A provocative re-assessment of the history of technology since 1900, which eschews great-man and great-innovation history, and looks especially at uns...moreA provocative re-assessment of the history of technology since 1900, which eschews great-man and great-innovation history, and looks especially at unsung and un-glamorous technologies and innovations. It also dovetails well with a User Experience approach to technology, as his primary take on technology focuses on use, adaptation, and appropriation. Another highlight is an entire chapter on the technology of killing (pesticides, antibiotics, slaughterhouses, weapons, etc.) which is a very clear-eyed and trenchant way of looking at the development of technology in the 20th Century.
Overall I found it to be a good expansion of many of the things I've been learning and thinking about in reference to information technologies into a larger technological and cultural sphere.(less)
This is another diverting instance of Eco playing around with history, mythology, and ideas like a kid with Legos or something. This one is nominally...moreThis is another diverting instance of Eco playing around with history, mythology, and ideas like a kid with Legos or something. This one is nominally set in 12th Century Byzantium and Northern Italy, but pulls in all kinds of crazy stuff from the early Sorbonne to the court of Frederick Barbarossa to the Assasins to the greater part of a mythological bestiary. The main thrust is the use of the Prester John myth as a political tool for Barbarossa's attempts to expand his power, but as with most of Eco's work, people soon start believing their own tales, and the protagonists set off on a quest for John's mythical kingdom, where all kinds of mythological and quasi-historical madness ensues. If you like Eco's other stuff, you'll definitely enjoy this one too.(less)
A series of sketches on the remarkable and often terrifying complexity, plasticity, power, and vulnerability of the human brain. These cases are also...moreA series of sketches on the remarkable and often terrifying complexity, plasticity, power, and vulnerability of the human brain. These cases are also interesting examples on the nature of identity, the social and personal construction of ability and disability, and the frightening but also freeing thought that vastly different and perhaps mutually incomprehensible modes of perceiving and being in the world and being a human can and do exist and even thrive in modern society.(less)
This is pretty much everything you could ask for in a biography of Mill. It covers the whole spectrum, from his personal life to his work to the intel...moreThis is pretty much everything you could ask for in a biography of Mill. It covers the whole spectrum, from his personal life to his work to the intellectual and political contexts in which he did it, and does so with sympathy and verve. You could do much worse for a history of the progress and development of liberal reform in Victorian England, which is appropriate since his ideas were so central to it. What's unique here is that the author makes it clear that Mill was much more than a man of ideas, and that his was a throughgoingly humanist life, in which he was willing to put his fortune and reputation on the line to fight for his beliefs, even when the times were not yet ripe and the odds weren't in his favor.
The one strange exception to his universal generosity and esteem was his family, and it was a bit jarring to learn that someone who I admire so much and who seemed so far ahead of his time on so many issues, could be so callous to some of the people closest to him in life, albeit for complicated reasons arising from his nonconformist beliefs and his famed relationship with Harriet Taylor. That's a good lesson though, and reinforces the need to judge the personal, political, and intellectual spheres separately and on their own merits.(less)
An interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified,...moreAn interesting attempt at a revisionist history of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. I only bother to say revisionist because in his (somewhat justified, as we will see) eagerness to vindicate the Mongols, he does go rather out of his way to downplay the havoc they spread. He spends all of maybe a page and a half on the sack of Baghdad, which resulted in the brutal and complete destruction of the greatest city of the most advanced civilization and culture of the era. This was a Big Deal, and what was destroyed and lost really needs to be taken into account along with what the Mongols built and enabled.
But what they built is quite impressive and important, and that's the story told by Weatherford. The semi-standard narrative of the Renaissance is that Marco Polo and the Venetians opened up trading routes with the East, commerce and cultural exchange in the Mediterranean and Near East grew from there, and eventually we rediscovered our birthright of ancient Roman and Greek culture and ideas. What's left out is who they opened up trading routes with, and how much that exchange had to do with Europe's ascent from the Dark Ages.
They opened trade with the Mongols, who had built the world's first true multicultural and international empire covering most of Asia and the Middle East. Although they did sack and burn and kill, that's not all they did. They also built safe roads and a postal system that allowed trade across thousands of miles of Eurasia, facilitated cultural and technological and religious exchange from Japan to Western Europe, invented paper money, militarized gunpowder and revolutionized siege tactics, used printing widely well before Gutenberg, and instituted efficient administration and the rule of law over a vast area. They even founded universities. They were probably the first multinational, meritocratic, ecumenical, and in many ways, modern state, and that state covered more territory than any other before or since. They created modern China under Kublai Khan, and their descendents ruled India into the 19th century. Not bad for a bunch of marginal, illiterate, yak-herding yurt-dwellers.
It's pretty amazing that the story of this remarkable man and his people doesn't figure more prominently in our history, but a combination of time, racism, chauvinism, and in modern times, a lack of access to what scant records remain due to the Cold War has kept it fairly marginal. So, in that way, this is a very important book, and I feel like it really filled an big gap in my understanding of history.
On the downside, the sourcing does seem a bit thin and/or legendary at times, but no more so than what we have on someone like Alexander or most other ancient world figures. Just take into account that he's a) going easy on the Mongols to try to counteract their really nasty reputation, and b) working from fragmentary and/or mythical information in some cases, and enjoy it for what it is, which is a well-told tale of a criminally neglected era of history.(less)