Table of Contents
by Janet L Abu-Lughod
This is a description of the economic system stretching from Western Europe to Eastern Asia between 1250 AD and 1350 AD. It includes discussion of the Silk Routes through central Asia and the trade in the Indian Ocean.
There was much more contact than I realized.
by Christopher Alexander et al
This book is written in an interesting rhetorical form that works well with topics that are often considered `matters of taste' -- how towns and buildings are and should be built, how to handle traffic, how to build safe neighborhoods.
Each pattern is described in a chapter with three parts:
This format is very powerful and could be adopted elsewhere.
You can use this to judge the quality of the architecture that surrounds you.
A very important book.
As for Christopher Alexander: I have read some of his more recent work and am disappointed; I suppose the diplomatic way of saying it is that he no longer lives in the same universe as I.
The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets
by Christopher Alexander
A theory of beauty based on an examination of early Turkish carpets. Alexander, the mathematician and architect who wrote A Pattern Language, discusses how the unity of a carpet is the result of the perceived unity of all its parts at all levels of scale, with the appropriate density and interconnection of elements. This requires or implies figure/ground reversal.
by Robert Axelrod
Among other discussions, this book, whose subtitle is "Agent-based Models of Competition and Collaboration", describes the best strategy in a reiterated game in which there is `noise' -- actions of competition and cooperation in which sometimes the intended strategy is done wrongly.
Moreover, it discusses how countries and businesses decide with whome to make an alliance, and how to create norms.
by Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby
This is a major source for the new discipline of evolutionary psychology, a study that is supposed to provide a good understanding of the underlying reasons people evolved to have certain capabilities. There are many who argue that the explanations provided are `just so' stories and not falsifiable. Certainly, it is easy to create misleading `just so' stories. The question is whether the discipline is intrinsically weak or whether good work is possible.
In this volume, the essays talk about the human evolution of pregnancy sickness, aesthetic responses to landscapes, gossip., and various psychodynamic mechanisms such as regression, introjection, identification with the aggressor, and humor.
by Gregory Bateson
This collection of essays is focused on cybernetic thinking, which is a valuable mode of thinking that became formalized only in the past half century. The essays are often humorous and cover anthropology, art, propaganda, semantics, play, schizophrenia, history, city planning, and ecology.
It has an especially good essay on why the Allies' 1919 betrayal of the Fourteen Points was so much worse than a mere `ruse of war'.
by Geoffrey Blainey
A heterodox study of the causes of war between organized nation-states that reverses many commonplace axioms such as the desirability of a balance of power.
In brief, wars occur when the two sides disagree over their relative power; when they agree over their relative power, they negotiate. Power, of course, comes in many forms (else the Vietnamese would not have defeated the US).
Espionage and anthropology become the weapons of pacifists.
by Fernand Braudel
This book is about ordinary life in the four centuries preceeding the industrial revolution: How everyone lived before the modern age; clothing, food, how long a letter took. Europeans ate more meat than the members of any other civilization. Wine froze in the glasses of a banquet at the Palace of Versailles because no one knew how to build a good fireplace before about 1700.
by Fernand Braudel
This is a social and economic history of the world from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution. It includes both Europe and other civilizations.
by Alfred D Chandler Jr
This describes the history of industrial growth and competitiveness in Germany, England, and the United States between 1870 and 1940. Each country followed a different path: bank-coordinated monopoly in Germany, non-competitive cooperation in English, and oligopoly in the US. Explains why railroad owners in the US who did not want government intervention to regulate monopolies felt forced to seek it even before the populists.
