What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century
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Updated 23 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Ahmet Erdi Ozturk

This recently published book explores, from a historical perspective, Turkey’s current political maneuvers and religious leverages in the Balkans under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It presents Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia as case studies of Turkey using soft and hard policy instruments in the region.

Author Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, wrote the book after a study in several Balkan countries that took more than three years to complete and included interviews with almost 130 high-ranking individuals.

It suggests that Turkey insistently interferes in Balkan politics using religion, state power and imaginary identities, dubbed by some as neo-Ottomanism, and that this presence gradually becomes a threat to the secularism and sovereignty of the countries it targets.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, not only aids understanding of Turkish-Balkan diplomatic relations, but also the complex relationship between the regime in Ankara under Erdogan and the Muslim communities in the three countries.

Beyond that, it is about more than just Turkey and the Balkans; it also deepens our understanding of how religion can be used as a form of soft power in global affairs. It examines a number of political parties, for example Besa in Macedonia, that are linked to the regime in Ankara and the ways in which they interact with Turkish state apparatus.

The underlying strategy behind the construction of new mosques across the Balkans as a way to turn these countries toward Turkey rather than West is also examined in detail.
 


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.”

 


What We Are Reading Today: The Third Pole by Mark Synnott

What We Are Reading Today: The Third Pole by Mark Synnott
Updated 16 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Third Pole by Mark Synnott

What We Are Reading Today: The Third Pole by Mark Synnott

Mark Synnott’s The Third Pole transport readers to Mount Everest during the 2019 climbing season as he searches for the remains of Sandy Irvine that may help prove the British summited Everest in the 1920s.

This was an interesting look into Synnott’s quest to find the body of Irvine who was lost on Everest in 1924.

A mountaineer and rock climber himself, Synnott skillfully describes early 20th century exploration, then dives into a story about Everest that merges mystery, adventure and history into a single tragic bundle.

Synnott writes a compelling story that combines the 2019 season on Everest, historical attempts to climb Mt. Everest, and mountaineering culture as a whole.

He “describes horror stories about frostbite and strokes (blood clots are more likely at high altitudes) and oxygen tanks that hit empty at the worst possible moment,” Edward Dolnick said in a review for The New York Times.

Synnott “knows how to keep readers turning the pages, and they will speed their way to his mystery’s resolution. But any Everest story today has an unavoidable dark side.” said Dolnick.


What We Are Reading Today: The Age of Em by Robin Hanson

What We Are Reading Today: The Age of Em by Robin Hanson
Updated 15 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Age of Em by Robin Hanson

What We Are Reading Today: The Age of Em by Robin Hanson

Robin Hanson in the “The Age of Em” thinks that robots may one day rule the world.

Many think the first truly smart robots will be brain emulations or “ems.” 

Scan a human brain, then run a model with the same connections on a fast computer, and you have a robot brain, but recognizably human.

Train an em to do some job and copy it a million times: An army of workers is at your disposal. When they can be made cheaply, within perhaps a century, ems will displace humans in most jobs. 

Applying decades of expertise in physics, computer science, and economics, Hanson uses standard theories to paint a detailed picture of a world dominated by ems.

Ems make us question common assumptions of moral progress, because they reject many of the values we hold dear.

This book shows you just how strange your descendants may be, though ems are no stranger than we would appear.  To most ems, it seems good to be an em.


What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain
Updated 14 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

Edited by Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson

In “The Elephant in the Brain,” Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson argue that human beings are primates that are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. 

But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our ugly motives, the better — and thus we don’t like to talk or even think about our selfishness. This is “the elephant in the brain.” 

Such an introspective taboo makes it hard for us to think clearly about our nature and the explanations for our behavior. This book confronts our hidden motives directly and tracks down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights.

Our unconscious motives drive more than just our private behavior; they also infect our venerated social institutions. You won’t see yourself — or the world — the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.