Books for intelligent people

BOOKS FOR INTELLIGENT PEOPLEWouldn’t that be a great title for a series of posts?

I must confess I didn’t do a whole lot of reading in 2013. So when we were volunteering in Italy, I binged on our host’s collection. Here’s a few titles in particular that stood out:

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell tries to make dense topics accessible to your everyday Jane and Joe, and does a darn good job of it.

Blink tackles the subject of gut instinct and first impressions, which most of us recognise the importance and impact of. T is big on spontaneity and going with your first instinct, while I agonise endlessly over the smallest decisions. He tends to make snap decisions, while I second guess myself. I think it’s fair to say each approach has its merits, based on the situation at hand. Gladwell seems to agree

If you’re interested in Gladwell’s work, you might find these two links interesting:

Malcolm Gladwell Is America’s Best-Paid Fairy-Tale Writer

Why Malcolm Gladwell Matters (And Why That’s Unfortunate)

(hint: they’re about the worth of pop psychology and Gladwell’s own contributions to the field)

Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice – Jack Holland

As if the current state of inequality wasn’t bad enough! Reading back through the centuries of horror inflicted upon women will twist your gut with rage and disbelief. I found the chapter about the cultural evolution of Mary (as in mother of God) particularly fascinating. If you’re religious, you might not like it quite as much

It is almost entirely Western-centric, although to be honest, I wasn’t too fussed about that, because I’m not sure how many more pages of injustice I could tolerate. Oh, the things carried out in the name of religion, entertainment and democracy…

Some excellent quotes include:

“The right to choose is always the key to progress for women, as it is for men.”

“Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”

“The idea of women having sex without risking pregnancy is deeply disturbing to the vision of women’s role that Western civilization has inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

The European Dream – Jeremy Rifkin

Reading this in the wake of the GFC (it was written way before the economic crisis, well before Europe’s crash) was an interesting exercise. It examines the differences between American and European lifestyles and culture, and since we were about to go straight from Europe to North America, it was especially pertinent for me.

From American settlement by some pretty hardcore religious types to the current state of play, it fleshed out my understanding of this country. (Aside: I get why the USA is so heavily religious. But I’ve always thought this was slightly incongruous in a sense, given that the American Dream is all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It seems to me that atheism would be more compatible with the bootstrapping philosophy…)

What struck me most in this book was the point that one area in which the cultures sharply diverge is in relation to the death penalty. While guns and healthcare (and more recently, reproductive rights) usually dominate the discourse, of all the things us non-Americans are united on, being vehemently against the death penalty is also right up there – it’s just not such a hot button topic, I guess, when there are so many other wrongs to keep us occupied.

Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium – Carl Sagan

Confession: I only had a very, very vague idea of who Carl Sagan actually was. When I spotted this spine among the shelves, I picked it up. And right away, Sagan seriously blew my mind. This line about fossil fuels made me wonder why I’d never made the linguistic connection before:

“Coal, oil and gas are called fossil fuels, because they are mostly made of the fossil remains of beings from long ago. The chemical energy within them is a kind of stored sunlight originally accumulated by ancient plants. Our civilization runs by burning the remains of humble creatures who inhabited the Earth hundreds of millions of years before the first humans came on the scene. Like some ghastly cannibal cult, we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives.”

 Colour me creeped out. Thank you Carl for enlightening me on yet another truly messed up aspect of modern culture.

 What good books have you read lately – smartypants books or otherwise?

10 thoughts on “Books for intelligent people

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. January 28, 2014 at 13:34

    I really want to read Misogyny and European Dream… but can’t find them in my local e-book library.

    I just finished Blink but didn’t like it as much as his other books to be honest 🙂

  • Reply krantcents January 28, 2014 at 14:04

    Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors! I read all his books including his latest, David and Goliath. Whether you agree with him or not, his observations are very interesting.

  • Reply Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) January 28, 2014 at 16:02

    Interesting to see that all the books you featured are non-fiction. Just curious to know whether this is because your host’s tastes skewed that way, your own personal reading proclivities do, or whether you think that non-fiction is “smarter” (or for smarter folks) than fiction.

    As my background is in Psychology, I’ve a natural interest in the topic, but I can never read any of the Pop Psych books that are published as they inevitably gloss over details or make unfounded generalizations that drive me bonkers.

    • Reply eemusings January 28, 2014 at 16:15

      Ooooh, let’s see. Well, host’s tastes definitely skewed towards Serious Stuff. I imagine Gladwell definitely drives you bonkers, esp given his background.

      I personally almost never read nonfiction, I don’t seek it out. I don’t consider it inherently superior to fiction – there’s plenty of nonfiction dross just as there’s lots of fiction drivel. That said, given my personal reading habits, I definitely think there’s a lot more I can potentially learn from nonfiction books as a general rule. I do find literary fiction very challenging as well, and can challenge me to think about the world around me just as much as highbrow nonfiction can (right now I’m going through a Meg Wolitzer phase). If you’re on Goodreads, you can find me here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4292171-esther

      • Reply Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) January 30, 2014 at 16:13

        I have added you on GR! I am a huge book nerd (prior to starting 20YH, we had a book blog), though like you, I naturally gravitate towards fiction, maybe the occasional memoir. I can do non-fic if it’s done in a conversational style, but if it’s akin to a textbook (of which I have read MANY during my 20+ years at school), I wind up bored beyond belief.

        • Reply eemusings January 30, 2014 at 17:09

          I think we are literary soulmates. Memoirs are probably my favourite kind of nonfic, but I can handle the occasional more educational nonfic book if it’s written right 🙂 I basically refused to ever read nonfic until I hit my 20s; I hated that one of my teachers at school insisted we read something like 1 nonfic for every fictional book we borrowed from the library (and ignored him).

  • Reply La Tejana @ Debt Free Tejana January 28, 2014 at 17:32

    My latest book love for the last few months has been economics. “Sway” by Brafman and Brafman and “Nudge” by Sunstein and Thaler are my recent favorites. They discuss the economics of human behavior. Very worthy reads!

  • Reply Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life January 29, 2014 at 02:54

    I’m curious to read “Misogyny”. I’ve never been much of a feminist, but the amount of women’s issues being attacked these gets me angry.

  • Reply Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter January 29, 2014 at 03:10

    Blink has been on my list to read for quite some time but I haven’t gotten around to it. Right now I’m reading The End of Overeating, and just finished the Book Thief.

  • Reply Holly January 31, 2014 at 19:53

    Oh, I might just have to buy the book on misogyny! Thank you for sharing this enlightening post!

    Also, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments on my blog during my SITS day!!

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