A few half-arsed capsule reviews of books I've read recently:
- Simon Winchester, Outposts: Journeys to the surviving relics of the British Empire; a travelogue of exactly what the title says, circa 1984, covering everything from the variously neglected West Indies and the British-administered American playground of Bermuda to the clash of worlds (British, Chinese and global corporate-capitalist) in Hong Kong, to the sleepy slices of 18th-century England in the South Atlantic (and their recently-invaded near-neighbour further south), the grubby garrison town of Gibraltar, and the human tragedy of the British Indian Ocean Territory, where entire communities were forcibly deported to make room for a US military base. Winchester writes with an affection for the British Empire as a force for good, an idea which he acknowledges in the new edition's introduction is rather unfashionable in this age of postcolonialism. Of all these places, I found St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha the most fascinating, and have resolved to visit them someday; alas, they don't appear in any Lonely Planet book.
- John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider. A mid-1970s scifi vision of a future controlled by computers, as depicted in the interrogation of a rogue hacker. Some of the predictions (computers being centralised mainframes, accessed through what amounts to the phone system) seem a little quaint, and the anarchistic tone also shows the book's age somewhat. Though nonetheless, a good read.
- Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate. An entire book, consisting of over 400 pages of small type, debunking the fallacy that human nature is a blank slate and human behaviour is 100% the product of culture; which sounds boring, but it's anything but. Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist, explains why the doctrine of the Blank Slate (and related doctrines such as the Noble Savage and the Ghost in the Machine) cannot be true, describes what exactly is in innate human nature, and why the fears that acknowledging this will lead to everything from legitimised bigotry to nihilism are unfounded, and indeed why maintaining these myths causes undue suffering and harm. Anyone interested in making the world a better place should pay heed to these arguments.
And I'm halfway through D.B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy, which is pretty good, with its exploration of video-game culture and use of it as a metaphor for the human condition. Think of it as Douglas Coupland for the MAME set.
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