Friday, December 28, 2012

The Dictator's Learning Curve by William Dobson

This book is called The Dictator's Leaning Curve, Inside the Global Battle for Democracy. This is a very interesting book about the battle for democracy and you will learn things you never would get via news. There is a review at the NY Times.

American Abroad Media Insight has an Interviewof William Dobson. This is a 9 minute video. You can see bits and pieces of speech by William Dobson at Politics and Prose Bookshop in Washington D.C. This is a 15 minute video, but it is not well done and it is a bit choppy. This P&P bookshop has a site.

There is a very good interview on PBS News Hour of William Dobson. This one is 7 minutes long. There is also a discussion with William Dobson at Roosevelt house at Hunter College. The discussion starts 4 minutes into the video and is just over 1 hour long. Interestingly, he says that violent insurgencies against dictators succeed 25% of the time (Syria) and non-violent insurgencies succeed 50% of the time (Egypt).

He talks about Gene Sharp who wrote a book called From Dictatorship to Democracy. You can download a copy from The Albert Einstein Institution. There is an article about this book at Wikipedia and article about Gene Sharp at Wikipedia.

There is a video of Q&A with Gene Sharp YouTube. It is 15 minutes long. The whole video is from the Frontline Club. This is almost 1 and 1/2 hours long. There is an interesting short film on Gene Sharp and revolution near the beginning of this video.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Dobson. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

This book is called The Wisdom of Psychopaths, What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success. Basically, we are all psychopaths now, except of course you and me or maybe just me. Kevin Dutton has his own site. On this site you can take a psychopath test.

There is a good article on this book The Toronto Star. One commenter suggests looking at James Fallon on YouTube. It is called "James Fallon: Confessions of a Pro-Social Psychopath". This is an absolutely fascinating video. It is not very long and you should watch it.

There is a video of Dr. Kevin Dutton being Interview . In this video, Dr. Kevin Dutton discusses "The wisdom of psychopaths" -- how psychopathic traits can lead to success in many professional fields. This is a 20 minute video. Psychopath in the family . This is a 12 minute video.

I found this an absolutely fascinating book. I love such books because they give you a better insight, not only to our fellow man, but better insight to yourself.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Dutton. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Abundance by Peter Diamandis

This book's full title is Abundance, The Future is better than you think. The authors are Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. I loved this book. There is so much negativity in much that is available to read on the future. If you want an optimistic view, this is the book to read. Yes, the future may not turn out the way he paints it, but there is reason for great optimism about our future.

He talks about what people are doing now and what people are now working on. The x-prizes have been a great idea as they have achieved what lots of people thought impossible. You need no look any further than the first x-prize which got companies interested in space. On YouTube, see Space Ship One X-prize first and Space Ship One X-prize second flight.

Peter gives a talk on his book on YouTube. Peter Diamandis has his own web site. There is another talk by Peter Diamandis called "Which Way Next? with Guest Peter Diamandis," the Abundance book's author on YouTube. This is a Singularity University's Live Webcast series. This is 54 minute video. His speech last for around 26 minutes and then he asks questions.

Peter Diamandis: Abundance is our future talk on TED. There is a short interview with Peter Diamandis at Technology Review about his prize giving. He is behind the X-Prizes. Read Peter's Laws . This is also called "The creed of the persistent and passionate mind".

One of the things he talks about is the Slingshot water purifier. See YouTube video on this. Coca Cola is teaming up with Deka Research & Development Corporation to bring these machines to where they are needed in South America and Africa. See report on Environment Leader. See coca cola's press release.

One of the great things about this book is his references. For example, he talked about a 2006 TED address by Hans Rosling. So I went to and search for Hans Rosling 2006 and got the speech Hans made. He later talked about the robot PR2 that he talked about had YouTube video footage. I went on my compute and goggled "YouTube PR2 Robot" and got the YouTube videos on this robot.

The video of Salman Khan of This is all about education.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Diamondis. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wait by Frank Partnoy

I found this book at Indigo in their big store at the Manulife Center. They have a Starbucks in this store and I often get coffee there and browse their books. Indigo is a great store to get best sellers at because they often are discounted. I got this one at 30% off.

The full title of this book is Wait, The Art and Science of Delay. It is published by Public Affairs is an independent, non-fiction book publisher in New York City that is part of the Perseus Book Group. They have a web site.

One of the interesting things he talks about is Zimbardo's survey tests called Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) which you can fine here. Another interesting thing was John Boyd, was a military strategist who came up the OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) loop. Wikipedia has an entry on this concept.

If you really want to read a print review, there is a book review see by Harry Ritchie in the Daily Mail. There is another great one at the Wall Street Journal by Christopher F. Chabris.

However, I feel a multi-media approach is much better in understanding a book. There is a cute short video on this book on YouTube. There is a great interview with Frank Partnoy also on YouTube that is a bit longer at just over 5 minutes. Frank Partnoy gives a lecture on his book at The RSA org . This is just over 15 minutes.

On GWorks, you can find an interview with questions and then answers from Frank Partnoy. See video. This one is longer at just over an hour.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Partnoy. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mystery of the Ancient Seafarers by Robert Ballard

I got this book from Book City on Bloor Street (I also very much like the one on Danforth too). What I like about this book store is the great variety of interesting books you can find. This National Geographic book called Mystery of the Ancient Seafarers; Early Maritime Civilizations is one such book.

All the ancient seafarers this book talks about come from the Mediterranean or Black Sea, the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Minoans, Greeks and Romans. (We do not seem to have a name for the people of the Black Sea.) I have always found archeology fascinating. So it probably is not surprising I find it quite fascinating about explorations in the Mediterranean and Black Sea for old sailing ships. This could help us learn a great deal about the ancient peoples who lived around these two seas.

The book is beautifully illustrated. The story is well presented and they include maps so that you can see what specific areas are being talked about. If you have any fascination for trading in ancient times on these seas, you will enjoy this book.

You can see and hear from Robert Ballard on TED. I know this video is from 2008, but it is a great one. There is a National Geographic presentation of Restore the Titanic on YouTube. There is a very short (3 minute) video called Perfect Byzantine Ship that is interesting. See the full video of 48 minutes called Ghosts of the Black Sea.

There is a video in three parts on Dr. Robert Ballard Rob ship researching the Titanic and antique ships. This is Part 1 then Part 2 and Part 3.

BBC reported on one Genographic (DNA) study that was trying to trace the Phoenicians. See their news item. This is a very interesting and related video.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Ballard. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The End of Illness by David Agus

I found this great book when browsing in one of my favourite book shops of Book City on Bloor Street.

His book is all about preventing illness, not curing it. He feels we need to prevent illness because we are not good at curing illnesses. The thing I like about this book is that at the end of each chapter he says what it is that he was trying to get across. He calls this section Health Rules and they nicely sum up what he has been talking.

We need to eat real food. We need to get our vitamins from our food, not supplements. Do not juice vegetables and fruit and do not take vitamin pills. There has been no study that shows they do any good and they can do harm.

Do your body a favour and have regular habits. You should eat at the same time every day, go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. He quotes Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, eat real food, not too much and mostly plants.

There is a great interview with David Agus on produced by DLD about this book, The End of Illness. See interview. This is a 20 minute video. There is also another great interview by Aspen Institute of David Agus. This second one is longer, coming in at just over one hour.

There is also a one minute video that says it all uploaded by solveweightloss. He gives a great talk at Google. This is longish video at 55 minutes, but well worth the time.

Macleans has a great book review by Brian Bethune. The Globe and Mail also has a great book reviews by Jessica Warner.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Agus. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward Wilson

I love reading history and this is quite a unique view of human history. This is a very readable book. Wilson expresses his ideas very clearly. There is a great review of Wilson and this book at the Guardian by Susanna Rustin.

Wilson has clearly upset a number of people, especially Richard Dawkins. If you want to see his review go to the prospect article. Personally, I hope that Wilson is right and Dawkins is wrong. I very much liked what Wilson wrote and it makes a lot of sense. The thing with Dawkins is that he cannot stand anyone disagreeing with him.

Unfortunately, scientists have a bad habit of ridiculing new ideas and then they make a 360 turn and blindly accept the new idea. Look at what happen with the guy who developed the idea of plate tectonics. Other scientist laugh at his ideas for years, then all of a sudden accepted them. Just because Dawkins says he has 140 scientists that agree with him means nothing. Science is not a popularity contest. (It is something else to see Dawkins talk about someone else being wantonly arrogant when Dawkins is the pure form of arrogance.)

