Brain Pickings

7 Must-Read Books by TED Global Speakers

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Design imperialism, what gender equality has to do with military spending, and where 185 pig parts go.

Last week, reported from this year’s TEDGlobalfour grueling days of cerebral stimulation and idea orgy spectatorship. Today, we spotlight 7 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers, litmus-tested for brilliance in the world’s most reliable quality-control lab: the TED stage.

PIG O5049

Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma set out to explore the increasing difficulty with which we can trace the origin of the products we consume in this age of globalization, labor specialization and outsourcing.

In PIG O5049, she hunts down the astounding number of different products — 185, to be exact — made from parts of a specific pig, owned by a farmer friend and tagged with the identification number 05049.

The book is a photographic anthology of these items — ranging from — complete with infographic charts and diagrams outlining the production destiny of the various pig parts.

Beautifully bound and visually stunning, the book takes an unusual, non-preachy approach to an issue of ever-growing importance, leaving you the reader to draw your own conclusions — a task more challenging than it sounds in an age of information overload and prescriptive ideology.

WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM

We’ve had a longtime brain crush on cultural theorist and author Steven Johnson, one of the sharpest thinkers and most compelling writers in the broader world of creative culture and intellectual property. His latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, explores exactly what the title promises — and, based on his instant-hit TED talk, it does so in a brilliant way that treks across anthropology, sociology, philosophy, behavioral psychology, cognitive science and copyright law, breezing through the cross-pollination of these diverse disciplines with an ease and humor that promise a read not fit for putting down.

The book comes out in October and is now available for pre-order.

THE VISUAL MISCELLANEUM

The Visual Miscellaneum, which we reviewed in full last October, is one of our all-time favorite books, so we were delighted to see its author, David McCandless take the TED stage. (And even more delighted to chat with him about infoviz and Britishness over wine.)

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this visualization gem, a brilliantly curated anthology of infographic whimsy on anything from military spending to the most pleasurable guilty pleasures.

THE ACORN HOUSE COOKBOOK

Chef and entrepreneur Arthur Potts Dawson has set out to revolutionize the restaurant industry, the world’s most wasteful, second only to war. His Waterhouse restaurant, for instance, is the world’s first fully non-carbon eatery, running entirely on hydroelectricity from kitchen to table — a true walk-the-walk manifestation of his principles.

In The Acorn House Cookbook: Good Food from Field to Fork, with a foreword by TEDPrize winner and food activism celebrity Jamie Oliver, Dawson intersects great food with environmental sensibility in a recipe arsenal that makes for the most refined kind of moral and gustatory palate.

HALF THE SKY

At TED, women’s rights crusader Sheryl WuDunn made a convincing case for the idea that gender inequality is the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century.

Her bestselling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is as much a necessary course in cultural anthropology and gender politics as it is a manifesto for intercepting a vicious cycle of raging abuse and quiet oppression. She points to local women as the most powerful change agents without which it is impossible for a country to raise itself from poverty.

THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE

In The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi, Turkish novelist Elif Shafak weaves a fascinating story-within-a-story involving a Bostonian suburban housewife, literary infatuation, and 13th-century mysticism.

The novel exudes Shafak’s characteristic East-West narrative, a cross-cultural bridge of eloquence and captivating storytelling, and links nicely to her excellent TED talk about how fiction can overcome identity politics.

Stories help us get a glimpse of each other and, sometimes, maybe even like what we see.”

DESIGN REVOLUTION

Last year, we reviewed Emily Pilloton‘s fantastic humanitarian design anthology, Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People. Since then, Pilloton and her partner have moved the Project H Design headquarters to Bernie County, North Carolina — one of rural America’s poorest areas, where 13% of children live below the poverty line. There, Pilloton has set out to revolutionize a broken education system from the ground up, founding the country’s first high school design/building program. She lives and breathes the Project H Design manifesto: There is no design without action; design WITH, not FOR; document, share and measure; start locally and scale globally; design systems, not stuff.

Design Revolution remains a powerful reminder of why humanitarian design matters — not to egos but to communities, not to award committees but to human ecosystems. It’s a particularly interesting read in the context of the recent epic kerfuffle in the design community, initiated by Bruce Nussbaum as he called designers the new imperialists, unleashing a deluge of responses by some of today’s most arduous in-the-field humanitarian designers, including Architecture for Humanity’s Cameron Sinclair, FrogDesign’s Robert Fabricant, and Pilloton herself.

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