The author describes the history of enterprises that are still important, such as General Electric and Dupont.
by Hal Clement
A science fiction novel about a planet with a much higher gravity than earth and a different kind of atmosphere. The influence of the environment is a theme.
by Paul Colinvaux
An explanation of how food chains work--which is why big fierce animals are rare--and other matters of ecology, such as why the sea is blue (instead of green, like well watered land).
by Samuel R Delany
A science fiction novel telling how to save capitalism, disguised as a fast-moving adventure.
by Jared Diamond
How the growth of food production and the domestication of animals led to diseases that kill those not previously exposed; and provide enough surplus food that metallurgy become possible, and more.
by George Dyson
George Dyson's father, Freeman Dyson, worked on Project Orion in the late 1950s. The project designed a heavy spaceship that could carry people to other planets in a reasonably time. The spaceship would be driven by exploding nuclear bombs behind it, one or two every second for 10 or 20 minutes.
The key technical understanding was that a steel plate, covered by a thin coating of oil, could survive a nearby nuclear explosion. The oil (which could be sprayed on) would ablate; the steel plate, while accelerated violently, would survive.
The steel `pusher' plate would be coupled through multiple shock absorbing systems to a multi-thousand ton human-carrying main body. The human passengers would survive because the shock absorbing systems would convert the high acceleration, short pulses of the exploding bombs into a gentler, longer, 2 to 6 gravity, bearable acceleration.
The huge mass of the spaceship would provide shielding against the radiation from the explosions, as well as against radiation from solar flares and the like. The bigger the spaceship, the smoother the ride and the thicker the shielding. Moreover, the bigger the spaceship, the lower the incremental cost for bombs, since it is cheap to make bombs bigger, once you have an initial hydrogen bomb.
According to calculations by Freeman Dyson, about 10 people over the world would die from radiation poisoning from each launch. He made this calculation at a time when the same calculations told him that about 1000 people died each year from the then on-going atmospheric nuclear tests. (Dyson was very disturbed by the amount of radiation released in each launch; he hoped that bomb designers could design `cleaner' bombs.)
No Orion spaceships were built. One reason is that the US Air Force, which liked bombs, could not figure out a reason to explore the solar system. On the other hand, NASA, which wanted to explore the solar system, did not like bombs. Then the test ban treaty came along. While Orion might be considered `peaceful', and thus permitted, few wanted to explode any atomic bombs in the Earth's atmosphere.
I think that if the project had started two or three years earlier, so that a vehicle had already been designed by the time Sputnik was launched in the Fall of 1957, the US would have built and launched one in the summer of 1958. This launch would have `proven' US prowness over that of the Soviets, taken place while numerous atmosphere nuclear tests were taking place, and taken place before ICBMs with thermonuclear warheads became a primary US strategic weapon.
But, as I said, the project died. Nonetheless, it provides for great `what if' parallel world questions.
by Alan Page Fiske
If true, this book outlines, in a generic sense, how intelligent extraterrestials *must* live....
Alan Page Fiske argues that all social life is composed of patterns of interaction that are based on four types of scale: categorical, ordinal, interval, and ratio. The scales provide ways of perceiving, and thereby of organizing social interaction.
The four scales are not mere manifestations of a single culture, but are different primary mathematical structures. They are different axiomatically. They are transcultural.
For example, use of a hallway in a building is an kind of social action based on a categorical scale: if you are permitted into the building, you have a right to walk down the hallway; no one feels that someone else has more of a right to walk down the hallway. If you are in the Navy, you know your rank compared to someone else (ordinal scale), but there is no measure of how much one rank is `greater than' another, only that one rank is greater.
If you and a friend share babysitting, you may not put a money value to the baby sitting, but you or the other person owe nights to each other (interval scale). You feel cheated if you provide five nights of baby sitting and the other provides only one.
by Thomas Ferguson,
The book is mostly historical. It traces which groups gave money to political parties over the past two centuries. The thesis is that politicians avoid acting against the interests of their major monetary supporters. It taught me more about the `era of good feelings' in the 1820s than anything else I read.
A more recent example: Ferguson argues that Roosevelt was able to favor labor in the 1930s because his major supporters were international bankers, the chemical and oil industries, and the like. These are companies for whom labor costs were not as salient as labor costs were in the textile industry, which supported Republicans. (Unions are seldom as important in US political money matters as business -- they just aren't rich enough.)
