Five Most Important History Books I've Read in the Last 5 Years
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This is a toughy. Off the top of my head I'd have to pick:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel by the same dude
1776* by David McCullough
A History of God by Karen Armstrong
* Picked because I had no clue how close the colonies came to LOSING!
#2 -- Trelew: Don't know how to answer? Are you being sarcastic? For me, I meant simply that these books were the most impactful on my intellectual development.
#3 -- clamairy -- nice list. I own the Bryson book & plan to get to it eventually. I do not own the Diamond book but will buy it & read it one day. I read 1776. I am not at all familiar with A History of God & would love to hear more about it.
Guns, Germs & Steel Jared Diamond
should be required reading for intro. to history
April 1865 the month that saved America by Jay Winik
The events of this month affected US history more than all 4 years of the Civil War
The Proud Tower A portrait of the world in the years leading up to WW1 by Barbara Tuchman
and WW1 was continued 20 years later in WW11. How the disastrous 20th century began
The Worst Hard time Timothy Egan. ,The dust bowl, the depression, a greater disaster than we've been lead to believe
The Great Deluge, Hurricane Kaatrina, New Orleans, the Mississipi gulf Coast Douglas Brinkley.
Again. a worse disaster than what we were lead to believe at the time.
#4 - Karen Armstrong is a former nun. I was under the impression she was a non-believer after reading the book (and she may be), but apparently she's still thinks that religion is 'good' for society. She insists that people used to know that religion was a 'myth' but now people take these myths at face value, and that is one of the things causes problems.
I don't usually post things I haven't read all the way through but here's a link to an article by both Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html
In no particular order,
The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, which establishes just what a war-like people we are (and always have been).
The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region by Richard White, a recreation of a time and place when Europeans and Indians found a common ground of mutual accomodation.
Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History by James Morone, noteworthy not only for a refreshingly iconoclastic treatment of the history of religion in America, but also as evidence that there is at least one political scientist who knows how to write well.
Aaron Sach's Humboldt Current, an intellectual study which locates the origins of American environmentalism in 19th century exploration.
Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression by Barry Eichengreen, a dense economc history, admittedly, but also an enlightening and chilling examination of how the orthodox (but tragically mistaken) monetary policies of the 1920s and 1930s deepened and intensified the Depression.
Alan Taylor's American Colonies would also be a candidate for my list, but White's Middle Ground, which informs both Taylor's volume and the Anderson/Cayton book on my list, is a more foundational work.
Other strong contenders are Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation: A History; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale, the life of an 18th Century Maine midwife; Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, a look at influential American thinkers of the late 19th Century; and Sven Beckert's The Monied Metropolis, a social and economic history which charts the fascinating transformation of New York from commercial center to financial capital in post-Civil War America.
From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun on 500 years of western culture.
Occidentalism: The West in the eyes of its enemies by Ian Buruma on the intellectual congruities among critics of "western culture" -- both inside and outside the West.
Impressive Trelew. As interesting as From Dawn to Decadence was (and I enjoy it still, 15 minutes at a time), you are the only one I've heard of who read the whole thing!
The trick is “the last five years”. And for me the most “important” books, I will arbitrarily translate as “had the greatest influence on me”. Such a list must include fiction for me.
In no particular order:
Cyteen by CJ Cherryh
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran.
River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade
Maps of Time by David Christian
I spent many long months reading From Dawn to Decadence. Lots to chew on there, and the sheer mass of the thing was a bit intimidating. I too read pieces at a time. Barzun does hold it all together, though, by tracing the development of his key themes over time. Quite an accomplishment.
It's rather interesting how most plagues/epidemics seem to trace a very similar narrative arc, no?
Plagues and epidemics: Horrifying, yet I love them. Like the proverbial train wreck from which one cannot avert the eyes.
#15 - Yep, yet again. And I'm not too ashamed to ask if anyone has any more like those to recommend. Heh heh.
So stellar that must mean you finished Maps of Time? And you loved it as much as I did?
Wasn't McNeill's Plagues and Peoples one of the first to look at the topic on a global scale?
