By Karl Arnold Belser
17 November 2012


Why should one, especially an old person like me, have a reading list? My answer is: survival and curiosity, not only for me but for anyone interested in an effective life.


I am a PhD electrical engineer and as such I am biased toward a scientific view of many things.  However, I know from the work of Gödel and Turing that there are aspects of reality that I cannot know because of my limited senses and limited conceptualizing power. This "unpredictable" part of reality does manifest itself in everyday life, especially in the behavior of living things. My interest in reading is to eliminate my biases and to understand, as well as I can, this part of reality.


I believe that understanding human behavior is key to being effective.

I have profited greatly using my scientific skills.  I am now investing to make a part of my income as a retired person. I haven't found my knowledge of science to be helpful in this endeavor. I believe that profitable investing requires a knowledge of behavioral economics


I try to base my big picture view of the future on data and first principles. I hope that my selection of books is not confirmation bias. I consider myself to be a philosophical skeptic.

 I note that the world population had been in a steady state economy for thousands of years until democracy empowered individuals through  the scientific revolution. The resulting industrial advances have resulted in high population growth and higher standards of living in many parts of the world.

On one side, the politicians and economists are projecting continuous economic growth so that everyone on Earth might be able to have a high standard of living.
This might be viewed as the utopia of Socialism in which everyone contributes, or it might be viewed  as the tyranny of the majority where many people are supported by the work of a few.

On the other side,
the books The Great Disruption by Gilding and Collapse by Diamond suggest that the Earth's resources are currently being overused, which would mean that it might be impossible for a large population to have a high standard of living. Further, the books The Closing of the American Mind by Bloom, Coming Apart by Murray and Bowling Alone by Putnam give data that the American society is in decline. If this decline is worldwide, which I think it might be, then I wonder where the wealth to support a growing population will come from?

The real question is: Will there be significant breakthroughs that will allow continued population growth? I don't see these inventions happening today. I note, however, that human beings have been creative and inventive in unexpected ways.

This lack of innovation suggests that the population of the Earth might have to become smaller and that its inhabitants might have to return to a more steady state economy. 
If what I suspect is true is actually true then there is a high probability of a world wide crisis in the future.  

Will this future be a mass extinction like what happened to the native Americans when the Europeans came as described in Mann's 1491? Will the future be a revolution like the end of the feudal system as suggested by Judson in It Could Happen Here? This
would be a refutation of Steven Pinker's peaceful evolution described in Better Angels of Our Nature. Will the future be a political epiphany resulting in miraculous solutions to the litany of problems in the world today as described by Friedman in That Used to be Us? Might the future be an evolution to a higher state of being like in Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel Childhood's End. I have read these books in the name of having a prepared mind about what might happen.

My question is: How can a person prepare for and mitigate the effects of this kind of crisis?

I am actively preparing myself to be robust to extreme "black swan" events. Hence, the other books in this collection are aimed at being well informed, thinking clearly, problem solving, and having a prepared mind.


I am legally blind (visually impaired) and many of the books listed came in an audio format from the National Library Service of the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). In addition, I have linked the books to corresponding Amazon reviews or Wikipedia articles (if there is one) so that I might refresh my memory regarding the contents of the books.


Bloom, Allan David -The Closing of the American Mind - DB25999  Wikipedia

 In 1987, eminent political philosopher Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind, an appraisal of contemporary America that “hits with the approximate force and effect of electroshock therapy” (The New York Times) and has not only been vindicated, but has also become more urgent today. In clear, spirited prose, Bloom argues that the social and political crises of contemporary America are part of a larger intellectual crisis: the result of a dangerous narrowing of curiosity and exploration by the university elites.  (Amazon)

Clarke, Arthur,C. - Childhood's End  Wikipedia

Childhood's End is a 1953 science fiction novel by the British author Arthur C. Clarke. The story follows the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival ends all war, helps form a world government, and turns the planet into a near-utopia. Many questions are asked about the origins and mission of the aliens, but they avoid answering, preferring to remain in their spacecraft, governing through indirect rule. Decades later, the Overlords show themselves, and their impact on human culture leads to a Golden Age. However, the last generation of children on Earth begins to display powerful psychic abilities, heralding their evolution into a group mind, a transcendent form of life.  (Wikipedia)

Diamond, Jared - Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Environmental damage, climate change, globalization, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of societies around the world, but some found solutions and persisted. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe, and weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Collapse moves from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.  (Amazon)

