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24 FEBRUARY, 2011

5 Must-Read Books by TED 2011 Speakers

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What doodling has to do with the evolution of consciousness and the raw beauty of the Arctic.

Last year, our selection of 7 must-read books by TEDGlobal speakers was one our most popular articles of 2010. Today, as we prepare for next week’s big event, we’re back with 5 essential reads by TED 2011 speakers, once again litmus-tested for brilliance in the world’s most reliable quality-control lab: the TED stage.

SELF COMES TO MIND

You may recall iconic neuroscientist Antonio Damasio from his insights on what it means to be human. Published last fall, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain is his ambitious exploration of the underpinnings of the self. From distilling cognitive phenomena like creativity and memory to illuminating vital distinctions like brain vs. mind and self vs. consciousness, Damasio does for neuroscience what Malcolm Gladwell does for business, synthesizing complex notions and rigorous research into a digestible, absorbing narrative. The book is a surprisingly worthy follow-up to Damasio’s excellent, impossibly unmatchable 2005 Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.

AS THE FUTURE CATCHES YOU

Harvard Business School professor and futurist Juan Enriquez, whose Homo Evolutis was one of last month’s revolutionary first crop of TEDBooks, is a thoughtful observer of the profound cultural and biological changes that genomics and other life sciences are sweeping through society. In As the Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth, he takes a provocative look at the trajectory of technological progress, contextualizing scientific milestones in relative historical terms that help us grasp the true scale of innovation that surrounds us. (He argues, for instance, that February 2, 2001 — the date that anyone with Internet access could access the entire human genome — is equivalent in magnitude of importance to Columbus’s 1492 discovery of America.)

Sample Enriquez’s genius with his excellent 2009 TED talk on how the evolution of technology is impacting the financial crisis:

Besides the compelling thinking, the As the Future Catches You is a beautiful experience in and of itself, adorned with sophisticated typography and eye-popping graphics. Enriquez has purposely left blank pages for your notes in an effort to stress that the issue is an ongoing conversation with no conclusive answers, inviting you to partake in its intellectual exploration.

GAMESTORMING

We’re big proponents of the value of play in enhancing creativity, productivity and well-being. And while most people have an intuitive understanding of this correlation, it remains a taboo in the formal world of business. In Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, visual thinker and tinkerer Sunni Brown, along with co-authors Dave Gray and James Macanufo, makes a compelling case for the tangible, practical applications of play in business, applying game mechanics to revolutionize business models and work environments across a remarkably wide spectrum of industries.

The book features 83 actual, playable games designed specifically for honing the creative process, facilitating problem-solving, overcoming organizational tensions, and even making meetings shorter and more productive. Playful and pragmatic, the book is an absolute treat from cover to cover.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Bill Gates is no stranger to TED. But while the world may have had more than its fair share of Gates exposure in recent decades, it’s undeniable that the iconic geek is a bold visionary. To truly appreciate his keen grasp of the future, we need only look at the past: Published more than 15 years ago, The Road Ahead is a priceless compendium of insights from Gates, who predicts the development and application of present-day information technology with astounding accuracy and further projects its future in shaping our lives with the provocative vision of a true entrepreneur. From personal computing to business to education, the book is both a rare timecapsule of the dawn of ubiquitous computing and an extraordinary lens for what lies ahead.

Sample the book’s retrofuturistic genius with this teaser about Gates’ 1995 vision for the future of education:

POLAR OBSESSION

Naturalist and wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen grew up in one of the only non-Inuit families on Baffin Island, Nunavut, in a tiny native settlement in the sprawling ice fields of Northern Canada. In Polar Obsession, he reconnects with his roots in a striking and powetic visual ode to the Arctic at the intersection of art and science. At once a bittersweet portrait of climate change and a passionate call to action in honoring the incredible planet we inhabit, the book is a visceral and deeply alive reminder of just what’s at stake as we talk about a topic so chronically overpoliticized and sterilized of aliveness.

