Sunday, October 21, 2018

My Reading List

Many of us like to discuss the latest books we've read and what we've learned. I've read a lot of new stuff, books that you'll find cited in newspaper and magazine articles. However I've started to drift back into the past. I find it the best way of making sense of the present.

I'm still working my way through Horne's 1907 work, "The Meaning of Modern Life," a bible of Progressive thought at the turn of the last century. (I scored a good condition, first edition for just $15.) It's a weighty tome that runs to about 600 pages but, at the end, instead of an index it has scads of quizzes - and they're not easy.

I'm also getting through JK Galbraith's 1958 classic, "The Affluent Society," in which he explores the meteoric rise in public wealth concurrent with the impoverishment of the public sector.

Subject to Canada Post's rotating strikes I'm looking forward to delivery of two other books. First is Berton's 1982 book, "Why We Act Like Canadians," and then Carl Sagan's 1995 book, "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark."

It can be hard to keep track of the pace of change that's upon us now. It was when I revisited books that I had bought a decade ago and longer that this rate of change became clear. Alarmingly clear.

I'm looking forward to Berton's book as a time capsule revealing what it meant to be a Canadian 35-years ago. How have we changed, collectively and individually? How do today's 'Canadian values' reflect our values of that earlier time? Remember, Berton's book was published at the beginning of the Reagan era, just before Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney ushered in the neoliberal order.

Sagan's Demon-Haunted World interests me because he focuses on the need to imbue Americans with the skills of critical and skeptical thinking so vital to enabling people to distinguish between valid science and pseudoscience. This, I hope, will provide insights into the mess today in which belief-based thinking so often prevails over knowledge-based thought.   I touched on this recently in a piece on Oliver and Wood's new book, "Enchanted America: How Intuition and Reason Divide our Politics."

There's little that's pleasant or inspirational in going back to what we were, to what we once had. It's like taking inventory and finding much of the stock is gone and much of what remains is fast degrading. Yet without benchmarks, we're deprived of any meaningful measure of the changes that have overtaken us and those other changes that are looming. Without these metrics we're pretty much reduced to looking the other way and no good can come of that.

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