Diamond, Jared - Guns,Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies

Guns, Germs, and Steel is a brilliant work answering the question of why the peoples of certain continents succeeded in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples.  Until around 11,000 BC, all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas, and Africa, farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide.The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and geography. But how did differences in societies arise? Why weren't native Australians, Americans, or Africans the ones to colonize Europe? Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences. He assembles convincing evidence linking germs to domestication of animals, germs that Eurasians then spread in epidemic proportions in their voyages of discovery. In its sweep, Guns, Germs and Steel encompasses the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, providing a unifying theory of human history as intriguing as the histories of dinosaurs and glaciers.  (Amazon)

Duhigg, Charles -The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business - DB74596

This book points out how personal, organizational and societal habits affect us. For example, a young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed. Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year. An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones. (Amazon)
Eagleman, David M. - Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain - DB73699 

If the conscious mind--the part you consider to be you--is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?  In this sparkling and provocative book, renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman navigates the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate its surprising mysteries. Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Is there a true Mel Gibson? How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war? What do Odysseus and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common? Why are people whose names begin with J more like to marry other people whose names begin with J? And why is it so difficult to keep a secret?  Taking in brain damage, plane spotting, dating, drugs, beauty, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, artificial intelligence, and visual illusions, Incognito is a thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions. (Amazon)

Fox, Justin -The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street - DB71517

The financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession demolished many cherished beliefs—most significantly, the theory that financial markets always get things right. Justin Fox's
The Myth of the Rational Market explains where that idea came from, and where it went wrong. As much an intellectual whodunit as a cultural history of the perils and possibilities of risk, it also brings to life the people and ideas that forged modern finance and investing—from the formative days of Wall Street through the Great Depression and into the financial calamities of today. It's a tale featuring professors who made and lost fortunes, battled fiercely over ideas, beat the house at blackjack, wrote bestselling books, and played major roles on the world stage. It's also a story of free-market capitalism's war with itself.   (Amazon)

Friedman, George -The Next One Hundred Years: A Forecast for the Twenty-first Century - DB68611 

In his thought-provoking new book, George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR—the preeminent private intelligence and forecasting firm—focuses on what he knows best, the future. Positing that civilization is at the dawn of a new era, he offers a lucid, highly readable forecast of the changes we can expect around the world during the twenty-first century all based on his own thorough analysis and research. For example, The U.S.-Jihadist war will be replaced by a new cold war with Russia; China’s role as a world power will diminish; Mexico will become an important force on the geopolitical stage; and new technologies and cultural trends will radically alter the way we live (and fight wars). Riveting reading from first to last, The Next 100 Years is a fascinating exploration of what the future holds for all of us.   (Amazon)

Friedman, Milton - Capitalism and Freedom  Wikipedia

How can we benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat it poses to individual freedom? In this classic book, Milton Friedman provides the definitive statement of his immensely influential economic philosophy—one in which competitive capitalism serves as both a device for achieving economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom. The result is an accessible text that has sold well over half a million copies in English, has been translated into eighteen languages, and shows every sign of becoming more and more influential as time goes on.   (Amazon)

Friedman, Thomas L. - Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America - DB6756    Wikipedia

In this brilliant, essential book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas L. Friedman speaks to America's urgent need for national renewal and explains how a green revolution can bring about both a sustainable environment and a sustainable America.  Friedman explains how global warming, rapidly growing populations, and the expansion of the world’s middle class through globalization have produced a dangerously unstable planet--one that is "hot, flat, and crowded."  
He also shows how the very habits that led us to ravage the natural world led to the meltdown of the financial markets and the Great Recession.  The challenge of a sustainable way of life presents the United States with an opportunity not only to rebuild its economy, but to lead the world in radically innovating toward cleaner energy.  And it could inspire Americans to something we haven't seen in a long time--nation-building in America--by summoning the intelligence, creativity, and concern for the common good that are our greatest national resources.   (Amazon)

Friedman, Thomas L. -That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back - DB73805  Wikipedia

In That Used to Be Us, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum analyze the four major challenges we face as a country---globalization, the revolution in information technology, chronic deficits, and our pattern of energy consumption---and spell out what we need to do now to preserve American power in the world. The end of the Cold War blinded the nation to the need to address these issues seriously, and China’s educational successes, industrial might, and technological prowess in many ways remind us of a time when “that used to be us.” But Friedman and Mandelbaum show how America’s history, when properly understood, offers a five-part formula for prosperity that will enable us to cope successfully with the challenges we face. That Used to Be Us is both a searching exploration of the American condition today and a rousing manifesto for American renewal.   (Amazon)