There is an hour and half video on this book on YouTube. It is well worth it. I particularly liked the sections of the book on insects. I found this absolutely fascinating. There is a great program done by PBS called Lord of the Ants. This special PBS program is all about E. O. Wilson's perspective on the world. It is about an hour long and while worthwhile. He also was involved in the Encyclopedia of Life project.

There is a fairly good book review at the Wall Street Journal. There are three more reviews at Integral Options Cafe. Reviewers have a hard time about the fact that Wilson changed his mind about kin selection and has backed group selection.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Wilson. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

It took Europe a very long time to recover from the fall of the Roman Empire. This book is set in the early 1400 and it is about book hunters. These were people who were looking for books from the ancient Greeks and Romans.

We are indeed fascinated with the how and why of the West’s rise from the ashes of the Greek and Roman civilizations. I have read a great many books on this subject and this is just the latest in a long line of books to tell us how we did it. They might all be a bit right. Do not forget, that when the Roman fell, Europe was invaded by a number of different tribes, especially the German tribes. A lot was destroyed. No wonder it took a long time to revive.

There is a great review of this book at The Guardian. I agree with the reviewer Colin Burrow that the discovery of the Lucretius's De Rerum Natura ("On the Nature of the Universe") poem did not start the renaissance. However, it is a great tale.

There is another good review, but not quite as good as The Guardian review at Harvard Magazine. The book also has its own website.

There is an audio interview with Stephen Greenblatt at the New Yorker. There is also an interesting article on this subject, called the Answer Man by Stephen Greenblatt at New Yorker. He talks about how he first met Lucretius’ two-thousand-year-old poem “On the Nature of Things”. Read more at the New Yorker on The Answer Man by Stephen Greenblatt.

See videos of an Interview with Connie Martinson. See Part I. See Part II. See Stephen Greenblatt: The Poem That Dragged Us Out of the Dark Ages on Big Think.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Greenblatt. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book is incredibly interesting. Each chapter introduces some aspect of how we think and then at the very end of each chapter, he gives examples. For economist to make their theories work depend on human being unemotional and rational and always doing what economist believe is in our own best interest.

Of course the problem with economic theories is that we are not econ beings and a few economists are now trying to take that into account in their theories. The person that wrote this book is not an economist, but a psychologist. Not all economists have yet twigged to the idea that we do not make decisions the way they think we should.

This book is all about how and why we come to the decisions that we do. We have two systems. System 1 is our intuitive system and thinks fast, with no conscious thought. System 2 is slower and monitors System 1 but can be lazy or engaged.

He also talks about our two selves, our experiencing self and our remembering self. Our remembering self only remembers peaks and ends. Like the peak and end of a holiday. If you keep notes during the holiday, you probably would have a different feel for that holiday. This is all very interesting stuff.

There is a very good review of this book at Business Week. The reviewer Roger Lowenstein talks about what he likes and dislikes in this book. In the Globe and Mail review by Janice Gross Stein we are told how brilliant Kahneman and his book is. She says that it is “impossible exaggerate the importance of Daniel Kahneman’s contribution to the understanding of the way we think and choose”. The review in the Financial Times is by William Easterly. He says “There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

There is a very nice short interview by Time Time that lasts just 6 minutes. There is a much longer (1 hours and a half) video of Daniel Kahneman in conversation with Richard Layard loaded by Isewebsite. Kahneman starts talking about 8:40 minutes into this video. There is also a long History and Rationality Lecture Series video of Daniel Kahneman at the Hebrew University. Go in 2:30 minutes and it is in English.

There is a wonderful review of this book at the Association for Psychological Sciencesite. It leads to a great column in the New York Times by Daniel Kahneman. A great deal of what he says here is in this book, so it gives you a good idea what reading this book would be like.

There is another wonderful column on Daniel Kahneman and the writing of this book by Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Kahneman. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, May 7, 2012

You Could Live a Long Time by Lyndsay Green

This book full title is You Could Live a Long Time, Are you Ready? This is a very easy read and it offers suggestions on how to age well. She uses role models to tell us how we can live longer better. Her role models are health active and very much engaged.

One thing that is very clear is that you need friendships. You will certainly need to make new friends as you age. This is extremely important. You need a social network and you need to keep at this all your life.

