What We Are Reading Today: Second Nature

What We Are Reading Today: Second Nature
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Updated 10 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Second Nature

What We Are Reading Today: Second Nature

Author: Nathaniel Rich

Humans have irrevocably altered nature, warns New York Times Magazine writer-at-large Nathaniel Rich (Losing Earth) in this vividly reported survey — Second Nature.
The challenge now, he writes, is to harness those changes and conserve the parts of nature that are “beautiful and free and sacred, those that we want to carry with us into the future.”
Frightening but with an undercurrent of humor, Rich’s study is packed with moving insight.
Rich presents humanity’s war against nature in vivid detail, with nature nearly defeated. “It was a costly victory, however,” he writes. “The prize was civilizational collapse.”
Dahr Jamail said in a review for The New York Times: “Flowing and deeply researched prose paints scene after scene of the ubiquitous entropy that is gaining momentum.”
From Odds Against Tomorrow to Losing Earth to the film Dark Waters (adapted from the first chapter of this book), Rich’s stories “have come to define the way we think of contemporary ecological narrative,” said a review in goodreads.com.
“In Second Nature, ordinary people make desperate efforts to preserve their humanity in a world that seems increasingly alien.”


What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher
Updated 10 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

This is a long and dense book, but any effort expended in the reading is exponentially rewarded. 

In Wonderworks, Angus Fletcher, a Renaissance literature scholar at Ohio State University, attempts a practical approach to putting the humanities back on the map. 

Fletcher takes a close look at the power of innovations in literature to improve human happiness, and he analyzes these effects on the physical body.

Wonderworks “is an unusual, thought-provoking book. It mixes history, literature, and neuroscience to create essentially a self-help book where the cure for what ails you is a certain element of literature,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

In 25 chapters, Fletcher “travels from the first stories told in caves to the present day showing, comparing and contracting how literature works, and why its messages, when done right, can be so compelling,” the review added. 

It said the book “details various literary inventions, their potential origin from ancient times, and further development through contemporary authors, and ties each one to psychological benefits for readers.”


What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton
Updated 09 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

Madhouse at the End of the Earth is a must-read book for anyone interested in polar exploration and geographic discovery.

It is a fictionalized account of an actual Belgian expedition to the Antarctic, in the final years of the 19th century, and is based on a multitude of journals and reports.

In this epic tale, Sancton unfolds a story of adventure gone horribly awry.

“It is a fascinating and exciting story of endurance, with a flowing narrative and characters well described and full of depth,” said a review in goodreads.com.

It offers a gripping account of the de Gerlache Antarctic expedition of 1897-1899, in which the ship became frozen in the ice for the entire winter. 

It is also the story of the friendship between the ship’s doctor, Dr. Frederick Albert Cook, and Roald Amundsen, who was at the beginning of his career as an explorer.

The author uses a lot of primary sources such as diaries.

“Anyone who values a human story in trying conditions, under desperate circumstances, will completely enjoy this book,” said the review.


What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe
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Updated 08 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

Author: Niall Ferguson

Drawing from multiple disciplines, including economics and network science, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe offers not just a history but a general theory of disaster.
The book falls into multiple parts, the first of which forms the bulk of the text with an examination of disasters throughout history, both natural and man-made, some in the deep past, others in more recent memory.
As author Niall Ferguson shows, governments “must learn to become less bureaucratic if we are to avoid the impending doom of irreversible decline,” said a review on goodreads.com.
“While populist rulers certainly performed poorly in the face of the pandemic, Ferguson argues that more profound pathologies were at work — pathologies already visible in our responses to earlier disasters,” said the review.
It said that Ferguson “examines various plagues through the ages, as knowledge of how they work gradually grew, and how such knowledge was usually ignored or abused by those in power.”


What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift

What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift
Updated 06 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift

What We Are Reading Today: The Big Roads by Earl Swift

A man-made wonder, a connective network, an economic force, a bringer of blight and sprawl and the possibility of escape — the US interstate system changed the face of our country. 

Earl Swift’s The Big Roads charts the creation of these essential American highways. From the turn-of-the-century car racing entrepreneur who spurred the citizen-led “Good Roads” movement, to the handful of driven engineers who conceived of the interstates and how they would work to the protests that erupted across the nation when highways reached the cities and found people unwilling to be uprooted in the name of progress, Swift follows a winding, fascinating route through twentieth-century American life. 

How did we get from dirt tracks to expressways in less than a century? Through decades of politics, activism, and marvels of engineering, we recognize in our highways the wanderlust, grand scale, and conflicting notions of citizenship and progress that define America.


What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell
Updated 05 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

What We Are Reading Today: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia is an exploration of how technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war.

Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists asked: What if precision bombing could cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?

In contrast, the bombing of Tokyo on the deadliest night of the war cost thousands of civilian lives, but may have spared even more by averting a planned US invasion. In The Bomber Mafia, Gladwell asks, “Was it worth it?”

Things might have gone differently had LeMay’s predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, remained in charge. Hansell believed in precision bombing, but when he and Curtis LeMay squared off for a leadership handover in the jungles of Guam, LeMay emerged victorious, leading to the bombing of Tokyo. The Bomber Mafia is a riveting tale of persistence, innovation, and the incalculable wages of war.