Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? offers a comprehensive exploration of essential questions that we face in today's world: from affirmative action to moral limits on markets, from same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, and how we promote enrollment into military service.
As to the title, it could just as easily be called Ethics; this is not necessarily a treatise on merely social justice or law. Nor does Sandel give his readers a final statement on what is the right thing to do in each of these issues. (Although in several cases he does make clear what direction he favors.) Justice explores a variety of perspectives (e.g., Utilitarianism, Libertarianism, Communitarianism) from which to view these situations, and a reasonable explanation of each is given. Sandel also examines these issue through the philosophies of Kant, Rawls, and Aristotle. In a sense, the book is a primer on the development and articulation of secular morality.
This is not a theological treatment of these issues, but a philosophical one. Nor is it done from a Christian perspective. Yet, whatever one's faith, this book asks important questions that cannot be ignored forever. Religion, and particularly the morality of Judeo-Christianity, is impossible to leave out of the picture entirely when considering justice and ethics, as Sandel emphasizes in the book.
This book was referenced by Timothy Keller in Generous Justicewhen discussing the common tendency among secularists to push for religion to be excluded from any politics or promotion of justice. Sandel is out of the ordinary in this instance, as is Keller, to a degree, in his promoting working alongside non-believers as we try to promote justice--an earthly picture of eventual, eternal shalom.
I decided to push this book to the first selection of books to read for the year, in hopes that it might help my memory improve at the start of the y...more
I decided to push this book to the first selection of books to read for the year, in hopes that it might help my memory improve at the start of the year. While it's not made me a memory champ extraordinaire, I can say I did learn some tips that I think, with practice, can improve my overall memory skills. Yet, this book is not a a memory how-to.
In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, science journalist (then working with Discover magazine) Joshua Foer tells his journey writing about the U.S. Memory Championship to one year later being a contestant trying to win. (Which, he did.) With the championship as his bookends, Foer covers everything inbetween, from how he got from point observer to winner, and from the science of human memory and mnemonics, past and present.
For those who are looking for tools to improve memory, the discussion of the "memory palace" will certainly be a fascinating aspect of the book. Using this technique, I can still remember the random first five items of the grocery list Foer was asked to memorize. This is certainly not a novel concept and is sometimes discussed in psychology textbooks and others, but I found Foer's explanation and exploration of this fascinating. The history of the memory palace dates back to ancient Greek and Roman texts, and pops up throughout history all the way up to the memory competitions Joshua Foer observed and eventually competed in.
Foer also does an excellent job of highlight how little we value memory, contrasted with it once being held as one of the highest virtues. He explores our contemporary ability to make use of both externalized and internalized memory, not surprisingly using the computer as illustrative of this modern phenomenon.
This book also explores an interesting aspect of memorization that we might not immediately think from today's isolated era of viewing memory--the moral side of memorization. Morality enters the picture, because of the memory mnemonics used for attaching meaning to otherwise mundane texts. Such mnemonics include picturing crass and obscene images in order to make the words and sentences more memorable, from ancient monks memorizing texts, to current junior high students trying to remember dates and names. Morality is also tied to memory in the way that memory was elevated as one of the highest virtues, particularly in the time prior to the advent of the printing press and subsequent broader availability of books. Even before that, as men began to write down others teachings and sayings, men like Cicero protested in fear that writing would be the end of the high virtue of memory as he knew it. (Of course, if no one had written this down, we probably would never have heard of Cicero.)
As a parent in the beginning phases of educating my children, and as someone who has studied a little bit of the classical model of education, I found that there was a lot of application. Specifically, there was insight into the classical style of education (a great part of the discussion is given to ancient classical learning, although the book itself does not make the direct tie to the current classical model) and to education, in general. I felt like this book helped redeem some of the aspects of the classical model that I'd previously looked at more skeptically, as well as provided ideas for making memorization fun and truly beneficial.
Foer also gives a helpful discussion on how reading has changes as memory has changed (and vice versa).
Whilst mostly drinking water, I enjoyed reading history through a new lens via Tom Standage's A History of the World in 6 Glasses. For every history teacher who has had to listen to the "history's so boring" line from their students, this book will handily prove that the opposite is true. Standage delves into history and delivers more than just dry facts and dates. This unique history presents how these important six beverages became integral to human existence and flourishing and have maintained their place in our world.
Although each beverage is presented in the order of it's introduction to the world, the book also makes an excellent continued history to show the way it has remained a part of human existence even as new drinks arose in popularity.
The history begins in ancient Mesopotamia with the discovery of beer. Although it was a bit different than our modern version, many elements remain the same. As civilization moved from hunter-gathering to a more agricultural society, the introduction of grain cultivation brought about a number of dietary changes.In the process, both bread and beer were introduced, and "bread was solid beer, and beer was liquid bread." Much of the beer in its beginning was quite full of sediment, and so it was usually drunk communally with each drinker using his own straw.
From beer, the history moves on to wine, which flowed (pun intended) out of Greece and Rome, and took elements of those cultures with it as it moved through the rest of the world. Spirits are the final of the three alcoholic beverages before the book moves on to three important caffeinated beverages that were introduced in the more modern eras: coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.
Some of the history is somewhat surprising: beyond the fact that the origens of beer and spirits were both rather unknown to me prior to this book, I was surprised to learn the key role tea played in the opium wars between the British Empire and China (and how that consequentially led to China further walling itself off from the rest of the world). Other parts are quite sad, such as the role spirits played in the slave trade.
One particular excerpt from this section was quite telling of the greed that trumped all else (106-107):
"The [sugar] industry was heavily dependent on slave labor. Ligon ran into the religious logic used to justify slavery when a black slave, to whom he had explained the workings of a compass, asked if he could convert to Christianity, "for he thought that to be a Christian was to be endued with all those knowledges he wanted." Ligon relayed this request to the slave's master and was told that slaves were not allowed to convert--since, "by the Lawes of England...we could not make a Christian a slave"--so any slaves who were allowed to convert would have to be freed. And that was unthinkable, since it would have stopped the lucrative sugar business in its tracks."
Each of these six drinks share a common history of exposing or exacerbating human greed and conquest, yet each also has some element of unifying and bringing together people and ideas. All of these beverages were, and are, also much more than just an enjoyable beverage. Most of them were important in providing a potable form of water, for use medicinally, or to serve as a form of payment, and even to stimulating inventions and world-changing ideas. Without each of these beverages, our world would look very different than it does today.
This book will likely lend helpful background information to any historical reading or study. Just yesterday, while reading a biography of George Washington, information I'd learned from this book about rum and spirits and the surrounding history provided a helpful enhancement for just a couple of sentences discussing Washington's drinking of "grog" and later on, on discussion of slavery and spirits.
Thanks to Tom Standage and his toast human history, I doubt I will ever look at (or drink) any of these six beverages quite the same again.
(This review originally posted at kerenthrelfall.com)
Having worked with children from war-torn regions of Asia who weredealing with Post Traumatic St...more(This review originally posted at kerenthrelfall.com)
Having worked with children from war-torn regions of Asia who were dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Kim John Payne was surprised to see many of the same external markers and symptoms in children of fast-paced, Western cultures.
One: Why Simplify?
Two: Soul Fever
Six: Filtering Out the Adult World
In Chapter One, the authors look at a definition of simplicity. In Chapter Two, they show how living at a frenetic pace and one lacking consistency can result in what they define as "soul fever" in our children. Much like we would rearrange our schedules and change our treatment of a child who is clearly sick, we need to recognize some of the signs and symptoms of a little life suffering from a life lived constantly at full-throttle.
Chapter Three gives helpful insight into how a cluttered, stressful environment can help or hinder our children's development, looking at both physical and emotional environments. The authors cover what items are important to keep and what is likely just adding to the growing mountain of toys and books. Chapter Four and Five are very helpful in looking at the rhythms and schedules of daily life and how that affects children. From the title, some may think that the authors are asking parents to remove their children from any stress or difficult situation; nothing could be further from the truth. Here, these helpful chapters discuss how the consistency of normal and daily family rhythms help children learn (especially in the midst of normal stress) that home is a safe place to come to, that even in the midst of difficult times they are reassured that some parts of life will continue to operate and flow.
Chapter Six covers many of the ways in which parents knowingly or unknowingly attempt to push their children to see all the adult struggles and trials of life before they are ready. The authors recommend that parents be discerning in what they share with their children, be it through television, adult conversations, or books with too much violence or emotional struggle. They see the importance of emotional intelligence and the need for children to develop such intelligence at a healthy pace.
