The Creative Society

One of the very best (and most refreshing) books that I’ve read—really read, not just skimmed—in a long while is The Creative Society: How the Future Can Be Won by Lars Tvede. The book sets the American Studies canon on its head taking on “greats” like Jared Diamond. TCS examines not only how, but why we find ourselves where we are now. The root is his argument is that free exchange of ideas and goods constantly demands new methods and new ideas. This, he argues is creativity which fosters unparalleled capacity for moving forward human intelligence, ingunity, and intuition. Tvede makes a compelling case.

Why did Western Europe succeed in the later half of the 20th century, while Eastern Europe disintegrated. Why is South Korea a burgeoning economy, whereas North Korea struggles to feed its people. Why did the British, Russian, Soviet, Egyptian, Roman empires fail? Why was China a rapidly growing society from 1000–1900, but then slowed significantly since? Tvede argues that totalitarian regimes and rigidity in systems of governance extinguishes creativity. This occurs rapidly. The Roman Empire, for example unraveled over the span of 70 short years, after dominating much of the world for nearly 1500. The Soviet Empire collapsed within the span of 3 years after dominating half of Europe and most of Asia for nearly 100. These and other societies collapsed from the weight of creativity pulsing at its door. As the Soviets ushered in perestroika and glasnost, for example, the resultant (and latent) surge in creativity rapidly propelled the system of governance out of order.
Tvede makes a persuasive aruguement for accepting or resisting change and the causal correlations that stem from either acceptance or resistance. Think of the book as a ethnographic and historic underpinning to Florida’s immensely popular, but shallow on compelling argument, Rise of the Creative Class. This text is unabashed in its explanations and suppositions and takes on one prejudice after another and skillfully (and convincingly) defuses each. In so doing, answers the many, many questions that have plagued those of us interested in cultural dynamics and interpersonal dynamics. Tvede is on to something here, and what may be the best and most important book of the decade has received little, if any, press. Well worth a careful read. 

Inside the Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Mapmakers

This article about Soviet mapmaking first appeared in Wired. It’s fascinating that the Soviets were making *very* detailed maps of the United States while it was illegal for Soviet citizens to possess or make maps of their own cities.

Read the entire article at Wired.

A 1980 Soviet map of San Diego naval facilities (left) compared with a US Geological Survey map of the same area, from 1978 (revised from 1967). KENT LEE/EAST VIEW GEOSPATIAL; USGS Originally published at Wired.com

Great Airstream Book!

Thanks to Greg, my good friend at work, for the very thoughtful gift! 

After a long week (month….year), I am taking the night off to read! Every page so far has been interesting and very cool. 

Thanks Greg!!


I have the best job in the world. Between the great breakfast, the book, and the cheese and (gluten free) crackers…today was an awesome day!

Buying Nothing. Month Two.

So, a few folks have asked how my year of buying nothing is progressing. Overall, things are going well. I find that I most definitely shop less, do not shop recreationally, and have more time for reading, catching up with friends, and exercising.

I have allowed myself two “spending” areas:

  1. Food.
  2. Books.

I have—for years—been trying to get on the digital reading bandwagon, and while I can definitely see the advantages, there are many more disadvantages that just don’t pay off for me. I’ve gone back to reading actual books, and it’s amazing that I have been reading more, and reading things that are better quality.

Outside of those two areas, I can say that I don’t think I have spent much or purchased anything that isn’t consumable or a book. So, the short report: so far, so good!

 

Week 6: Toby’s Lie

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Toby’s Lie is among the best books I’ve ever read. The second book by novelist Daniel Vilmure who never re-appeared with a follow-up novel. Surprising considering the quality of the first, Life in the Land of the Living, and this, the second.

Toby’s Lie taps into the craft of coming-of-age. The protagonist, Toby is a high schooler who, in the span of a short time, finds out that everything he knows—his home life, his school life, his love life—is a lie.

The story is so entirely multifaceted that I have read the book about 6 times over the years, and I am never bored.

I can’t recommend Toby’s Lie enough. And… Daniel Vilmure, if you’re out there… drop a line and let us know what you’re up to!

Week 5: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why is possibly the worst book I’ve ever read. The concept is compelling: a woman commits suicide and leaves behind a shoebox full of audio tapes to explain the “thirteen reasons” why she did it. She explains that each person on “the list” had some part in pushing her over the edge.

Fascinating.

