History has shown, repeatedly, that philosophies that extol or justify a particular action often find traction after, not before, people have already take those actions for economic reasons. With Japan's population shrinking and domestic consumption also shrinking, then, it is not particularly surprising that an anti-growth book has become a best seller in Japan. This article from the New York Times looks at the philosophy of "degrowth communism" being advocated by the book: www.nytimes.com/2023/08/23/business/kohei-saito-degrowth-communism.html
Novelist and UC Riverside professor of creative writing Susan Straight has created a literary map of America, collaborating with ESRI to locate and label the settings of 1,001 novels that celebrate America, from small towns and city neighborhoods to ranches, bayous, deserts, and frozen tundra. To see the selections and their associated places, see storymaps.arcgis.com/collections/997b82273a12417798362d431897e1dc?item=13
Looking for an outside-the-box geography enrichment resource this summer? The Atlas of Geographical Curiosities might be just the ticket: https://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Territorial-Curiosities-Jonglez-photo/dp/236195530X/
The Folger Shakespeare Library is hosting a monthly online book club that is free and open to everyone. (The club's target audience is adults, but teens are absolutely welcome to participate.) The next pick, for Feb. 2, is Booth by Karen Joy Fowler, historical fiction woven around the family of John Wilkes Booth. The March pick is A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein, "an Elizabethan espionage thriller." For more information or to register, see https://www.folger.edu/events/book-club-february-2023
For those looking to understand the historical context of Russian president Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, there are two new books that may be of particular interest:
The Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank specializing in issues related to the greater Middle East, presents its recommendations for the top 10 books published in the last year related to the Middle East: www.mei.edu/blog/10-books-expand-your-knowledge-middle-east
Classical philosophy is generally focused on providing tips on how we are to live our best life. Contemporary philosopher Avram Alpert instead argues that the unrelenting social obsession with "the best" is poison, preventing us from living a good life as individuals and preventing us from acknowledging the contribution of all of the people who toil in obscurity, including those who make society's superstars possible. Alpert argues that the real secret to a good life -- for individuals and for society as a whole -- is figuring out how to value a good-enough life. www.amazon.com/Good-Enough-Life-Avram-Alpert/dp/0691204357
As part of the promo for his new book, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids, University of Michigan philosophy professor Scott Hershovitz is inviting children ages 4 to 8 to send him their philosophical questions via The Guardian newspaper (UK), where he will try to answer them: www.theguardian.com/books/2022/apr/11/does-your-child-have-a-question-to-ask-a-philosopher
For those who enjoyed -- or didn't quite get to -- the NBC philosophy comedy "The Good Place," creator Michael Schur has a new book out with the tongue-in-cheek title How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question. This article, adapted from the book, introduces the complexities involved in living an ethical life: www.washingtonpost.com/books/2022/03/04/good-place-michael-schur-ethics/
Foreign correspondent and geography author Tim Marshall has a new book out The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World. Marshall argues that rivers, mountains, deserts, and sea lanes shape a nation’s behavior as much as the ideological and cultural factors that get more attention. In The Power of Geography, Marshall looks at 10 countries/regions -- Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Greece, Turkey, the Sahel, Ethiopia, Spain and outer space -- "chosen for their potential as geopolitical hotspots. These are places where we can expect things to happen, and soon. The big issues are all relevant here; these are places grappling with climate change, religion and struggles over resources, and are, above all, figuring out their place in the new world order." The Power of Geography is a sequel to Marshall's 2015 bestseller, Prisoners of Geography, which is also worth reading. (Quote from https://geographical.co.uk/reviews/books/item/4056-the-power-of-geography-ten-maps-that-reveal-the-future-of-our-world-by-tim-marshall-book-review.)
