Bookmarked How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories by Alex Rosenberg (The MIT Press)

Why we learn the wrong things from narrative history, and how our love for stories is hard-wired.

To understand something, you need to know its history. Right? Wrong, says Alex Rosenberg in How History Gets Things Wrong. Feeling especially well-informed after reading a book of popular history on the best-seller list? Don't. Narrative history is always, always wrong. It's not just incomplete or inaccurate but deeply wrong, as wrong as Ptolemaic astronomy. We no longer believe that the earth is the center of the universe. Why do we still believe in historical narrative? Our attachment to history as a vehicle for understanding has a long Darwinian pedigree and a genetic basis. Our love of stories is hard-wired. Neuroscience reveals that human evolution shaped a tool useful for survival into a defective theory of human nature.

Stories historians tell, Rosenberg continues, are not only wrong but harmful. Israel and Palestine, for example, have dueling narratives of dispossession that prevent one side from compromising with the other. Henry Kissinger applied lessons drawn from the Congress of Vienna to American foreign policy with disastrous results. Human evolution improved primate mind reading―the ability to anticipate the behavior of others, whether predators, prey, or cooperators―to get us to the top of the African food chain. Now, however, this hard-wired capacity makes us think we can understand history―what the Kaiser was thinking in 1914, why Hitler declared war on the United States―by uncovering the narratives of what happened and why. In fact, Rosenberg argues, we will only understand history if we don't make it into a story.

hat tip Jeff Jarvis.

🔖 An Introduction to Complex Systems: Making Sense of a Changing World​ | Joseph V. Tranquillo | Springer

Bookmarked An Introduction to Complex Systems: Making Sense of a Changing World​ by Joseph V. Tranquillo (Springer)
This book explores the interdisciplinary field of complex systems theory. By the end of the book, readers will be able to understand terminology that is used in complex systems and how they are related to one another; see the patterns of complex systems in practical examples; map current topics, in a variety of fields, to complexity theory; and be able to read more advanced literature in the field. The book begins with basic systems concepts and moves on to how these simple rules can lead to complex behavior. The author then introduces non-linear systems, followed by pattern formation, and networks and information flow in systems. Later chapters cover the thermodynamics of complex systems, dynamical patterns that arise in networks, and how game theory can serve as a framework for decision making. The text is interspersed with both philosophical and quantitative arguments, and each chapter ends with questions and prompts that help readers make more connections.

🔖 How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr

Bookmarked How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel ImmerwahrDaniel Immerwahr (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A pathbreaking history of the United States’ overseas possessions and the true meaning of its empire

We are familiar with maps that outline all fifty states. And we are also familiar with the idea that the United States is an “empire,” exercising power around the world. But what about the actual territories―the islands, atolls, and archipelagos―this country has governed and inhabited?

In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light. We travel to the Guano Islands, where prospectors collected one of the nineteenth century’s most valuable commodities, and the Philippines, site of the most destructive event on U.S. soil. In Puerto Rico, Immerwahr shows how U.S. doctors conducted grisly experiments they would never have conducted on the mainland and charts the emergence of independence fighters who would shoot up the U.S. Congress.

In the years after World War II, Immerwahr notes, the United States moved away from colonialism. Instead, it put innovations in electronics, transportation, and culture to use, devising a new sort of influence that did not require the control of colonies. Rich with absorbing vignettes, full of surprises, and driven by an original conception of what empire and globalization mean today, How to Hide an Empire is a major and compulsively readable work of history.

hat tip: On the Media: Empire State of Mind

📑 Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (my reading notes) | Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD

Annotated Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (my reading notes) by Raul Pacheco-VegaRaul Pacheco-Vega (raulpacheco.org)
While I would say that Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett’s book “Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences“, is neither a new book nor an old one (it was published in 2004), it is definitely a classic and a must-read. Moreover, I’m a comparativist, and someone who undertakes systematic case study comparisons, so George and Bennett’s book is definitely my go-to when I want to revise my research strategy.   

Acquired Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissell

Acquired Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissell (Faber & Faber (2016))
The story of Twelve Apostles is the story of early Christianity: its competing versions of Jesus’s ministry, its countless schisms, and its ultimate evolution from an obscure Jewish sect to the global faith we know today in all its forms and permutations. In his quest to understand the underpinnings of the world’s largest religion, Tom Bissell embarks on a years-long pilgrimage to the apostles’ supposed tombs, traveling from Jerusalem and Rome to Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, India, and Kyrgyzstan. Along the way, Bissell uncovers the mysterious and often paradoxical lives of these twelve men and how their identities have taken shape over the course of two millennia. Written with empathy and a rare acumen—and often extremely funny—Apostle is an intellectual, spiritual, and personal adventure fit for believers, scholars, and wanderers alike.