Only, I did’t know when I purchased it… the book is “young adult fiction” so the “woman” is a “girl” and her reasons are—for the most part—completely trivial.

The book, and it’s author, taps into the adolescent angst that crosses the mind of most 12-14 year olds at some point, the “boy would they all be sorry if I wasn’t around” cadre of emotion. However, in a perverse way, the book, in so doing, seems to advocate for suicide.

Then there’s the inverse catch-22. The theme of the book is simple: all the seemingly insignificant, little things that you “do” to someone, add up to a much more significant compilation of transgressions magnified by the hidden things that we don’t know about. Therefore, the moral of the story is even more simple: be nice to people.

Which, oddly, is exactly what the protagonist—named Hannah—isn’t doing. By leaving incriminating and downright mean tapes after her death she isn’t telling a story, she’s simply spreading the malaise and ill will that her alleged perpetrators subjected her to.

Even more disturbingly is the voicelessness of the protagonist. The book seems to advocate against empowering young girls/young in any manner. One of the “offenders” early on in the book gropes Hannah. She quietly takes the abuse and doesn’t report it, doesn’t speak out against it, and doesn’t seek any kind of remedy. This isn’t a positive message to send to any young person, and isn’t the way the “real world” works. Instead, Hannah simply accepts this fate, and adds it to the long—long—laundry list of offenses that occur in rapid succession. She never, ever, seeks help, confides in anyone, or reports any of the occurrences. Later in the book, Hannah cuts her hair in a desperate cry for help, which makes absolutely no sense. The message sent by the author is that Hannah is so perfect and important that everyone should have noticed that she cut her hair and that she was somehow broadcasting a warning sign of impending suicide. When no one notices, the next thing we know, this seemingly mysterious box of tapes arrives and Hannah is dead.

Really?

This book seems so cleverly conceived and so horribly executed that I can’t help but mourn the loss of the writer’s creative imagination more than the protagonist in the book.

Definitely not at all worth the read, and I would actively avoid letting it fall into the hands of any young or impressionable folks.

Week 4: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

This book jumped out at me after Many Lives, Many Masters got me thinking about sleep and cycles of consciousness. I mean, why do we sleep? Isn’t it like a mini death? Before I Go to Sleep explores that same question:

Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he’s obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis–all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she’s written three unexpected and terrifying words: “Don’t trust Ben.” Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted? At the heart of S. J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep is the petrifying question: How can anyone function when they can’t even trust themselves? Suspenseful from start to finish, the strength of Watson’s writing allows Before I Go to Sleep to transcend the basic premise and present profound questions about memory and identity. One of the best debut literary thrillers in recent years, Before I Go to Sleep deserves to be one of the major blockbusters of the summer. –Miriam Landis

I bought Before I Go to Sleep to read on a trip and I wound up reading it in a day. It’s a quick, compelling, tightly written book that definitely keeps the readers attention. The careful eye for detail in the book makes the entire story believable and emotional.

I don’t want to give too much away here, but Before I Go to Sleep is definitely worth a look.

Week 3: For the Duration by Lee Kennett

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One of the things I love about books is finding orphaned books in unexpected locations. When I was living in Costa Rica, the little cafe (with super-charged coffee) had a little shelf that acted as a local book exchange. I remember pulling many books (and leaving many books) from that shelf, and I found some unexpected dandies there.

Upon my arrival in Estonia, I found (on a similar shared shelf) For the Duration…The United States Goes to War, Pearl Harbor-1942 by Lee Kennett. The book is simply fascinating. It is written a series of essays, each focused on a different aspect of the war effort: civil defense, rationing, industrial production, and so on. Surprisingly, the book is riveting, perhaps because it is so well written.

The book conveys (clearly, which is not always easy in a historical account) the mood of the US leading up to the war, as well as the social and political undercurrents swirling around the country at the time. Interestingly, the book adequately summarizes the drive for war was indeed Pearl Harbor, not the fact that the Nazis had conquered much of Europe. By today’s standards, it seems that the alarm bells had been sounding for some time. The slow progression from an isolationist country with the 20th most powerful army in the world, to an international superpower in the shadow of the Great Depression is chronicled brilliantly.

The book is filled with many surprises that remind us the degree of advanced civilization and industrialization in 1930s and 1940s America (my favorite example is the one-mlle long assembly factory planned for Michigan to build bombers). Similarly, however, the book also reminds us of social strife, sexism, racism, and fear mongering that was prevalent during the time. The adage “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind.