So Roosevelt could continue to receive major donations even though he did things that would have caused a different set of donors to stop giving to his Republican opponents had they done the same.
Ferguson himself is doubtless what one might consider left wing, but his research is good.
by Stephen L. Gillett
How to invent a world that fits what we know about physics and chemistry: at the right distance from its star to be the right temperature, with a gravity that keeps the atmosphere in, with living begins composed of substances that might replicate.
by Marvin Harris
This is an ecological approach to understanding otherwise incomprehsible customs: for example, why, under certain circumstances, having Sacred Cows is sound and sensible in parts of India; how protein hunger causes warfare and male chauvinism in some some Amazonian tribes.
A study in Mathematical Beauty
by H. E. Huntley
About Phi, the golden ratio, approx 1.6 to 1. Often understood as the basis for beautiful rectangles, angles, and spirals; and found in many apparently dissimilar circumstances, such as five pointed stars, sunflowers, musical scales, nautilus shells, and the number of petals of the iris, primrose, and daisy.
Martin Gardner wrote a scathing attack on `The Cult of the Golden Ratio' in the Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1994, Vol.18, #3, p. 243.
by Archer Jones
This is a history of strategy, tactics and weapons. Jones explains why tactics in land warfare changed little in the past 2500 years even though weapons' destructive power of increased many times.
by Paul Kennedy
A history of the great powers of the past 500 years and of the relative abundance produced by their economies.
by John Meynard Keynes
Written after he resigned from the British delegation to the Versailles peace conference at the end of WWI, this book analyses the impact on Germany of the treaty. It shows extraordinary foresight and is a model of clear writing and clear economic analysis combined with passionate argument.
by Robert Klitgaard
The books contains a discussion of corruption and how to control it. It is addressed to government officials, especially those in developing countries. Bribery is universally shameful, in even countries and cultures where it is widely practiced. Even under a corrupt government such as the Marcos regime in the Phillipines, it may be possible to fight corruption in some government departments. Klitgaard presents several case studies and check lists of what to do.
Klitgaard also wrote Tropical Gangsters, a memoire of his experience in Equatorial Guinea as head of a World Bank program.
by George Lakoff
This discusses what categories reveal about the mind. ("Women, fire, and dangerous things" is a gramatical category in an Australian language, as embedded in the language is tense or number is in English.) It advances a model of how people think and use language.
The book discusses a wide range of topics of interest both to philosophers and people studying languages. For example, some languages use one word for the colors we call blue and green. But in all languages, speakers say that the `best' example of sample colors in the blue-green range is the sample one closest to the peak sensitivity for either blue or green by the eye.
by Ursula LeGuin
Perhaps the best book ever written about anarchy. A science fiction novel.
by Steffan B Linder
A beautiful, verbal, orthodox economic analysis of "free time", so-called. A wonderful exercise in economic thinking without mathematics. Challenges the purpose of our economic system.
by Theodore Modis
A logistic curve or `S' curve, starts off low, increases exponentially for a period, then flattens out.
A great many phenomena fit logistic curves: new automobile registrations by year, Einstein's cumulative number of publications, the shift from steam to diesel for railroad engines, decline of coal production in the United Kingdom, cumulative number of manned and unmanned lunar missions, sales of VAX computers. ...
Also, Modis has quantified the uncertainties in determining logistic curve fits given just the beginning of a curve.
An earlier, more technical, but equally fascinating book was written by Arnulf Grübler:
The Rise and Fall of Infrastructures Dynamics of Evolution and Technological Change in Transport by Arnulf Grübler Published by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA, Reprinted 1999 ISBN 3-7045-0135-2 http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/TNT/WEB/Publications/The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Infrastru/the_rise_and_fall_of_infrastru.html
by Joel Mokyr
A history of technology and economic development of the past few hundred years. Advances the proposition that in any one country, periods of innovation last only a short time; and discusses why the first industrial revolution failed to occur in China before it occurred in Europe.
by Randolf M. Nesse, M.D. and George C. Williams, Ph.D.
