🔖 Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker (Viking)
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing. Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature--tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking--which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation. With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

I’ve got almost all of his works, this one portends to be very interesting as well. Potentially a nice chaser to his last book.

🔖 The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen (Riverhead Books)
The essential journalist and bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy. Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen's understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own--as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings. Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today's terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time and for all time.

Bookmarked after listening to an episode of The Atlantic Interview.

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🔖 Lower Ed: How For-Profit Colleges Deepen Inequality in America by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy by Tressie McMillan Cottom (The New Press)
More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. These schools have been around just as long as their bucolic not-for-profit counterparts, yet shockingly little is known about why they have expanded so rapidly in recent years—during the so-called Wall Street era of for-profit colleges. In Lower Ed Tressie McMillan Cottom—a bold and rising public scholar, herself once a recruiter at two for-profit colleges—expertly parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show precisely how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today. McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. And she doesn’t stop there. With sharp insight and deliberate acumen, McMillan Cottom delivers a comprehensive view of postsecondary for-profit education by illuminating the experiences of the everyday people behind the shareholder earnings, congressional battles, and student debt disasters. The relatable human stories in Lower Ed—from mothers struggling to pay for beauty school to working class guys seeking “good jobs” to accomplished professionals pursuing doctoral degrees—illustrate that the growth of for-profit colleges is inextricably linked to larger questions of race, gender, work, and the promise of opportunity in America. Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.
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The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart

The Bread Baker's Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread: Peter Reinhart: 9781607748656: Amazon.com: Books by Peter ReinhartPeter Reinhart (Tenspeed Press)
Co-founder of the legendary Brother Juniper’s Bakery, author of ten landmark bread books, and distinguished instructor at the world’s largest culinary academy, Peter Reinhart has been a leader in America’s artisanal bread movement for more than thirty years. Never one to be content with yesterday’s baking triumph, however, Peter continues to refine his recipes and techniques in his never-ending quest for extraordinary bread. In this new edition of the award-winning and best-selling The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter shares bread breakthroughs arising from his study in France’s famed boulangeries and the always-enlightening time spent in the culinary college kitchen with his students. Peer over Peter’s shoulder as he learns from Paris’s most esteemed bakers, like Lionel Poilâne and Phillippe Gosselin, whose pain à l’ancienne has revolutionized the art of baguette making. Then stand alongside his students in the kitchen as Peter teaches the classic twelve stages of building bread, his clear instructions accompanied by more than 100 step-by-step photographs. You’ll put newfound knowledge into practice with fifty master formulas for such classic breads as rustic ciabatta, hearty pain de campagne, old-school New York bagels, and the book’s Holy Grail—Peter’s version of the famed pain à l’ancienne, as well as three all-new formulas. En route, Peter distills hard science, advanced techniques, and food history into a remarkably accessible and engaging resource that is as rich and multitextured as the loaves you’ll turn out. In this revised edition, he adds metrics and temperature conversion charts, incorporates comprehensive baker’s percentages into the recipes, and updates methods throughout. This is original food writing at its most captivating, teaching at its most inspired and inspiring—and the rewards are some of the best breads under the sun.
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Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav SmilVaclav Smil (MIT Press)
Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows -- ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity -- for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel--driven civilization. Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts -- from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity's energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil's Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.

h/t Bill Gates

 

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The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright)
In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation―that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation―the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments―that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day. Through extraordinary revelations and extensive research that Ta-Nehisi Coates has lauded as "brilliant" (The Atlantic), Rothstein comes to chronicle nothing less than an untold story that begins in the 1920s, showing how this process of de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, as millions of African Americans moved in a great historical migration from the south to the north. As Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the 1950s that created many of the impoverished neighborhoods we know. Now, Rothstein expands our understanding of this history, showing how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post–World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. Finally, Rothstein shows how police and prosecutors brutally upheld these standards by supporting violent resistance to black families in white neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded. Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and Minneapolis show us precisely how the legacy of these earlier eras contributes to persistent racial unrest. “The American landscape will never look the same to readers of this important book” (Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund), as Rothstein’s invaluable examination shows that only by relearning this history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past.

h/t Bill Gates

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🔖 Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism by Bhu Srinivasan

Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism (Penguin Press)
“A delightful tour through the businesses and industries that turned America into the biggest economy in the world. . . . An excellent book.”—The Economist From the days of the Mayflower and the Virginia Company, America has been a place for people to dream, invent, build, tinker, and bet the farm in pursuit of a better life. Americana takes us on a four-hundred-year journey of this spirit of innovation and ambition through a series of Next Big Things -- the inventions, techniques, and industries that drove American history forward: from the telegraph, the railroad, guns, radio, and banking to flight, suburbia, and sneakers, culminating with the Internet and mobile technology at the turn of the twenty-first century. The result is a thrilling alternative history of modern America that reframes events, trends, and people we thought we knew through the prism of the value that, for better or for worse, this nation holds dearest: capitalism. In a winning, accessible style, Bhu Srinivasan boldly takes on four centuries of American enterprise, revealing the unexpected connections that link them. We learn how Andrew Carnegie's early job as a telegraph messenger boy paved the way for his leadership of the steel empire that would make him one of the nation's richest men; how the gunmaker Remington reinvented itself in the postwar years to sell typewriters; how the inner workings of the Mafia mirrored the trend of consolidation and regulation in more traditional business; and how a 1950s infrastructure bill triggered a series of events that produced one of America's most enduring brands: KFC. Reliving the heady early days of Silicon Valley, we are reminded that the start-up is an idea as old as America itself.

