Saturday, August 17, 2013

Vacation Reading

Just spend ten days staying with friends in Montenegro, near the Skandar lake. Scenery and weather beautiful. Caught up with a bit of light reading.

Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness (2011). I bought this after watching her TED talk Dare to disagree (2012). TED has just released her talk on The Dangers of Willful Blindness (2013).

Willful blindness is a particular form of stupidity. One of the things I find fascinating is how social interaction can work both ways - in some situations it can reinforce blindness, while in other situations it can help to alleviate it. Heffernan talks eloquently about the value of disagreement, and describes companies without dissent as "zombie companies" (p 307). 

Michel Foucault, Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76 (English translation by David Macey, 2003).

I have attempted to read several books by Foucault in the past, and although they always contain a lot of interesting material, I have never been quite sure if I've understood the overall argument. There are several books supposedly about sex and sexuality, which are really about something else if only you can work out what it is.

I think I got more out of the book this time. It probably helps to be able to read the whole book in a few days, without much interruption. This is a luxury I don't usually have.

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen (2012). 

David Kaiser calls this book "a popular account of the oddity and beauty of quantum theory" (Guardian November 2011).

When I studied physics A-level at school, relativity and quantum mechanics weren't even mentioned. (It was as if my teachers had been at university in the 19th century,) So my understanding of quantum theory was pretty vague, and largely concentrated on the negative aspects - the things that quantum theory said you couldn't know. I hadn't quite appreciated the positive aspects - the things that quantum theory enabled.

Richard Sennett, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (2012)

I have long been a fan of Richard Sennett. I got this book a couple of months ago, and started reading it straightaway. Unfortunately, I kept getting interrupted (see my comment on the Foucault book above). I thought I would be able to finish it on holiday, but I found myself re-reading bits I thought I'd already read, and didn't get as far as I had hoped. While warmly praising it in his review (Guardian February 2012), David Runciman indicates that the book "is not always an easy read ... [being] curiously organised and sometimes repetitive".

Based on this reading, plus the magazines I bought to read on the plane, I have lots of quotes and ideas in an old-fashioned notebook, which may lead to a number of blogposts. Here are the first two.