Dan Brown is known for writing entertaining adventure stories centered on his fictional character, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon. Langdon is drawn as a kind of super-sleuth who uses his knowledge of symbols, particularly religious symbols, to solve earthshaking crimes. Brown’s 2013 book, Inferno, is the fourth in the Langdon series and takes a rather Malthusian look at the world as it intertwines imagery and symbols from Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno in a plot threatening human existence. Although written in 2013, the story has unexpected relevance now as the world takes steps to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Continue reading
Historically, the bastions of higher learning were centers of intellectual stimulation where students could gain exposure to myriad concepts, ideas, and philosophies and could participate in scientific advancement. The learning process gave students not only exposure to a broad spectrum of ideas, it helped them learn to examine those ideas critically to separate fact from fiction. It also taught them important skills to deal with intellectual and social challenges. It sometimes made them uncomfortable and encouraged them to use that discomfort to stretch themselves and grow. They learned the great value of being challenged intellectually as well as skills necessary for conflict resolution without resorting to violence. Starting around 2013, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt noticed a disturbing trend that was beginning to assert itself and was antithetical to the broad pursuit of knowledge on which colleges and universities thrived. This trend was exemplified by a combination “three Great Untruths:”
- The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
- The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
- The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
These three concepts are the basis for Lukianoff and Haidt’s 2018 book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. They use the following criteria to determine if something is a Great Untruth (it must meet all three criteria):
- It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
- It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
- It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.
Isabel Wilkerson ends her latest book with a powerful truth:
“A world without caste would set everyone free.”
The book is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, and it should be required reading for everyone, particularly in the United States. Most people in the U.S. are aware of the nation’s history of slavery that was theoretically vanquished after the Civil War. As many historians and journalists have written, it wasn’t really, and there is a much deeper pathology at play. Wilkerson crystalizes the formation and perpetuation of the caste system that persists to this day in the U.S. through a detailed exploration of how it relates to caste systems in India and in WWII Germany in her latest book which is part personal essay, part investigative journalism, and part history text. As difficult as many of the stories she relates are, she also offers ideas on how we might address and reform this vicious hierarchy, though to do so will require effort on all our parts. To do so would also allow us to finally achieve the key ideal set forth in our Declaration of Independence, i.e., true equality of all people. While the founders didn’t actually mean everyone, or even all men, the ultimate ideal expressed is still one to which we should all aspire. Instead, we have to date been plagued by a system of equality that is based on inequality. In other words, for the favored members of society to be equal amongst themselves, all others must be unequal. This U.S. system has been based on caste since before the founding of the nation despite the advances in equality stated in the law. Continue reading
In the preface of Oliver Sacks’ landmark book Musicophilia, he muses about how human interactions with music might puzzle a highly intelligent alien being with no frame of reference conjuring a scene from the world of Arthur C. Clarke. Science fiction aside, music is central to human existence, and yet on the surface it’s confounding trying to discern its purpose. Music can touch us in ways nothing else can. It can provide great solace. It can bring us to tears. It can excite us and inspire us. It can stimulate the brain and enhance learning. It can also torment us. Music can have these effects on us just by listening as well as in the course of making music. In the face of certain brain injuries or disease, it can also provide insights helping with diagnosis and can reach people who are otherwise uncommunicative. Drawing on extensive case studies, Dr. Sacks instructs, entertains, and enlightens readers on the complexities of human perceptions of music and just how important music is in innumerable circumstances. While this book will fascinate any musician wanting to understand their own musical drive, it will also delight non-musicians by opening up a whole world of perception they previously took for granted. Continue reading
Professor Heather Cox Richardson, a prominent professor of American history at Boston College, has gained notoriety in the last several months as the author of a popular series entitled “Letters from an American” which appear on her website as well as on her professional Facebook page on a nightly basis. She began writing these letters in early November 2019 in response to numerous questions she received trying to make sense of the political events of the day. In these letters she provides a nightly roundup of the day’s political news, and along the way, she provides lessons delving the depths of American history to show where many of these ideas and tactics originated. On April 1, 2020 (after she was well into her nightly series), her latest book, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, was released. In this book, she describes what she refers to as the American paradox. This paradox is based on the principle that throughout American history, equality depended on inequality. She shows how this paradox started before the founding of the country and ripples throughout our nation’s history driving much of the division we see in American society today. Continue reading
In December 2018, TCK Publishing released a new science fiction novel, Kill Code, by Clive Fleury. This gripping dystopian story is packed with action, intrigue, and a hero who might just have bitten off more than he bargained for as he tries to right the wrongs he’s seen all too often. In a not-too-distant future look at the little blue marble in space, the planet is ravaged by climate changes. The planet, and especially the Los Angeles area, has heated beyond all imagination, and there are really only a few hours of daylight that are even partially tolerable. The oceans have risen so quickly that weekly measurements show massive encroachment on waterfront areas, and humans have been pushed further and further inland. Over the top of it all, corruption is rampant, normal citizens have lost almost everything, and Hogan Duran wants to do something about it.