Jeff Jarvis made this book sound interesting on the latest episode of This Week in Google. The referenced snippet starts at 1:51:30 into the show.

I suspect it’s similar in flavor to American Amnesia which I’ve been reading and enjoying lately–and need to get around to finishing.

 

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🔖 Ten Great Ideas about Chance by Persi Diaconis and Brian Skyrms

Ten Great Ideas about Chance (Princeton University Press)
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, gamblers and mathematicians transformed the idea of chance from a mystery into the discipline of probability, setting the stage for a series of breakthroughs that enabled or transformed innumerable fields, from gambling, mathematics, statistics, economics, and finance to physics and computer science. This book tells the story of ten great ideas about chance and the thinkers who developed them, tracing the philosophical implications of these ideas as well as their mathematical impact. Persi Diaconis and Brian Skyrms begin with Gerolamo Cardano, a sixteenth-century physician, mathematician, and professional gambler who helped develop the idea that chance actually can be measured. They describe how later thinkers showed how the judgment of chance also can be measured, how frequency is related to chance, and how chance, judgment, and frequency could be unified. Diaconis and Skyrms explain how Thomas Bayes laid the foundation of modern statistics, and they explore David Hume’s problem of induction, Andrey Kolmogorov’s general mathematical framework for probability, the application of computability to chance, and why chance is essential to modern physics. A final idea―that we are psychologically predisposed to error when judging chance―is taken up through the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Complete with a brief probability refresher, Ten Great Ideas about Chance is certain to be a hit with anyone who wants to understand the secrets of probability and how they were discovered.

h/t Michael Mauboussin

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🔖 Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown

Origin: A Novel (Doubleday)
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence. As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret. Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us. 480 pages ISBN-10: 0385514239 ISBN-13: 978-0385514231

Ordered a copy on 10/7/17 at 12:06pm from Amazon.

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🔖 Back to the Future: The Decentralized Web, a report by Digital Currency Initiative & Center for Civic Media

Back to the Future: The Decentralized Web, A report by the Digital Currency Initiative and the Center for Civic Media (Digital Currency Initiative / MIT Media Lab)
The Web is a key space for civic debate and the current battleground for protecting freedom of expression. However, since its development, the Web has steadily evolved into an ecosystem of large, corporate-controlled mega-platforms which intermediate speech online. In many ways this has been a positive development; these platforms improved usability and enabled billions of people to publish and discover content without having to become experts on the Web’s intricate protocols. But in other ways this development is alarming. Just a few large platforms drive most traffic to online news sources in the U.S., and thus have enormous influence over what sources of information the public consumes on a daily basis. The existence of these consolidated points of control is troubling for many reasons. A small number of stakeholders end up having outsized influence over the content the public can create and consume. This leads to problems ranging from censorship at the behest of national governments to more subtle, perhaps even unintentional, bias in the curation of content users see based on opaque, unaudited curation algorithms. The platforms that host our networked public sphere and inform us about the world are unelected, unaccountable, and often impossible to audit or oversee. At the same time, there is growing excitement around the area of decentralized systems, which have grown in prominence over the past decade thanks to the popularity of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a payment system that has no central points of control, and uses a novel peer-to-peer network protocol to agree on a distributed ledger of transactions, the blockchain. Bitcoin paints a picture of a world where untrusted networks of computers can coordinate to provide important infrastructure, like verifiable identity and distributed storage. Advocates of these decentralized systems propose related technology as the way forward to “re-decentralize” the Web, by shifting publishing and discovery out of the hands of a few corporations, and back into the hands of users. These types of code-based, structural interventions are appealing because in theory, they are less corruptible and resistant to corporate or political regulation. Surprisingly, low-level, decentralized systems don’t necessarily translate into decreased market consolidation around user-facing mega-platforms. In this report, we explore two important ways structurally decentralized systems could help address the risks of mega-platform consolidation: First, these systems can help users directly publish and discover content directly, without intermediaries, and thus without censorship. All of the systems we evaluate advertise censorship-resistance as a major benefit. Second, these systems could indirectly enable greater competition and user choice, by lowering the barrier to entry for new platforms. As it stands, it is difficult for users to switch between platforms (they must recreate all their data when moving to a new service) and most mega-platforms do not interoperate, so switching means leaving behind your social network. Some systems we evaluate directly address the issues of data portability and interoperability in an effort to support greater competition.

