Recent Reading

2004-12-26

In the last five days or so I've read the following books, each of which was about 200 pages long (perfect for absorbing in one evening):

Anti-Americanism by Jean-Francois Revel, who is perhaps the only outspoken pro-American in France. :-) Well, that's probably not quite true, but Revel argues persuasively that anti-Americanism the world over (and specifically in France) is a kind of mythology that is driven less by facts than by dogma. And the nature of that dogma is a near-religious opposition to capitalism, the free market, spontaneous order, classical liberalism, and the open society.

The Journey of Man by Spencer Wells, a fascinating reconstruction of the spread of humankind out of Africa to the far corners of the planet, starting sometime in the last 70,000 years (which happens to be sometime after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Toba). Population genetics is cool, especially as supplemented by archeology and linguistics in the study of human origins and diffusion.

On the same topic, I also just read Genes, People, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, which is not quite as engaging and coherent as Wells' account, but which has the virtue of more mathematical sophistication (plus it contains a final chapter on cultural evolution, which is quite fascinating).

The Way of the World by David Fromkin. Here Fromkin tells the story of the universe from the big bang to about 5 years ago. And I do not say that facetiously -- it's a rollicking romp through history as well a peek at what's next (hint: you ain't seen nothing yet, and open societies will be best prepared for the coming changes -- he even suggests the desirability of greater cooperation between America, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand, although he does not mention the Anglosphere by name). I especially appreciate Fromkin's focus on the representation of information, from DNA to spoken language to writing to printing to the digital world. His book provides some helpful context for the coming phase shift.

I've also gotten about halfway through Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. Their basic argument is that if you take care of yourself now, you just might get to live forever (given the coming advances in medical science and nanotechnology). So cut those carbs, eat your vegetables, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly -- you too could become immortal! ;-)


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal