Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘anthropology’

15 DECEMBER, 2010

The Best Books of 2010: Business, Life & Mind

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Time thieves, irrational pragmatists, and what bike-sharing has to do with coming out in science.

We reviewed a lot of books this year and here are our 10 nonfiction favorites in Business, Life and Mind, a continuation of our end-of-year best-of series. (Earlier this week, we covered the best albums and the most compelling long reads published online this year.) Tomorrow, we’ll be complementing with the best books in Art, Design and Photography, so be sure to check back.

WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM

Steven Johnson is one of our favorite cultural synthesizers, the prolific author of some of the best nonfiction of the past decade. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is practically a manifesto for the founding belief of Brain Pickings — that creativity is a combinatorial force — and traces the building blocks of innovation throughout all of human history. Where Good Ideas Come From was one of our 7 must-read books by TED speakers and you can sample it visually here.

COGNITIVE SURPLUS

Clay Shirky may just be the Marshall McLuhan of our day, only with saner vocabulary and less of a penchant for LSD. (At least as far as we know.)

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, one of our 5 curated summer readings, takes a fascinating look at how new media and technology are transforming us from consumers to collaborators, harnessing the vast amounts of free-floating human potential.

WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS

Futurist Kevin Kelly may be best-known as the founder of Wired, but he’s also one of the most compelling big-picture thinkers of our time. What Technology Wants begins with a brilliantly broad definition of “technology” — encompassing everything from language itself to augmented reality — and unfolds into ten insightful universal tendencies that give technology direction.

Kelly and Johnson (see above) discussed the role of technology in innovation and the origin of good ideas in this excellent Wired article — we highly recommend it.

WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS

We’re big proponents of de-ownership. Or, as we called it in one of this year’s most-read articles, having more by owning less. The lovely and brilliant Rachel Botsman went ahead and wrote a book about it: What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption — a compelling investigation of the emergent cultural shift from consumerism to community. From bike-sharing to house-swapping to book exchanges, the book concocts a potent antidote to the modern maladies of wastefulness and access, a bold and hopeful constitution for a new era of relating to the world and one another.

I LIVE IN THE FUTURE & HERE’S HOW IT WORKS

From New York Times columnist Nick Bilton comes an ambitious exploration of where the media landscape is going and how our brains are adapting to it. I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted dissects our analog past to find the roots of our digital future and our ambivalent present, illustrating with meticulously curated historical anecdotes that new technology has always been met with resistance but has inevitably effected progress that betters human life. People didn’t resort to never leaving their homes again when the telephone came out, as the front page of The New York Times declared that year, nor did the invention of the phonograph lead to mass illiteracy at the abandonment of books. These fears, Bilton argues, were natural but unfounded, as are their contemporary counterparts.

It’s the necessary antidote to Nicholas Carr’s decidedly techno-dystopian (and, we dare add after years of neuroscience studies, largely misinformed) The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

THE UPSIDE OF IRRATIONALITY

After the Predictably Irrational slam-dunk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely outdid himself in The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home — not only a powerful research-driven look at the practical applications of irrationality, but also a personal story of the youthful accident that left Ariely scarred and sent him into years of painful physical therapy. We featured the book as one of our favorite 5 perspectives on the psychology of choice.

THIS IS NPR

Since its inception in 1970, NPR has “always put the listener first” — a mission not always friction-free at times of political turmoil, government overregulation and divided public opinion. This year, the iconic public broadcaster celebrates its 40th anniversary with This Is NPR: The First Forty Years, a beautifully designed anthology of behind-the-scenes photos, essays and original reporting, and NPR: The First Forty Years, a companion 4-CD compilation featuring some of the most memorable moments from 40 years of news, culture, conversation and commentary. We reviewed it in full, complete with a video trailer, here.

A LAB OF MY OWN

Dr. Neena Schwartz is one of the world’s most influential reproductive biologists, whose seminal work in endocrinology has changed the way science thinks about the relationship between the brain and the reproductive system. A Lab of My Own, is cultural landmark not only as a fascinating look at the feminist plight in science, but also as Schwartz’s deeply personal, powerful and graceful coming out story, with six decades of secrecy revealed for the first time on the pages of the book. We reviewed it in full here.

THE THIEF OF TIME

The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination is an absorbing anthology featuring essays by a wide range of scholars and writers spanning from the entire spectrum between theoretical and empirical. From the morality of it (is procrastination a vice?) to its possible antidotes (what are the best coping strategies?), the book is an essential piece of psychosocial insight. We first featured in one of this year’s most popular Brain Pickings posts, spotlighting 5 perspectives on procrastination, where you can find it reviewed in full.

