Tag Archives: Phil @ WPL

Fall is full of great titles!

My main responsibility as a collections librarian is to buy adult nonfiction for Winnipeg Public Library’s 20 branches. Publishers release catalogues of forthcoming titles three times a year: winter, spring/summer and fall. This year’s fall catalogue is chocked full with great titles that will be released just in time to spend time reading a good book before the hustle and bustle of the winter holidays.

Below is a brief list of titles accompanied by the publisher’s annotations that I’m looking forward to reading the most this fall.

Bollywood KitchenBollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films by Sri Rao

Indian cuisine and Indian cinema (known as Bollywood) share much in common – bold colors and flavors with plenty of drama. But to the uninitiated, they can seem dizzying. Let Sri Rao be your guide. As one of the only Americans working in Bollywood, Sri is an expert on Indian musical films, and as an avid cook, he’s taken his mom’s authentic, home-cooked recipes and adapted them for the modern, American kitchen.

In this book you’ll find dinner menus and brunch menus, menus for kids and menus for cocktail parties. Along with each healthy and easy-to-prepare meal, Sri has paired one of his favorite Bollywood movies. Every one of these films is a musical, packed with dazzling song-and-dance numbers that are the hallmark of Bollywood, beloved by millions of fans all over the world. Sri will introduce each film to you, explaining why you’ll love it, and letting you in on some juicy morsels from behind the scenes.

 

BookshopsBookshops: A Reader’s History by Jorge Carrión and translated by Peter Bush

Jorge Carrión collects bookshops: from Gotham Book Mart and the Strand Bookstore in New York City to City Lights Bookshop and Green Apple Books in San Francisco and all the bright spots in between (Prairie Lights, Tattered Cover, and countless others). In this thought-provoking, vivid, and entertaining essay, Carrión meditates on the importance of the bookshop as a cultural and intellectual space. Filled with anecdotes from the histories of some of the famous (and not-so-famous) shops he visits on his travels, thoughtful considerations of challenges faced by bookstores, and fascinating digressions on their political and social impact, Bookshops is both a manifesto and a love letter to these spaces that transform readers’ lives.

 

godGod by Reza Aslan

A fascinating account of religion’s origin and a call to embrace a deeper, more expansive understanding of the divine from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zealot.

More than just a history of our understanding of God, this book is an attempt to get to the root of this humanizing impulse in order to develop a more peaceful, universal spirituality unencumbered by the urge to foist our human characteristics upon the divine. Whether you believe in one God or many gods or no god at all, God: A Human History will transform the way you think about the divine and its role in our everyday lives.

 

Inner Life

The Inner Life of Animals Love, Grief, and Compassion — Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben

Through vivid stories of devoted pigs, two-timing magpies, and scheming roosters, The Inner Life of Animals weaves the latest scientific research into how animals interact with the world with Peter Wohlleben’s personal experiences in forests and fields.

Horses feel shame, deer grieve, and goats discipline their kids. Ravens call their friends by name, rats regret bad choices, and butterflies choose the very best places for their children to grow up.

In this, his latest book, Peter Wohlleben follows the hugely successful The Hidden Life of Trees with insightful stories into the emotions, feelings, and intelligence of animals around us. Animals are different from us in ways that amaze us—and they are also much closer to us than we ever would have thought.

 

river

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks

The River of Consciousness reflects Oliver Sacks at his wisest and most humane, as he examines some of the human animal’s most remarkable faculties: memory, creativity, consciousness, and our present, ongoing evolution.

Before his death, Sacks personally collected into this one volume his recent essays, never before published in book form, which he felt best displayed his passionate engagement with his most compelling and seminal ideas. The book, lucid and accessible as ever, is a mirror of his own consciousness, discovering in his personal and humane interactions with others, unique insight, and fresh meaning.

