Who was the great villain of the 20th century—the person most to blame for the evils of those decades? The stock answer is the person whose name is an anagram of “HEIL! OLD FART.” I disagree. It seems to me the title properly belongs to Lenin, the guy who really got the totalitarian ball rolling.... Read More
The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, John H. McWhorter
Chinese has an extraordinary number of verbs meaning “carry.” If I carry something on a hanging arm, like a briefcase, the verb is ti; on an outstretched palm, tuo; using both palms, peng; gripped between upper arm and body, xie; in my hand, like a stick,wo; embraced, like a baby, bao; on my back, bei;... Read More
The title I wanted for my 2009 call to pessimism was We Are Doomed, Doomed. The publisher thought that was too dark, though, so I settled at last for
Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts, by...
How far back is your earliest memory? What age? In a recent Canadian study cited by Charles Fernyhough, the average was four and a quarter years. “Very few memories dated from before the age of about two and a half.” I’m out in the early tail of that distribution. My family moved from cramped rented... Read More
The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity, by Pedro G. Ferreira
On November 25, 1915, Einstein presented his new equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in a short three-page paper,” this author tells us. Thus was the General Theory of Relativity born, after of course some years of gestation in
What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night, Edited by John Brockman
Fifty-five years ago British novelist, mandarin, and ex-scientist C.P. Snow gave a lecture at Cambridge university titled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution." Snow deplored the mutual aloofness that, he said, existed between scientists and those educated in the humanities. The lecture set off a major public debate, and the phrase "two cultures" was... Read More
Hard Road Home, by Ye Fu
Taking humanity at large, perhaps the greatest service any person of our time could perform for future generations would be to bring rational, consensual government to China. That such a populous nation, with such high general levels of industriousness and intelligence, and with such a glittering cultural legacy, should be ruled by a clique of... Read More
The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting, by...
Child-raising is something everyone can have an opinion about. We were all children once. We interacted with other children—siblings, classmates. If we are middle-aged, we have probably raised children of our own. Many of us have worked as teachers, struggling to engage with half-formed juvenile minds. Practically everyone has a good base of experience to... Read More
Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, edited by John Brockman
Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the
Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by John R. Hibbing,...
The sentry in
“The book that people are reading now,” according to
Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China, Stephen Roach
China forecasting is a mug’s game. The terrible example before us all is Gordon Chang, who in 2001 published a book titled
The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us, by Noson S. Yanofsky
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice / Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice.”
Computing: A Concise History, Paul E. Ceruzzi
This time last year all I was hearing about was MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses, in which university-level instruction, sometimes by big-name lecturers, is provided free over the Internet to anyone who wants it.
Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars, by Lee Billings
In The Principles of Philosophy (1642) Descartes lamented: "We do not doubt but that many things exist, or formerly existed and have now ceased to be, which were never seen or known by man, and were never of use to him." Descartes didn't know the half of it. As our understanding of the natural world... Read More
Sincerity: How a Moral Ideal Born Five Hundred Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars, Modern Art, Hipster Chic, and...
The word “sincere” first showed up in written English in 1533, the author of this useful book tells us. It came with, or soon acquired, a very pretty etymology, from the Latin sine cera, “
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, by Allen C. Guelzo
To write a book about the Battle of Gettysburg is as audacious an enterprise as Robert E. Lee's Pennsylvania campaign itself. Allen Guelzo, in this book's Acknowledgments, tells us that the 2004 edition of a standard bibliography lists 6,193 "books, articles, chapters, and pamphlets on the battle," along with a 128-page magazine, published twice yearly... Read More
I was slow on the uptake in understanding Chinese communism’s awfulness. I’d been a lefty in my student days without knowing anything much about China. Toward the end of those days, female Chinese author Han Suyin published
As a science geek from way back—
The Milky Way: An Insider's Guide, by William H. Waller
A Palette of Particles,...
The British philosopher J.L. Austin coined the handy phrase "medium-sized dry goods" to describe the world of everyday phenomena that the human nervous system is best suited to cope with, phenomena ranging in size from a grain of dust to a landscape. Within that range our senses and cognition are at home. All our intuitions... Read More
Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, by Roger Scruton
Thus Rev. Thwackum, the schoolmaster in Tom Jones. That was the 1730s, or about halfway through Roger Scruton's Our Church. The Rev. Thwackum is drawn satirically, but his smugness was well justified. The religious passions of the previous century had subsided or been pushed off to inconsequential border territories in Ireland and the North American... Read More
War and Democracy: Selected Essays 1975-2012, Paul Gottfried
The last time I saw Paul Gottfried was at