The Square and the Tower, by Niall FergusonContext with Brad Harris add
Niall Ferguson, perhaps the most famous historian of our generation, offers yet another breakthrough in his latest work, The Square and the Tower. Through groundbreaking research, Ferguson reveals how social networks, from the Freemasons of the middle ages to Facebook in the 21st century, disrupt established hierarchies to divert the course of history, both for better and for worse.
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Why the West Rules - For Now, by Ian MorrisContext with Brad Harris add
Is there a logic to history?
Many scholars balk at the idea of searching for such logic, insisting that each culture may only be understood on its own terms. In Why the West Rules - For Now, Ian Morris counters that if we look beyond the facade of culture to how human biology, sociology, and geography interact, it is possible to discover a fundamental pattern in history to help us answer the biggest historical questions, from why the West rules for now, to what will happen next.
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The Fall of Rome, and the End of CivilizationContext with Brad Harris add
Today, I’m speaking with Bryan Ward-Perkins, author of The Fall of Rome, and the End of Civilization.
It has become fashionable to argue that Roman civilization never collapsed, but was merely transformed by Germanic culture. Although this counter-narrative can illuminate intellectual developments of Late Antiquity, it verges on cultural relativism that threatens to obscure real differences in how people flourish or suffer. Ward-Perkins' book is a welcome reality check of how dark the post-Roman age really was.
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The Two Cultures, by C. P. SnowContext with Brad Harris add
The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow was one of the most influential lectures of the 20th century, triggering an intense epistemological debate within higher education regarding the status of science that has persisted to this day. The main theme of Snow's lecture was to raise alarm about the growing knowledge gap between modern society's scientists and everyone else, and to reinvigorate respect for science among cultural elites who were increasingly dismissive of it.
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Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes & Erik ConwayContext with Brad Harris add
Merchants of Doubt is not just a book about how illusions of scientific controversy have been constructed, it’s also about the people who constructed them, and its most shocking revelation is that the very same people used the very same strategy to prevent regulation on cigarette smoking, acid rain, the ozone hole, and global warming over the span of nearly 50 years.
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Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, by Peter AtkinsContext with Brad Harris add
If civilization collapsed, and our descendants could rediscover a single work to get humanity back on track scientifically and technologically, Peter Atkins’ Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, would be a contender.
If there are miracles, Atkins would argue that they are not found in the surreal conjectures of things unexplained, but in the tangible power of our otherwise small minds to achieve cosmic insights through experiment and mathematics. Here, he distills his choices for the most profound of those insights.
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Evolution's Other NarrativeContext with Brad Harris add
In this episode, we're shifting gears and I'll read an article that I published in 2013 in the journal American Scientist called "Evolution's Other Narrative." Here is a link to the article: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/evolutions-other-narrative
Given our conversation last time about the importance of disease in the history of civilization, I thought this article would be an interesting supplement to our understanding of humanity's co-evolution with microorganisms.
Plagues and Peoples, by William McNeillContext with Brad Harris add
The history of disease demonstrates both the accidental nature of history and the triumph of human reason that can enable us to gain some control over our fate; most of us no longer suffer the death of half our children, among other nightmares. William McNeill’s book, Plagues and Peoples, was the first comprehensive history to capture this balance, and after more than 40 years it remains one of the most insightful narratives on how disease has both shaped and been shaped by civilization.
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles MannContext with Brad Harris add
In 1493, Charles Mann shows us how Europeans emerged at the center of a modern, globalized world by establishing the Columbian Exchange; a system they created but could not control, and with consequences none of them could imagine.
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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack WeatherfordContext with Brad Harris add
Genghis Khan was so influential that, to understand how Europe began to shake off its medieval provincialism, how the Islamic world lost much of its momentum, and how China's unparalleled technology trickled beyond its borders and reshaped the fortunes of the West, it's well worth studying the legacy of this single Mongolian man.
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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas KuhnContext with Brad Harris add
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a classic in the history of science, and one of the most cited books of the twentieth century. Thomas Kuhn insightfully challenged our assumptions about how science works, but his opaque style ignited a cultural movement energized around the misinterpretations that objective truth was an illusion and that scientific progress was just a conceit of western civilization. These ideas became pillars of postmodernism, and no one was more frustrated by the folly of their development than Thomas Kuhn himself.
Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West, by Margaret JacobContext with Brad Harris add
Margaret Jacob’s book helps us understand how scientific knowledge became integrated into the culture of Europe through the 1600s and 1700s, and how the different social and political conditions of different European countries influenced the application of science to material prosperity. Jacob enhances our understanding of the role of science in the Industrial Revolution, and provides insight on why Britain’s distinctive approach to the utility of science enabled it to industrialize generations earlier than any other country.
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David LandesContext with Brad Harris add
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations was published by David Landes in 1998, and it has occupied a preeminent place on the bookshelves of scholars ever since. Landes boldly argued that historically unique cultural values of curiosity, novelty, and private property empowered European society to lead the modern world; a history that offers invaluable lessons for our own time.
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared DiamondContext with Brad Harris add
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies was published by Jared Diamond in 1997. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, along with several other awards. The fundamental question that Diamond seeks to answer through this book is, why did history unfold so differently on different continents such that Eurasian societies became so disproportionately influential in creating the modern world?