  • Phil
Advertisements

What a Difference a Year Makes

It has been said that human beings are “causation” seeking animals. We want and need to be able to see patterns in our world. The field of history could be categorized as the champion of imposing order as well as declaring magical turning points. Sometimes these attempts are completely arbitrary and sometimes they are accurate and truly historic. Although history may be valued, for most people it is the here and now which is considered most vital and crucial.  That is why we are susceptible to such statements as “this election will be the most critical ever”,  implying  all of the previous elections ever held were trivial. As such, it is hard to judge and assess how important the events we are experiencing now compare to past events. But it is fun (OK, I have a weird sense of what constitutes fun) and sometimes enlightening to look back at past historical periods in terms of similarities and differences. Maybe there is some order to our evolutionary chaos? Here is my sampler of critical years:

YearThe Year 1000 : What life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium : An Englishman’s World by Robert Lacey, provides an intriguing survey of the resources and inventiveness of the people living in the first millennium. From managing Viking raids, to managing their personal hygiene, it is an interesting read.

 

 

1066 : The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry 1066
by Andrew Bridgeford, documents the transitory period of the end of the Anglo-Saxon Britain and the coming of the Normans. Often viewed as a propaganda tool for Norman ascendance, Bridgeford makes a case there may be more nuance in the images of the tapestry.

 

 

14341434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance by Gavin Menzies is a speculative account suggesting that such a visit imparted ancient Chinese wisdom to the west, inspiring the great scientific and intellectual revolution of the Renaissance. Where is it written that you have to be historically accurate to have fun?

 

 

1491 : New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus 1491
by Charles C. Mann can be described as a powerful corrective where Mann documents the sophistication and grandeur of native American societies pre-European contact.

 

 

WorldThe World in 1800 by Olivier Bernier documents changes where absolute monarchy’s are fading, and the demand for democracy, combined with the growing power of industrialization and the rise of capitalism, is threatening the old order.

 

 

The Ninth : Beethoven and the Year 1824 by Ninth
Harvey Sachs includes Haydn the loyal servant of the
court, Mozart the perennial free agent, and Beethoven,
who provides the template for the crash and burn romantic “rock star”. Individualism, liberty, egotism – everything for the pursuit of art.  Beethoven definitely set the standard.

 

 

19131913 : In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson contains profiles of 20 cities around the world.  Discussion focuses on the social, cultural, as well as political perspectives of these various cities, documenting attitudes from different time periods.  Although chapters include London, Paris, and Berlin, Emmerson’s research is so far reaching that Winnipeg shares an entire chapter with Melbourne – that in itself is worth a read.

 

Paris 1919 : six months that Changed the World by Paris
Margaret MacMillan is the gold standard in historical
analysis chronicling the negotiations and also the behind
the scenes activities of the Versailles Peace Treaty that
created the modern-states of today.

 

 

We even have competing subtitles, and both years make credible claims:

19591959 : The Year Everything Changed by Fred Kaplan, AND

 

 

19691969: The year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick

 

 

Phil D.

 

 

It’s Getting Better All the Time

EnigmaIn a pivotal scene in the movie The Imitation Game actor Benedict Cumberbatch (playing mathematician/proto-computer scientist Alan Turing) gets punched in the face by an angry colleague.  He explains that although the violent act was a useless action, “violence makes you feel good”.  The movie is based on Andrew Hodges’ book Alan Turing, the Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film ‘The Imitation Game’ (first published in 1983, reprinted 2014).  Although the movie is the tracing of the historic and transformative World War II code breaking work completed by top-secret British Intelligence personnel, it also focuses on Turing’s belief that the “cracking” of the German codes could not be unravelled by any one human mind but only through rigid statistical analysis and mechanical computation. His device known as the “Turing Machine” was a prototype of what was to bec0me the computer.

AngelsThe other fascinating parallel in the movie is Turing the outsider, the outcast, the nonconformist – the easy target to be bullied as well as a victim of violence. In many ways this observation of violence, an action that is often useless and almost always destructive, is at the heart of Steven Pinker’s, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.  Pinker’s position is human nature has not changed, but rather, what has changed is human institutions like government, literacy, economic and cultural exchange between societies which have moderated the “natural impulse” to violence. As a biologist he is committed to grounding human actions to natural biological processes; this could be found in earlier works such as The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature and The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.