Gawande, Atul -The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right - DB70422

The modern world has given us stupendous know-how. Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry—in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail. Atul Gawande makes a compelling argument that we can do better, using the simplest of methods: the checklist. In riveting stories, he reveals what checklists can do, what they can’t, and how they could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds. And the insights are making a difference.   (Amazon)

Gilding, Paul -The Great Disruption

It's time to stop just worrying about climate change, says Paul Gilding. Instead, we need to brace for impact, because global crisis is no longer avoidable; we have come to the end of a world economy based on consumption and waste, where we live beyond the means of our planet's resources. The Great Disruption offers a stark and unflinching look at the challenge humanity faces-yet also a deeply optimistic message. The coming decades will see loss, suffering, and conflict as our planetary overdraft is paid; however, they will also bring out the best humanity can offer: compassion, innovation, resilience, and adaptability. Gilding tells us how to fight-and win-what he calls the "one-degree war" to prevent catastrophic warming of the earth, and how to start today.   (Amazon)

Gladwell, Malcolm - Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking - DB60186 

Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of an eye-that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others? In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of "blink": the election of Warren Harding; "New Coke"; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police.    (Amazon)

Gladwell, Malcolm - Outliers: The Story of Success - DB68164 

Malcolm Gladwell  asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band    (Amazon)

Gladwell, Malcolm - The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - DB50027 

he tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.   (Amazon)

Hallinan, Joseph T. - Why We Make Mistakes

We human beings have design flaws. Our eyes play tricks on us, our stories change in the retelling, and most of us are fairly sure we’re way above average. In Why We Make Mistakes, journalist Joseph T. Hallinan sets out to explore the captivating science of human error—how we think, see, remember, and forget, and how this sets us up for wholly irresistible mistakes. In his quest to understand our imperfections, Hallinan delves into psychology, neuroscience, and economics, with forays into aviation, consumer behavior, geography, football, stock picking, and more. He discovers that some of the same qualities that make us efficient also make us error prone. We learn to move rapidly through the world, quickly recognizing patterns—but overlooking details. Which is why thirteen-year-old boys discover errors that NASA scientists miss—and why you can’t find the beer in your refrigerator.   (Amazon)

Hayek, F.A. - The Road to Serfdom - DB59508

An unimpeachable classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in 1944—when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock, and barrel to the socialist program—The Road to Serfdom was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production. For F. A. Hayek, the collectivist idea of empowering government with increasing economic control would lead not to a utopia but to the horrors of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. First published by the University of Chicago Press on September 18, 1944, The Road to Serfdom garnered immediate, widespread attention. The first printing of 2,000 copies was exhausted instantly, and within six months more than 30,000 books were sold. In April 1945, Reader’s Digest published a condensed version of the book, and soon thereafter the Book-of-the-Month Club distributed this edition to more than 600,000 readers. A perennial best seller, the book has sold 400,000 copies in the United States alone and has been translated into more than twenty languages, along the way becoming one of the most important and influential books of the century.   (Amazon)

Herrnstein, Richard J. - The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life - DB39153 

Breaking new ground and old taboos, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray tell the story of a society in transformation. At the top, a cognitive elite is forming in which the passkey to the best schools and the best jobs is no longer social background but high intelligence. At the bottom, the common denominator of the underclass is increasingly low intelligence rather than racial or social disadvantage. The Bell Curve describes the state of scientific knowledge about questions that have been on people's minds for years but have been considered too sensitive to talk about openly -- among them, IQ's relationship to crime, unemployment, welfare, child neglect, poverty, and illegitimacy; ethnic differences in intelligence; trends in fertility among women of different levels of intelligence; and what policy can do -- and cannot do -- to compensate for differences in intelligence. Brilliantly argued and meticulously documented, The Bell Curve is the essential first step in coming to grips with the nation's social problems. (Amazon)

