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You can click to view my favorites for anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, ethology, climate, evolution, brains, language, the future -- not to mention Patrick O'Brian novels and the Science Masters series.

Books About Perspective and the Future

I'd call this the miscellaneous category, but it has a strong drift towards books by people with a large perspective about the past and future. The list of selections for the Global Business Network book club has much more on futurism.

bernstein96 Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Wiley, 1996).
        Bernstein holds that modern times and the past are separated by one simple idea: the mastery of risk. A wonderful history of probabilistic thinking and some of the main players: Pascal, Bernoulli, Bayes, Keynes, Arrow, Galton, and von Neumann.
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Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Information Age (Faber and Faber 1994).
        "Not only is the text a distillation, a dramatic shaping of materials, but to process it we must apply a very exclusive sort of focus. The result is an altered state of awareness, a kindled-up sort of high."
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Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn (Viking Penguin USA, 1994).
Besides writing books such as The Media Lab, he has been running a book club for the futurist-minded members of the Global Business Network since 1988 and the cumulative list of selections (with Stewart's commentaries) ought to be of interest to readers of my own books.
        "Art begets fashion; fashion means style; style is made of illusion; and illusion is no friend to function.... Formerly stylish clothing you can throw or give away; a building goes on looking ever more out-of-it, decade after decade, until a new skin is grafted on at great expense, and the cycle begins again--months of glory, years of shame."
        "Real estate is an astonishingly unexamined phenomenon. Books on the history of architecture outnumber books on the history of real estate 1,000 to 0, yet real estate has vastly more influence on the shape and fate of buildings than architectural theories of aesthetics."
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anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, ethology, climate, evolution, brains, language, the future -- not to mention Patrick O'Brian novels and the Science Masters series.

You can click on the topics to see a collection of favorite books on the subject.

David Brin, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (Addison-Wesley 1998).
His first nonfiction book (he claims that nonfiction is ten times as hard to write for one-tenth the money -- and he has to worry about his characters suing him). This book is what Lewis Mumford or Thorstein Veblen might write, could they contemplate our increasingly webbed world and its prospects for social change. It's what Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson would be writing these days about technology and democracy. Brin's book is full of imaginative, far-sighted concern for how fluid information is going to transform our civil society. Knowledge only occasionally leads to wisdom, but here we see some, and the book is so wonderfully entertaining that it's bound to be widely read.
David Brin, Heaven's Reach (Spectra, 1998).
Third of the Uplift trilogy.
Jacob Bronowski, The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination (Yale University Press, 1978, transcribed from 1967 lectures after the author died in 1974).
William H. Calvin, How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now (Science Masters, BasicBooks, 1996).HBT
See the last chapter, Prospects for a Superhuman Intelligence.
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William H. Calvin, How the Shaman Stole the Moon (Bantam 1991)
This is my archaeoastronomy book, a dozen ways of predicting eclipses — those paleolithic strategies for winning fame and fortune by convincing people that you’re (ahem) on speaking terms with whoever runs the heavens. Starts at Stonehenge and Avebury, explores Anasazi ruins in the American Southwest, and winds up in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
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Esther Dyson, RELEASE 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age (Broadway Books, 1997).
See Derek Bickerton's review in The New York Times Book Review. A sample: "With her father's optimism and faith in technological solutions, Dyson looks forward to a world of fulfilling communities in which creativity is rewarded, the powerless become powerful and governments, if not quite withering away, lose many of their teeth. ... [But we] should realize that whatever future the Internet brings us, however sensibly and fairly we manage it, it won't be merely today with luxury options."
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Freeman Dyson, Imagined Worlds (Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) (Harvard University Press, 1997).
From the flap copy: "The stories he tells--about "Napoleonic" versus "Tolstoyan" styles of doing science, the coming era of radioneurology and radiotelepathy, the works of writers from Aldous Huxley to Michael Crichton to William Blake--come from science, science fiction, and history. Sharing in the joy and gloom of these sources, Dyson seeks out the lessons we must learn from all three if we are to understand our future and guide it in hopeful directions."

George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines (Addison-Wesley, 1997).
An amazing intellectual history of evolution and machines; I kept discovering ideas, that I thought were recent, had forerunners three centuries earlier.A quote from the final page of George Dyson's book:
We have mapped, tamed, and dismembered the physical wilderness of our earth. But, at the same time, we have created a digital wilderness whose evolution may embody a collective wisdom greater than our own. No digital universe can ever be completely mapped. We have traded one jungle for another, and in this direction lies not fear but hope. For our destiny and our sanity as human beings depend on our ability to serve a nature whose intelligence we can glimpse all around us, but never quite comprehend.
      Not in wilderness, but "in Wildness," wrote an often misquoted Henry David Thoreau, "is the preservation of the world."
I like what Oliver Sacks said about the book: "To bring Hobbes and Samuel Butler and Olaf Stapledon together, and John Wilkins and von Neumann and Lewis Thomas and Erasmus Darwin, would seem almost beyond the bounds of possibility; but they all, and fifty others, come together with a sort of miraculous naturalness in this book, which is as remarkable an intellectual history as any I have read."

anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, ethology, climate, evolution, brains, language, the future -- not to mention Patrick O'Brian novels and the Science Masters series.

You can click on the topics to see a collection of favorite books on the subject.

Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices: The Diary of Brian Eno (Faber and Faber, 1996).
UBS amazon.com Powell's
Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The Rise of Neobiological Civilization (Addison-Wesley 1994).
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David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology : The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (Knopf 1997).
From Kirkus Reviews , 08/01/97: "Noble (History of Science/York Univ., Canada) argues that the apparent dichotomy between science and religion, between the physical and the spiritual, is an artifact of recent history. He examines nearly 2,000 years of Western history to support his thesis. Noble (A World Without Woman, 1992) cites two early impulses behind the urge to advance in science and technology: the conviction that apocalypse is imminent, and the belief that increasing human knowledge helps recover knowledge lost in Eden. For example, Columbus's writings show that he believed the Orinoco to be one of the rivers of Paradise and expected the End Times to come within a century or so. Indeed, the metaphor of a return to Eden runs through the writings of advocates of science, exploration, and technology from the earliest days." From the flap copy: "The narrative moves into our own time through the technological enterprises of the last half of the twentieth century: nuclear weapons, manned space exploration, Artificial Intelligence, and genetic engineering. Here the book suggests that the convergence of technology and religion has outlived its usefulness, that though it once contributed to human well-being, it has now become a threat to our survival. Viewed at the dawn of the new millennium, the technological means upon which we have come to rely for the preservation and enlargement of our lives betray an increasing impatience with life and a disdainful disregard for mortal lives. David F. Noble thus contends that we must collectively strive to disabuse ourselves of the inherited religion of technology and begin rigorously to re-examine our enchantment with unregulated technological advance."

Heinz Pagels, The Dreams of Reason (Simon and Schuster 1988).
        "We are evidently unique among species in our symbolic ability, and we are certainly unique in our modest ability to control the conditions of our existence by using these symbols. Our ability to represent and simulate reality implies that we can approximate the order of existence and bring it to serve human purposes. A good simulation, be it a religious myth or scientific theory, gives us a sense of mastery over our experience. To represent something symbolically, as we do when we speak or write, is somehow to capture it, thus making it one’s own. But with this approximation comes the realization that we have denied the immediacy of reality and that in creating a substitute we have but spun another thread in the web of our grand illusion." Out of print.
Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View (Doubleday, 1991).
        My favorite book on scenario planning, by one of the inventors of the Global Business Network.
amazon.com softcover
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia (Faber and Faber, 1996).
        "It's wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we're going out the way we came in. That's why you can't believe in the afterlife, Valentine... the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final."
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Lewis Thomas, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony (Viking 1979).
        "Only two centuries ago, we could explain everything about everything, out of pure reason, and now most of that elaborate and harmonious structure has come apart before our eyes. We are dumb..... We have discovered how to ask important questions, and now we really do need, as an urgent matter, some answers. We now know that we cannot do this any longer by searching our minds, for there is not enough there to search, nor can we find the truth by guessing at it or by making up stories for ourselves. We cannot stop where we are, stuck with today's level of understanding, nor can we go back. I do not see that we have any real choice in this, for I can see only the one way ahead. We need science, more and better science, not for its technology, not for leisure, not even for health and longevity, but for the hope of wisdom which our kind of culture must acquire for its survival."
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E. O. Wilson, Consilience: Unity of Knowledge (Knopf 1998).
Wilson's argument for what he calls consilience-- that everything in our world is organized by a small number of fundamental natural laws that comprise the principles governing every branch of learning. There is a long excerpt in both the March and April 1998 issues of The Atlantic Monthly.
...let us begin by simply walking away from Foucault, and existentialist despair. Consider this rule of thumb: to the extent that philosophical positions both confuse us and close doors to further inquiry, they are likely to be wrong....
     Most of the issues that vex humanity daily -- ethnic conflict, arms escalation, overpopulation, abortion, environmental destruction, and endemic poverty, to cite several of the most persistent -- can be solved only by integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that from the social sciences and the humanities. Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is, not as it appears through the lens of ideology and religious dogma, or as a myopic response solely to immediate need. Yet the vast majority of our political leaders are trained primarily or exclusively in the social sciences and the humanities, and have little or no knowledge of the natural sciences. The same is true of public intellectuals, columnists, media interrogators, and think-tank gurus. The best of their analyses are careful and responsible, and sometimes correct, but the substantive base of their wisdom is fragmented and lopsided.

J. Z. Young, Philosophy and the Brain (Oxford University Press, 1987).
"I must stress how little is yet known about the programs of the brain. The code has not yet been properly broken; but we begin to see the units of it.... We can see that the code is somehow a matter of sequences of neural activities, providing expectancies of what to do next."
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