The spread of manners, etiquette, literacy and commerce in addition to how they have shaped “human progress” was not invented or discovered by biologists. Many of these insights have been documented by historians and others in the humanities in the movement known as Modernism.  Examples include Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s Millennium: [A History of Our Last Thousand Years] and Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age

civilizationMillennium

Secular

 

 

 

 

FieldsA different perspective of our historical and contemporary legacy of violence could be found in Karen Armstrong’s latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.  Armstrong notes when you break down and assess examples of violence in history, it is not religion per se but political dogma that lies underneath the true source of conflict. By way of contrast to Pinker is the viewpoint that it is not necessarily the forces of impersonal government and business tempering the violent impulses clans, tribes, or warlords have but the politics of domination, humiliation, and the blind will for power that drives humans to violence. These are universal and timeless themes, whether discussing the Peloponnesian War or dealing with modern terrorism.  It is not a question of “civilizing” or “conquering” but of continually questioning and talking, and at all cost holding back the desire for violence just because “it makes us feel good”.

Phil D.

All the News That’s Fit to Print

“So where are strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony…”

Peace, Love, and Understanding

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, written and produced by Nick Lowe, performed by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Armed Forces (US version, Columbia Records, 1979)

The News: A User's Manual

Philosopher and social critic Alain de Botton has written a provocative book called ‘The News: a user’s manual’. Through chapters dealing with local politics and world news, business news and consumer affairs,  celebrity, and disaster news he attempts to illustrate how the media fails to provide context and meaning to the stories they present. de Botton does not quarrel with the factual accuracy of media coverage but criticizes the lack of the unifying narrative, a missing the forest from the trees type of complaint. The most powerful critique of de Botton comes precisely from the industry itself fairly citing the he refuses to define what the news is, and that de Botton’s view is naïve or at least overly simplistic.

The history of news and newspapers has a long and stories tradition. Andrew Pettegree’s, ‘The Invention of News’ provides an excellent overview of the origins of newspapers in Europe and North America. de Botton’s point seems to be that the media has occupied a new position of authority that previously was controlled by religion or government. In the past centuries religious institutions and government demanded and expected obedience based on its claim to authority. The newspaper tradition challenged this power with demands of fact checking, investigative reporting, editorial opinion and advocacy. Are those traditions being upheld (or could they be upheld) in a new digital environment of potential citizen journalists and where free content is not only provided but actually expected regardless of the format or electronic platform.

Just as it is often stated on democracy, are we getting the newspaper/media coverage we deserve. If we are willing to pay or subsidize editorial and journalistic quality, what will be the price, free or not?

Page One

‘Page One: inside the New York Times and the future of journalism.’ Edited by David Folkenflik.

 The news media is in the middle of a revolution. Old certainties have been shoved aside by new entities such as WikiLeaks and Gawker, Politico and the Huffington Post. But where, in all this digital innovation, is the future of great journalism? 

The Death and Life of American Journalism

‘Death and Life of American Journalism’ by Robet McChesney and John Nichols.

Daily newspapers are closing across America. Washington bureaus are shuttering; whole areas of the federal government are now operating with no press coverage. Journalism, the counterbalance to corporate and political power, the lifeblood of American democracy, is not just threatened.

‘Deadlines and Disruption’ by Stephen Shepard.

 “This is two compelling books in one: Shepard’s story of his life in print journalism, and a clearheaded look at the way journalism is evolving due to electronic media, social networking, and the ability of anyone with a computer and an opinion to make him- or herself heard.” –Booklist

 

‘Newsonomics: twelve new trends that will shape the news you get’, Ken Doctor

The New News Reports of the death of the news media are highly premature, though you wouldn’t know it from the media’s own headlines. Ken Doctor goes far beyond those headlines, taking an authoritative look at the fast-emerging future.

‘Blur: how to know what’s true in the age of information overload’, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

Amid the hand-wringing over the death of “true journalism” in the Internet Age–the din of bloggers, the echo chamber of Twitter, the predominance of Wikipedia–veteran journalists and media critics Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have written a pragmatic, serious-minded guide to navigating the twenty-first century media terrain.

 

‘The News and Public Opinion: media effects on civic life’, edited by Mac McCombs

The daily news plays a major role in the continuously changing mix of thoughts, feelings and behavior that defines public opinion. This book details these effects of the news media on the sequence of outcomes that collectively shape public opinion.

-Phil D.

Human Rights and Civilization: the right way to civilize humans

These are exciting and perplexing times in of terms assessing and measuring human progress: few things provide a better example of this complexity than charting the history and evolution of human rights. There is always an arbitrary nature in measuring periods, but if we could reflect on the changes that have occurred in our world from say the opening of the Canadian Museum of Civilization on June 29, 1989 to the future opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on September 20, 2014 one cannot help but be taken by how far the link of living in a civilized world is connected to living in a world grounded by human rights.

Human Rights and the uses of history

For all the failures and set backs (Tiananmen Square, Rwanda, the Serb-Croat-Bosnian War, etc.), it has been the consistent call for human rights expressed by the people who have been left marginalized, excluded, exposed to violence, hatred and humiliation that has defined our modern era. Certainly since 1945 and even more intensely since the end of the Cold War. Looking back, this march of progress towards human rights seems so natural and obvious that it appears to be almost ‘second nature’; like many to all forms of human progress there was nothing natural or preordained about it, it was hard-won and hard-fought. A good sampling of these struggles is found the essays in Samuel Moyn’s, ‘Human Rights and the Uses of History’, and also Aryeh Neier’s, ‘The International Human Rights Movement’. An excellent source to find primary sources of key human rights documents and laws is Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman’s ‘International Human Rights: texts and materials’ and Jack Donnelly provides context of human rights and world politics.

An emerging and controversial concept in studying human rights is the question whether human rights are truly universal or merely a unique concept of the west? Books that explore these themes is John Headley ‘The Europeanization of the World: on the origins of human rights and democracy’, and David Kinley’s ‘Civilising Globalisation: human rights and the global economy’. Here Kinley makes the point that human rights and global economic growth should not be considered mutually exclusive and a more nuanced view of combing political and economic rights should be pursued.

Civilising Globalisation

The unifying factor in tracing the history of human rights is the fundamental idea of human dignity. This is represented by George Kateb’s ‘Human Dignity’, Ruti Teitel’s ‘Humanity’s Law’, and Charles Beitz’s ‘The Idea of Human Rights’. Part of that requirement for human dignity is to recognize and take appropriate responsibility for past injustices  committed against people either within and beyond our borders. Mark Gibney’s ‘The Age of Apology: facing up to the past’ and  Robert Rotberg and Dennis Thompson’s ‘Truth v. justice’ argue about the importance of providing a critical self-assessment of past injustices, but also the possible limitations of this approach.

We all have to share in this world and we also must interact with each other with respect, humility and toleration; whether it is trade, the environment, global or local politics living to the ideals of human rights and human dignity should be our beacon. Civilizing our impulses and desires by protecting our human rights is in my modest opinion civilizing humans done right.

Phil D.

Release 2.0: a metaphor gone wild

Metaphor is the life-blood of literary expression, and when properly applied has the capacity to make complicated ideas completely clear and intelligible. The spot-on metaphor sears the image onto your brain, it sticks with you (if you can allow my own poor metaphors). Technology in general and computer concepts in particular also use metaphors as a life-blood: we have files and folders, we burn files, we run programs and have desktops, etc. Now there is a trend to use the technology and computer software metaphor of the ‘updated release version’ of say release 2.0 and apply it to books. In a previous century we would have called it a revised or expanded edition but the provision of the moniker ‘release/version 2.0’ seems to give the topic a certain hipness to it. My most recent exposure was a new book by Joseph Heath “Enlightenment 2.0: restoring sanity to our politics, our economy, and our lives”.   This is not a criticism to the content of the book, in fact the ideas discussed are so important that is worth its own blog (potential foreshadowing), but applying the concept of 2.0 irked me as kitschy and cliché. And so with my irksome curiosity peaked here is a sampling of some 2.0 releases. To be fair, the reviews for the vast majority of these titles were stellar; hey, there may be something to release 2.0?

‘Quantum-touch 2.0’ by Richard Gordon (2013 edition updating 2006 edition)

‘Man 2.0: engineering the alpha’ by John Romaniello (the note on the book cover says it all: “Balance your hormones, build more muscle, burn more fat, have more sex”…now that is upgrade!) Love 2.0 ‘Love 2.0: how our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do and become’ by Barbara Fredrickson

‘Giving 2.0: transform your giving and our world’ by Laura Arrillaga-Andreesen

‘Post-American world: release 2.0’ by Fareed Zakaria (2011 update of the 2008 bestseller by political scientist and CNN host) Wild West 2.0 ‘Wild West 2.0: how to protect and restore your online reputation on the untamed social frontier’ by Michael Fertik

‘Global Development 2.0’ by Lael Brainard

‘Food 2.0’ by Charlie Ayers

‘Strengths Finder 2.0’ by Tom Rath Plan B 2.0 ‘Plan B 2.0’ Lester R. Brown (updated edition from the author the State of the World series and is considered in some circles to be the father of the environmental movement)

Phil D.

What’s So “Real” About Virtual Reality?

The Oxford Dictionary of English (3rd edition) primarily defines virtual as ‘almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.’ The secondary definition under the concept of computing defines virtual as ‘not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so’. It then defines reality as ‘the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them’ and ‘the state or quality of having existence or substance’. The term virtual reality is traced back to the writer and researcher Jaron Lanier.

The tension between the supporters and detractors of virtual reality is between those who demand a literalist view of seeing the world ‘as it is’ versus those who view the world through metaphor and creative imagination. The debate goes as far back as Plato’s Republic where in Books 2, 3, and 10 Socrates makes the case that poets should be exiled/banished from the ideal city if they display contempt or disregard for the divine ‘reality.’ Creative people have as their ultimate responsibility to express their art in a truthful way and not exploit and manipulate audiences with false escapism, magical interventions from the Gods, or glorious heroes defying physical realities of time and space. That pretty much sums up our modern entertainment industry.

Although the main targets of neo-atheists such as Richard Dawkins (The Magic of Reality), Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, et al. are religious institutions and ‘other forms of superstition’, I think the essence of their complaint is exactly the same as Plato’s: discovering how the universe works and how humans live in that universe is its own reward. In that sense, Dawkins and company are the ultimate Platonists of the 21st century.

While there is a wide range of views within the supporters of virtual reality, they converge on the importance of ‘experiencing’ and ‘sensing’ the activity and less on its physical reality. The virtual experience is received in our minds and then experienced through our body. It could be argued that many cultural experiences are entered through our minds first rather than our bodies; an excellent overview of this is Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson’s Infinite Reality and Andrew Evans’ This Virtual Life.

For proponents of virtual reality, their primary concern is a deeper emotional truth or experience than what the Platonic literalists would allow. Virtual reality contains a visceral power for us, in many ways similar to the emotional power of the Mass as experienced by a Christian in the Middle Ages; there is an element of transcending your personal limits. An interesting take on this theme is J.C. Polkinghome’s Exploring Reality.

To all our experiences, real and virtual!

Phil D.

 

 

A Question of Character

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Abraham Lincoln16th president of US (1809 – 1865). Lincoln’s own stories

I have been submitted and committed to a lot of thinking about leadership. Submitted in the sense that I have been assigned to be on a five-day course on the topic, committed in the sense that I am quite fascinated about the subject. Character impacts every aspect of leadership, and includes qualities such as integrity, honesty, firmness, discipline and self-control, in addition to fairness, empathy, ethical and moral judgement, and even wisdom. Rare qualities for sure, but when they are displayed it could be transformative for any organization or group.

Strong technical skills and general intelligence is part of the mix but it is the formation of character that sets a leader apart from mere manager or technocrat.  I do not always agree with the views of Margaret Wente from the Globe and Mail (more often than not) but I feel she has gotten to the essence of things in her piece Victorian values for the 21st century.

Image 1The issue of character has also been demonstrated in a wide range of books that have recently been published, but have their approach from diverse perspectives.
From a child development point of view is  How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character by Paul Tough. Another variant on this theme with the target group being adults is David Brooks’ The social animal: the hidden sources of love, character, and achievement.  Here Brooks traces how the lives of a middle class man and a working class woman are shaped and developed by cumulative life choices as well as those foisted upon them.

image3image4In the business and work setting is perseverance, an attribute that often demands the most of our character.  Excellent examples pointing to hard earned success include Adapt: why success always starts with failure by Tim Harford,  Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn:  life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses by John C. Maxwell, Fail Up: 20 lessons on building success from failure by PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley, and the candid self-critical portrait by Michael Ignatieff  Fire and Ashes: success and failure in politics.