A kittiwake soars in front of a large iceberg. Svalbard, Norway

Looking towards an uncertain future, a huge male bear triggers a camera trap, taking his own picture. Leifdefjorden, Spitsbergen, Norway

A gentoo penguin chick peeks, checking for patrolling leopard seals before tempting fate. Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula

Mother bear and two-year-old cub drift on glacier ice. Hudson Strait, Nunavut, Canada

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23 FEBRUARY, 2011

Created Equal: Parallel Portraits of Cultural Difference

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Nearly two years ago, we explored Exactitudes — a visual study of similarity within subcultures. Now, we turn to the opposite: From photographer Mark Laita comes Created Equal — a visual study of diffrence between subcultures.

The stunning series of parallel portraits juxtaposes people from opposite ends of the cultural, ideological or socioeconomic spectrum, offering a subtle reminder of our shared humanity despite the clash and separation of our circumstances.

In America, the chasm between rich and poor is growing, the clash between conservatives and liberals is strengthening, and evil and good seem more polarized than ever before. At the heart of this collection of diptychs is my desire to remind us that we are all equal, until our environment, circumstances or fate molded and weathered us into whom we have become.” ~ Mark Laita

Country Fair Livestock Show Contestant / Cajun Man

Ballerina / Boxer

Homeless Man / Real Estate Developer

Baptist Minister / Ku Klux Klan

Polygamist / Pimp

Gangster / Mafioso

Company President / Janitor

Mariachis / Elvis Impersonators

Fur Trapper / Woman with Dog

Baptist Churchgoer / White Supremacist

Amish Teenagers / Punk Teenagers

Bank Robber / Deputies

Astronaut / Alient Abductee

Completed over the course of eight years, Created Equal captures the poignant polarity of contemporary culture.

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23 FEBRUARY, 2011

Waiting for Hockney: Documenting a Dreamer’s Determination

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Patience and devotion are necessary ingredients for almost all art. But for Baltimore artist Billy Pappas, they exist on an entirely different plane. After becoming obsessed with the idea of drawing the richest, most real portrait in history, Pappas spent eight years meticulously crafting a reproduction of an iconic Marilyn Monroe photograph, pouring up to a day into a single hair of microscopic anatomical accuracy. When he was finally done, he realized it would take a special kind of eye to truly appreciate his feat. So he set out to put it in front of iconic contemporary artist David Hockney, who Pappas came to believe was his ticket to success in the art world. But what happens when Pappas, flying from Maryland to Los Angeles armed with a cake his mother baked for the occasion, finally scores the big meeting?

Waiting for Hockney is filmmaker Julie Checkoway‘s fascinating documentary about Pappas’ obsession, narrated by the artist himself and featuring interviews with his unusually supportive family and friends, revealing the anatomy of an eccentric obsession.

Though about art, Waiting for Hockney, isn’t an art documentary. Rather, it’s the moving and deeply human story of a dreamer’s determination, exploring the extreme end of the same spectrum of single-minded dedication across which all of our aspirations slide.

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23 FEBRUARY, 2011

Visions of the Future: Isaac Asimov’s Unrealized Pilot

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What vintage computers have to do with unrealized TV series and the future of humanity.

We love iconic science fiction author and futurist Isaac Asimov, whose keen insights on creativity in education were a favorite last month. Two years before his death, Asimov recorded a pilot for a TV series synthesizing his visionary ideas about where humanity is going. When he passed away in 1992, the pilot for the series was adapted into a tribute documentary titled Visions of the Future, now available on YouTube in four parts, totaling 40 minutes of rare footage and biographical background on the great thinker.

The series was intended to cover new breakthroughs in science and technology, preparing people for the coming future — essentially, the antithesis to the Future Shock series narrated by Orson Welles.

Most fascinating of all are Asimov’s thoughts on computers, which may seem like common sense today but in fact presage the modern applications of computing, from mobile technology to consumer electronics to artificial intelligence, by two decades.

Perhaps the most revolutionary development of recent years has been that of the computer. Because for the first time we’ve discovered a machine that can substitute, at least in part, the human brain. Before that, it was just a matter of saving human muscles, of using machinery to spare what human muscles couldn’t do very well.” ~ Isaac Asimov

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