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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

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

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

Churchill and Orwell

image Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks has written a new book that I believe will be another best-seller: a dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. From the publisher’s description of the book: “No one would have predicted that by the end of the 20th century they would be considered two of the most important people in British history for having the vision and courage to campaign tirelessly, in words and in deeds, against the totalitarian threat from both the left and the right.” Churchill and Orwell both believed that freedom was the important issue and that “a government that denied its people basic freedoms was a totalitarian menace and had to be resisted.”

Also from the publisher’s description: “In the end, Churchill and Orwell proved their age’s necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill and Orwell is the work they both did in the decade of the 1940’s to triumph over freedom’s enemies. And though Churchill played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, Orwell’s reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 would define the stakes of the Cold War for its 50-year course, and continues to give inspiration to fighters for freedom to this day. Taken together, in Thomas E. Ricks’s masterful hands, their lives are a beautiful testament to the power of moral conviction, and to the courage it can take to stay true to it, through thick and thin.”

I’m looking forward to picking up a copy. Watch an interview with the author from CSPAN here.

Posted by Joel on June 11 2017 • Books

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman

imageThis looks to be an interesting read from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Miriam Horn: Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland. The book was also recently made into a documentary, narrated by Tom Brokaw. From the book description:

“Many of the men and women doing today’s most consequential environmental work—restoring America’s grasslands, wildlife, soil, rivers, wetlands, and oceans—would not call themselves environmentalists; they would be too uneasy with the connotations of that word. What drives them is their deep love of the land: the iconic terrain where explorers and cowboys, pioneers and riverboat captains forged the American identity. They feel a moral responsibility to preserve this heritage and natural wealth, to ensure that their families and communities will continue to thrive.Unfolding as a journey down the Mississippi River, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman tells the stories of five representatives of this stewardship movement: a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper, and a Gulf fisherman. In exploring their work and family histories and the essential geographies they protect, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman challenges pervasive and powerful myths about American and environmental values.”

Posted by Joel on April 30 2017 • Books

New York City's Book Row

A nice video tribute to New York City’s famed Book Row which ran along 4th Avenue.

Posted by Joel on January 28 2017 • Books

Best Books of the Year

What was your favorite book you read this year? Many great best-of-the-year lists are out, including My Bookshelf, Myself and the year’s 10 Best Books from the New York Times as well as 16 Favorites from Brain Pickings and the Smithsonian’s Best Books about Innovation and Science. Bill Gate’s always highlights his favorite reads of the year in a video. This year he picks a few that will soon be on my list:

image Recently I have enjoyed well-written biography more than anything else. A talented biographer not only tells a very personal story, but she also carries the reader through the time period in which the subject made their impact on the world. The reader learns about philosophy, history and science while following a captivating narrative. More biographies are already on my list for 2017.

This year, I read two very good examples of the craft: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin; and Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson.

Kai Bird is a wonderful author, and the news has it that he is at work on a biography of Jimmy Carter during his White House years. I would like to end this post with a quote from another favorite president: Barack Obama. It’s included in another book I’ve nearly finished, Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late. The quote is about story and its power to shape our culture.

“What makes our species unique is that we are not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.”

Happy Holidays!

Posted by Joel on December 21 2016 • Books