What We Are Reading Today: Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians by Kenneth Levy

What We Are Reading Today: Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians by Kenneth Levy
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Updated 31 December 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians by Kenneth Levy

What We Are Reading Today: Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians by Kenneth Levy

A world-renowned scholar of plainchant, Kenneth Levy has spent a portion of his career investigating the nature and ramifications of this repertory’s shift from an oral tradition to the written versions dating to the 10th century. In Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians, which represents the culmination of his research, Levy seeks to change long-held perceptions about certain crucial stages of the evolution and dissemination of the old corpus of plainchant — most notably the assumption that such a large and complex repertory could have become and remained fixed for over a century while still an oral tradition. Levy portrays the promulgation of an authoritative body of plainchant during the reign of Charlemagne by clearly differentiating between actual evidence, hypotheses, and received ideas.

How many traditions of oral chant existed before the 10th century? Among the variations noted in written chant, can one point to a single version as being older or more authentic than the others?

What precursors might there have been to the notational system used in all the surviving manuscripts, where the notational system seems fully formed and mature? In answering questions that have long vexed many scholars of Gregorian chant’s early history, Levy offers fresh explanations of such topics as the origin of Latin neumes, the shifting relationships between memory and early notations, and the puzzling differences among the first surviving neume-species from the10th century, which have until now impeded a critical restoration of the Carolingian musical forms.


What We Are Reading Today: Rationality; From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky

What We Are Reading Today: Rationality; From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky
Updated 21 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Rationality; From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky

What We Are Reading Today: Rationality; From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky

In “Rationality: From AI to Zombies,” Eliezer Yudkowsky explains the science underlying human irrationality with a mix of fables, argumentative essays, and personal vignettes. 

These eye-opening accounts of how the mind works (and how, all too often, it doesn’t!) are then put to the test through some genuinely difficult puzzles: Computer scientists’ debates about the future of artificial intelligence (AI), physicists’ debates about the relationship between the quantum and classical worlds, philosophers’ debates about the metaphysics of zombies and the nature of morality, and many more. 

In the process, the book delves into the human significance of correct reasoning more deeply than you’ll find in any conventional textbook on cognitive science or philosophy of mind.

This book compiles six volumes of Yudkowsky’s essays  into a single electronic tome. Collectively, these sequences of linked essays serve as a rich and lively introduction to the science  — and the art — of human rationality.


What We Are Reading Today: The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan

What We Are Reading Today: The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan
Updated 20 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan

What We Are Reading Today: The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan argues in “The Case Against Education” that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity — in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. 

Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy.

Caplan shows how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers.  He explains why graduation is our society’s top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. 

Romantic notions about education being “good for the soul” must yield to careful research and common sense — The Case against Education points the way.


What We Are Reading Today: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

What We Are Reading Today: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Updated 19 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

What We Are Reading Today: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Minor Feelings is a thought-provoking, insightful, smart collection of essays that delve into Asian American history, identity and psychology. 

“By blending history and cultural criticism with stories from her own past, this book highlights the complexities of being Asian in America,” said a review published in goodreads.com.

Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. 

The book “traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and art-making, and to family and female friendship in a search to both uncover and speak the truth,” said the review.

Park Hong “wrote this book with courage and all her heart — exposing her feelings with honesty and wit. Her writing is incredible and this is a true masterpiece,” the review added. 

“She reckons with her identity as an Asian American while exploring larger themes of unity, art, friendship, mental health and much more. Her poeticism comes through in the beautiful writing.”


What We Are Reading Today: The Free World by Louis Menan

What We Are Reading Today: The Free World by Louis Menan
Updated 17 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Free World by Louis Menan

What We Are Reading Today: The Free World by Louis Menan

The Free World from Louis Menand is a sweeping survey that looks at how and why perceptions about the United States, both domestically and internationally, changed so completely during these years.

In his followup to the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Metaphysical Club, Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years.

In his 2001 book, The Metaphysical Club, Menand offered an intellectual history of America after the Civil War by looking at a group of men whose ideas and discussions helped shape American thought. 

“Now, he focuses on the years after World War II through the Vietnam War, when American culture was exported more broadly to the world,” said a review published in The New York Times.

“If you asked me when I was growing up what the most important good in life was, I would have said ‘freedom,’” he writes. 

“As I got older, I started to wonder just what freedom is, or what it can realistically mean. I wrote this book to help myself, and maybe help you, figure that out.”


What We Are Reading Today: Everything is Fine

What We Are Reading Today: Everything is Fine
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Updated 17 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Everything is Fine

What We Are Reading Today: Everything is Fine
  • The review added: “Yes, there will be tears reading this story and what is so special about the sharing of this grief is the poignancy, hope, keen insightfulness and awareness that reminds us of what remains of our humanity”

Author: Vince Granata

Vince Granata’s memoir Everything is Fine charts a tragedy in his family that touches on mental illnesses, grief and resilience.
The book covers an important and often overlooked topic: Mental health.
“In this extraordinarily moving memoir about grief, mental illness, and the bonds of family, the writer delves into the tragedy of his mother’s violent death at the hands of his brother who struggled with schizophrenia,” said a review in goodeads.com.
“Written in stark, precise, and beautiful prose, Everything Is Fine is a powerful and reaffirming portrait of loss and forgiveness,” said the review.
It said the book “is heartbreaking, horrifying, and very important. Granata tells his story well. His brother’s descent into schizophrenia is fascinating and scary. Its importance is great in today’s world of misunderstood mental illness.”
The review added: “Yes, there will be tears reading this story and what is so special about the sharing of this grief is the poignancy, hope, keen insightfulness and awareness that reminds us of what remains of our humanity.”