Catching up on Books

I’m going to do a three-for-one book blog with this entry as a way of catching up a little. One way or the other my 2011 book blogging challenge is coming to a close.

Originally, I said my goal was to read and blog about 52 books this year. That would have been an average of a book a week. I completed that goal in July. At that point, I changed my goal to 100 books. It seemed reasonable enough at the time, but I failed to take into consideration just how overwhelming the fall semester always is. I also failed to take into consideration the fact that I might get distracted with other projects along the way, which I have done with my recent genealogy research.

The books that I am posting today are numbers 71, 72, and 73. I’m a ways still from 100, and I don’t have much time left. I still think I could get there if I were willing to be rude enough to read straight through Christmas. I did consider this option, but in the end decided against it. Thus, I’m now changing my official goal to 78 books for the year. That makes for an average of 1.5 books per week.

I’m not sure whether to declare this success or failure. Either way, I press on.

#71

Back to Work by Bill Clinton

Clinton’s book about the jobs crisis is obviously a very partisan book. I did find his view of what we needed to do to create more jobs interesting, though. A number of his points corresponded with what Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum had to say in That Used to Be Us, but Clinton goes farther toward arguing for big government. He also defends some of his own policies that Friedman and Mandelbaum criticized in their book.

That said, what I got from the book was the idea that, along with the rise in income inequality in this country, we are also losing the kind of competitive edge that a strong middle class has given us in the past. This means that it is harder to attract even our own companies toward keeping jobs in the US. This is where he addresses the same flat world economics that Friedman has talked about in several books. What do we do to keep America working in a globalized market?

Clinton says we can’t do it with anti-government attitudes. He says that the globalized nature of the economy means that every country needs more infrastructure than ever in order to keep up. This, he says, can’t be accomplished as long as we have such strong anti-government sentiments in the US.

He says a lot more, but that’s my nutshell. I agree to an extent. We don’t live in the same world. We are competing with other countries now, not just for manufacturing jobs, but for highly skilled technical jobs as well. We do need more infrastructure in order to remain competitive in this case.

I was disappointed that Clinton didn’t do more to own up to mistakes made on both political sides, but I don’t know why I would have expected him to. I knew this was not a politically neutral book when I picked it up. As long as you are okay with that, you’ll find some fairly brilliant insights into the economy in this book, insights that have been repeated by a number of people with fewer political dogs in the fight.

The world has changed, and we have to change the way we do business in the world if we want to keep up. That’s a little tough to swallow at times, but it is nevertheless our reality.

#72

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

This is a great book. If you have any interest at all in psychology of neuroscience, you should read it.

Eagleman offers lots of examples of ways the brain does things we’re unaware of. What we think of as instinct, as things we’re able to do without thinking about them, are really just the result of unconscious levels of brain activity taking over. When baseball player hits a ball moving too fast to be seen, that’s an example of the power of the unconscious.

He also talks about brain tumors and such have changed people’s personalities and brought out tendencies in them that they would not have otherwise had. He uses these cases to challenge our thinking about who the “real” person is. We tend to think that what’s deeper inside is truer to the real person than what’s on the surface. Thus, when someone like Mel Gibson gets drunk and lets loose with offensive comments he wouldn’t make while sober, we think we are now seeing the true person.

This book challenges those notions and challenges us to reconsider our ways of understanding the unconscious and its relationship to the conscious.

Fascinating stuff.

#73

The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta

I grew up traumatized by stories of The Rapture. Every time I found myself in a room alone I thought The Rapture had taken place. That’s why I’m the last person who should have read this book. I found it seriously creepy. It’s well done and deserving of the literary praise it’s received, but it is also seriously creepy.

The Leftovers is a novel about a Rapture-like event. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world disappear into thin air all at once, but there doesn’t seem to be any religious rhyme or reason to it. The people who disappear are not followers of any particular religion. Atheists go at the same rate as Christians. Drug abusers go at the same rate as small children. The whole thing just seems random.

In the aftermath, a number of strange cults pop up, and Christians devote themselves to proving that what happened was not the actual Rapture.

This is a secular view of a religious concept. It follows the inhabitants of a small town in the aftermath of an event that no one quite understands. The reactions and behaviors of the characters show a very sophisticated understanding of human nature. The story is compelling.

It is also creepy, very creepy. If you are not prepared to deal with creepy, skip over it. If, on the other had, your sensibilities can handle a secular fantasy based on a Christian idea, go for it. It will certainly make you think.

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