I’ve been having fun reading and imagining new approaches to upward mobility, environmental sustainability, and living the good life! All issues that have occupied my mind these last years. Here, I offer some of those ruminations (in a different type of blog from my previous ones).
As you read this list, think of books and other materials you would suggest related to these topics. My goal is to find ways to influence our critical thinking for creative solutions to these intractable challenges.
Several books about the English language state that our word, sentence, and paragraph choices make big differences in how we solve problems. The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language by Peter Martin recalls dictionary feuds, reminding us that language is a dynamic phenomenon. Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecelia Watson celebrates the semicolon; not unlike First Your Write a Sentence by Joe Moran which celebrates the sentence as the core of language. Trish Hall gives us Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side, which addresses contemporary issues such as why lies are more popular than facts on Twitter; and the value gained from reading op-eds.
The Goodness Paradox by Richard Wrangham and Blueprint by Nicholas Christakis both explore the evolutionary origins of human morality and societies. These books suggest that if we pay attention to these findings we may generate a moral code and practice more congenial and generous behavior. “Be good to your neighbors, lest they gang up and condemn you to death,” as one reviewer suggests we learn from these books. Also of note is Science and the Good by James David Hunter and Paul Nedelisky. These authors attack the natural basis of morality and that morality should be concerned with much more than the pragmatics of social harmony.
On Truth by Simon Blackburn (a mere 142 pages) is one in a long list of books trying to understand our new understanding of fake facts. Some feel they have been denied trustworthy sources of information in the face of the proliferation (and Balkanization) of news sources, supported by the cloak of web anonymity. Blackburn argues that truth is humble, not absolute like a tentative judgment. It is like walking on a bog where the ground seems to hold for the present. Here you stay until it begins to give way. We can only hope that the enemies of reason will not prevail and have faith that the best will overcome the worst (as Blackburn ends his books).
For you nature lovers, I have several books that study place and specific natural things. Here are three books about Central Park – remember when it was lawless, derelict, no-man’s land? Saving Central Park by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Central Park Conservancy head, traces the history of the park and her own relationship to it. Another good read is The Central Park: Original Designs for New York’s Greatest Treasure by Cynthia S. Brenwall (curator of the Central Park collection of the New York City Municipal Archives) shows old maps of the park’s plans. Clarence Cook wrote Descriptions of the New York Central Park, an 1869 park walking tour. Lastly, A Green Place to Be by Ashley Benham Yazdani shows other pictures of the park.
Trees! Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori travels the world to find unusual trees evening telling about experiences eating nuts from rees in India. The Architecture of Trees by Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi is functionally a reference manual for landscape architects, especially those in Europe. Conversations with Trees by Stephanie Kaza takes us to California trees. Sprout Lands by William Bryant Logan is about how trees serve society using techniques like pollarding and coppicing. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben describes a forest as a community whose members communicate through chemical and electrical signals. The Secret Wisdom of Nature by the same author writes why things happen in nature like how much carbon dioxide is released when a square mile of the forest goes up in flames, relevant to the burning Amazon.
Now that you’ve read my recommendations, be sure to send me the books that have influenced your thinking on social issues, including about the environment, society, and general civility. Speaking of Civil Society, see Who Killed Civil Society by Howard Husock. Spoiler alert – the government for eroding the values that enable people to succeed in life. Interesting?