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I have added another book to my reading list for 2018. It’s called Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery. I first learned about this book from an Idaho wheat producer, who I met this past fall at an agriculture conference in Utah. Farming where he does poses a challenge to keeping top soil…

The root of our existence

imageI have added another book to my reading list for 2018. It’s called Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery. I first learned about this book from an Idaho wheat producer, who I met this past fall at an agriculture conference in Utah. Farming where he does poses a challenge to keeping top soil in place while working to keep sustainable practices in place. He recommended the book for producers across the country, as producers need to think about reducing runoff and protecting the topsoil that sustains human life on this planet. Here is the publisher’s book description:

“Dirt, soil, call it what you want—it’s everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it’s no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are—and have long been—using up Earth’s soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.”

Posted by Joel on March 02 2018 • Books

Enlightenment Now

imageSteven Pinker’s latest book was published this week and I can’t wait to get a copy. Enlightenment Now can be seen as an extention of the argument made in his previous book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that says, contrary to public opinion, the world is getting better not worse. Data show that with regard to health, violence and poverty, science has allowed humanity to improve living stadards around the globe. That is not to say that we no longer have big problems to solve. Instead, it argues that that the ideas tools brought about by the Enlightenment (science and reason) are those which should be cherished in today’s overheated political environment.

I’ve read everything Pinker has written, and I am sure this will be another wonderful book. In fact, Bill Gates has already called it his favorite book of all time. Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s book description:

“Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature–tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

“With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.”

Extra: Read Pinker’s essay, The Intellectual War on Science, in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. It will give you a good framework for his arguments.

Posted by Joel on February 14 2018 • Books

Trust, Media and Democracy

Results from the 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy have just been released. The results show that technology had made it easier for Americans to connect with each other and to find information, but those advances also present both “challenges and opportunities for individuals and U.S. institutions,” according to the report.

“Not only is more information readily available, but so is more misinformation, and many consumers may not be able to easily discern the di erence between the two. Amid the changing informational landscape, media trust in the U.S. has been eroding, making it harder for the news media to ful ll their democratic responsibilities of informing the public and holding government leaders accountable.”

Most Americans “believe it is now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate. They increasingly perceive the media as biased and struggle to identify objective news sources. They believe the media continue to have a critical role in our democracy but are not very positive about how the media are ful lling that role.”

Medium has a good summary article about the study, 10 Reasons Why American Trust in the Media is at an All-Time Low.

Here are a few key findings that I thought were interesting from the study:

Americans believe the news media have an important role to play in democracy, particularly in terms of informing the public, yet they do not believe the media are fulfilling that role."

* Eight in 10 U.S. adults believe the news has a critical role to play in our democracy. They feel it is important for the medial to make sure Americans have the knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs and hold leaders accountable. Yet at the same time, they are more like to say the media perform these roles poorly. And “less than half of Americans, 44%, say they can think of a news source that reports the news objectively. Republicans who can name an accurate source overwhelmingly mention Fox News®, while Democrats’ responses are more varied.”

It’s increasingly harder to be a well-informed citizen

* “By 58% to 38%, Americans say it is harder rather than easier to be informed today due to the plethora of information and news sources available.”

Also, only half of Americans believe they are enough sources of information to allow people to cut through bias and sort out the facts in the news--down from 66% a generation ago.

Fact from Fiction

• “Today, 66% of Americans say most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion. In 1984, 42% held this view.”

Fake News

* A majority of U.S. adults consider “fake news” a very serious threat to our democracy.”

* “Four in 10 Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news.’”

American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy is a fascinating look into how we view and trust the news today. I encourage anyone with an interest in democracy or the media to download the PDF and read the entire report.

Posted by Joel on January 18 2018 • Journalism

A Library of Human Imagination

This must be the most remarkable personal library in the world. I’ve highlighted it before, but I recently came across this video highlighting some of its features in greater detail. It is called a library of human imagination, and it is the brainchild of Jay Walker, founder of Walker Digital. The three-level, 3,600-square-foot library includes such items as an actual Sputnik sattlelite, fossils and other artifacts, including an American flag that went to the moon. Amazing.

Posted by Joel on January 05 2018 • Books

Capitalism without Capital

imageOne book that I am looking forward to read in the coming year is a new release titled Capitalism without Capital. Its premise (in the subtitle) is how the growing importance of the intangible economy is becoming the driving economic force in today’s modern world. The book was written by Jonathan Haskel, professor of economics at Imperial College Business School, and Stian Westlake, a senior fellow at Nesta, the UK’s national foundation for innovation. The authors are are co-winners of the 2017 Indigo Prize. Here is the book’s description from Barnes and Noble:

“Early in the twenty-first century, a quiet revolution occurred. For the first time, the major developed economies began to invest more in intangible assets, like design, branding, R&D, and software, than in tangible assets, like machinery, buildings, and computers. For all sorts of businesses, from tech firms and pharma companies to coffee shops and gyms, the ability to deploy assets that one can neither see nor touch is increasingly the main source of long-term success.