I have many of the books that have been listed previously either on the shelf waiting to be read or on the tbr list. If I only had an infinite amount of reading time…
Here are my five-
The first three books helped to continue the dissolution of my black and white view of the world:
The Ascent of George Washington:The Hidden Political Genius of George Washington by John Ferling
Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker
The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland
Patriots by A.J. Langguth
I have long neglected the Revolutionary period, this book started me on the road to correcting that deficiency.
Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
I read this when it first came out and it was probably the first serious civil war book I had read. I reread it earlier this year so I’m counting it.
Edited to say: Damn touchstones
Here's a few that might be of interest
The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett
And the Band Played on Randy shilts (the AIDS epidemic)
Deadly FeastsRichard Rhodes
The Hot Zone Richard Preston
Justinian's Flea William Rosen (the Bubonic plague that hit Europe in the 6th century)
A good way of finding titles of books on similar subjects is to look at the
bibliography pages at the end of the book - they are usually just before the index.
#16. A little off the mark, but you might like Virus Hunter: Thirty Years of Battling Hot Viruses Around the World by C.J. Peters.
My "plagues" tag: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/stellarexplorer&tag=plagues
Confidentially, "pestilence" is identical in my collection.
Of course, if we add fictional epidemic books, we have a plethora of plagues--
No, though I wish it meant that. I am 90% through, and the 90% I've read has been very thought-provoking. When I finish completely, I'll post in the "Maps of Time" thread.
This thread has taken off exactly the way I hoped it would. I get to add more damnb ooks to my TBR!!!
Hey sgt -- Battle Cry of Freedom was indeed outstanding & I may re-read it one day.
Thanks, people! I already own a few of those and I wishlisted a couple more.
Oh, my poor groaning TBR stacks...
My history reading also leans heavily towards pestilence. This is my epidemic tag. To get more specific, here is Black Death.
I don't really know what I would consider the five most important history books I've read in the past five years. I've gotten pretty behind in my reading in the last decade, and now I'm trying to catch up. My most important recent non-fiction books in general would probably include The Coming Plague, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs, The Brain that Changes Itself by Brian Doidge, and Guns, Germs, and Steel (although I'm still reading it).
Edited to fiddle with links.
Judging actual "importance" is impossible for me. But I'll follow stellarexplorer in #10 and list the ones that “had the greatest influence on me” (which allows me to leave out Guns, Germs and Steel).
Barefoot Gen, Volume One : A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima Keiji Nakazawa - A 10-volume Japanese Manga originally from the 1970's. I've been reading the series this year and can't get it off my mind. It's actually fiction, but based on the author's life. He was six when the bomb dropped.
The Knock at the Door: A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide Margaret Ajemian Ahnert - from a survivor, written by her daughter.
King Leopold's Ghost : A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa Adam Hochschild - in case you are wondering what Europe did to Africa. In Belgian Congo the population dropped in half.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Lawrence Wright
The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise Michael Grunwald - This is very personal. I'm from South Florida, and this was the first history I'd read of it. I had no idea it was so fascinating.
#15 - Yep, yet again. And I'm not too ashamed to ask if anyone has any more like those to recommend. Heh heh.
I've found that they get a bit repetetive after a while. Spalding swears by World War Z, if I recall correctly.
And the Band Played On is simply stunning (not sure if you've read it before or not,) and I'd probably even offer it as an answer to the question in the OP. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History ain't too bad, either. The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco was pretty good. I think that by the time I made it to the last one, I was a bit worn out on the concept at the time.
I'll second King Leopold's Ghost. We all know that Europe screwed over Africa, but I didn't really appreciate how horrible it was until reading that book.
? I get no books there still.
edited: Oh, I can get there if I first go to "my library" and then to "epidemics" from there. Maybe it's just me, for some reason.
Nice collection Sylvia!
Done in two minutes… (spontaneous, lifetime)
The 2 most influential books:
Ondergang by Jacques Presser about the murder on Dutch Jewry 1940-45, which I read at age 15, when it was first published (living in the vicinity of the concentration camp Westerbork).
History: a novel by Elsa Morante, ww ii in Rome – also my best novel ever.