Duran is a former soldier and disgraced cop living in squalor with his former police partner, Max Creeling. Creeling is now wheelchair bound after a shooting that ultimately got them both removed from the police force. Instead of just squeaking by, Duran wants to make a difference. After years of scrambling to get what work he could, an opportunity finally presents itself that Duran just can’t ignore. The prestigious National Security Council (NSC for short) beckons to him to join. Well to be fair, Duran had applied and been rejected several times, but finally he’s invited to take the entrance exam. There’s just one small problem. The test can be deadly. If that weren’t bad enough, Duran comes to realize, beyond the challenges of getting in, there are some terrible secrets that are even more dangerous.
The book is short, only 149 pages, and it moves very quickly, much like the pilot of an action-packed television series. This is not surprising given Fleury has produced, directed, or written several projects for television and film, so he knows those mediums well.
The story is told in first person from Duran’s point of view, so the reader can only know what he knows. The reader learns Duran’s and Creeling’s backstories early on, and when Duran makes his way to the gleaming NSC headquarters to try to win entrance into the elite NSC forces, several other characters are introduced, each with secrets in their past that unfold to Duran slowly throughout story. As such, some of the supporting characters are a little underdeveloped or single dimensional because Duran can be fooled, and by extension, so can the reader. Although portions of Kill Code read a bit like a script, Fleury adds plenty of descriptive material to allow the reader to easily visualize the settings as Duran experiences them.
There are a few minor editorial issues such as using the subject form “Max and I” when it should be “Max and me” as an object, but they can generally be forgiven as the reader digs into this fast-moving, near-future world.
In addition to being Fleury’s first novel, Kill Code is the first book in a series under development. While the series may well take the reader in numerous, unexpected directions, this particular story doesn’t so much resolve as setup the next installment of the story. As such, the last chapter ends abruptly, leaving the reader hanging. Still, overall the book is an enjoyable read, and even though the world is dystopian, it provides a nice escape from the current world’s reality.
Kill Code is available in both paperback and digital formats.
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TCK Publishing brings a lot of new authors to light, and one of their latest is Jenna Ryan. Her debut novel, The Channeler: A Future Forewarned (Continuum Series Book 1), was published in January 2019. Classified as a young adult fantasy romance novel, Ryan covers a lot of ground in the book’s 241 pages. The story, told in first person by protagonist Caleb Michael Swift, nicely captures the college experience while mixing in copious amounts of supernaturally inspired angst. Caleb seeks a normal life as he navigates his junior year in college. He has lived with his “aunt” Nikki from a very young age. Readers eventually find out that Nikki isn’t really his aunt. She was his mother’s dearest friend, and she took him in after his mother’s untimely death. Caleb never knew his father, and as the story unfolds, he learns some very surprising things about him. Continue reading
Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is Angelina Allsop’s first published book, initially offered under the title The Dead Orphanage, and it is also the first in her Young Adult (YA), AfterLife fantasy series. The book is filled with Allsop’s unique view of “AfterLife,” as distinguished from “Life.” There are plenty of otherworldly creatures such as werewolves, witches, vampires, poltergeists, skeletons, zombies, and ghosts, as well as a full assortment of “unliving” humans not possessing any special powers when compared to their peers. Of course, all of the unliving can do a few things unheard of in the living world. Continue reading
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is the second, recent, international best seller by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. In it, Harari draws heavily on his previous book (also an international best seller) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In fact, Homo Deus can stand alone and give the reader a nice synopsis of the earlier work. Harari compresses his previous book’s crucial concepts about the various developmental revolutions that humanity has weathered into half as many pages before broadening those concepts and presenting some possibilities of where humankind might be headed in the twenty-first century and beyond. Homo Deus was first published in an Israeli Hebrew edition in 2015. The first English translation appeared in the UK in 2016, and it finally made it to the United States market in 2017. As of spring 2018, it has been translated (in order) into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Croatian, Italian, Korean, French, Norwegian, Greek, Czech, Lithuanian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian. While it hasn’t quite caught up to the 45 languages Harari’s earlier work has so far appeared in, this latest book is well on its way. Continue reading
Happiness is a central theme that Yuval Noah Harari explores in detail in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He discusses the multitude of advances that humankind has achieved throughout its history, starting, as he puts it, as “an animal of no significance.” As mentioned in previous discussions of this book, Harari separates humankind’s history into several revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, scientific), and through them all, he questions whether the individual members of our species are happier with each advancement. Even at our earliest stage in history, Homo sapiens has been a biologically successful species, but is biological success enough? Does that alone serve to make the majority of us happy? Continue reading