Having previously read Dalrymple's In Xanadu, a book he had written in his early 20s, I had two motivations in reading this book: firSeeking the Oasis
Having previously read Dalrymple's In Xanadu, a book he had written in his early 20s, I had two motivations in reading this book: first of all, I was intrigued to see how his writing had developed over the intervening decade; secondly, I wanted to see if he his idea of following in the footsteps of ancient travelers would work as well with less well known journey than Marco Polo's?
On the first question I can report that his style had broadened and deepened since his earlier book. In Xanadu had a breathless, almost over-excited air to it, quite fitting for the work of a young author. The style of From the Holy Mountain is more reflective and mature, although it loses nothing of the sense of wonder and excitement of the earlier work.
The second question has a more involved answer. The travelers whose journey Dalrymple is recreating are John Moschos and Sophronius the Sophist through the Byzantine Empire to the Holy Land and ultimately to Upper Egypt in the late 6th Century. They set off on their travels during a time of great upheaval and uncertainty in the Byzantine Empire, traveling through and around the Holy Land. Compared with Marco Polo's journey these travels are almost completely unknown.
Dalrymple chose to start at Mount Athos which he visited to see the codex of The Spiritual Meadow, Moschos' collection of the tales he heard on the way. It is not far-fetched to say that From the Holy Mountain becomes Dalrymple's Spiritual Meadow as he shares with us the stories of the people he met and the places through which he traveled. He then heads east through Istanbul, Anatolia, Syria, through Lebanon, the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Cairo, and ultimately into Upper Egypt to conclude his journey in the Great Kharga Oasis. This journey took Dalrymple nearly six months and during that time he passed through some of the most troubled and contentious areas in the world. In all that time he never loses sight of the primary purpose of his journey which was to chronicle what had become of the Christian communities in the region in the 1500 years since Moschos and Sophronius had passed that way.
Dalrymple's two great strengths are his deep knowledge of ancient culture and history, and his genuine fondness and empathy towards the people whose lives he briefly encounters during his journey. These two aspects of his writing complement each other wonderfully in that he is able to give a sympathetic and knowledgeable account not only of the present situation in which communities find themselves but also to provide insight into how they came to be there. He is fully engaged in the problem of understanding how this region has became a place in which such deep animosities and hatred are daily acted out between three of the world's great religions, the three peoples of the Book. It will come as no surprise that he offers no simplistic or easy answers, but what he does provide is a detailed and insightful account of a region that has become more, rather than less, troubled in the 20 years that have passed since he wrote his account.
The answer to my second question then is a resounding, "yes". In my view this is an even better book than In Xanadu. Dalrymple has taken a less promising theme and turned it into a grand narrative encapsulating three of the world's most important religions over a period of immense historical change. He manages to chronicle the political, historical and religious developments that have turned this part of the world into such culturally rich, but politically and religious difficult place to understand. Reading this book has significantly improved my understanding of the region and its people. ...more
As soon as I finished Henry Kissinger's magisterial work On China I immediately set about searching for an alternative voiReturn of the Middle Kingdom
As soon as I finished Henry Kissinger's magisterial work On China I immediately set about searching for an alternative voice to provide a complementary perspective to Kissinger's view. I discovered that there is now a small industry in writing commentaries on China but as in many fast-growing industries quality is often the first casualty of a hurried rush to market.
Browsing through the various, often over-boosted books on China Jonathan Fenby's caught my eye for the simple reason that Fenby had had the benefit of working as editor of the South China Morning Post for five years (1995-2000) at a particularly significant time in China's growing rapprochement with the West and therefore had direct day-to-day experience of life and politics in China.
I found Fenby's style lucid and accessible, his themes well developed and solidly grounded in his direct dealings with China and her people. He explains clearly the main areas of difficulty that China is facing as it develops its economy and civil society and increases its interaction with the West.
As its title suggest Fenby's book is primarily concerned with the question of whether China will come to dominate the 21st century? In his account of their history and the Government's vision for the country Fenby mirrors Kissinger's view of how China sees itself and where it would like to go. Where Fenby diverges from Kissinger is in how successful he thinks China will be in surmounting the challenges it must overcome to achieve this vision. Kissinger believes that Chinese determination, tenacity, skill and entrepreneurship would find a way to overcome the difficulties. Fenby makes a compelling case that unless major changes are made in the way the country is run then ultimately the fundamental paradox of economic but not political freedom at the heart of the way the Communist Party governs the country will limit the success of the Chinese people in achieving their aspirations. The interest and the relevance of this book lie in the reasons that Fenby lays out as to why he believes this to be the case.
This short, but detailed account of modern China deserves to be more widely known and read....more
This is an important book. It is important, not so much because of the undeniable skill and passion with which CoThe Open Internet Starts Here and Now
This is an important book. It is important, not so much because of the undeniable skill and passion with which Cory Doctorow lays out his arguments, but more because the subject he addresses, the freedom and openness of the Internet, are of vital interest to everyone who uses the Net. According to Internet Live Stats that means just over 3 billion people and increasing by the second. To put it another way, in 1995 about 1% of the population of planet Earth were connected to the Internet, today, less than 20 years later, it's a tad over 40%.