The 3 books I enjoyed most:
Mediterranean, by Fernand Braudel
Constantinople, by Philip Mansel
The fourth Crusade, by Donald Queller.
Very European I guess, with an emphasis on the (medieval and early modern Eastern-) Mediterranean, and as most people of my age in my part of the world, strongly influenced by the effects of ww ii.
Egypt before the Pharaohs by Michael Hoffman - not necessarily the best in its field, but it was the first to steer my attention to that very early phase of Egyptian history.
Poisons of the Past by Mary Matossian - that one should appeal to you epidemics "fans".
The World of the Huns by Otto Maenchen - what can I say, I'm fascinated by early Central Asia.
Levend begraven by Jan Bondeson (available in English as "Buried Alive") - about this totally morbid fear which seems to have been pretty prominent in the 19th century.
Van karmijn, purper en blauw by Herman Pleij (available in English as "Colors Demonic and Devine") - about medieval ideas / superstitions / prejudices concerning color(s).
The World of the Huns is indeed an incredible work of scholarship by a person who read all the original languages relevant to the Huns, from Latin to Chinese.
I've read a very few of the ones you've mentioned so far. I'll add Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox to the mix.
The River by Edward Hooper is a good opener on the AIDS epidemic and its origins. However, keep in mind it is controversial because of its theories. It is not a conspiracy book or anything, it draws controversial conclusions. It is complementary to, rather than in opposition to And the Band Played On.
The Hot Zone while not history (more current events) introduces us to filoviruses (Ebola Fever, Marburg Fever) and their dangers. Very interesting.
I changed my links a bit, so hopefully they will be more reliable now.
Neat, I'm gonna put that Robin Lane Fox book on my list, I'm really enjoying his writing recently.
Clam - for another food-related history I can recommend Tastes of Paradise : A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants by Wolfgang Schivelbusch. It's actually a pretty formal history, but (iirc ??) well done and enjoyable.
I guess in that vein, I read a book a few years ago called Forces of Habit ostensibly about modern drugs and how they attained the statuses they currently have. It is fairly provocative in spots but really makes you think. Why are things like nicotine and alcohol legal, but marijuana and cocaine aren't? If nothing else, it really makes you realize how practically everyone in western civilization is "addicted to drugs"... it's just some are more legal than others. This book tries to explain why. Fascinating stuff.
Clamairy, I came so close to putting The Omnivore's Dilemma on my list!
Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography is pretty good, along those lines (no pun intended).
And while we're at it, perhaps there's a heroin book that deserves a shot :-)
Back to some kind of seriousness...? ;-)
Reading this thread makes me wonder why all of these books were so important? Of course I understand the reasons varies, both between readers and books, but...
I mean, when I look into myself asking what book made a great impact, as in changing the way I look at myself and the world, I can't possibly name 5 books read in the last 5 years, even if I widen the scope to include all kinds of books. The only one I can include without the slightest hesitation is Samhället som teater (not available in translation, as far as I know), about how the arts were used as part of the rhetoric during the Third Reich. 17 years ago it totally made me rethink my own aesthetic agenda and attitude (I worked as an Art Director, back then). Some years ago I found my own copy (the one I originally read was my father's) and it still rocked on rereading. Mainly because it also has something to say about our present times. And that despite being originally published in 1983.
Other books have given me a widened understanding of things but not made me question myself and the consistency of my values. But then my basic interest, history wise, is the the history of ideas (how ideas and paradigms evolve in human society) and economic history - both useful tools when looking at other aspects of human societies, past, present and future.
In the last five years I did enjoy Gender in the early medieval world, though. And anyone thinking that is only gender as in with a female or feminist perspective is wrong. Apart from that? I'll have to think, even more ;-)
#49 - I think that's why so many of us said this was so hard to do.
#45 - I read In Defense of Food first, maybe a year or two ago and it had a similar effect, but Dilemma went into so much more detail. I have really tried to change the way I food shop. Along that line I really want to read that Barbara Kingsolver book about she and her family eating only local food for a year, I believe it's called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.
