Welcome to the latest Ideas & Society newsletter! This month we feature a variety of books on topics ranging from how to write crime fiction to interesting historical stories and the way seeds and nuts shaped our history. Enjoy!
Coincidentally, many of this month’s picks have red covers. Red is the colour of passion, life and energy and these are the books to get you going, whether writing, reading or better understanding literature.
|On writing / Charles Bukowski ; edited by Abel Debritto.
“Sharp and moving reflections and ruminations on the artistry and craft of writing from one of our most iconoclastic, pivoting, and celebrated masters. Charles Bukowski’s stories, poems, and novels have left an enduring mark on our culture. In this collection of previously unpublished material–letters to publishers, editors, friends, and fellow writers–Bukowski shares his insights on the art of creation. On Writing reveals an artist brutally frank about the drudgery of work and canny and uncompromising about the absurdities of life–and of art. It illuminates the hard-edged, complex humanity of a true American legend and countercultural icon–the ‘laureate of American lowlife’.” (Syndetics summary)
|How to write crime fiction / Sarah Williams.
“Using examples from contemporary specialists in each of the chosen genres, this book provides the reader with practical pointers, clear explanations and step-by-step exercises to develop their skills and understanding, and find their own voice.” (Syndetics summary)
|Advanced banter : the QI book of quotations / [compiled by] John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.
“Upgrade your small talk instantly with this compendium of crisp one-liners.” (Syndetics summary)
|What could possibly go wrong… / Jeremy Clarkson.
“No one writes about cars like Jeremy Clarkson. While most correspondents are too busy diving straight into BHP, MPG and MPH, Jeremy appreciates that there are more important things to life. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the cars. Eventually. But first we should consider: The case for invading France; the overwhelming appeal of a nice sit-down; the inconvenience of gin and tonic; why clothes are no better than ice cream; spot-welding with the Duchess of Kent; why Denmark is the best place in the world. Armed only with conviction, curiosity, enthusiasm and a pair of stout trousers, Jeremy hurtles around the world – along motorway, autoroute, freeway and autobahn – in search of answers to life’s puzzles and ponderings without forethought or fear for his own safety. What, you have to ask, could possibly go wrong . . .” (Syndetics summary).
In one of our featured books a plea has gone up for our world to not be economically governed any more by GDP, which does not measure so much of the economy, but instead measures ‘more output’. Plus we have the New York Times bestseller which controversially argues that women should give control over her marriage to her husband, for a happier union.
|The little big number : how GDP came to rule the world and what to do about it / Dirk Philipsen.
“In one lifetime, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, has ballooned from a narrow economic tool into a global article of faith. …While economies and cultures measure their performance by it, GDP ignores central facts such as quality, costs, or purpose. It only measures output: more cars, more accidents; more lawyers, more trials; more extraction, more pollution–all count as success. …Dirk Philipsen uncovers a submerged history dating back to the 1600s, climaxing with the Great Depression and World War II, when the first version of GDP arrived at the forefront of politics. Today, increasing GDP is the highest goal of politics… But the world can no longer afford GDP rule. A finite planet cannot sustain blind and indefinite expansion. If we consider future generations equal to our own, replacing the GDP regime is the ethical imperative of our times.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
|Prepared for the worst : selected essays and minority reports / Christopher Hitchens.
“Christopher Hitchens is widely recognized as having been one of the liveliest and most influential of contemporary political analysts. Prepared for the Worst is a collection of the best of his essays of the 1980s published on both sides of the Atlantic. These essays confirmed his reputation as a bold commentator combining intellectual tenacity with mordant wit, whether he was writing about the intrigues of Reagan’s Washington, a popular novel, the work of Tom Paine, the man George Orwell, or reporting (with sympathy as well as toughness) from Beirut or Bombay, Warsaw or Managua.” (Syndetics summary)
|The surrendered wife : a practical guide for finding intimacy, passion, and peace with a man / Laura Doyle.
“A “New York Times” bestseller, this controversial guide to improving your marriage has transformed thousands of relationships, bringing women romance, harmony, and the intimacy they crave. Like millions of women, Laura Doyle wanted her marriage to be better. But when she tried to get her husband to be more romantic, helpful, and ambitious, he withdrew–and she was lonely and exhausted from controlling everything. Desperate to be in love with her man again, she decided to stop telling him what to do and how to do it. When Doyle surrendered control, something magical happened. The union she had always dreamed of appeared. The man who had wooed her was back…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Religion & Beliefs
This month’s beliefs selections explore journeys that we may encounter – why we make life decisions to leave or join groups, how we transition through stages in our lives, or how certain events can transform our whole perspective.
|Bridge between worlds : extraordinary experiences that changed lives, by Dan Millman and Doug Childers.
This is a collection of inspiring stories about people whose lives were changed by extraordinary events – “unique journeys across bridges to a higher reality.”(Syndetics summary) In the authors’ cases a sudden crash changed Millman’s Olympic hopes, while Childers experienced a violent attack. Lives of ordinary people as well as more famous figures invite the reader to reconsider the mysterious possibilities for growth hidden in daily life.
|Soul shifts : transformative wisdom for creating a life of authentic awakening, emotional freedom, and practical spirituality, by Barbara De Angelis.
“There are pivotal moments in the lives of all seekers when we realize that we’ve been traveling on our path of growth toward happiness and fulfillment, but, simply put, we want to go faster. How we have been living, working, and loving just isn’t enough or even acceptable anymore. We know we’re being called to something more significant and expanded–we can feel it. At these times what’s needed is not simply more change or an adjustment in our outer life, but profound transformation. We don’t just want to rearrange the pieces of ourselves so that they look better temporarily. We want nothing less than rebirth. We are ready for Soul Shifts. ….” (Syndetics summary)
|All the places to go… how will you know? : God has placed before you an open door. What will you do? by John Ortberg.
God opens doors through circumstances and invites us to walk through. There are no guarantees what is on the other side, but how we respond shapes the person we will become. Author John Ortberg opens our eyes to the many opportunities which are placed before us each day, teaches us how to recognize them, and gives us the encouragement to step out in faith and embrace what follows.
|Walking the Bible : a journey by land through the five books of Moses, by Bruce Feiler.
Feiler has joined archaeologist Avner Goren in a trek through the Middle East, visiting the sites mentioned in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. This weaves together archaeological evidence, history, theology, myth, and travelogue, to explore many stories in the Pentateuch as he visited the places. His account also includes encounters with other pilgrims and interviews with local residents. One senses that Feiler’s own spiritual journey was strengthened by his first hand experience of this significant stories on location.
Power and politics run deep in this month’s selection. Some titles cover a vast span, chronicling the internal mechanisms of those in charge, while others focus on the intense personal reserves used to pick up the pieces of these often violent legacies of power.
|Petals and bullets : Dorothy Morris, New Zealand nurse in the Spanish Civil War / Mark Derby.
“This book is based on the vivid, detailed, and evocative letters New Zealand nurse Dorothy Morris sent from Spain and other European countries. They have been supplemented by wide-ranging research to record a life of outstanding professional dedication, resourcefulness, and courage. […] Dorothy Morris’s remarkable and pioneering work in the fields of military medicine for civilian casualties, and large-scale humanitarian relief projects is told in this book for the first time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
|Deng Xiaoping : a revolutionary life / Alexander V. Pantsov, with Steven I. Levine.
“Deng Xiaoping joined the Chinese Communist movement as a youth and rose in its ranks to become an important lieutenant of Mao’s from the 1930s onward. Two years after Mao’s death in 1976, Deng became the de facto leader of the Chinese Communist Party and the prime architect of China’s post-Mao reforms. Abandoning the Maoist socio-economic policies he had long fervently supported, he set in motion changes that would dramatically transform China’s economy, society, and position in the world. Three decades later, we are living with the results.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
|Nagasaki : life after nuclear war / Susan Southard.
“A poignant and complex picture of the second atomic bomb’s enduring physical and psychological tolls. Eyewitness accounts are visceral and haunting… But the book’s biggest achievement is its treatment of the aftershocks in the decades since 1945.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
|The wisdom seeker : finding the seed of advantage in the Khmer Rouge / Pisey Leng as told to Jennifer Colford ; foreword by Rob Hamill.
“Pisey Leng miraculously survived the infamous killing fields of Cambodia that claimed the lives of nearly two million people in the late seventies. In the face of unspeakable horrors, a light shined in Pisey that kept her determined to survive […] You’ll gain insight into one of the darkest points in human history. Yet your eyes will be opened to the unlimited power you have to: find serenity and peace during the worst of times.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
|American warlords : how Roosevelt’s high command led America to victory in World War II / Jonathan W. Jordan.
“In a lifetime shaped by politics, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proved himself a master manipulator of Congress, the press, and the public. But when war in Europe and Asia threatened America’s shores, FDR found himself in a world turned upside down, where his friends became his foes, his enemies his allies.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Read more about whale and dolphin culture, restoring extinct animals through cloning and how seeds have shaped our history.
|Cakes, custard + category theory : easy recipes for understanding complex mathematics, by Eugenia Cheng.
Packed with entertaining examples of mathematical culinary analogies, puzzles and recipes (including chocolate brownies, sandwiches, Yorkshire puddings bagels) the author sets about her mission in life which is to rid the world of maths phobia. Her enthusiasm for the world of maths is infectious and this will appeal both to the maths glutton and those with little appetite. “This is maths at its absolute tastiest.” (Syndetics)
|How to clone a mammoth : the science of de-extinction, by Beth Shapiro.
Could extinct species be brought back to life? “Ancient DNA” research says yes. This is not without controversy – from deciding which species should be restored, to considering how these revived populations might exist in the wild. Both scientific and ethical issues are explored. Shapiro’s focus is not so much the restoration of a handful of favoured species, but an overarching goal to revitalize contemporary ecosystems. Is this conservation’s future?
|The cultural lives of whales and dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell.
Whales and dolphins are some of the most captivating sea animals to us, and this is not simply because they are mammals. Their intelligence, behaviour and social habits invite us to try to understand and interact with them. Human cultures pass on languages and customs and the authors consider could whales and dolphins have developed a culture of their very own? Drawing on their own research and observations as well as other scientific literature they ponder behaviours which Youtube clips have brought to the non-scientific world such as humpback whales bubble feeding, Australian dolphins using sea sponges to protect their beaks while foraging for fish in coral.
|The triumph of seeds : how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips, conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history, by Thor Hanson.
Seeds are quite literally the stuff and staff of life, supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. The search for nutmeg and the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution, while a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat has underpinned economies and diets for much of the world for centuries. In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental–objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination – as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do.” This is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow. (drawn from Syndetics summary).