This very much influenced me. I realized that I had not made a new friend in a long time (I read this book two years ago.) Since then I have joined a couple of meetup club and have made new friends. I do not know how this will all work out. Most of my friends go back 30 or 40 plus years. Will my new friends last as long?

Lyndsay has her own blog and you can find it at Lyndsay Green’s site. See an interesting entry on her blog about her aging role model.

Lyndsay wrote a book review at Review Canada on Michael Adams’s latest book, Stayin’ Alive: How Canadian Baby Boomers Will Work, Play and Find Meaning in the Second Half of Their Adult Lives.

She says that if you wonder why we boomers did not fulfill the promise of the 1960s and create a world of peace and love, free from war and poverty you should read this book. Basically, she says this occurred because we are not all alike. Another thing she points out about this book is that it talks of men’s and women’s expectation in retirement. Basically, men expect to spend a lot more time with their spouses than women do.

See The Curse of a Long Life (Living to 100: blessing or a curse?) with The Agenda panel . The panel included Lyndsay Green. It is 52 minutes long, but well worth watching.

There is an interesting site called Engage as you age that has done a review of this book. See their Book Review. Their blog is the most interesting part of this site.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Green. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life Ascending by Nick Lane

First of all, if you really want to understand some basic economics of why we are in such current problems, see the video below from RSA.

Well, I am whittling down pile of books I have on my library floor. This is, of course, another great book. Its full tile if Life Ascending, The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. In this list is death. I have seen such list before and I know it is hard at first to conceive death as a great invention. The others are the origin of Life, DNA, Photosynthesis, the Complex Cell, Sex, Movement, Sight, Hot Blood, Consciousness and Death. Just how did this all happen? Nick Lane’s book is here to explain it.

How did life invent itself? Where did DNA come from? How did consciousness develop? These are just the sort of questions that Lane’s book is prepared to answer. We have great new research methods to help him do so.

The one think he seems to find very fascinating is the fact that at one time one cell got inside and life just exploded from there. As far as we know at the moment, this just happened once. How this happened is quite well explained in a BBC video called “How did the evolution of complex life on Earth begin?” See a 4 minute video on this. The implication is that life happens quickly or not at all.

He says interesting things about oxygen. Oxygen respiration is 40% efficient (better than other forms, like sulfur). Long food chains are only possible with oxygen. This makes big life possible. It is also only with oxygen that predation pay.

Nick Lane has his own site. It is well worth visiting. There is a great review at The Guardian. There is another one at Newsblog.

And an even better review at Take on Darwin. This reviewer Shaun Johnston compared this book to Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale". In my opinion, this is a much better book. I had high hopes for Dawkins book, but it was a disappointment. This book is not. Nick Lane is very passionate about science. Dawkins is very passionate about who he hates (Bush, Christians, Creationist). He used to write better books and be more passionate about science.

In 2010 his book, Life Ascending, wins Royal Society Prize for Science Books. See article on this in The Telegraph.

This is a very good short video by Nick Lane on YouTube. It is around 4 minutes long. There is a short interview with Nick Lane (6 minutes) at BBC. However, you have to put up with a short commercial first. Also, BBC has a tendency to take things off their site, but hopefully it will be up there for a while.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Lane. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Economics of Good and Evil by Tomas Sedlacek

First of all, if you really want to understand some basic economics of why we are in such current problems, see the video below from RSA.

I got this book from my favourite book shop in Toronto. The book shop is Nicholas Hoare. It is at 45 Front Street East. Their web site is here. Whenever I am in the area, I take a look and I always buy a book. That is because there is always a book that I find interesting and I am afraid I would not find it elsewhere in Toronto.

This book is the subtitle of this book is “The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street”. Sedlacek talks about the first business cycle. Egypt’s pharaoh has dream of 7 good years and 7 bad years. He asked Joseph what this means. Joseph said to save gain in good years to use in bad years. Even today we should try to level out the business cycle. Part of the reason we are in such trouble is that we built up debt in good years and we are very overstretched in current bad years.

When you borrow money, you borrow money from your future, not the bank. You borrow from the future via the interest rate charged on a loan. You really borrow energy from the future for today, feeling that you will not need the energy or the money in the future, but that you need it now.

There is a Wikipedia entry for Tomas Sedlacek . There is a great review of this book and Tomas Sedlacek at Czech Centre . According to the blurb on this site “Tomas Sedlacek, leading Czech economist who is considered to be one of the ‘five hot minds in economics’ by the Yale Economic Review”.