Judson, Bruce - It Could Happen Here: America on the Brink - DB70467  

n the midst of a severe economic downturn, the US is whipsawed by news of stock market drops, layoffs, foreclosures, and bailouts. The mortgage and housing bubble are blamed, and everyone only looks backward and forward a few months or a year at a time. But what if the underlying economic crisis is much deeper and more fundamental? What if it began in the 1970s, and shows no sign of easing despite massive government intervention and political change in Washington? Bruce Judson began this book with two contradictory beliefs. First, inequality in America has reached historic highs that have been intolerable throughout human history, leading to violent political change. Second, America will never face a revolution because it's politics are peaceful. These two beliefs cannot both be true. Which one is stronger? In "It Could Happen Here", Judson makes a plausible case that revolution is possible here, triggered by some kind of unexpected shock - and he proceeds to make the most disturbing case yet for why our economics are leading us inevitably toward a crisis. The last time inequality reached anything close to current levels was in 1928, just before the Crash and Great Depression. Today, we are in worse shape, based on a trend that has been increasing since the mid-1970s. Government bailouts and budget gimmicks won't do a thing to reverse this trend. And as Judson shows, America's inequality rivals that of the Soviet Union prior to its 1991 collapse, and that of France in 1789. Time to stop worrying about any single bailout or tax increase - and start worrying about the existential threat of America's collapsing middle class, and the plutocrats who are the sole winners.  (Amazon)

Kahneman, Daniel - Thinking, Fast and Slow - DB73958 

The book's central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman's own research on loss aversion. From framing choices to substitution, the book highlights several decades of academic research to suggest that we place too much confidence in human judgment. The book covers all three phases of Kahneman's career: his early days working on cognitive bias, his work on prospect theory, and his later work on happiness.  (Wikipedia)

Lane, Nick - Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution - DB70674

Where does DNA come from? What is consciousness? How did the eye evolve? Drawing on a treasure trove of new scientific knowledge, Nick Lane expertly reconstructs evolution’s history by describing its ten greatest inventions—from sex and warmth to death—resulting in a stunning account of nature’s ingenuity.  (Amazon)

Lehrer, Jonah - How We Decide - DB69978 

 Philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.

Levitt, Steven D. - Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - DB60337 Wikipedia

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?  How much do parents really matter?  These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to parenting and sports—and reaches conclusions that turn conventional wisdom on its head.    (Amazon) 

Levitt, Steven D. - Superfreakonomics Wikipedia

Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What's more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it's so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary? SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:  How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?   (Amazon)

Lynas, Mark - Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet - DB70468

Possibly the most graphic treatment of global warming that has yet been published, Six Degrees is what readers of Al Gore's best-selling An Inconvenient Truth or Ross Gelbspan's Boiling Point will turn to next. Written by the acclaimed author of High Tide, this highly relevant and compelling book uses accessible journalistic prose to distill what environmental scientists portend about the consequences of human pollution for the next hundred years.  In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report projecting average global surface temperatures to rise between 1.4 degrees and 5.8 degrees Celsius (roughly 2 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. Based on this forecast, author Mark Lynas outlines what to expect from a warming world, degree by degree. At 1 degree Celsius, most coral reefs and many mountain glaciers will be lost. A 3-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance of Greenland's ice sheet, and the creation of deserts across the Midwestern United States and southern Africa. A 6-degree increase would eliminate most life on Earth, including much of humanity.  Based on authoritative scientific articles, the latest computer models, and information about past warm events in Earth history, Six Degrees promises to be an eye-opening warning that humanity will ignore at its peril.  (Amazon)

Mann, Charles C. -1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus - DB61198 

In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.  Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beg
  (Amazon)inning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.   (Amazon)

Mlodinow, Leonard - Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior - DB74907

Leonard Mlodinow, the best-selling author of The Drunkard’s Walk and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking), gives us a startling and eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our experience of the world and how, for instance, we often misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates, misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions, and misremember important events. Your preference in politicians, the amount you tip your waiter—all judgments and perceptions reflect the workings of our mind on two levels: the conscious, of which we are aware, and the unconscious, which is hidden from us. The latter has long been the subject of speculation, but over the past two decades researchers have developed remarkable new tools for probing the hidden, or subliminal, workings of the mind. The result of this explosion of research is a new science of the unconscious and a sea change in our understanding of how the subliminal mind affects the way we live. Employing his trademark wit and lucid, accessible explanations of the most obscure scientific subjects, Leonard Mlodinow takes us on a tour of this research, unraveling the complexities of the subliminal self and increasing our understanding of how the human mind works and how we interact with friends, strangers, spouses, and coworkers. In the process he changes our view of ourselves and the world around us.  (Amazon)

Murray, Charles - Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 - DB74440 

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.  Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.    (Amazon)

Murray, Charles - Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences  ikipedia
In irregular times and in scattered settings, human beings have achieved great things. Human Accomplishment is about those great things, falling in the domains known as the arts and sciences, and the people who did them.- So begins Charles Murray's unique account of human excellence, from the age of Homer to our own time. Employing techniques that historians have developed over the last century but that have rarely been applied to books written for the general public, Murray compiles inventories of the people who have been essential to the stories of literature, music, art, philosophy, and the sciences--a total of 4,002 men and women from around the world, ranked according to their eminence. The heart of Human Accomplishment is a series of enthralling descriptive chapters: on the giants in the arts and what sets them apart from the merely great; on the differences between great achievement in the arts and in the sciences; on the meta-inventions, 14 crucial leaps in human capacity to create great art and science; and on the patterns and trajectories of accomplishment across time and geography. Straightforwardly and undogmatically, Charles Murray takes on some controversial questions. Why has accomplishment been so concentrated in Europe? Among men? Since 1400? He presents evidence that the rate of great accomplishment has been declining in the last century, asks what it means, and offers a rich framework for thinking about the conditions under which the human spirit has expressed itself most gloriously. Eye-opening and humbling, Human Accomplishment is a fascinating work that describes what humans at their best can achieve, provides tools for exploring its wellsprings, and celebrates the continuing common quest of humans everywhere to discover truths, create beauty, and apprehend the good.    (Amazon)

Pink, Daniel H. - Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us - DB70276  

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money--the carrot-and-stick approach. That's a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink in Drive. In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction--at work, at school, and at home--is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.  Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does-and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation--autonomy, mastery, and purpose--and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.    (Amazon)

Pinker, Steven - The Better Angels of Our Nature  

We’ve all asked, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In this startling new book, the bestselling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era yet. Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals. Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse — all substantially down. How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? Pinker argues that the key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence. Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.   (Amazon)

Putnam, Robert - Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community 

Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans’ changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures—whether they be PTA, church, or political parties—have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm that these broken bonds have wreaked on our physical and civic health, nor had anyone exalted their fundamental power in creating a society that is happy, healthy, and safe.    (Amazon)

Sowell, Thomas - Economic Facts and Fallacies - DB68661

In Economic Facts and Fallacies, Thomas Sowell exposes some of the most popular fallacies about economic issues in a lively manner that does not require any prior knowledge of economics. These fallacies include many beliefs widely disseminated in the media and by politicians, such as fallacies about urban problems, income differences, male-female economic differences, as well as economic fallacies about academia, about race, and about Third World countries. Sowell shows that fallacies are not simply crazy ideas but in fact have a certain plausibility that gives them their staying power--and makes careful examination of their flaws both necessary and important    (Amazon)

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas - The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable - DB64557 Wikipedia

Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon warned that our minds are wired to deceive us. "Beware the fallacies into which undisciplined thinkers most easily fall--they are the real distorting prisms of human nature." Chief among them: "Assuming more order than exists in chaotic nature." Now consider the typical stock market report: "Today investors bid shares down out of concern over Iranian oil production." Sigh. We're still doing it. Our brains are wired for narrative, not statistical uncertainty. And so we tell ourselves simple stories to explain complex thing we don't--and, most importantly, can't--know. The truth is that we have no idea why stock markets go up or down on any given day, and whatever reason we give is sure to be grossly simplified, if not flat out wrong.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb first made this argument in Fooled by Randomness, an engaging look at the history and reasons for our predilection for self-deception when it comes to statistics. Now, in The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable, he focuses on that most dismal of sciences, predicting the future. Forecasting is not just at the heart of Wall Street, but it’s something each of us does every time we make an insurance payment or strap on a seat belt. The problem, Nassim explains, is that we place too much weight on the odds that past events will repeat (diligently trying to follow the path of the "millionaire next door," when unrepeatable chance is a better explanation). Instead, the really important events are rare and unpredictable. He calls them Black Swans, which is a reference to a 17th century philosophical thought experiment. In Europe all anyone had ever seen were white swans; indeed, "all swans are white" had long been used as the standard example of a scientific truth. So what was the chance of seeing a black one? Impossible to calculate, or at least they were until 1697, when explorers found Cygnus atratus in Australia.  Nassim argues that most of the really big events in our world are rare and unpredictable, and thus trying to extract generalizable stories to explain them may be emotionally satisfying, but it's practically useless. September 11th is one such example, and stock market crashes are another. Or, as he puts it, "History does not crawl, it jumps." Our assumptions grow out of the bell-curve predictability of what he calls "Mediocristan," while our world is really shaped by the wild powerlaw swings of "Extremistan."    (Chris Anderson at Amazon)

Last updated July 2, 2013
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