As Nesse and Williams say, the appendix is `less-than-useless'. It requires resources that a threatened organism might otherwise use to stave off death. So why does it continue to exist? Perhaps because, as they say:
Natural selection gradually reduces the size of the useless appendix, but any appendix narrower than a certain diameter becomes more vulnerable to appendicitis. Thus, deaths from appendicitis may paradoxically select for a slightly larger appendix, maintaining this less-than-useless trait. Selection is also almost certainly very slowly making the appendix shorter, but in the meantime the appendix may be maintained by the shortsightedness of natural selection.
by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
A science fiction novel about the ultimate use and re-use of resources and about about different social system, disguised as an adventure story and as a satire on 1930s space opera.
by Orlando Patterson
This book is about the history and various forms of slavery. Slavery was common all over the world. (It was more common than I had known; I did not know, for example, that the Cherokee kept slaves or that Indians in the American Northwest kept slaves, some of whom they killed in Potlachs to demonstrate their wealth.) Slaves were often people or descendents of people who chose (dishonorably) to become slaves rather than be killed, so their status as slaves was considered lower than that of death. In a subsequent book, Patterson argues that slavery was important in the development of the concept of freedom in the European tradition.
by Adam Przeworski
How countries make the transition from dictatorship to democracy, or fail to do so. And how they make or fail the transition from planned to market economies.
Also, while good deal of talk postulates, in effect, that democracies start in `a state of nature', this book starts with a sitting tyranny.
The book also discusses the conditions under which groups that may lose in a democratic contestation, such as a former military, will go along with the change of government, even when they have the power to subvert the change.
Przeworski discusses the recent transitions in South American and Eastern Europe and provides a model for thinking about the former Soviet Union and countries in the Third World.
by Joan Slonczewski
A science fiction novel about pacifism.
by P. S. Stevens
This books shows many hundreds of patterns, including samples of the seven different types of frieze or strip pattern that are mathematically possible, and the 17 types of pattern that are possible in two dimensional space. (A strip pattern is a ribbon; all 7 frieze patterns can be generated by combinations of exactly four operations: translation, rotation, reflection, and glide (an `over and up' movement).)
by George R Stewart
A novel about a storm that hits California and how all the parts of government tackle the effects: road crews, controlled flooding, power line fixing, maintenance of telephone service, and so on. This book was used the British Civil Service for training people.
by William Strauss and Neil Howe
This is a `pop psychology' book about the stereotypical characteristics of American generations since the Puritans. But in spite of being `pop psychology' it is rather interesting.
By stereotypical generation, the authors mean the Sixties generation (the baby boomers), the Silent generation, the `Lost Generation'. The authors argue that there are four different stereotypical types of generation that occur in sequence in a cycle, not just two as many think. They say that America has gone through four and a half such cycles since 1584 (with one cycle cut short by the Civil war).
Gripping history of the war that ended the golden age of Greek civilization
by Edward R Tufte
Different ways of displaying quantitative information beautifully and effectively. Of importance to people who produce reports or proposals containing such information.
by Gerhard L. Weinberg
Essays on why Hitler wanted to declare war on the US, and did so before the US declared war on Germany, why the German high command expected to win war as a result of an Allied invasion of Normandy, and what Hitler intended.
Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configurations
by Anna Wierzbicka
Sample definitions of concepts such as `soul' and `courage' in different languages, using a small number of concepts that apparently are universal:
I, you, someone, something, this, say, want, don't want (or `no'), feel, think; know, where, good; when, can, like, the same, kind of, after, do, happen, bad, all, because, if, two; part, become, imagine, world
One of three definitions of `soul', using only these concepts:
soul (definition 1, often contempory American) one of two parts of a person one cannot see it it is part of another world good beings are part of that world things are not part of that world because of this part a person can be a good person
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