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:
(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.