If someone on your gift list would appreciate a gentle introduction to Socratic philosophy woven into a lyrical new children's book, I would suggest checking out Amber & Clay by Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz: smile.amazon.com/Amber-Clay-Laura-Amy-Schlitz/dp/1536201227
Although I am mentioning this book in the context of Halloween, it might also be a holiday gift idea for the philosophically inclined teen on your list. The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad considers a range of philosophical questions that arise from zombies, vampires, and the undead: "Is a zombie simply someone with a brain but without a mind? Are some of the people around us undead, and how could we tell? Can the undead be held responsible for what they do? Is it always morally OK to kill the undead? Served up in a witty, entertaining style, these and other provocative questions present philosophical arguments in terms accessible to all readers." smile.amazon.com/Undead-Philosophy-Chicken-Soup-Soulless/dp/B00D5KZSAE
Facebook and other companies are racing to create the metaverse, an immersive virtual-reality world for users to spend time in. But who is building and watching the metaverse? Kai-Fu Lee is an artificial intelligence engineer who has worked at Google, Apple, Microsoft, and a Chinese venture capital tech firm and is the author of a new book AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future. Lee says that in order for the metaverse to satisfy user wants, "The programmer of the metaverse, the company that builds the metaverse, will actually listen in on every conversation and watch every person. ... That on the one hand can make the experience very exciting because it can see what makes you happy and give you more of that." But it will also raise important ethical questions about privacy and surveillance as well as metaphysical issues about managing our reality. (Quotes from finance.yahoo.com/news/metaverse-raises-scary-question-on-surveillance-of-users-ex-google-exec-says-133907584.html)
When we speak of "democratic values," to what, exactly, are we referring? In his new book Democracy Rules, Princeton political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller argues that losing -- or, more specifically, uncertainty about the outcome of any election -- is central to democracy. Müller also introduces the potentially useful term "info-feces" to the philosophy lexicon. :-) The New York Times recently ran a review of Democracy Rules:
"Müller begins by acknowledging the widespread fear that 'democracy is in crisis' before pointing out that few people who aren’t political philosophers have given any sustained thought to what democracy actually is. He doesn’t want us to fixate so much on democratic 'norms' — those informal rules that beguile and bedevil political scientists — as he wants to talk about the democratic principles that animate those norms in the first place. In other words, if we’re fretting about the degradation of democracy, what exactly is it that we think we’re in danger of losing? Müller says that losing is, in fact, a central part of it: In addition to the more familiar principles of liberty and equality, he encourages us to see uncertainty — including the possibility that an incumbent may lose — as essential to any truly democratic system. Winners cannot be enshrined, and losers cannot be destroyed. ... Preserving uncertainty means that democracy is inherently dynamic and fluid. 'Individuals remain at liberty to decide what matters to them most,' Müller writes, but holding onto democratic commitments also means that freedom has to be contained by what he identifies as two 'hard borders.' People cannot undermine the political standing of their fellow citizens (the growing spate of voting restrictions is a glaring case in point); and people cannot refuse to be 'constrained by what we can plausibly call facts.' Müller takes care to situate the United States in an international context, using examples from other countries to illuminating effect. Writing about political institutions in a way that makes them sound vital is a challenge for any writer, and Müller’s method is to leaven abstract ideas with concrete examples of bad behavior — even if, as he himself says early on, we have a tendency to get caught up in outrageous stories about individuals instead of training our gaze on the less spectacular mechanisms of the system itself."
This article from Geographical (UK) reviews an interesting assortment of new books, ranging from a book on Isaac Newton after he left Cambridge to a book on the cultural and economic history of the Volga to a book titled How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope You Never Need. All are available in the U.S. geographical.co.uk/reviews/books/item/3974-geographical-books-to-get-you-through-the-lockdown-this-february
A new book about the impact of Amazon on American geography was recently reviewed in The Atlantic: "There are countless ways to measure Amazon’s hold on American life. More people in the U.S. subscribe to its Prime service than voted for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the past election: more than 100 million, by recent estimates. Amazon reaps fully half of what people in this country spend online. It is the second-biggest private workplace in the United States, after Walmart, employing more than 800,000 people, most of whom will never set foot in the Seattle headquarters’ plant spheres. Among Amazon’s large Arizona-based workforce, most of it inside warehouses, one in three people was on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2017. ... The rise of the internet in the 2000s accelerated the process in ways we’re by now familiar with, and a handful of companies—Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, in particular—came to dominate large swaths of economic life. What [author Alec] MacGillis feels is underappreciated is the geographical remapping of wealth—and, with it, power—that the transformation has brought about."
A new book, by Australian philosopher and scuba diving enthusiast Peter Godfrey-Smith, contributes to the conversation about what it means to be intelligent and to be a conscious being. The Wall Street Journal reviews Godfrey-Smith's Metazoa:
"Life undersea has a mesmerizing strangeness, from glass sponges—lacy matrices draped with cellular nets—to rococo sea dragons and soft corals like trees in a slow wind. It’s the stuff of a thousand documentaries, but for Peter Godfrey-Smith the spectacle is a curtain-raiser to a profound scientific drama, in which the lives of quite un-human creatures illuminate deep mysteries about the nature of sentience, and what it means to possess a mind. ... As a biological materialist, Mr. Godfrey-Smith sees consciousness as an evolutionary product emerging from the organization of a 'universe of processes that are not themselves mental.'... From sponges and corals, 'remnants and relatives of early forms of animal action,' Mr. Godfrey-Smith glides on through arthropods, cephalopods, fish and the creatures that eventually clambered onto land. In each group, he probes the complex effects of evolutionary innovations. Nervous systems, which probably first emerged as simpler neural nets more than 600 million years ago, tie 'the body together in new ways': Neurons have thousands of synapses, enabling vast interconnectivity. The emergence of bilaterally symmetrical bodies allowed movement with direction and traction—a big step. ... As nervous systems evolved further, other kinds of activity and integration arose. Octopuses, revisited here, are a compelling case. Two-thirds of the cephalopod’s half-billion neurons are lodged in its eight arms, part of a 'distributed brain’ that may help in controlling its shape-shifting body. Combining his observations with findings on the animals’ behavioral complexity and sensitivity, engagement with novelty, play and problem-solving, Mr. Godfrey-Smith sees octopuses as conscious, although their perspective is probably 'protean and perhaps sometimes chaotic.' ... No marine animal, however, evolved with 'a capacity for manipulation, openness of bodily action, and centralized braininess' all at once. That key mix came with land vertebrates.... Looking back at these immense journeys, Mr. Godfrey-Smith asserts a gradualism in the development of mind. In evolution, key traits don’t pop up suddenly: They 'creep into being.' If these traits are the basis for subjective experience across animals, mind too is a case of more or less rather than present or non-present, lights on or off. Its 'thereness is a matter of degree.' This view has obvious implications for how we see, and treat, other organisms."
Looking for a book on logic and critical thinking? Philosopher Alan Lavin is making his book Thinking Well available for free online. You can check it out or download it from the link on his website: www.alav.in/thinking-well/
I must admit, this article had me at the title -- "Six Books to Inspire the Next Generation of Geographers" -- but all of these books look really interesting. Because Geographical is a UK publication, the prices are in pounds, but all of the books are available in the U.S. too. (Rachel Ignotofsky's book has been published in the U.S. as The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems instead of the title in the article.) geographical.co.uk/reviews/books/item/3501-young-geography-books
The British cartography website Brilliant Maps has a new book out just in time for the holidays: Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds: 100 New Ways to See the World. "Which countries don’t have rivers? Which ones have North Korean embassies? Who drives on the 'wrong' side of the road? How many national economies are bigger than California’s? And where can you still find lions in the wild? You’ll learn answers to these questions and many more in Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds. This one-of-a-kind atlas is packed with eye-opening analysis (Which nations have had female leaders?), whimsical insight (Where can’t you find a McDonald’s?), and surprising connections that illuminate the contours of culture, history, and politics. Each of these 100 maps will change the way you see the world—and your place in it." www.amazon.com/Brilliant-Maps-Curious-Minds-World/dp/1615196250
Blog sharing news about geography, philosophy, world affairs, and outside-the-box learning
This blog also appears on Facebook: