I read quite a bit. I’m constantly energized by new ideas and books provide a way for me to swim in them. As I read, it’s fascinating to see interesting themes that tie different books together. I don’t recommend every book I read, but there are three books that I think are must reads.
- The Black Swan – Nicholas Taleb
- Amusing Ourselves To Death – Neil Postman
- Revising Prose – Richard Lanham
These three books are all extremely well written and all deal in one way or another with our epistemology — how we know what we know.
The Black Swan illustrates how poorly we, as humans, understand random events. We proudly predict the future, then something happens that we didn’t expect. We then rationalize that it was totally predictable, thereby returning our pride in our predictions. Knowing how much you don’t know is critical. Many of my blog entries illustrate this very theme. We delude ourselves into believing our perspective is whole when it is only partial.
Amusing Ourselves to Death is a polemic on how our culture establishes its standard for truth. A cultures media for discourse affects its standard of truth. We’ve moved from an oral culture, to a written culture, to a pictorial culture. Postman’s well written polemic reveals the TV’s inadequacies as a medium of discourse.
I’ve long had a hard time watching most news programs and this book enumerated why. Recently, my mother-in-law was watching the news and one reporter made a passionate plea for the US to exit Afghanistan. People are dying for a reason that no one knows, he argued sincerely. This was then followed by: “The Rockies lost the game against the Dodgers 3-2 last night…”. *sigh*
Revising Prose is the most specialized of these three and may only interest you if you’re interested in writing. Nevertheless, it shows the horrendous nature of the “Official Style”. He revises sentences like:
“The purpose of an environmental scan is to obtain a general understanding of the external business environment we are currently in and expect to be in over the near-term”
“An environment scan surveys the current and foreseeable business environment.”
Revising Prose requires us to consider how we write is an expression of how we think. Writing vaguely indicates vague thinking.
We are limited in our ability to know. We prefer to think without considering how we think. All three of these books will challenge and provide clarity on how we can swim in the world of ideas with greater clarity.