June book selection

2009-05-12

in Daily updates

With the May book club reviews due Friday, it seems a good time to start discussing what’s we will read for June.

Here are my nominations:

  • Stern, Nicholas. The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity.
  • MacKay, David. Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. (Available free online)
  • Jaccard, Mark. Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy.
  • Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.
  • Mackay, Charles. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Prior discussions: April selection, April review, May selection.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. May 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Given the upcoming nomination, The Nine sounds like a good pick.

Sarah May 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm

I’ve read the last one & while it was entertaining, I don’t think it merits a bookclub discussion.

Milan May 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm
Milan May 18, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Does anyone else have votes or ideas?

I am happy with The Nine.

Milan May 19, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Given the high probability Canada will see the construction of new nuclear reactors during the next couple of decades, another option is:

Cooke, Stephanie. In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age.

The Economist has a review online.

Peter May 21, 2009 at 12:24 am

I’m still pushing Collapse, since I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. But I am happy with whatever is selected, especially if it is easily accessible.

Tristan May 21, 2009 at 12:47 am

Oh ya, lets read collapse. Jared Diamond is an excellent, exciting, and engaging author.

Milan May 21, 2009 at 10:22 am

Jared Diamond is an excellent, exciting, and engaging author.

Are you being sarcastic here? I tried to read Guns, Germs, and Steel four times, but abandoned it over and over because it was so plodding and repetitive. He could have said the same thing with a book one third the length, and could have expressed most of his arguments in a long essay.

That being said, I will read Collapse if others do.

Tristan May 21, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I’m half being sarcastic – I actually do believe the things I wrote, but I knew you didn’t. So, I wrote them knowing how ridiculous they would look to you, even though they don’t seem ridiculous to me.

Milan May 21, 2009 at 2:39 pm

One of these months, we are going to have to read something fun and concise.

tristan May 21, 2009 at 10:11 pm

How about Orientalism!

R.K. May 21, 2009 at 10:21 pm

How about Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head?: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies by Brett Kahr?

tristan May 22, 2009 at 10:23 am

Another possibility, that could be related but not replace the book club, is online talks. It’s quite enjoyable to go to an academic talk with friends and discuss it afterwards, but we all live in different cities. However, many talks are available online. If we could agree on a talk, and all watch it (the same one), I think it could precipitate a good discussion.

Peter May 22, 2009 at 11:20 am

My desire to read Collapse stems from several mini-debates I already have lined up. I enjoyed Guns, Germs & Steel and thought it was quite good, although somewhat controversial. Collapse is even more so. I just find it strange that of all the criticisms that could be launched at Diamond, Guns Germs & Steel, and Collapse, you found the pace of the writing to be the most unnerving aspect.

As I see it, the two leading debates are whether the study of history can be done in a scientific fashion, and the charges over whether Diamond’s work is just an apologetic work for the existing inequities.

The allegation is that by ignoring customs or a culture’s interpretation of their own actions, symbols and worldviews, Diamond cannot possibly accurately represent what societies were actually doing, or think they were doing. Traditionally history has been about particulars, and about trying to understand the mindset and nuances of a particular time. Diamond’s historical accounts are objective, materially driven, overarching (not very concerned with particulars) and directed towards western audience (told entirely within a language, set of metaphors, methodology, and assumptions, that we will understand.) This debate centers around three questions: (1) Can we make the study of history more objective? (2) To what degree do the details matter? (3) Is presenting history as a grand narrative fundamentally misleading?

The first debate is reflected in the second, because the charges of being apologetic, or worse, outright racist stem from claims that Diamond has misunderstood, deliberately misunderstood, or not bothered to consider local details. It has even been suggested that Diamond misinterprets Yali’s question (the question in GG&S that he frames the book around), because the question – why do some societies have so much stuff while others have very little – might be interpreted as a moral criticism levied against the west by an indigenous person that is unfamiliar with our concepts of property and extreme individualism, who couldn’t understand why the wealth was not shared, rather than Diamond’s interpretation of a desire for a historical lesson on how different societies progressed and an accounting of the underlying (material) causes. The charges that Diamond is an apologist flow from the assumption that his materialistic account of societal differences involves a tacit acceptance of those differences. If uncaused material differences caused the social differences, than wealthy societies are not to blame, or so the accusation goes. I think he can defend those terms since he explicitly states otherwise in Guns, Germs and Steel, but I want to know if he has crossed the line in Collapse. The book’s subtitle – How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed – makes me shutter, and there have been numerous reports of his reduction of the causes of the Rwandan Genocide to ecological pressures, so I’ve been meaning to read the book for a while in order to be able to weigh in on these debates.

I’ve posted this to suggest that there might be plenty of things to discuss if the book is selected.

Milan May 22, 2009 at 11:34 am

I am happy with Collapse. I will put up a review on June 15th.

Milan May 25, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Here is one to consider for July, perhaps:

Rubin, Jeff. Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization.

There is a review on R-Squared.

Milan June 8, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Has anyone else been reading Collapse? The discussion starts in a week.

Tristan June 8, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Collapse is the june book? What?

Milan June 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Yes. Have you been reading something different?

Tristan June 8, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I’ve been reading “Aristotle and Other Platonists” by Lloyd P. Gerson. I will head out now to pick up collapse.

Milan June 8, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Nobody even mentioned that, as far as I can recall.

Is Peter reading Collapse?

The only reason I am concentrating on it is because I thought you two wanted to. Otherwise, I would be reading other things.

Tristan June 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm

I wanted to read Collapse. Couldn’t find a cheap copy at Seekers, I’ll get it from the library tommorow. If this Jared Diamond book is as exciting and engaging as “Guns Germs and Steel”, I’ll probably finish it in a day.

Milan June 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I finished the section on Montana in Diamond’s book – which was actually well written, stimulating, and non-repetitive – but I still have 450 pages to go.

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