordon Laird is the author of The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization.



Last edited by DWill on Tue Feb 23, 2010 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Feb 23, 2010 10:54 pm
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
:bananadance: :bananadance: :bananadance: :bananadance: :bananadance:
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
Saffron wrote:
4. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks



I'd be up for this one. I've heard good things from my mother, who is a concert pianist and music history/theory professor (I was intellectually spoiled as a child :-P).

I also love seeing the effect of music on people and the way it can bring people together or tear them apart, etc., so, my vote is definitely on this one. :)



Wed Feb 24, 2010 12:24 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
I also noticed Value of Nothing on a recent cruise through the bookstores. It certainly discusses an important topic, and perhaps is more general than some of the other suggestions. I second the nomination.


http://www.amazon.com/Value-Nothing-Res ... 036&sr=1-1


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Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:28 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
bleachededen wrote:
Saffron wrote:
4. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks



I'd be up for this one. I've heard good things from my mother, who is a concert pianist and music history/theory professor (I was intellectually spoiled as a child :-P).

I also love seeing the effect of music on people and the way it can bring people together or tear them apart, etc., so, my vote is definitely on this one. :)


I purchased "Musicophilia" recently, and haven't gotten around to reading it yet. It seems like it would be fun to discuss, and it's quite a bit less intimidating than "The Passion of the Western Mind." I've read another book by Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) and I must say his writing style is superb. He also has great respect for the people he describes in the book, and doesn't just treat them as sideshow freak cases.



Mon Mar 01, 2010 8:08 pm
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
Feed back on suggestions thus far: I like many of the suggestions this time around. I often drop out of sight because the books that end up in the running are not books I want to spend the time reading. This time I think it will be different. Here are the books I am most interest in so far: Blink, The tipping Point, The Music Room, The Value of Nothing and my own 2 suggestions. See, I think I may have to stick around this time.

I don't know if more suggestions are a good idea, but here are two more:
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
From Publishers Weekly
Roach is not like other science writers. She doesn't write about genes or black holes or Schrödinger's cat. Instead, she ventures out to the fringes of science, where the oddballs ponder how cadavers decay (in her debut, Stiff) and whether you can weigh a person's soul (in Spook). Now she explores the sexiest subject of all: sex, and such questions as, what is an orgasm? How is it possible for paraplegics to have them? What does woman want, and can a man give it to her if her clitoris is too far from her vagina? At times the narrative feels insubstantial and digressive (how much do you need to know about inseminating sows?), but Roach's ever-present eye and ear for the absurd and her loopy sense of humor make her a delectable guide through this unesteemed scientific outback. The payoff comes with subjects like female orgasm (yes, it's complicated), and characters like Ahmed Shafik, who defies Cairo's religious repressiveness to conduct his sex research. Roach's forays offer fascinating evidence of the full range of human weirdness, the nonsense that has often passed for medical science and, more poignantly, the extreme lengths to which people will go to find sexual satisfaction.

The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet by Thomas Dubay
Booklist:
The physicist who knows nothing about Scripture and the theologian ignorant of calculus may yet see eye to eye on the remarkable power of beauty to manifest the presence of truth. It is this probative force of beauty that drives Dubay's impressive reflection on how the perception of harmony instills a sense of conviction among honest seekers in both science and religion.



Thu Mar 04, 2010 2:34 pm
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
Here's my view of the suggestions that I've previously read.

Malcom Gladwell's books Blink and Tipping Point are good possibilities, since they're readable, contains interesting ideas that aren't already familiar, and provide plenty of good discussion topics. Of the two, Tipping Point might be a slightly better pick, since it seems a little more discussion-worthy.

Bonk was entertaining, but wouldn't inspire any particularly deep discourse. The conversation would mainly be of the from "can you believe ...".

Wisdom of Crowds had some really cool ideas. However, I might have found it more interesting because it's relevant the stuff I'm working on.

I recommend against Double Helix. Though it's an engaging personal history, there's not much to discuss and there are doubts about the accuracy of Watson's account. An active participant won't give a balanced account of what happened, even if that person can provide a compelling depiction of events.

I'm not inclined to reread any of those books, though I could be a casual participant in the discussion based on what I recall.