Doctorow explores why this boom in Internet access and use has proved to be such a blessing to everyone, but then goes on to explain why the copyright laws as they are currently enacted in all leading industrial nations are utterly lacking in fitness and applicability to the real digital world and, more importantly, why they lead to all manner of abusive corporate behavior.
He is at his compelling best when he cites specific corporate abuses and explains the economic motivations behind the behavior. But if this was just a book about the dark side of the Internet it would be selling the reader short. Instead, having carefully laid out the problems with DRM (Digital Rights Management), Spyware, Digital Locks, unwarranted surveillance, and other abuses, Doctorow then suggests practical and workable solutions that take account of the interest of all parties involves.
This book is part of a large and important debate. It makes very telling arguments against just accepting the direction in which the entertainment conglomerates and national governments would like to push the digital world and suggests an alternative vision which is fairer and more just for the 3 billion of us who happen not to be major music labels, film production studios or spy agencies....more
Reading a book about the future that was written a decade ago is an interesting exercise in time travel. It turns out that many ofDays of Future Past
Reading a book about the future that was written a decade ago is an interesting exercise in time travel. It turns out that many of the trends that Sterling perceived in the early 2000s are alive and growing ten years on.
Bruce Sterling has a well-deserved reputation as a futurist whose imaginative grasp is more eclectic and far-reaching than most. In Tomorrow Now Sterling sets out to delineate the outline of how the world might look in the next 50 years.
What sets Tomorrow Now apart from many other similar efforts is Sterling's keen perception of the pitfalls and traps awaiting the unwary prophet. He resists the temptation to predict the specific or the obvious, instead he sets out to uncover trends, "Successful futurism assembles evidence of trends to aim at paradigms."
Sterling adopts Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man from As You Like It as the basis for his book. This proves to be a very successful map on which to base his exploration. Using these seven ages as a guide he continually returns to the related questions: "What does it mean? How does it feel?" as a lodestone to chart his progress.
What I enjoyed most about Tomorrow Now was the breadth of Sterling's vision across many different areas of human activity: biotech, IT, business, law, politics, even death put in an appearance. I felt that he managed to successfully avoid the monkey puzzle trap which he warned about in his Afterward whereby the unwary futurist allows themselves to become so dazzled by one particular area of advancement that they lose sight of the large trends turning into paradigms in the grand overview.
As he so often pointed out, today is yesterday's future and the clock keeps ticking. For Sterling's view of the future from ten years back, the clock has ticked kindly....more
Do you want to know what really motivates the Big Five and their minions? Do you care what Google, Amazon, Facebook,Knifing Babies and Stealing Oxygen
Do you want to know what really motivates the Big Five and their minions? Do you care what Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft (GAFAM Inc) are preparing to do with our digital lives? Then read this essay.
Are you curious about what the Lords of GAFAM feel about their digital serfs, us, in other words? How they wrangle with each other for the control of our internet souls? Then you should really read this essay.
Sterling takes aim at the heart of this Dark Digital Empire with his wonderfully irreverent and highly informative short book. The Internet of Things is not about having our toasters chat happily with our fridges while enjoying the warm conviviality of the Smart Grid.
What is the Internet of Things about? I can only recommend you let Sterling tell you just how GAFAM knifes babies and steals oxygen to bend the world wide web to their wills.
My first question on seeing this book was, is it going to be as successful and thought-provoking as Carr's previous book The ShaThe Road Less Traveled
My first question on seeing this book was, is it going to be as successful and thought-provoking as Carr's previous book The Shallows? The answer is an unequivocal, "yes!"
If you've not read The Shallows I recommend that you consider reading it first because many of the thoughts and ideas from it are continued, developed and extended in The Glass Cage. It's not a necessary prerequisite but it would enhance your appreciation of Carr's arguments.
Carr's central thesis can be summed up in a quote often attributed to Marshall McLuhan, "we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us."
Carr's point, which he develops with many intriguing examples ranging from airline pilots, through doctors, photographers, architects, and even to farmers, is that this Faustian pact with technology comes at a cost. The cost, in Carr's view, is a loss of direct, experiential, formative contact with our work. The consequences of this slow loss of familiarity and connection with our work are subtle, insidious and will only increase while we follow this technocentric approach to automation.
Carr is excellent at making his case. Most of his examples are familiar and those that less so, such as the automation of legal and medical opinions are interesting in that they affect us all.
I felt that where Carr was less strong was in proposing solutions to the problems he raises. He works hard at explaining an alternative vision calling on the poetry of Robert Frost's as a springboard to a more humanistic approach to developing tools, but it is hard work selling an alternative to the easy, convenient future that so many of us seem to crave.
Ultimately it may be that Carr's biggest contribution will not be to single-handedly derail the future that Google, Apple, and Amazon wish to sell us, an exceedingly unlikely outcome, but to at least make us aware that there is a choice that we are making when we choose the frictionless path to the future, and that we should carefully consider that choice before we make it....more