> 49: Yes, I admit I had some difficulty coming up with 5 works. The only one that really influenced me would be Egypt before the Pharaohs - but even that mostly because it shifted my attention to that subject. Earth shattering stuff? Sorry, don't think I've read any recently...
#49/51 - I had to actually cut some out to get down to five. But then I'm not reading a lot history lately, so everything has an impact, and everything makes me look at the world differently...Although Barefoot Gen had a much much heavier impact than anything else.
On the other hand I've heard a nonfiction author argue, when explaining his books, that a book should change the reader's life.
#45: stellarexplorer - I could make an argument that everyone who lives and buys food in the United States should read Omnivores Dilemma - not from the historical perspective, but from a what-are-you-eating perspective. It's a really insightful and much-needed book.
> 52: Okay, are you sure? Don't get me wrong, I'm Dutch and I don't particularly care what other people smoke, eat, or inject. But there is more to life than opiates.
> 53: Sure - everything has impact. But really life altering stuff?...
#54 - Life altering....that's very different from what I was thinking about.
#54 - Yes, life altering. I know you weren't replying to me, but I was the one who first mentioned the book back in #41.
Where do I begin...
Let me just start with how we now force pretty much every animal we consume here in the US to eat corn, often mixed with animal by-products. That's including farmed salmon, by the way. *shudders* Many of them have stomachs that didn't evolve to digest corn properly, which makes them ill, so we dose them heavily with antibiotics, continuously. And for the last few months of their lives many of these animals are forced to stand hock deep their own contaminated excrement. *more shuddering* Then they are slaughtered and processed on lines that move so fast they really can't be properly inspected, and then we eat them. Only, in my case, I'm not eating them as much as I used to. I'm mostly opting for 'no antibiotics ever' & 'vegetarian feed only' Buffalo and Chicken these days.
Add to that : genetically engineered grains an soy - and enjoy your meal ;-)
The future may be bright, but it might just possibly be you who's giving off the light.
I have lost much of my taste for processed food and corn-fed agribusiness beef. The info from Michael Pollan pretty much killed it. Which is good. What's going on there is odious. And then there is the appalling facilitation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a nearly-inevitable consequence of the casual dumping of these substances into animals on an industrial scale. It's not like we have a huge pipeline of new and untried antibiotics.
Humans: So smart and so stupid
I have been persuaded that this really is a history thread, and so I should add two more history books to my list:
William Manchester's magisterial and sadly unfinished two-out-of-three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion
Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie. Fascinating and vivid portrait of a man, a time, and a place which has all come alive for me.
#58 - ;-)
Off topic -
#56 et al on food/animals/processing - There's a silent but strong movement here in Sweden propagating for ecological foods, for vegetables and livestock grown and raised with minimum impact on the environment, and for animal rights. When Fast Food Nation first hit the shelves here about seven years ago the fast food chains switched to swedish, controlled, meat, which means the cows eats what cows should eat, a lot of them out grazing. There's a special label called KRAV which has strict rules, and more and more products sports it.
In that respect that special book has changed a lot of things, or perhaps it was riding favourable winds and landed at the right time. The key to that success, if I might venture, is that Sweden is a - relatively speaking - equal society were lots of people means to chose to buy a more expensive item if they deem it ethically, morally or otherwise superior. So, we can buy ecologically produced meat, ecologically produced Fair Trade labelled coffee, and so on.
This is not the way it is everywhere.
(I won't lie, not everyone here can, we are a 2/3 society, which means 2/3 gets around while the silent 1/3 doesn't. But you know what I'm saying.)
Still off topic -
Well, there's a segment of the population here who can't afford to eat fresh and/or low impact foods. There's an even bigger segment who can, but who refuse to, because they think saving money is more important than good nutrition. I guess the thinking is why pay $4 for a container of strawberries, when the strawberry flavored fruit roll-ups are $1.99? And they won't get fuzzy if you don't eat them right away. ;o)
Sort of back on topic -
Can anyone recommend a good a History of Food book? I was under the impression that, in some time periods anyway, the peasants who could farm had better nutrition than the wealthy, because they ate what they grew, as opposed to the sweetmeat eating (and eventually toothless) rich. It certainly isn't that way in the US now.