Here are a couple of books that I plan to read:

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
http://www.amazon.com/Bright-sided-Rele ... 0805087494

Quote:
Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) delivers a trenchant look into the burgeoning business of positive thinking. A bout with breast cancer puts the author face to face with this new breed of frenetic positive thinking promoted by everyone from scientists to gurus and activists. Chided for her anger and distress by doctors and fellow cancer patients and survivors, Ehrenreich explores the insistence upon optimism as a cultural and national trait, discovering its symbiotic relationship with American capitalism and how poverty, obesity, unemployment and relationship problems are being marketed as obstacles that can be overcome with the right (read: positive) mindset. Building on Max Weber's insights into the relationship between Calvinism and capitalism, Ehrenreich sees the dark roots of positive thinking emerging from 19th-century religious movements. Mary Baker Eddy, William James and Norman Vincent Peale paved the path for today's secular $9.6 billion self-improvement industry and positive psychology institutes. The author concludes by suggesting that the bungled invasion of Iraq and current economic mess may be intricately tied to this reckless national penchant for self-delusion and a lack of anxious vigilance, necessary to societal survival.


Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity by James Hansen
http://www.amazon.com/Storms-My-Grandch ... 1608192008

Quote:
Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, lays all the cards on the table in this thorough, detailed analysis of the history, science and politics of climate change, a Silent Spring-style warning cry that predicts "a rough ride" for our grandchildren. Using numerous charts and graphs alongside accessible explanations, Hansen presents copious climate data for a broad audience. After discussing the recent history of global warming science, from the Climate Task Force of 2000 to his up-to-the-minute carbon dioxide limit of 350ppm, Hansen provides recommendations for achieving greenhouse gas reduction, as well as strategies for reducing or eliminating fossil fuel use: "For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we cannot allow our government to continue to connive with the coal industry in subterfuges that allow dirty-coal use to continue." The most significant step, he says, would be creating a cost structure that escalates cost as carbon emissions increase. With of-the-moment discussion of topics such as climate vs. weather (addressing in particular the cool U.S. summer of 2009), cap-and-trade vs. fee-and-dividend, and climate change politics as well as activism, this is certain to be as controversial as it is informative. Hansen's message is stirring as well as urgent, and should be required reading for anyone involved in public policy.



Sat Mar 06, 2010 12:30 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
The Value of Nothing: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think, by Raj Patel, HarperCollins, 250 pages, $26.99

WOW look at the price on that book!!! I hope it explains somewhere in it why it costs so much...

Twenty cents for every page of paper... Is it from endangered trees? Rare ink? WTF?



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Sun Mar 07, 2010 10:02 pm
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
LOL



Mon Mar 08, 2010 6:00 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
President Camacho wrote:
The Value of Nothing: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think, by Raj Patel, HarperCollins, 250 pages, $26.99

WOW look at the price on that book!!! I hope it explains somewhere in it why it costs so much...

Twenty cents for every page of paper... Is it from endangered trees? Rare ink? WTF?

Ah, Comacho, leave it to you to point out the irony of a situation. But that price is for the hardcover, and the paperback is on sale on Amazon for 10 bucks.

But here's another suggestion and I think you'll agree it's completely different. If we don't read this one, I hope to be able to tell you about it in the new "Currently Reading" forum. I'm a former trout fisherman.

An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World (Hardcover)
~ Anders Halverson
5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

Published March 2, 2010 $17.16

Editorial Reviews
Review
"A fascinating story of man's urge to cultivate and disseminate a beautiful coldwater fish-at times to the detriment of native species but also the joy of anglers who would not otherwise have the opportunity to catch a trout. A gripping blend of early American history, discussions on taxonomy, and questions of how best to preserve wildness and the indigenous in a world where the human relationship to Nature is complex and always changing."-James Prosek, author of Trout of the World (James Prosek )

"Anyone interested in life as metaphor will find here the fascinating historical story of how different people saw their highest ideals and aspirations through the lens of a single, uncommonly compelling fish. And like democracy-but with perhaps more success-they spread it around the world. This unusually well-written, interesting book deserves a place of honor for everyone who sees in trout more than ''just'' a fish."-Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean, Eye of the Albatross, and The View From Lazy Point (Carl Safina )

"In this brilliant study, Anders Halverson illuminates the astonishing history of the rainbow trout, a native of the tributaries of eastern and western Pacific coastal rivers, introduced to at least 45 countries, and every continent except Antarctica. But why does he call it ''an entirely synthetic fish?'' You'll have to read this remarkable book for the answer."-Richard Ellis, author of Tuna: A Love Story and On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear (Richard Ellis )



Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:51 am
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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
I've noticed that several of you are making book suggestions without providing direct links to a review or description. You're dramatically decreasing the chances that your book suggestions will ever end up on a poll when you don't provide links. It is far easier to click a link and read a review than to launch a new browser, navigate to Amazon.com, copy and paste your suggested book title into the search bar of Amazon.com, and try to locate your book suggestion. Please take that extra step and do the work for us and I think you'll see more people providing feedback on your book suggestions. And feedback is what leads to a book winding up on one of our polls.



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Post Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!
I will go back into my posts and add links to my book suggestions.



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