“But this is not just a familiar story of the so-called new economy. Capitalism without Capital shows that the growing importance of intangible assets has also played a role in some of the big economic changes of the last decade. The rise of intangible investment is, Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake argue, an underappreciated cause of phenomena from economic inequality to stagnating productivity.

“Haskel and Westlake bring together a decade of research on how to measure intangible investment and its impact on national accounts, showing the amount different countries invest in intangibles, how this has changed over time, and the latest thinking on how to assess this. They explore the unusual economic characteristics of intangible investment, and discuss how these features make an intangible-rich economy fundamentally different from one based on tangibles.

“Capitalism without Capital concludes by presenting three possible scenarios for what the future of an intangible world might be like, and by outlining how managers, investors, and policymakers can exploit the characteristics of an intangible age to grow their businesses, portfolios, and economies.”

Posted by Joel on December 20 2017 • Books

The Battle for the Net

Net Neutrality is one of the most important issues of our time. Here is a great three-minute video from Co.Design that outlines the problem and what’s at stake with the FCC regulations.

Posted by Joel on December 04 2017 • Current Affairs

Silicon Valley's Media Takeover?

imageIf you are interested in the future of the state of journalism and media, as I am, check out this interesting story: Can Tech Startups Do Journalism? The story examines three titles--MEL, Real Life, and Van Winkle’s--and asks whether these models could be representative of the future of publishing. As interesting as the question of whether tech startups are up to the task is the notion of the changing model of publishing itself. MEL and Van Winkle’s, for instance, are published by retailers with an interest of taking part in their respective industry conversations with customers (Dollar Shave Club and Casper).

Writer Alyssa Bereznak examines the new space that these types of publications are beginning to carve out: “In its efforts to stake out some editorial integrity, Van Winkle’s wedged itself into a space between journalism and sponsored content, which the American Press Institute defines as material that “takes the same form and qualities of a publisher’s original content” and “serves useful or entertaining information as a way of favorably influencing the perception of the sponsor brand.” In her story, Bereznak also looks at other custom publications, such as Here, published by luggage company Away and others. It’s an interesting read to be sure.

Posted by Joel on November 22 2017 • Content Marketing

Notable Books of the Year

The holiday season is that time of year when the lists of the year’s best books begin to appear. The New York Times just published its annual list of the 100 notable books of the year. Looking for holiday gifts, or just a good read yourself? I usually find a few suggestions each year from the Times compilation.


Posted by Joel on November 22 2017 • Books

Remarkable Manuscripts

image I’m beginning to create a winter reading list and a new title is high on my list. It’s called Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel, a longtime Sotheby’s employee and Fellow and Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Recently published in the United States, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts looks to be a wonderful read for bibliophiles and history lovers alike. I’d recommend buying the actual hardcover book, as it is filled with many maps, photos and reproductions of some wonderful one-of-a-kind artifacts. Here is a portion of the publisher’s description of the book:

“The idea for the book, which is entirely new, is to invite the reader into intimate conversations with twelve of the most famous manuscripts in existence and to explore with the author what they tell us about nearly a thousand years of medieval history - and sometimes about the modern world too. Christopher de Hamel introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, artists, librarians, thieves, dealers, collectors and the international community of manuscript scholars, showing us how he and his fellows piece together evidence to reach unexpected conclusions. He traces the elaborate journeys which these exceptionally precious artefacts have made through time and space, shows us how they have been copied, who has owned them or lusted after them (and how we can tell), how they have been embroiled in politics and scholarly disputes, how they have been regarded as objects of supreme beauty and luxury and as symbols of national identity. The book touches on religion, art, literature, music, science and the history of taste.

“Part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art in our culture which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible. At the end, we have a slightly different perspective on history and how we come by knowledge. It is a most unusual book.”

For other treasures check out this story from Atlas Obscura: The Oldest Treasures from 12 Great Libraries. They ask each library to highlight the oldest item in their collection.

Posted by Joel on November 05 2017 • Books

Battle for Magazine Readers' Attention


Folio published an interesting infographic this past summer that highlights some of the efforts magazine publishers are making to attract and keep reader attention. A couple of interesting stats show that longform writing can still attract readers when it is good:

* 3.4 million, number of minutes of combined reading time garnered over a 24-hour period by GQ Style’s 6,000-word profile of Brad Pitt.

* 2, consecutive single-day traffic records for TheAtlantic.com set by Alex Tizon’s June cover story, “My Family’s Slave”

A couple extra stats caught my eye:

* 9 months, lifetime of Conde Nast’s Style.com from launch to shutdown

* 37%, share of marketers who will plan to add messaging apps as a distribution channel in the next year

Posted by Joel on October 05 2017 • Journalism