Purchased at UCLA Store for $6.99+tax

Acquired The Witches, Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

Acquired The Witches, Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown and Company)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra, the national bestseller, unpacks the mystery of the Salem Witch Trials.

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. 

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.

As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, THE WITCHES is Stacy Schiff's account of this fantastical story-the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.

Purchased at UCLA Store for $8.99+tax

🔖 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

Bookmarked The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff (PublicAffairs; 1 edition)

Shoshana Zuboff's interdisciplinary breadth and depth enable her to come to grips with the social, political, business, and technological meaning of the changes taking place in our time. We are at a critical juncture in the confrontation between the vast power of giant high-tech companies and government, the hidden economic logic of surveillance capitalism, and the propaganda of machine supremacy that threaten to shape and control human life. Will the brazen new methods of social engineering and behavior modification threaten individual autonomy and democratic rights and introduce extreme new forms of social inequality? Or will the promise of the digital age be one of individual empowerment and democratization?

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is neither a hand-wringing narrative of danger and decline nor a digital fairy tale. Rather, it offers a deeply reasoned and evocative examination of the contests over the next chapter of capitalism that will decide the meaning of information civilization in the twenty-first century. The stark issue at hand is whether we will be the masters of information and machines or its slaves.

book cover of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

Can’t wait to get this…

On first blush, I’ll note that the cover looks a lot like that of Pikkety’s Captialism in the 21st Century. Certainly an interesting framing by the publisher.

🔖 The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies | Allen Lane (2018)

Bookmarked The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies (Allen Lane)

How does life create order from chaos? And just what is life, anyway? Leading physicist Paul Davies argues that to find the answers, we must first answer a deeper question: 'What is information?' To understand the origins and nature of life, Davies proposes a radical vision of biology which sees the underpinnings of life as similar to circuits and electronics, arguing that life as we know it should really be considered a phenomenon of information storage. In an extraordinary deep dive into the real mechanics of what we take for granted, Davies reveals how biological processes, from photosynthesis to birds' navigation abilities, rely on quantum mechanics, and explores whether quantum physics could prove to be the secret key of all life on Earth. Lively and accessible, Demons in the Machine boils down intricate interdisciplinary developments to take readers on an eye-opening journey towards the ultimate goal of science: unifying all theories of the living and the non-living, so that humanity can at last understand its place in the universe.

book cover of The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies

Found via review.

🔖 Creative Clarity by Jon Kolko

Bookmarked Creative Clarity by Jon Kolko (Brown Bear LLC)

This book is built on a simple premise: Most companies don't know what creativity really is, so they can't benefit from it. They lack creative clarity. 

Creative clarity requires you to do four things:
1. Choreograph a creative strategy, describing a clear future even among the blurry business landscape.
2. Grow teams that include those creative, unpredictable outcasts;  give them the space to produce amazing work; and build a unique form of trust in your company culture.
3. Institutionalize an iterative process of critique, conflict, and ideation.
4. Embrace chaos but manage creative spin and stagnation. 

This book is primarily for people in charge of driving strategic change through an organization. If you are a line manager responsible for exploring a horizon of opportunity, the book will help you establish a culture of creative product development in which your teams can predictably deliver creative results. You'll learn methods to drive trust among your team members to enable you to critique and improve their work. And as an organizational leader, you'll complement your traditional business strategies with the new language and understanding you need to implement creativity in a strategic manner across your company.

In a creative environment, chaos is the backdrop for hidden wonderment and success. In this book, you'll gain clarity in the face of that chaos, so you can build great products, great teams, and a high-performing creative organization.  

hat tip: Human Current

🔖 Journalism, Online Comments, and the Future of Public Discourse by Marie K. Shanahan | Routledge

Bookmarked Journalism, Online Comments, and the Future of Public Discourse by Marie K. ShanahanMarie K. Shanahan (Routledge)

Comments on digital news stories and on social media play an increasingly important role in public discourse as more citizens communicate through online networks. The reasons for eliminating comments on news stories are plentiful. Off-topic posts and toxic commentary have been shown to undermine legitimate news reporting. Yet the proliferation of digital communication technology has revolutionized the setting for democratic participation. The digital exchange of ideas and opinions is now a vital component of the democratic landscape. Marie K. Shanahan's book argues that public digital discourse is crucial component of modern democracy―one that journalists must stop treating with indifference or detachment―and for news organizations to use journalistic rigor and better design to add value to citizens’ comments above the social layer. Through original interviews, anecdotes, field observations and summaries of research literature, Shanahan explains the obstacles of digital discourse as well as its promises for journalists in the digital age.