Thomas Sedlacek is on Authors@google. He talks about things he mentions in his book. This is a video worthwhile watching. Also he gives a talk about his book at RSA. This is the video to watch to get a good handle on economics for today. This video is just over 20 minutes, but it is all you need to have a greater understanding of what is going on. He makes it very easy to understand.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Sedlacek. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

This book is a great one to bring you up to date on Ancient Egyptian history. There is a lot to be updated on. First it was not slaves that built the pyramids. Secondly they have found an ancient city beside the pyramids were the workers lived. Most of it is still intact and their graves undisturbed. So they found lots of tools and carvings. They have a much better idea now how the pyramids were built.

One other interesting thing he talks about it that original sin, underworld of dangers and demons, the final judgment before a great god, the promise of resurrection are all Egyptians concepts that later echoed in and shaped Judeo-Christian traditions.

Toby Wilkinson has his own web site. He mentions the Lost City of the Pyramids as a television show. I found this, at least I think I found what he was referring to at Google Video. This is part 1 and it is some 45 minutes long. Another YouTube video of Building the Great Pyramid by BBC starts here. This is the first of 6 parts, all about 10 minutes long.

There is an interview (in print) of Toby Wilkinson by Daisy Banks at the browser. In this interview, Toby recommends 5 books on Egypt. There is also a profile on Toby Wilkinson at Bloomsbury. There is another interview (in print) at Speakeasy.

There is a great review of this book (and a couple of related books) at the Guardian. And another great one at the Washington Post.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Wilkinson. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The full name of the book is The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable. How would his ideas affects you personally? Well, he talks about systems and situations being robust or fragile. For example, if you are up to you eyeballs in debt and something happen, it could cause a catastrophe for you.

If you had your finances well managed and you had an emergency fund, your financial state could be robust and if something unexpectedly side swiped you, you could probably handle it and not have a catastrophe on your hands.

If you do not know the origin of the black swan, I will tell you. All Europeans thought swans were always white, because that is all they had seen. When they went to Australia, they found black swans and this was very unexpected.

One tale of unexpected risks comes from a casino example. Casinos spend millions of dollars on gambling risks. However, a casino’s biggest risk can come, not from gambling, but such things as someone wanting to blow up a casino or from a casino not filling the right tax forms.

He also points out that people generally attributes their success from their skills, but attributes their failures to events outside their control or randomness. He also points out that capitalism destroys large companies but socialism does not. Socialist’s governments tend to protect their monster companies and kill off all potential newcomers in the womb.

A nice short video review of this book (less than 2 minutes) is at YouTube. Another short video that discusses both Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan is also on YouTube at Papamedia. There is also a 9 minute video with Taleb at Harvard University talking about social problems . See 40 minute interview by Richard Herring at Wharton.

There is a good review at the Guardian. Giles Foden very much loved the first book Taleb wrote called “Fooled by Randomness, however, he feels this book was rushed and badly written. I must say, I very much enjoyed this book, but then I have not yet read Fooled by Randomness. I probably should.

Another review is by a blogger called Grumpy Old Bookman. This review is quite long, but well worth reading.

I found this a very interesting book and Taleb says many very interesting things. However, he is quite full of himself.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has his own site. This book has an entry on Wikipedia at The Black Swan. There is also an entry for the theory.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Taleb. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Debt by David Graeber

David Graeber, as an anthropologist understood why and how our ancestors stop free riders. As a socialist, he wants more of it today. In what world is a family collecting welfare into the 4th generation is not a free rider? Can we really afford that all these people never contribute to our society? (And ironically now, if you are temporarily destitute now, you get to live on the streets. What sort of progress is this?)

He talks about how we think that virtual money is new. (Virtual money is when you do not pay for things with physical cash, like paying with credit or debit cards.) But this has very long history and was really the original way people dealt with each other in a market place. We had credit systems, kept tabs, even expense accounts before we had cash.

We seem to assume that billion is money, but this idea come and gone through history. History really has switched between periods when money was billion and when money was virtual or an abstraction.. He talks about the vast majority of Mesopotamia’s cuneiform documents were financial in nature. Things were priced in silver, but apparently silver was not in circulation.

Credit goes back a long way. And money is basically an IOU. Money is a measure of trust in other human beings rather than a measure of value.