First published in 1985, it’s a tough one to find. You’ll need to consult your local library, or a used bookseller to find this gem.

Week 2: The Next 100 Years by George Friedman

I first read The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century about 3 or 4 years ago while I was on a conspiracy-theory kick.

The book was written by George Friedman, who is the CEO of Stratfor, a private  geopolitical intelligence and consulting firm. According to Wikipedia, the company says it helps clients to identify opportunities, make strategic decisions, and manage political and security risks. Prior to his time at Stratfor, Friedman spent almost twenty years in academia, teaching political science at Dickinson College. During this time, he also regularly briefed senior commanders in the armed services as well as the Office of Net Assessments, SHAPE Technical Center, the U.S. Army War College, National Defense University and the RAND Corporation, on security and national defense matters. The biographical blurb of Friedman in the book makes oblique mention to his tenure as an analyst for the U.S. government.

I thought The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century was interesting when I first read it, and I strongly remembered a few things from it, principally that the constellation of powerful countries changes over time. For most of the past 150 years, Britain and the Anglosphere has been a dominant power block, while the influence of once-powerful France, Japan, Russia, and Germany have been on the decline. Well, that is only our short memory. What about when the Dutch ruled the seas? Or the Swedes ruled Northern Europe? Those days are slightly further afield from our current perspective, but nonetheless, these events occurred. These events shaped our current world.

The book makes some seemingly-strange forecasts, but the one that stuck with me is that Turkey would become a superpower in the 21st century. As recent events unfold, that memory nagged me enough to re-read this sharp and intelligent book.

The original review of the book from The New Statesman does a much better job than I at summating the rise of Turkey:

Turkey is now the world’s 17th-largest economy and the largest Islamic economy. Its military is the most capable in the region and is also probably the strongest in Europe, apart from the British armed forces. Its influence is already felt in the Caucasus, the Balkans, central Asia and the Arab world. Most important, it is historically the leader in the Muslim world, and its bridge to the rest of the world. Over the centuries, when the Muslim world has been united, this has happened under Turkish power; the past century has been the aberration. If Russia weakens, Turkey emerges as the dominant power in the region, including the eastern Mediterranean; Turkey is an established naval power. It has also been historically pragmatic in its foreign policies.

Perhaps even more revelatory is an updated shortlist of Statfor’s most recent predictions: at Business Insider. Get your copy of The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century at your local library!

Week 1: Many Lives Many Masters by Brian Weiss

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Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives

I have wanted to read this book for decades. It was published in the late 1980s, and in a time when the world moved more slowly, so it wasn’t a best seller for nearly six years until after its publication.

I remember my colleague, Elaine, reading it and running discussion groups based on it. She once gave me a one-line description of it, and I promptly forgot about it for 20 years. I was out for a neighborhood walk the other day (while Dan was getting his hair cut) and happened in to a local bookshop, that, despite it being in my neighborhood for the past 40 years, I have never set foot into.

The book leaped out at me, and I thought: why not? A good travel read.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives tells the story of a psychiatrist and his patient. The patient has anxiety and depression and when hypnotically regressed shares vivid details of past lives.

I don’t doubt the concept of past lives–I am certain there is much we don’t know about our own lives–but the very first “flashback” in the book haunts me a bit. Not because the story is scary, but because of one peculiarly in the telling of the story.

During the first regression, the patient recalls vivid details from a past life in some year–2870 BC—and that’s where it fell apart for me. If you were living in BC, or BCE as it seems to now be called, you wouldn’t know it…because it’s a time frame that was applied retroactively by historians and scholars after the birth of Christ. It would be as if some event 1,000 years from now completely re-arranged the numbering of our current timekeeping system. We would know that 1,000 years from now, but we would have no sense of it now.

That one tiny detail made me doubt the authenticity of the stories his patient recounted. Despite that (and regardless, the date issue could be explained by the simple fact that the patient was viewing that memory retrospectively) the book is a good and thought provoking read that examines our life-cycle, which I can beat explain as similar to sleep. Just as we are awake/conscious each day and we lapse into unconscious/sleep each night, it is this cycle delimited by these periods that frames our perception of time and days. Similarly, the patient reported A similar pattern to lifetimes, a new lifetime following a brief period of death. The same idea on a different scale, as it were.

Definitely thought provoking and definitely worth a read and discussion.

Have you read Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives? If so, what are your thoughts on the book?

Get the Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives at your local library, or at Amazon.