EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Category Archives: Book Reviews
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Edward Tufte built the first little blue box in 1962. The blue box contained home-made circuitry and a tone generator that could place free calls over the phone network to anywhere in the world.
This electronic revelation spawned groups of “phone phreaks” (hackers) who would build their own blue boxes to fight MaBell (AT&T), illegally of course. The phreaks assumed suitably disguised names, such as Captain Crunch and Cheshire Cat, to hide from the long-arm of the FBI.
This later caught the attention of a pair of new recruits to the subversive cause, Berkeley Blue and Oaf Tobar, who would go on to found Apple under their more common pseudonyms, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Put it down to curiosity, an anti-authoritarian streak and a quest to ever-improve.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Money is a curious invention. It enables efficient and almost frictionless commerce and it allows us to assign tangible value to our time. Yet it poses enormous societal challenges and ethical dilemmas. For instance, should we bribe our children with money in return for better grades? Should we allow a chronically ill kidney patient to purchase a replacement organ from a donor?
Raghuram Rajan, professor of finance at the University of Chicago, reviews a fascinating new book that attempts to answer some of these questions. The book, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of the Market” is written by noted Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel.
From Project Syndicate:
In an interesting recent book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of the Market, the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel points to the range of things that money can buy in modern societies and gently tries to stoke our outrage at the market’s growing dominance. Is he right that we should be alarmed?...read more
Monday, November 21, 2011
Daniel Kahneman brings together for the first time his decades of groundbreaking research and profound thinking in social psychology and cognitive science in his new book, Thinking Fast and Slow. He presents his current understanding of judgment and decision making and offers insight into how we make choices in our daily lives. Importantly, Kahneman describes how we can identify and overcome the cognitive biases that frequently lead us astray. This is an important work by one of our leading thinkers.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Charles Fishman has a fascinating new book entitled The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. In it Fishman examines the origins of water on our planet and postulates an all to probable future where water becomes an increasingly limited and precious resource.
A brief excerpt from a recent interview, courtesy of NPR:
For most of us, even the most basic questions about water turn out to be stumpers.
Where did the water on Earth come from?
Is water still being created or added somehow?
How old is the water coming out of the kitchen faucet?
For that matter, how did the water get to the kitchen faucet?
And when we flush, where does the water in the toilet actually go?
The things we think we know about water — things we might have learned in school — often turn out to be myths....read more
Thursday, September 15, 2011
“You cannot be serious”, goes the oft quoted opening to a John McEnroe javelin thrown at an unsuspecting tennis umpire. This leads us to an earnest review of what is means to be serious from Lee Siegel’s new book, “Are You Serious?” As Michael Agger points out for Slate:
We don’t know what to take seriously anymore. Is Brian Williams a serious news anchor or is he playing at being serious? How about Jon Stewart? The New York Times exudes seriousness, but the satire of The Onion can also be very serious.
Do we indeed need a how-to manual on how to exude required seriousness in the correct circumstances? Do we need a 3rd party narrator to tell us when to expect seriousness or irony or serious irony? Perhaps Lee Siegel’s book can shed some light.
More from Slate’s review of Siegel’s book:
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Skeptic in-chief, Michael Shermer has an important and fascinating new book. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths – describes how our beliefs arise from patterns and that these beliefs come first, and explanations for those beliefs comes second.
Shermer reviews 30 years of leading research in cognitive science, neurobiology, evolutionary psychology and anthropology and numerous real-world examples to show how the belief mechanism works. This holds for our beliefs in all manner of important spheres: religion, politics, economics, superstition and the supernatural....read more
Friday, July 22, 2011
Phew! Another heartfelt call to action from business blogger Seth Godin to become indispensable.
Author, public speaker, orthogonal thinker and internet marketing maven, Seth Godin makes a compelling case to the artist within us all to get off our backsides, ignore the risk averse “lizard brain” as he puts it, get creative, and give the gift of art. After all there is no way to win the “race to the bottom” wrought by commoditization of both product and labor.