PORTRAITS OF THE MIND

A remarkable intersection of art and science, Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century takes us on a gripping visual journey through humanity’s understanding of the brain, from Medieval sketches to Victorian medical engravings to today’s most elaborate 3D brain mapping. Author Carl Schoonover delivers a book that sources its material in solid science, roots its aesthetic in art, and reads like an ambitious literary anthology. Our full review, complete with stunning images from the book, can be found here.

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31 AUGUST, 2010

Fault Line Living: The World’s Most Dangerous Landscapes to Live

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Geysers, mud pots, and what Barba Papa has to do with the benefits of geothermal energy.

Fault lines are cracks in Earth’s crusts where tectonic plates converge. As you’d expect, these areas have an extraordinarily propensity for earthquakes due to the constant geodesic activity going on beneath. And yet millions of people around the world live on and around fault lines, in a constant state of alertness, with the sound of the earthquake drill alarm growing more familiar than the doorbell.

Faul Line Living is a 15,000-mile expedition from Iceland to Iran documenting the lives of people who live along the world’s most notorious fault lines. The multi-media project explores the human stories that populate these high-risk natural environments, working with school students, seismologists and citizens of each country along the way to better understand how different communities adapt to the challenges of life in fault zones.

Broken jug, damaged in the 1976 earthquake at Kopaska, belonging to Jon Halldorsson

The Blue Lagoon – despite the wind and rain, the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon provide a fillip to tourists and locals alike

Faul Line Living won the 2010 Go Beyond bursary from the UK’s Royal Geographical Society and Land Rover, a £10,000 award encouraging winners to push past their own limits as a way of promoting a wider understanding and appreciation of geography.

Fun after the rain

Steaming mud pots at Namafjall

On July 31, the UK-based team — Tamsin Davies, Serena Davies and Adam Whitaker — embarked upon their journey into these collision zones of nature and humanity. For 12 weeks, they will drive across the UK, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, learning to use a seismometer and delving into the social anthropology of fault line living through photography, interviews and real-time mapping.

Honeycomb basalt formations at Dimmuborgir

Barba Papa house at Seysdisfjordur

Explore the project’s breathtaking gallery and follow along vicariously on Twitter. Meanwhile, keep yourself grounded by appreciating the geological stability of your own locale.

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11 AUGUST, 2010

What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets

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From Bangladesh to Brazil, or what photojournalism can reveal about food and cultural context.

In case you ever wondered, the most popular Brain Pickings post to date is our review of photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s Hungry Planet — a grounding portrait of what the world eats, from the $376.45 an Australian family spends on food per week to the $1.23 weekly budget of a same-sized family in Chad’s poorest refugee camp. This week, Menzel and D’Alusio are back with their much-anticipated new book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets — a fascinating project telling the global story of our relationship to food through portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day.

I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology. And make better decisions for themselves.” ~ Peter Menzel on NPR

38-year-old Maasai herder, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 103 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 800 calories. Food staples: Maize meal and milk.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

40-year-old Egyptian camel broker, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 165 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,200 calories. Some food staples: Eggs with butter, fava beans, country bread, potato chips, feta cheese, soup, rice, black tea.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

From a Japanese sumo wrestler to an American competitive eater to a Massai herdswoman, the book offers an exploration of demography through photography, contextualized by compelling essays from some of today’s leading food activists and thinkers, including indispensible voices on the issue like Brain Pickings favorite Michael Pollan.

20-year-old US Army soldier, 6 feet 5 inches tall, 195 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,000 calories. Food staples: Mostly instant ready-to-eat meals.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

36-year-old Latvian vocal teacher and composer, 6 feet tall, 183 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,900 calories. Some food staples: Egg, rye bread with ham, cheese and butter, chicken, potato with mayonnaise, cookies.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Alongside each of Menzel’s photographs, text by D’Alusio outlines the specifics of the daily diet depicted and places it in a cultural context that explains why, for instance, a Brazilian fisherman of average build can consume 5,200 calories per day and an American truck driver who consumes a comparable amount is clinically obese. Ultimately, the project aims to illuminate the relationship between food and where we are, in life and in the world.

16-year-old Chinese acrobat, 5 feet 2 inches tall, 99 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 1,700 calories. Some food staples: Yogurt, pork ribs, noodles, eggs, broth, green tea.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

45-year-old Tibetan head monk, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 158 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,900 calories. Some food staples: Butter tea, dried cheese curds, barley flour cake, noodle soup with potato.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Part Food, Inc., part FridgeWatcher, the project is a potent antidote to Neil Burgess’s recent rant about the death of photojournalism — What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets is a bundle of storytelling and humanity that unravels itself before your eyes, leaving you hungry to better understand the correlation between food, environment and quality of life.

via NPR

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