Friday, December 19, 2008

This Week at the Library (19/12)

Books this Update:

I began this week with a large book spanning the social sciences: Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel is well-known for connecting the environment of the success of civilization. That book has shaped my thinking, and is probably responsible for making me look for connections between the various social sciences themselves and between they and the 'real' sciences. While in that book Diamond focused on the success of civilizations based on the environment and ecology of the area they were based in, in this he examines the reasons why civilizations decline. While he establishes a five-point framework to deal with the question, the book is overwhelmingly focused on the environmental and subsequently economic reasons they fall. After using Montana as a case-study to show that environmental issues do affect the lives of people in economic ways, he examines various ancient and modern civilizations using the framework he established. He also looks into the reasons why people fail to respond to environmental/economic concerns when they rise and then defends the idea that the lessons from the examples he used can be used to help us. I found the book to be thought-provoking and quite well-written.

Next I read Modern Science by Ray Spangenburg and Diane Kit Moser in their modern "History of Science" series. This book covers science from 1896 to 1945. As usual, the book is short, clear, and concise. They explain more abstract scientific concepts well while writing a narrative that holds together. As usual, the book is divided into three parts: Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Science in Society. In the first part, they examine physics, astronomy, and that sort of thing. In the second part, they look at biology and particularly at the search for human ancestors. They include information on the Piltdown hoax. The last part is the briefest and concerns mainly the rise of women in the sciences.

Lastly I read This I Believe II. It is a second collection of essays in which people write about the beliefs that they live by. The essays concern not religious or philophical disicplines, but singular ideas like "I believe in living in the moment" and "I believe in the power of redemption". I found this collection of essays to be enriching, if not as much as the previous collection -- perhaps because I read this too soon after reading the first collection. I should return to this book later when I'm not quite so full, so to speak. The essays are submitted from people from all walks of life.

Pick of the Week: Collapse: How Socieities Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond

Quotation of the Week:
"What I want more than ever is to appreciate that I have this day, and tomorrow, and hopefully days beyond that. I am experiencing the learning curve of gratitude. I don't want to say 'have a nice day' like a robot. I don't want to get mad at the elderly driver in front of me. I don't want to go crazy when my Internet access is messed up. I don't want to be jealous of someone else's success. You could say that this litany of sins indicates that I don't want to be human. The learning curve of gratitude, however, is showing me exactly how human I am." - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Future Reading:
  • Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov
  • Science Frontiers, Spangenburg and Moser
  • The Pinball Effect , James Burke
  • Where Do We Go From Here?, ed. Isaac Asimov
  • The Echo of Greece, Edith Hamilton

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