Download .pdf

h/t Ethan Zuckerman
Related to http://boffosocko.com/2017/08/19/mastodon-is-big-in-japan-the-reason-why-is-uncomfortable-by-ethan-zuckerman/

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E-book “Education and Technology: Critical Approaches”

E-book "Education and Technology: Critical Approaches" (Diálogos sobre TIC & Educação!)
Following months of hard work, we are finally ready to publish our 2017 e-book, Education and Technology: critical approaches. This bilingual collection brings together 12 chapters written by researchers based in Brazil, Australia, Scotland, England and USA. The work has been edited by Giselle Ferreira, Alexandre Rosado e Jaciara Carvalho, members of the ICT in Educational Processes Research Group, who maintain this blog (mostly in Portuguese – at least so far!). From the editors’ Introduction: "This volume offers a measure of sobriety in reaction to the excesses and hyperboles found in the mainstream literature on Education and Technology. The pieces (…) tackle questions of power and consider contextual and historical specificities, escaping the usual euphoria that surrounds digital technology and adopting different perspectives on our current historical moment."

Available as a free .pdf download.

🔖 Elementary Algebraic Geometry by Klaus Hulek

Elementary Algebraic Geometry (Student Mathematical Library, Vol. 20) (American Mathematical Society)
This is a genuine introduction to algebraic geometry. The author makes no assumption that readers know more than can be expected of a good undergraduate. He introduces fundamental concepts in a way that enables students to move on to a more advanced book or course that relies more heavily on commutative algebra. The language is purposefully kept on an elementary level, avoiding sheaf theory and cohomology theory. The introduction of new algebraic concepts is always motivated by a discussion of the corresponding geometric ideas. The main point of the book is to illustrate the interplay between abstract theory and specific examples. The book contains numerous problems that illustrate the general theory. The text is suitable for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. It contains sufficient material for a one-semester course. The reader should be familiar with the basic concepts of modern algebra. A course in one complex variable would be helpful, but is not necessary. It is also an excellent text for those working in neighboring fields (algebraic topology, algebra, Lie groups, etc.) who need to know the basics of algebraic geometry.

Dr. Miller emailed me yesterday to confirm that the textbook for his Fall UCLA Extension ‏course Introduction to Algebraic Geometry will be Elementary Algebraic Geometry by Klaus Hulek (AMS, 2003) ISBN: 0-8218-2952-1.

Sadly, I totally blew the prediction of which text he’d use. I was so far off that this book wasn’t even on my list to review! I must be slipping…

Elementary Algebraic Geometry by Kaus Hulek (AMS, 2003)

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📺 Global Political Expert and Author Dr. Brian Klaas on Tavis Smiley (PBS)

Global Political Expert and Author Dr. Brian Klaas from PBS
The political expert and author discusses his latest book, The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy. Dr. Brian Klaas is an expert on global democracy, democratic transitions, American politics, Western foreign policy, political violence, and elections -- and the security and economic risks of all these challenges. Klaas is the author of The Despot's Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy. He is a Fellow in Global and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics. Klaas has advised governments, US political campaigns, the European Union, multi-billion dollar investors, international NGOs, and international politicians.

It seems like every time I watch this show I need to buy another book. This time it’s The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.

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Checkin Vroman’s Bookstore

Browsing… I promise.

But some early looking to figure out what to buy post-birthday isn’t against the rules though is it? This is some of the more interesting newer stuff I saw for the list:

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🔖 A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age by Jimmy Soni, Rob Goodman

A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age (Simon & Schuster)
The life and times of one of the foremost intellects of the twentieth century: Claude Shannon—the neglected architect of the Information Age, whose insights stand behind every computer built, email sent, video streamed, and webpage loaded. Claude Shannon was a groundbreaking polymath, a brilliant tinkerer, and a digital pioneer. He constructed a fleet of customized unicycles and a flamethrowing trumpet, outfoxed Vegas casinos, and built juggling robots. He also wrote the seminal text of the digital revolution, which has been called “the Magna Carta of the Information Age.” His discoveries would lead contemporaries to compare him to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. His work anticipated by decades the world we’d be living in today—and gave mathematicians and engineers the tools to bring that world to pass. In this elegantly written, exhaustively researched biography, Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman reveal Claude Shannon’s full story for the first time. It’s the story of a small-town Michigan boy whose career stretched from the era of room-sized computers powered by gears and string to the age of Apple. It’s the story of the origins of our digital world in the tunnels of MIT and the “idea factory” of Bell Labs, in the “scientists’ war” with Nazi Germany, and in the work of Shannon’s collaborators and rivals, thinkers like Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Vannevar Bush, and Norbert Wiener. And it’s the story of Shannon’s life as an often reclusive, always playful genius. With access to Shannon’s family and friends, A Mind at Play brings this singular innovator and creative genius to life.

I can’t wait to read this new biography about Claude Shannon! The bio/summer read I’ve been waiting for.

With any luck an advanced reader copy is speeding it way to me! (Sorry you can’t surprise me with a belated copy for my birthday.) A review is forthcoming.

You have to love the cover art by Lauren Peters-Collaer.

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