The authors look at both cluttered spaces and cluttered schedules in a variety of areas and show how too much can overwhelm children (and adults), and then give practical wisdom on how to cut back on the excess in our lives. The book also looks at how too many choices can actually make it harder to make the best decisions (especially in childhood, when this skill has not had time to naturally develop), and how fewer choices generally leave us more confident, satisfied with the choices we make, and tend to keep us from wanting more, more, more.
By far, this book is now one of my top picks for books on parenting. While there were a few things in which I'd take a different stance or approach, overall I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with the vast majority of the book. It is one I'd recommend to anyone raising a child in a Western culture. This is definitely a book we will return to again as we flow from season to season and the rhythms of our family change.
The book aspect was affirming in many of the choices our family is already making and the direction we've begun to head of the past few years. Simultaneously, it was also challenging and helpful to consider areas in which we may be overwhelming ourselves and our children and has given us a good number of practical tools by which to measure the flow of too much, too fast, too soon.
I realized over the past year or so that our girls had far too many choices in toys and then clothes, but this helped me see how even books can become cluttered and overwhelming (or anything we think "they can never have too much of that good thing"). I was also helped to see some advice in simplifying menu plans. We also try to involve our girls in some of the household work, but this encouraged me to let our girls take a more active role. One area that we've worked on more since reading the book is having our girls be more involved with meal prep, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. I was rather taken aback with how much it helped the transition to mealtime because they felt ownership and involvement in this area.
While not written for or from a Christian perspective, I was certainly drawn to many familiar Biblical principles behind much of what this book was promoting. In a culture of affluence, I think it's very easy to see we have a problem. The book was helpful in seeing some of the long-term effects of such affluence, both on us as parents, and as children. It's also easy to allow workaholism to wear the mask of "good Christian work ethic," and to forget the discipline of rest — an area in which it is easy to think that God's fame and success depend on us, rather than specifically making effort to rest — showing both our trust in God and a recognition of our human frailty. Additionally, this is a reminder that as parents, we can use our parental power/authority to empower our children to make their own wise choices and actions, and this book has many helpful insights as how to do so appropriately within a culture that pushes the opposite.
The book is rich, and there is far too much to share here without making this review seem overwhelming and lacking simplicity. It is highly likely that this take on simplicity will flow into many other realms of my life as well, and into aspects I may share on simplifying our home.
In his fascinating book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explores the science of habits inside and out. A combination of neuroscience, sociology, and psychology, the book looks at dimensions and dynamics of habits that include brain abnormalities, habit training, and how others effect our habits.
Using the habit as key, Duhigg unlocks how an overeating, chain-smoking, spendthrift woman is transformed into an marathon-running, non-smoking, hard-working woman a mere two years later. The same key shows why a man with serious brain-damage was able to live functionally for nearly 15 years as a daily amnesiac. And more personally, why we ourselves do certain things and how we can train ourselves to discover how we can use habits as a helpful tool.
Duhigg organizes the books into three divisions of habits: the habits of individuals, organizations, and societies, making up 9 chapters:
Part One: The Habits of Individuals 1. The Habit Loop: How Habits Work 2. The Craving Brain: How to Create New Habits 3. The Golden Rule of Habit Change: Why Transformation Occurs
Part Two: The Habits of Successful Organizations 4. Keystone Habits, or the Ballad of Paul O'Neill: Which Habits Matter Most 5. Starbucks and the Habit of Success: When Willpower Becomes Automatic 6. The Power of a Crisis: How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design 7. How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do: When Companies Predict (and Manipulate) Habits
Part Three: The Habits of Societies 8. Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott: How Movements Happen 9. The Neurology of Free Will: Are We Responsible for Our Habits?
Readers who have enjoyed books such asNurture Shock, Emotional Intelligence, Spark, Blink, or other similar "the new science of ___" titles will likely greatly appreciate The Power of Habit. But so might anyone curious about how habits form, how to change their own habits, or wondering why they can't seem to make or break new or old habits.
I began this book after realizing I wished to add a few more books to this year's reading that are on the current bestseller lists (currently #8 on Amazon's list). Of course, this is a subject that already fascinates me, so it was an enjoyable read.
The author discusses habits in this brief, but interesting video: