Stuff I've read this year: non-fiction, part 2

The exercise in masochism continues…

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
More of an honourable mention. I skimmed a bit then listened to his poptech talk, which seemed to nail his content. But yeah. Worth attending to. Basically about how we don’t see the real game changers coming, and the ways in which we filter information, and estimate risk. And more.

Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a new world-view – Richard Tarnas

This was really incredible. A huge, stunningly well written and erudite work of history and philosophy in general. Systematically dealt with all my intellectual objections to astrology and what it stands for (or not) – which is a hell of an achievement in itself – then proceeded to analyse the patterns of history in terms of their relation to planetary motions and conjunctions, from the perspective of the archetypal forces associated with the planets. Doesn’t really address astrology on a personal level much; the focus is definitely macro scale.

Some fairly staggering stuff in there, drawing on decades of work, and all in all he makes a far stronger case than any I would have expected possible. (For those unfamiliar with Tarnas, his The Passion of the Western Mind is hands down the best single volume history of western thought around, and it was the fact that he was willing to take this stuff seriously is what convinced me to give it a shot.)

Genuinely amazing. Strongly recommended for the open minded.

The Integral Vision – Ken Wilber

A recent short introduction to Ken Wilber’s work. I found it useful as a refresher, and reckon it would be a good place to start for beginners. Also for the first time it contained some sense of how the theory could actually be applied in practice, rather than just as a tool for thought. Interesting, but on the whole I don’t really dig the system.

Brave New War by John Robb.

A quick interesting read if you are into the tensions of the modern world, globalization vs terrorism, etc. Fascinatingly, he argues the solution line that the green left does – sustainability, resilience, decentralization – as the way to adapt to the current political and economic situation, though coming from a completely different perspective, and he seems to assume capitalism will underly a changed system. Reviewed back here.

On the whole, Robb’s blog, Global Guerrillas, is well worth tracking.

Transformations by JG Bennett.

Reflections on 50 years of process in the esoteric world, in various traditions. Really fascinating.

Nietzsche: A philosophical biography by Rudiger Safranski.

Very much a biography of the development of his ideas rather than the man’s life – or the man’s life only insofar as it related to the development of his ideas. Safranski had access to Nietzsche’s extensive diaries and letters, none of which are translated from German. Hugely recommended if you want to know about Nietzsche and what he actually thought. Hint: it is way different than the uses made of him after his death.

Convergence Culture – Henry Jenkins

New wave media theorist. Transmedia theory. Interesting stuff, but it really feels like anthropology of the moment – tracking the changes to our media environment while in the middle of them, without really much perspective – and calling him the new McLuhan is going too far.

Getting to maybe: This book is for those who are not happy with the way things are and would like to make a difference. This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that will create extraordinary outcomes. This is a book about making the impossible happen. How the world is changed. – Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton.

Book with the longest subtitle ever? It was actually really excellent, focusing on the lessons and experience of social entrepreneurs, innovators and changemakers. Brilliantly put together, inspiring, and lucid. Humbling and grounded.

Really hugely recommended for anyone who wants to get involved in changing the world but isn’t quite sure where or how to apply themselves.

The World Without Us – Alan Weisman
The world will mostly recover if we vanish (with occasional alarming prospects, especially plastic breaking down smaller and smaller and being eaten by smaller and smaller things that can’t digest it). The decay of all we have made will be kind of poetic and weird. Some places are pretty doomed no matter what. The end. Entirely skippable.

Heidegger for Beginners
In the past I’ve found Heidegger’s prose pretty impenetrable, but this intro was choice! Lays out the structure of his thought really lucidly, and I found that structure to be total genius.

Out of our heads – why you are not your brain by Alva Noe.

Interesting stuff from a mainstream cognitive philosopher riding against the herd. I largely agree with his critique of the mainstream, though I have some different ideas about what is going on with consciousness in my own book.

The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav.

Easily the best book on physics I’ve ever read. There’s been a few over the years, so maybe the cumulative effect has prepared the ground. Usually I get them at the time, but come away having no idea how to explain stuff to someone else. This time, I feel like I get it (relativity, quantum physics, etc) way better. It felt inspired throughout.

The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Classic book on “do-nothing” farming – farming without chemicals, machines, and minimising effort, which gives yields as good as anything scientific agriculture does. Beautiful and inspiring and more than a little zen.

A Short History Of Myth by Karen Armstrong
Exactly what it says it is. Does it well.

Wetware – Dennis Bray.
Recent book on cells, computation, consciousness and life. Interesting. Research for me.

The Corpse Walker: Real-life stories, China from the bottom up – Liao Yiwu.

Pretty amazing. 27 interviews/oral histories with a range of Chinese from the lower rungs of society by one of China’s most censored writers. Entirely worth it just as a set of short stories, many of which are quite demented. Fascinating stuff, occasionally quite the head fuck. Touching, terrifying, different. I have learned more about modern China and its culture, and gotten deeper inside the Chinese mind, from this than anything else I’ve encountered.

The 4-hour work week – Timothy Ferriss.
Paradigm shattering business book. Fascinating how-to for possibly the ultimate life-hack. Probably too far out for most people to consider, but the chapters on time management and elimination alone makes it worth it for anybody.

Other than that, there’s a tonne of stuff that got skimmed, and notes taken from a bunch of other nonfiction stuff…

Trends; the present, the future, processes, and engagement

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