Another side of the equation is the temptation to blame others or look for image5excuses.  A title that exemplifies this philosophy is  Blame Game: how the hidden rules of credit and blame determine our success or failure by Ben Dattner. As individuals we can only control so much, as chance does have a role in our lives.  Our character forms the foundation of how we conduct ourselves, translating in a larger sense, to a stable, dignified society and civilization in a very chaotic world. To that ever famous author anonymous; “adversity does not build character, it reveals it!”

Phil D.

Discovering the ‘Thinking Big’ Historians

“In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.”

RUSH, ‘Caravan’, “Clockwork Angels”

Rush - Clockwork Angels

In the opening essay ‘The Purpose of Philosophy’ of Isaiah Berlin’s “Concepts and Categories” Berlin makes the point that philosophy can’t, and shouldn’t provide the ultimate answers to human existence; but rather provide a starting point to reflect and reconsider our collective wisdom, our assumptions, our prejudices, etc. It is the test of our real world experience against our moral impulses: is justice or compassion true or false? It is how we think about the question that makes philosophy different from say physical geography where the question might be ‘what is the distance between Regina and Winnipeg?’

History falls somewhere in between the painstaking requirement for accuracy and verification, but the best history is expressed when the power of imagination and philosophical/moral thought are applied to the topic. Two recent bestsellers come to mind: ‘The War that Ended Peace: the Road to 1914’ by Margaret MacMillan and ‘Heretics and Heroes: how Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World’ by Thomas Cahill. Experts can quibble or even have a conniption comparing the meticulous research methods of MacMillan and the popular history bent of Cahill. Both share a wider interpretation of the facts, a sense that these historical events were not pre-ordained and that multiple outcomes may have occurred.

Allowing to ask uncommon or unpopular questions are often produces breakthrough ideas like E.P. Thompson’s ‘Making of the English Working Class’ and the classic “age of” trilogy by Eric Hobsbawm, Marc Bloch ‘The Feudal Society’, the work of Paul Johnson or the great theorists like Fernand Braudel or Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s ‘Millennium’ and ‘1492: the Year the World Began’. Another big thinking historian Niall Ferguson who wrote ‘Civilization: the West and the Rest’, ‘Ascent of Money’, and ‘The Great Degeneration’ maintains that “at the heart of our enterprise is the imagination. One has to imagine what is was to be in another time, in another predicament. and that active imagination is at the heart of the historical process.”

The merger of analysis and feeling, assessment and empathy, is where the dry facts of history meet the examples of Berlin’s view of the purpose of philosophy; that we will never entirely answer the question, but to think about the issue in a new and creative way, that would be a good working definition of ‘thinking big’.

Phil D.

The Tyranny of Cool

I love Thomas Frank! Rarely has a writer/critic been able to embody so many insights, been able to express what I vaguely felt but could not articulate. Then again, that is why he gets paid to write and I am assigned to blog!

I Don't Believe in AtheistsThere are other critics of contemporary issues and culture who write with as powerful a voice. A prime example would be Chris Hedges, author of The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and other titles.  But I find Hedges’s voice can become too relentless. For me, Frank’s voice, while always critical and scathing, possesses a humour and humanity even with the darkest of subjects.

The Conquest of CoolThis is best represented in Frank’s first book, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, on the power of marketing toward emotions, nostalgia, and longing for simpler times. It captures the spirit of the 1960s, and what we seem to be harking back to in our ever-so-self-aware 1990s, and onward (think TV’s “Mad Men”).

CheapWhat unites Frank and Hedges is a dislike for the easy and cheap answer, the dominance of appearance and image, rather than essence. They, and others, argue against the cheap, the easy, and the overly convenient, as in Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. They say we are saturated by the idea of “cool”, where what is valuable is that which requires little effort, or expending of energy, or no great risk. Many feel the opposite is true, as demonstrated in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Outliers: The Story of Success and his “10,000 hours rule,” where the truly elite in any field require 10,000 hours of practice before they perfect their craft.

The Ego BoomThere are titles that argue in defence of cool, though, such as:

The Ego Boom: Why the World Really Does Revolve Around You by Steve Maich and Lianne George.

Everything Bad is Good for YouEverything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson.

Hello, I'm SpecialHello, I’m Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity by Hal Niedzviecki.

As for me, personally, I will stick with Frank and Hedges.

Phil D.