book cover of  Journalism, Online Comments, and the Future of Public Discourse

hat tip: Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

🔖 The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings by Bart D. Ehrman

Bookmarked The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford University Press; 6 edition)

Featuring vibrant full color throughout, the sixth edition of Bart D. Ehrman's highly successful introduction approaches the New Testament from a consistently historical and comparative perspective, emphasizing the rich diversity of the earliest Christian literature. Distinctive to this study is its unique focus on the historical, literary, and religious milieux of the Greco-Roman world, including early Judaism. As part of its historical orientation, the book also discusses other Christian writings that were roughly contemporary with the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the letters of Ignatius.

Book cover of The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings by Bart D. Ehrman

An interesting looking textbook from Ehrman.

This is a recommended text for Dale Martin’s course Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature.

🔖 Networks by Mark Newman

Bookmarked Networks by Mark Newman (Oxford University Press; 2 edition)

The study of networks, including computer networks, social networks, and biological networks, has attracted enormous interest in the last few years. The rise of the Internet and the wide availability of inexpensive computers have made it possible to gather and analyze network data on an unprecedented scale, and the development of new theoretical tools has allowed us to extract knowledge from networks of many different kinds. The study of networks is broadly interdisciplinary and central developments have occurred in many fields, including mathematics, physics, computer and information sciences, biology, and the social sciences. This book brings together the most important breakthroughs in each of these fields and presents them in a coherent fashion, highlighting the strong interconnections between work in different areas.

Topics covered include the measurement of networks; methods for analyzing network data, including methods developed in physics, statistics, and sociology; fundamentals of graph theory; computer algorithms; mathematical models of networks, including random graph models and generative models; and theories of dynamical processes taking place on networks.

book cover of Networks by Mark Newman

🔖 The Deep Learning Revolution by Terrence J. Sejnowski | MIT Press

Bookmarked The Deep Learning Revolution by Terrence J. Sejnowski (MIT Press)

How deep learning―from Google Translate to driverless cars to personal cognitive assistants―is changing our lives and transforming every sector of the economy.

The deep learning revolution has brought us driverless cars, the greatly improved Google Translate, fluent conversations with Siri and Alexa, and enormous profits from automated trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Deep learning networks can play poker better than professional poker players and defeat a world champion at Go. In this book, Terry Sejnowski explains how deep learning went from being an arcane academic field to a disruptive technology in the information economy.

Sejnowski played an important role in the founding of deep learning, as one of a small group of researchers in the 1980s who challenged the prevailing logic-and-symbol based version of AI. The new version of AI Sejnowski and others developed, which became deep learning, is fueled instead by data. Deep networks learn from data in the same way that babies experience the world, starting with fresh eyes and gradually acquiring the skills needed to navigate novel environments. Learning algorithms extract information from raw data; information can be used to create knowledge; knowledge underlies understanding; understanding leads to wisdom. Someday a driverless car will know the road better than you do and drive with more skill; a deep learning network will diagnose your illness; a personal cognitive assistant will augment your puny human brain. It took nature many millions of years to evolve human intelligence; AI is on a trajectory measured in decades. Sejnowski prepares us for a deep learning future.

The Deep Learning Revolution by Terrence J. Sejnowski book cover

🔖 Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell

Bookmarked Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell (curtisbrown.co.uk)

No recent scientific enterprise has been so alluring, so terrifying, and so filled with extravagant promise and frustrating setbacks as artificial intelligence. But how intelligent—really—are the best of today’s AI programs? How do these programs work? What can they actually do, and what kinds of things do they fail at? How human-like do we expect them to become, and how soon do we need to worry about them surpassing us in most, if not all, human endeavors? 

From Melanie Mitchell, a leading professor and computer scientist, comes an in-depth and careful study of modern day artificial intelligence. Exploring the cutting edge of current AI and the prospect of 'intelligent' mechanical creations - who many fear may become our successors - Artificial Intelligence looks closely at the allure, the roller-coaster history, and the recent surge of seeming successes, grand hopes, and emerging fears surrounding AI. Flavoured with personal stories and a twist of humour, this ultimately accessible account of modern AI gives a clear sense of what the field has actually accomplished so far and how much further it has to go.