Edited to add: I did some snooping and found A History of Food and Food in History. The second one looks more appealing to me for some reason.
You know, now that you mention it, I know for a fact I've read somewhere about the topic of the poor actually eating "better" than the rich in late Medieval/ early modern times for the reasons you point out, Clamairy. It must have been a throw-away part in a larger book on the time period though, because my shelves are turning up nothing on the "food" topic :-)
#63 - It may have been part of In Defense of Food. This aging thing really makes me cranky. When I do manage to remember something I can't remember where I read it. :o/
I am not going to get involved in a food fight, but I would like to say something. Everybody is welcome to spend what they want to, and can afford on food raised in whatever way they consider ethical. However, keep in mind how very, very many people there are in the world, and how few of us there are to feed them. We have a campaign here called "Farmers Feed Cities". In order to produce food in the volumes necessary to feed people at affordable prices, large scale agriculture is unavoidable. As the population continues to grow, farmland decreases. The type of food production that is promoted as ecologically friendly uses a lot of land, a lot of workers, and a lot of money, none of which is easy to get. If you can afford that food, more power to you, and to the farmers who produce it. We still have to feed everyone else.
As I said, I don't want to get in a fight, so I will leave it at that.
I don't mind starting a fight: if no one ate meat, nobody in the world would have to go hungry. Discuss.
#66 Feicht, Is that really true?
I'm not sure whether or not you've read Pollan, but it's worth noting that in Omnivore's Dilemma he explores a moral argument for eating meat. His essential point is that if we didn't eat meat, the cows, pigs and chickens we cultivate simply wouldn't exist. They would practically go extinct. So, in a sense, the cows have made an evolutionary deal with us, they will sacrifice in the individual cow for the preservation and expansion of domesticated Cow as a species. He puts it more elegantly than that...
Yeah the omnivore's dilemma is definitely an interesting book. I was just trying to be controversial for the hell of it ;-) But seriously, it seems to me that if we didn't have this myth of needing to eat meat to be "healthy", all the grain (and god knows what else) being fed to cattle could be used to feed hungry humans. Cows are much bigger than people, and while I don't have any stats in front of me, I can't imagine your average human eats more poundage than a cow.
I get the argument for keeping the domestic cow as a species, but when millions of humans around the world are starving so that we (comparatively) rich westerners can eat said species, I think this is where the line in the sand has to be drawn. It's not like all the cows would be executed or anything (even though this is what we're doing now anyway), it's that all the land that's set aside to raise them for the slaughter could be put to better use.
Of course I realize that with capitalism being what it is, the likelihood of any of the food getting to the 3rd world would be slim anyway... but hey, one evil at a time, eh? ;-)
A Peopleʻs History of the United States
by Howard Zinn
Three Years a Soldier by George Perkins*
The Lives of the Deified Julius and of the Deified Augustus in Suetoniusʻs Lives of the Twelve Caesars
ed. by Nancy Dorian
Empires of the Word; a Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler
(The last 2 are strictly on the History of LANGUAGE, which I regard as an imortant part of history overall.)
*A Civil war diary and selected letters to home, written by my great-grandfather in 1861-1864; ed. by Richard N. Griffin, another of Perkinsʻs great -grandsons.
I read (and in sympathy with clamairy, I can't remember where, so I can't document it, but it is common sense) recently that the world can support 2.5 billion people eating an "American" diet, ie lots of meat, and 10 billion eating an East Indian diet.
As for keeping cattle alive so as to honor our "deal" with them, I'm sure Pollan wouldn't argue that the current conditions of mass-fattened and slaughtered cows is much of a good deal for the cows either. IIRC he said 70% of these cows had liver abscesses when slaughtered, and many wouldn't have survived another year if they hadn't been slaughtered. Not that I'm suggesting eradication.
To Sylvia's point about the need to feed billions, this is very interesting and worrisome. In Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, he presents the information that global cereal reserves peaked in 1986 at 100 days, and fell to 55 in 1995. In recent years, supplies have been diverted by increasing consumption of Western-type diets in China; diversion of grain to bio-energy production; and drought in several of the larger grain-producing countries.
Arable land is diminishing, population increasing. A small interruption in supply increasingly will threaten vulnerable communities with insufficient food.
Though I do have a tendency to contemplate apocalyptic situations, the whole situation is rather concerning.
Spot on, Stellar. If I remember correctly, Harm de Blij's Why Geography Matters hit a few of these points as well, and that book would certainly be in my top ten "important" list. There's a baffling paradox going on in the world right now (in America especially, but pretty much everywhere) where the standard for what it means to be "doing well" includes steak on everyone's table, coinciding with the inexorable destruction of as much arable land as possible. James Howard Kunstler talks about this a lot too Stellar, but I'm sure you've read him if you're into this stuff. Essentially, we need more food than ever, but we're at the same time paving over some of the best arable land on the planet. Add to the mix that "new home construction" is another indicating factor for how well the country's doing and it exacerbates problems further. It may be a little different in other areas, but in Ohio when they "build new homes" what that really means is they bought 100 acres from some farmer, build a few windey roads through it and throw up some McMansions. Whether anyone actually buys any of them seems to be irreleveant (and indeed, most of the plots are often left as essentially fallow farmland for years).
"Essentially, we need more food than ever, but we're at the same time paving over some of the best arable land on the planet."
You got it Feicht.
In the words of Joni Mitchell: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot--
Like so many others I have no memory of were I read it but the essence was US people eat about trice as much as the average Scandinavian. And I can hardly say we're starving here - obesity is a growing problem, here as everywhere else in the western world. We could well eat smaller portions, consisting of healthier food, and not only survive but thrive.
In Sweden farmland is reduced because what is produced here is so much more expensive for the consumer than the stuff imported from across the globe. American scale farming is not possible in Sweden due to geography, not to mention labour costs. But thanks to a) the debate about global warming and b) a lot of problems with antibiotics and bacteria in the imported stuff more and more people chose to spend their money on food that makes sense if we want to have this planet survive, and be healthy enough to live to see it.
Abandoned farmland often returns to nature, or is converted to golf courses. But then here a lot of people live in flats, in tenement blocks, without feeling they are inferior. Plus construction works is only one of several KPI's used to determine how we stand as a nation.
If the economic system tumbles down, or if we need to adjust our consuming rate, to make us able to survive - so what, humanity has taken a lot of change in it's stride to be were we are today. The main problem here is not individuals but governments as their responsibility (as they sees it) is to sustain the present, making both populace and business magnates happy...
You make a good point in your second (or 3rd?) paragraph about being able to live in in apartments without feeling like a chump. Here in America that's one of many "myths of the individual" that everyone longs to live up to, to the overall detrimental effect on the country at large. Instead of clustering together like in European cities, Americans have this idea that you haven't "made it" until you own your own house, with a big yard and a driveway filled with as many cars as possible. This is the best possible way to explain both our sprawl AND lack of public transit. The sprawl exists because of my main point mentioned above, and the accompanying lack of public transit exists because Americans feel like they should be able to "do it themselves" and not have to wait around for a bus or train. So they hop in their SUVs and pickup trucks and drive 50 miles to work every day.
...while a lot of people that I know who owns a car almost never uses it to get to work, because public transit makes better sense, environmentally. The catch here is, as you point out, that public transit isn't worth much in the US. Both socially stigmatised (everyone must own a set of cars to attest his/her success) and unavailable, and not like here were public transport is for everyone and ubiquitous.
In certain circles, mainly upper middle class, not to act with environmental sustainability in mind is the mark of irresponsibility.
The high gas prices works in line with this, presenting people with a personal economic incentive - shows the importance of political decisions.
For most humans social 'face' is everything. The thing is, who decide what that 'face' should show...?
Mass transit is virtually nonexistent outside urban areas here. I think it was in Don't Know Much About History that I first found out that one of the big car companies (was it Ford or GM?) bought up an awful lot of trolley car lines all over the US using puppet corporations and then dismantled them - then replaced them with their own buses, or worse - with nothing at all.
Jane Jacobs has quite a bit to say about that in Dark Age Ahead. She believed that this action by GM (I think), was one of the most direct causes of urban sprawl. After several decades there was a legal battle about it, but by that time the public transit infrastructure was long gone.
Give every one a number from one to five, then shoot all the twos and fours. Population reduced by 40%. Problem solved.
Well, I hope no one minds if I don't comment on food (I just eat it, never talk about it ...) or disease (I wash my hands frequently, sleep with the windows open year round and hope for the best) but the second post on this thread was from "trelaw" who asked "important how?" & I took it as sarcastic at first, for which I apologize. But since then others have also asked how do you define important? So I suppose I should explain myself.
These five books were not just important in that I was grateful to have read them, or that they were well written or interesting, but important to me because they irrevocably altered the way I understood history before and after I read these books.
Guns, Germs and Steel -- by Jared Diamond -- because Diamond's pioneer work revealed to me just how critical the accident of geography was to the development of civilization, the availability of crops and animals to domesticate and the spread of both ideas and disease within certain corridors, which naturally underscores how silly ideas like race that try to define our differences really are.
Before the Dawn -- by Nicholas Wade—because Wade’s book revealed how all humans are simply part of one integral family, which also naturally underscores how silly ideas like race that try to define our differences really are.
Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History -- by David Christian – because Christian amazed me by tying all of science and history together into one grand multi-disciplininary scheme. I can never look at the study of history the same way again
1491 -- by Charles Mann– because Mann resurrects pre-Columbian America so we can see and feel it and with the latest scholarship of science and history turns everything we thought we knew about the subject on its head.
American Colonies -- by Alan Taylor– because Taylor writes a traditional narrative history of American colonies that is the polar opposite of any traditional narrative I’ve ever read about the colonizing of North America, and he bothers to include French, Russian and Dutch colonies in what would later be Canada, the West Indies and Alaska. He also retells the familiar tales of the English colonies to reveal what actually happened and the absolute suffering of the Native Americans who were the unfortunate victims of European conquest and colonization.
I’ve read many other critical books of substance in the last five years that are not on this list. These books are special because they have had an intellectual impact that sets them apart from the others.
>77 Busifer: Speaking to your point, we got in a big debate today at school when we should have been doing something else, but some acquaintances and I went in circles on this environmental stuff ad nauseum. All I can say to you is that a HUGE portion of Americans will simply flat out REFUSE to do certain things if it is coupled with the terms "environment", "pollution" or worst of all, "global warming." I guess it goes hand in hand with the "rugged individual" myth, whereby these people just don't want to be told what to do by anybody, even in the face of empirical scientific evidence.
To me, it simply makes no sense to waste things (money, for instance...on gas for your stupid SUV!) when you don't need to. But we have such a consumerist culture over here that, well, I guess that plays into it as well. People don't CARE that they're destroying the *GASP!* environment while wasting their own money. Sure they could take shorter showers and not water their lawns (cheaper water bill) or drive a smaller vehicle and save on gas (cheaper gas bill, better for the world) but they simply flat out refuse.
Of course many of these are the same people who believe the Earth is 6000 years old, evolution is a lie, and Jesus was a white guy from Missouri. Go figure.
Have started making an expanded table of contents of Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence http://bit.ly/7xXwZs
Great idea! I always thought that one of Barzun's achievements in that book was tracing the development of those key themes (emancipation, individualism, secularism, self-consciousness, etc) over time, and illustrating ideas with their real-world manifestations/applications. Nice work so far.
Completed the 1st draft of the expanded TOC of Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: http://bit.ly/7xXwZs.
#89: Would appreciate any corrections. Please also see an "interactive" version: http://bit.ly/5Tkteh .
#91: "After a time, . . . the western mind was set upon by a blight: it was Boredom."
Exciting times are times of destruction. I wanted to attend to something that might last.
I can understand that. But as Trotsky nearly said, you may not be interested in history, but history is interested in you. I think our times are exciting indeed, in the "may you live in exciting times sense" (which you acknowledged), but that destruction (of good things, anyway) is not inevitable. However, making Barzun's book more accessible is a constructive act.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.