Everything from cutting-edge scientific ideas to a new philosophy of learning to art that honors living in the moment
Memorial Day weekend has come, which means summer has officially begun. And what's summer without a good summer reading list? So here it is--a cross-disciplinary selection of the 10 most essential cognitive fertilizers for a season of creative and intellectual growth. (Want more? Don't hesitate to revisit last year's list, full of timeless gems to catch up on.)
1. THE INFORMATION: A HISTORY, A THEORY, A FLOOD
The future of information is something I'm deeply interested in, but no such intellectual exploit is complete without a full understanding of its past. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, by iconic science writer James Gleick, is easily the most ambitious, compelling, insert-word-of-intellectual-awe-here book to read this year, illustrating the central dogma of information theory through a riveting journey across African drum languages, the story of the Morse code, the history of the French optical telegraph, and a number of other fascinating facets of humanity's infinite quest to transmit what matters with ever-greater efficiency.
"We know about streaming information, parsing it, sorting it, matching it, and filtering it. Our furniture includes iPods and plasma screens, our skills include texting and Googling, we are endowed, we are expert, so we see information in the foreground," he writes. "But it has always been there." ~ James Gleick
But what makes the book most compelling to me is that, unlike some of his more defeatist contemporaries, Gleick roots his core argument in a certain faith in humanity, in our moral and intellectual capacity for elevation, making the evolution and flood of information an occasion to celebrate new opportunities and expand our limits, rather than to despair and disengage.
Full review here.
2. AN OPTIMIST'S TOUR OF THE FUTURE
From longevity science to robotics to cancer research, Stevenson explores the most cutting-edge ideas in science and technology from around the world, the important ethical and philosophical questions they raise, and, perhaps most importantly, the incredible potential for innovation through the cross-pollination of these different ideas and disciplines.
"This is a book that won't tell you how to think about [the future], but will give you the tools to make up your mind about it. Whether you're feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the future is up to you, but I do believe you should be fully informed about all the options we face. And one thing I became very concerned about is when we talk about the future, we often talk about it as damage and limitation exercise. That needn't be the case -- it could be a Renaissance." ~ Mark Stevenson
Full review here.
3. LIVE NOW
"Cancer changed the way I ate, slept, and most importantly the way I live. Before cancer I was like most folks, just cruising along. It was during my treatment, when starting to discover what cancer could give to me -- the ability to absorb every moment as if each one were my whole life." ~ Eric Smith
Kirstin Butler's full review, with more images, here.
4. THE INTERNET OF ELSEWHERE
From how Skype was invented in Estonia to why Senegal may be Sub-Saharan Africa's best chance for widespread public Internet access to what makes South Korea the most wired country in the world, the book offers profiles of local tech pioneers alongside insightful analyses of cultural context and what the "developed world" can learn from these countries, in some cases years ahead in harnessing the sociopolitical virtues of web technology. And, in a meta move true to the subject matter, Farivar successfully funded the book's European tour on Kickstarter.
"The Internet is not, in fact, a seed. It does not have the ability to bring about world peace and the elimination of the nation-state, any more than the telegraph did. It is but a tool that, when combined effectively with local political and economic realities, can have demonstrably positive and often surprising effects. However, this tool can be co-opted and/or fought against by regimes that are not ready for it to be used freely. Other developing societies, too, may not be completely ready to use the Internet effectively. This is why manifestations of the Internet remain so varied in different corners of the globe. This book is an attempt to tell the story of what happens when the Internet collides, head-on, with history unfamiliar to most Americans." ~ Cyrus Farivar
5. A NEW CULTURE OF LEARNING
"We're stuck in a mode where we're using old systems of understanding learning to try to understand these new forms, and part of the disjoint means that we're missing some really important and valuable data." ~ Douglas Thomas
Full review, complete with video interviews with the authors, here.
6. THE FILTER BUBBLE
"In some ways, I think the primary purpose of an editor [is] to extend the horizon of what people are interested in and what people know. Giving people what they think they want is easy, but it's also not very satisfying: the same stuff, over and over again. Great editors are like great matchmakers: they introduce people to whole new ways of thinking, and they fall in love." ~ Eli Pariser
Full review, along with a revealing exclusive interview with Pariser, here.
The app itself is free, with various language pairs available for in-app purchase. The first pair released is Spanish-English, with more coming soon.
Without being a self-help book, Flourish manages to offer insightful techniques to optimize yourself, your relationships and your business for well-being, based on empirical evidence culled from years of Seligman's rigorous research.
"Relieving the states that make life miserable... has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. The time has finally arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the 'good life.'" ~ Martin Seligman
Full review, along with a primer by way of Seligman's 2004 TED talk, here.
8. THE LATE AMERICAN NOVEL
"Are we going to have to find new ways to get noticed? Yes. Do we get to find news ways to get noticed? Yes. Is it trouble? Yes. But trouble is the stuff of writing and creation. Time to shut up and get to the making, get back to that sense of play where everything interesting, including the future, finally fast and soon to be here, starts." ~ Ander Monson
Kirstin Butler's full review, with ample quotes from the book, here.
To honor Curie's spirit and legacy, Redniss rendered her poetic artwork in an obscure early-20th-century image printing process called cyanotype, critical to the discovery of both x-rays and radioactivity itself -- a cameraless photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. Once exposed to the sun's UV rays, this chemically-treated paper turns a deep blue color. The text in the book is a unique typeface Redniss designed using the title pages of 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts from the New York Public Library archive. She named it Eusapia LR, for the croquet-playing, sexually ravenous Italian Spiritualist medium whose séances the Curies used to attend. The book's cover is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink.
Full review, with more images and a TEDx talk by Redniss, here.
10. GOD BLESS YOU, DR. KEVORKIAN
"During my most recently controlled near-death experience, I got to interview William Shakespeare. We did not hit it off. He said the dialect I spoke was the ugliest English he had ever heard, 'fit to split the ears of groundlings.' He asked if it had a name, and I said 'Indianapolis.'" ~ Kurt Vonnegut
Full review, with a rare transcript from Vonnegut's original pitch for the series to WNYC, here.
This post also appears on Brain Pickings.
Images: Main image via Patrick Hoesly/flickr, others courtesy of Maria Popova