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Suggestions for Freethinkers book discussion group in 2019

In The New Humanists: Science At the Edge, John Brockman has assembled some of the top
scientists as of 2003: Diamond, Pinker, Dennett, Minsky, Smolin, and others, who write about
the unique contributions each is making to the development of modern thought. Some are in
sync, others in dissent. According to Brockman, the American intellectual had become proudly
or defiantly ignorant of major scientific accomplishments. Intellectual thought was becoming
trapped in a “swelling spiral of commentary,” and often ignored the real world. Citing C.P.
Snow’s theory of two cultures: the literary intellectual and the scientist, Brockman predicted an
“emerging third culture” where scientists and other empirical thinkers, would redefine who and
what we are. {Mary abstracted this from an on-line review. https://www.amazon.com/New-
Humanists-Science} (Hardcover $28. 450 pages, c. 2003) Pick a favorite essay to discuss, or we
can split this into two months. Please indicate which, if you decide to vote for this book.
Personally, I like the idea of each picking one essay. But…whatever y’all say, goes
Enlightenment Now: the case for science, reason, humanism and progress, by Steven Pinker
(author of The Blank Slate) is a very positive and uplifting discussion of how the ideas of the
enlightenment are responsible for a nearly continuous run of improvement over the past 200+
years re every dimension of human progress you can think of. It touches on politics, he seems
not to be partisan. ($20 hardcover; available in paperback.) (I don’t know # of pages. John
suggested this. Maybe he can enlighten us about that & copyright date.)
Brian Green’s The Hidden Reality: parallel universes and the deep laws of the cosmos is
kind of a guide to the universe…or the universes? Review from the New York Journal of Books:
“If you like your science explained, not asserted, if you like your science writers articulate and
intelligible, if you like popular science to make sense, even as it probes the heart of difficult
theory, you are going to love “Hidden Reality.” From The New Yorker: “Mind-stretching…
impassioned argument ‘for the capacity of mathematics to reveal hidden truths about the
workings of the world.’” (Paperback, 370 pages, c. 2011. May be difficult for a non-scientist.
Definitely a 2-month book.))

The Suicide of the West, by Jonah Goldberg, seems to Joel to be “the definitive statement of
the conservative vision for our time. Not Trumpism, but actual principled conservatism that cares
about ideas and not just power. Goldberg is a pundit, a true conservative, and a never-Trumper!
And, although he never misses an opportunity to bash liberals, he does actually present
arguments in this book that should challenge, provoke, and stimulate great discussion in our
mostly left-leaning group. The one “con” is that it’s pretty long! (I don’t know how many pages.
Anyone?)

A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell, is a “classic book by a widely respected intellectual


who falls distinctly on the right-hand side of the ideological spectrum. It is an attempt to
articulate the differences between the left and right ideologically, and the deeper reasons for why
those differences exist. This book and its sequel were highly praised by Pinker.“ (I don’t have
info on copyright, # of pages. Maybe the “suggester” or “suggestor” will send out that info.
Ahhh, good old English…infinitely expandable!)

Thomas L. Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late is “an optimist’s guide to thriving in the age
of accelerations.” Everything’s faster and there’s more of it! Technologies get smaller and faster.
One notices, in listening to discussions on radio or television, even at dinner tables, that the
words gush out. Not many nuances. Hardly ever breathing! Do we pause to appreciate? Will
technology save the world? Or destroy it? Aaaarrrgh! Stay tuned! (Hardback, 427 pages, c.
2016, $28.00. Mary says, “This one’s worth 2 months.”)

Sarah Smarsh - Heartland: memoirs of working hard and being broke in the richest country on
earth. The heartland is Kansas in the last half of the 20th century. Smarsh recounts how her
family, her parents and relatives, tried to make ends meet by working on small farms and taking
additional jobs in town. The considered themselves as "middle class" but were quite poor. Henry
has read a selection from the book in a recent copy of "The Nation" and found it interesting. (300
pages)

Susan Jacoby - Wild Justice: the Evolution of Revenge. Henry just received this book this
morning and has read the preface. The book traces the history of attitudes towards revenge.
Discusses some Greek drama and biblical views. The book takes a look at sexual revenge, the U.
S. views on capital punishment, and at the portrayal of revenge in contemporary novels and
movies. (300 pages.)

Common Sense, by Robert B. Reich (Prof. of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, served in three
national administrations, author of 15 books; articles in New Yorker, NY Times, Wash. Post,
etc.)), tries to take head-on the current climate of “division, cynicism, and self-interest,” by
discussing the various cycles societies go through, and the need for considering the moral
obligations of citizenship. The difference between stock holders and stake holders. Give Trump
credit (!) for making us discuss democracy vs. tyranny! What are the origins of the “common
good?” What happened?! Can this be turned around? Mary believes this is an important book.
(c2018, 184 pages)