Another thing he talks about is how markets sprang up around ancient armies. The rise of states and the rise of markets go together. Rather an interesting connection.

Graeber can also go off on tangents. He says that Cortes was murderous because he owed money to banks, and therefore we should blame his actions on capitalism. However, Jinkis Khan was also a murderous bastard with the same sort of followers Cortes had, but it did not do what he did, conquer, rape and pillage because he owed money to banks.

This is rather a long book, but there are all sorts of interesting things Graeber says about early history and anthropology. It is well worth the time to read.

There is a video of David Graeber being interviewed by Charlie Rose. There is also a later one on David Graeber being interviewed because of this book, debt. See Conversations with Great Minds David Graeber on Debt, The 1st 5000 years.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Graeber. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies

In this book he looks at various European countries that I disappear. This book is a great read. Davies is a great historian and his books can bring history alive for his readers. His views can also be quite unique. He looks at Polish history through a story on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and talks about USSR through Estonia’s history.

Reading about vanishing countries certainly shows how impermanent our world can be. The most recent country to vanish is the USSR, but it is hardly unique. This book talks about Europe, but there are vanished kingdoms all over the world.

I think that reading such books give you a deeper understanding of history and this book particular gives you a deeper understand of Europe and its people.

There is a great review of this book at Financial Times by Dominic Lieven.

Professor Norman Davies, talks to Toby Clements talks about his new book, Vanished Kingdoms at The Telegraph.

Mel Cooper talks to Professor Norman Davies at Wildwater TV.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Davies. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

Sam Harris thought that there was a problem that Science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Harris in this book urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being. Who can disagree with this as it sounds and is logical.

What I do not like about Sam Harris is that he considers himself on of the new atheist, along with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The problem with both Dawkins and Hitchens is that they have made a religion out of atheism. They both strongly believe that “if you do not think like they do you are wrong” (or stupid, you choice).

I strongly believe in free speech. I have never found anyone else that thinks anything like I do. .So, you could see why I really believe in free Speech. You might also see why I have problems with Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ idea of free speech, which is only free as long people say what they should (according to their ideas).

In ending the book, Harris says that science can have something to say about values (because values relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures). I agree. However, Harris goes on to say that if you have values that do not relate to the well-being of conscious creatures, he is not interested in hearing from you. Your thoughts could be of no possible interest to anyone. (This is again with the – if you do not think like I do, you are wrong.)

There is a lot to agree with in the book. However, I think that we have only just begun to understand our universe. I do not believe that Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris are men who know all the answers to God, the Universe and all that.

The Globe and Mail has a Book Review where John Horgan dislikes the idea that science can say anything about morality, but likes the religion bashing stuff.

On YouTube, you can find a lecture by Sam Harris on the ideas in his book. It is a little long at almost 2 hours.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Harris. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

This book’s full title is The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence has Declined. Steven Pinker is an extremely engaging writer. He has written several books, I must admit that they are long, but highly readable.

One of the most interesting things Pinker says is about the “Moralizing Gap”. He says that people think that harm that they inflict to be justified and forgettable. However, they think that the harm they suffer to be unprovoked and grievous. This can explain some long standing disputes between peoples.

One of things he talks about is ideology. The really big body counts in history pile up when a large number of people have a motive than seems to transcend selfishness. With ideology, the end is idealistic. But its ideology that have driven many of the worse things that people have ever done to each other. Just think of the pile of deaths attributable to communists.

Another interesting thing is the rise in crime in the 1960’s. A number of people thought the rise in crime in the 1960’s was because of the 1960’s culture. The relaxation of self-control was glorified. Do your own thing. Let it all hang out. The crime rate started to come done in the 1990’s and it is almost back to where it was in the 1950’s.

You can find Steven Pinker on my favourite video site of You can hear Steven Pinker give a 20 minute speech on the subject of the myth of violence at TED. This is well worthwhile listening to and does not take long.

Not everyone believes him. You can see this at in a column by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian. She admits to not reading the book, thinking it is too long. She interviews him at Guardian Videos.

However, this is not the only book I have read on this subject. I have read and reviewed Azar Gat, an anthropologist’s book called War in Human Civilization on my site. Gat’s book is not as well known or as popular, but he also is an engaging writer and well worth reading.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Pinker. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.