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Posts about books (old posts, page 52)

Carpe Diem: Seizing the Day in a Distracted World

Carpe Diem: Seizing the Day in a Distracted World

Roman Alexander Krznaric


A cultural history of seizing the day and how the idea has been co-opted by a range of special interests until it can be used as a description for almost any practice or commodity. Krznaric has a historian's eye for contradictions and re-purposings, but also manages to draw out a number of practices that might be helpful to readers seeking to make space in their lives. (My favourite is to imagine dying, going to a dinner party in the afterlife, and meeting alternative you's who took different decisions at critical points in your life. Which ones might you envy? Which would you pity? And how do the answers to these questions illuminate how you might want to make future life choices?) Altogether a good antidote to the commercialisation of carpe diem.

4/5. Finished 10 May 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda's Road to 9/11

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda's Road to 9/11

Lawrence Wright

2006


A narrative history of the rise of Al Qaeda and the consequences for the world.

I read this book after I'd seen the recent television drama based on it. They cover substantially different ground, with the book rooted firmly in the origins and history of the group rather than in the few years preceding 9/11. It focuses quite intensively on Ayman al Zawahiri, whose struggle against the Egyptian government led to his eventual exile in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden, by contrast is – if not quite a bit player – then certainly a peripheral and rather transparent figure whose commitment to revolution arrives very late and in a surprisingly hesitant fashion – but is then absolutely decisive in both the tactics and strategy of the fight against the US and its allies. Altogether a fascinating cast of characters,

5/5. Finished 10 May 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

Elaine Morgan

1982


Discussions of human origins invariably rest on rather shaky foundations. The fossil record – such as it is – has huge gaps, isn't a random sample of the fauna, and only preserves the gross features of anatomy evident in bones. So it's hardly surprising that a range of theories have been proposed to explain the division between apes and humans.

The aquatic ape hypothesis is one such. It has some supporting evidence – or, rather, it isn't definitively contradicted by the evidence that there is. In this it falls into the common evidential trap of turning a lack of evidence against into prima facie evidence for: the classic pseudoscience bait-and-switch.

It's possible to pose the theory at several strengths. The strongest, that hominids went through an aquatic phase long enough to give rise to evolutionary adaptations that haven't been wholly lost, seems unsupported; the weakest, that hominids spent time near water and waded in order to access rich food supplies, seems unobjectionable.I'm unconvinced there's much else to it, or indeed that there ever could be given the limitations of the evidence available.

1/5. Finished 10 May 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Abandoned Places: 60 stories of places where time stopped

Abandoned Places: 60 stories of places where time stopped

Richard Happer

2015


A tour of some of the most atmospheric abandoned and semi-abandoned places in the world, ranging from ancient cities, through colonial-era hill hotels, to Communist showpieces and disaster sites. All accompanied by fascinating descriptions and wonderful photography.

5/5. Finished 10 May 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)