Bear in mind, Godin uses “art” in its most widely used sense, not merely a canvas or a sculpture. Here, art is anything that its maker so creates; it may be a service just as well as an object. Importantly also, to be art it has to be given with the correct intent — as a gift (a transcendent, unexpected act that surpasses expectation)....read more
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Classic dystopian novels from the likes of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Margaret Atwood appeal for their fantastic narrative journeys. More so they resonate for it often seems that contemporary society is precariously close to this fictional chaos, dysfunction and destruction; one small step in the wrong direction and over the precipice we go. America Pacifica continues this tradition.
From The Barnes & Noble Review:
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Genius – The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick was a good first course for those fascinated by Richard Feynman’s significant contributions to physics, cosmology (and percussion).
Now, eight years later come two more biographies that observe Richard Feynman from very different perspectives, reviewed in the New York Review of Books. The first, Lawrence Krauss’s book, Quantum Man is the weighty main course; the second, by Jim Ottaviani and artist Leland Myrick, is a graphic-book (as in comic) biography, and delicious dessert.
In his review — The ‘Dramatic Picture’ of Richard Feynman — Freeman Dyson rightly posits that Richard Feynman’s star may now, or soon, be in the same exalted sphere as Einstein and Hawking. Though, type “Richard” in Google search and wait for its predictive text to fill in the rest and you’ll find that Richard Nixon, Richard Dawkins and Richard Branson rank higher than this giant of physics....read more
Sunday, July 17, 2011
A new book by James Morton examines the life and times of cross-dressing burglar, prison-escapee and snitch turned super-detective Eugène-François Vidocq.
From The Barnes & Noble Review:
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
In this, his last novel, the darkly comic “Millennium People,” J.G. Ballard returns to many of the themes that have established him as one of the 20th century’s principal chroniclers of modernity as dystopia. Throughout his career Ballard, who died in 2009, wrote many different variations on the same theme: A random act of violence propels a somewhat affectless protagonist into a violent pathology lurking just under the tissue-thin layer of postmodern civilization. As in “Crash” (1973) and “Concrete Island” (1974), the car parks, housing estates, motorways and suburban sprawl of London in “Millennium People” form a psychological geography. At its center, Heathrow Airport — a recurrent setting for Ballard — exerts its subtly malevolent pull on the bored lives and violent dreams of the alienated middle class....read more
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Hilarious and disturbing. I suspect Jon Ronson would strike a couple of checkmarks in the Hare PCL-R Checklist against my name for finding his latest work both hilarious and disturbing. Would this, perhaps, make me a psychopath?
Jon Ronson is author of The Psychopath Test and the Hare PCL-R, named for its inventor, Canadian psychologist Bob Hare, is the gold standard in personality trait measurement for psychopathic disorder (officially known as Antisocial Personality Disorder)....read more
Monday, June 20, 2011
Solar is a timely, hilarious novel from the author of Atonement that examines the self-absorption and (self-)deceptions of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Michael Beard. With his best work many decades behind him Beard trades on his professional reputation to earn continuing financial favor, and maintain influence and respect amongst his peers. And, with his personal life in an ever-decreasing spiral, with his fifth marriage coming to an end, Beard manages to entangle himself in an impossible accident which has the power to re-shape his own world, and the planet in the process....read more
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Leonard Mlodinow weaves a compelling path through the world of statistical probability showing us how the laws of chance affect our lives on personal and grande scales. Mlodinow skillfully illustrates randomness and its profound implications by presenting complex mathematical constructs in language for the rest of us (non-mathematicians), without dumbing-down this important subject.
The book defines many of the important mathematical concepts behind randomness and exposes the key fallacies that often blind us as we wander through life on our “drunkard’s walk”. The law of large numbers, the prosecutor’s fallacy, conditional probability, the availability bias and bell curves were never so approachable....read more