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What We Owe The Future

“Future people count. There could be a lot of them. We can make their lives go better.” That’s the central idea of What We Owe The Future, a provocative book by William MacAskill who’s an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford. Even if you disagree with some…

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Life Is Simple

Ever heard of Occam’s razor? It’s the principle that says the simplest explanation that fits the facts is most likely the correct one. It’s formally stated as “entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” Or informally as “keep it simple, stupid.” Occam’s razor is named after William of Occam (sometimes…

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The Last White Man

One morning in an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a white man named Anders wakes up to discover that his skin has turned dark brown. His facial features have changed too. He doesn’t recognize himself in the mirror.   Anders isn’t the only one. Gradually, every white person in…

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The Ministry for the Future

It’s the year 2024. After most nations fail to meet their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, delegates to the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) create a “subsidiary body” to defend and protect future generations of citizens and all living creatures, present and future, who cannot speak for themselves.…

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Allow Me to Retort

Elie Mystal thinks the US Constitution is trash. In Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution he makes a solid case.  Mystal is justice correspondent for The Nation and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the ConstitutionBy…

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How Rights Went Wrong

How did you feel on June 24, 2022, when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and struck down the constitutionally protected right to abortion? Did you feel victorious? Elated? Vindicated? Did you feel that a terrible injustice had been corrected? That the Court had at long last recognized…

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A World on the Wing

I’ve been reading some pretty heavy stuff lately; books about the rise of tyranny around the world and some godawful decisions coming out of the US Supreme Court. I needed to take a break, read something a little more uplifting. And what could be more uplifting than a book about…

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West Virginia v. EPA: Major Questions, Major Troubles

Just one week after striking down the right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the US Supreme Court has now severely restricted the government’s ability to fight climate change. I think the Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA is deeply troubling for at least three reasons:…

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The Road to Unfreedom

I read widely and I follow news and politics closely, but in recent years I’ve often felt utterly baffled by world events. It’s like I’m trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. I manage to build up a few disconnected fragments here and there,…

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How the World Really Works

Global climate change is an unprecedented challenge for the world.  To meet the challenge, we need to make unprecedented changes in the ways we live, work, produce, and consume.   In a new book called How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re…

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The Advice Trap

The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever could easily be boiled down to three or four PowerPoint slides. In fact, I suspect the book originated as three or four PowerPoint slides that were puffed up and padded out into a full-length book.  …

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Friends

Ever heard of Robin Dunbar? He’s the guy who famously discovered Dunbar’s Number: 150. Wait, let me clarify that. Robin Dunbar did not discover the number 150. What he did discover is that 150 is roughly the largest number of friendships most of us can maintain at one time. Robin…

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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible

On the surface, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia is a memoir of the years 2001 to 2010 when the author, Peter Pomerantsev, lived and worked in Russia.  In reality, the book is an in-depth critique – no that’s not strong enough…

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Greenwood

I was on vacation last week and took one of my periodic side trips into fiction. Greenwood, by Canadian writer Michael Christie, is a novel about family and trees and the relationship between them. It spans four generations of the Greenwood family over the course of about 130 years. A…

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On Tyranny

I’ve lived my whole life in democratic countries. I’ve never experienced what it’s like to live under a dictatorship, thankfully. But these days, I’m worried. Democracy here in the US and around the world seems more fragile that it used to, or maybe I’m just more aware of its fragility.…

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The Economic Weapon

This book could not be more timely. Published one month before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War is about the origins, evolution and uses of economic sanctions during the years between the two world wars. It’s written by…

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The Address Book

You probably don’t think about your street address very much. These days, I imagine you use it mainly to fill out forms or to tell online retailers where to deliver your packages. In reality, your address is loaded with meaning and power.  The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About…

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When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about ideas that defy comprehension told in a way that defies categorization. It’s written by Benjamin Labatut, a Chilean writer born in Rotterdam in 1980. This is his third book, and the first to be translated into English. The book…

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COVID Year 2

A year ago, I posted a reflection on working from home during the first year of the pandemic. A lot has happened in the second year. Back then, I was waiting for my turn to get the COVID vaccine. I got it in April.  Then in the summer I changed…

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The Fabric of Civilization

What are you wearing right now right next to your skin? Do you prefer clothing made from natural fabrics like cotton, wool, or silk?  Maybe you don’t mind synthetics like polyester. If you’re about to start a workout, you might put on something made from a “technical” material like polypropylene. …

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Notes on the Invasion of Ukraine

I read because it helps me make sense of the world. I blog because it helps me distill what I’ve read, and hopefully it helps others make sense of the world too. The events of the past week make all that seem like a futile and irrelevant pastime. How can…

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Entangled Life

When the author of this book about fungi started describing his participation in experiments involving LSD, I wondered if it was going to be a different sort of book than I was expecting. The author is Merlin Sheldrake, a biologist and writer who holds a PhD in tropical ecology from…

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The Big Switch

I’m only halfway through the book I’m reading, so this week I’m writing about a podcast instead. The Big Switch is a terrific podcast about how we switch to a net zero carbon economy to help slow down climate change. It’s hosted by Dr. Melissa C. Lott, Senior Research Scholar…

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Eloquence of the Sardine

As a young boy, Bill François manages to catch a wayward sardine with his toy net and pail while clambering around the rocky Mediterranean coast of his native France. I say wayward because sardines aren’t solitary creatures and they don’t usually swim close to shore. When he lets the glittering…

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