My Books Read in the Last Year

I read quite a bit last year, with an emphasis on linguistics, Counterinsurgency, complexity, and mathematics.  Fiction, as always was scattered throughout the year.  Lots of good links below; I encourage you to check them out, along with the reviews I did of several of them…

January
1) Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence – Jane M. Healey, Ph.D
2) Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) – Jeffrey Kluger
3) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
4) A New Kind of Science – Stephen Wolfram
5) Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – Robert D. Kaplan
6) The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity – Richard Florida (My review here)
7) Language: The Big Picture – Peter Sharpe (my review here)
8) Understanding Physics: Volume 1: Motion, Sound, and Heat (Understanding Physics) – Isaac Asimov
9) Seven Firefights in Vietnam – John A. Cash, et al.  (My review here)

February
10) Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – Guy Deutscher (My review here)
11) Chaos Theory Tamed – Garnett P. Williams
12) Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity – John Gribbin (My review here)
13) The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” – Michael Burgoyne and Albert Marckwardt (My review here)
14) The Age of the Unthinkable , Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It – Joshua Cooper Ramo
15) The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) – Graham Greene
16) Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq – Patrick Cockburn
17) Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life – Len Fisher
18) Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language – Seth Lerer (My review here)
19) Migration: Species Imperative #2 – Julie Czerneda
20) Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology – David S. Richeson
21) Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (My review here)
22) Chicago Blues – Edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann

March
23) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink
24) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why – Richard E. Nisbett
25) Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer – Mireya Mayor (My review here)
26) A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – Anthony Bourdain
27) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World – Liaquat Ahamed (My review here)
28) Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions – Lisa Randall
29) The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson
30) Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents – Robert A. Cutietta

April
31) Thought Contagion – Aaron Lynch (My review here)
32) Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia 2) – C.S. Lewis
33) Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
34) Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Open Market Edition) – Duncan J. Watts
35) The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention – Guy Deutscher
36) Hardwired – Walter Jon Williams
37) The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going – George Friedman

May
38) Almost Human: Making Robots Think – Lee Gutkind
39) Understanding Physics: Volume 2: Light, Magnetism and Electricity – Isaac Asimov
40) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) – Robert B. Cialdini
41) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
42) The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon) – Daniel Silva
43) Pittsburgh Noir (Akashic Noir) – Edited by Kathleen George
44) Freedom (TM) – Daniel Suarez
45) Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots – Gareth Branwyn
46) The Traveler (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1) – John Twelve Hawks
47) Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back – Douglas Rushkoff
48) Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource – Peter Rogers and Susan Leal
49) Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants – Dennis Okholm

June
50) Counterinsurgency – David Kilcullen
51) Hunter’s Run – George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham
52) The Killing Ground (Sean Dillon) – Jack Higgins
53) One Shot (Jack Reacher, No. 9) – Lee Child
54) The Hard Way (Jack Reacher, No. 10) – Lee Child
55) Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart – Mark E. Eberhart

July
56) Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One – Ian Douglas
57) Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese – Robert D. Kaplan
58) The Post-American World: Release 2.0 – Fareed Zakaria
59) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter
60) The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization – Bryan Ward-Perkins
61) The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century – Thomas X. Hammes
62) Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved – Robin Wilson
63) How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel – Piers Bizony
64) The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives – David Bainbridge
65) The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World – Peter Schwartz

August
66) The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine – Francis S. Collins
67) The Scar – China Mieville
68) The Profession: A Thriller – Steven Pressfield (My review here)
69) Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature – Marcus du Sautoy
70) The Five Chinese Brothers (Paperstar) – Claire Hutchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
71) Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi
72) How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents – Linda and Richard Eyre
73) The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
74) Havoc – Jack DuBrul
75) Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1) – David Brin
76) Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy – Steven Metz

September
77) The Rest of the Robots – Isaac Asimov
78) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things – William McDonough and Michael Braungart
79) 7th Sigma – Steven Gould
80) 50 Mathematical Ideas You Really Need to Know – Tony Crilly
81) The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life – Thomas W. Malone
82) Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier – Edward Glaeser
83) Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself – Dan Pink

October
84) The Future of Management – Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
85) 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith – Sonia Arrison
86) The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics – Karl Sabbagh
87) Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (Great Discoveries) – David Foster Wallace
88) The Final Warning (Maximum Ride, Book 4) – James Patterson
89) Re-read Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean
90) The Caryatids – Bruce Sterling

November
91) Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality – Jonathan Weiner
92) Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers (Helix Books) – Calvin C. Clawson
93) The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity – Amir D. Aczel
94) Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes – Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
95) Reamde: A Novel – Neal Stephenson
96) The Poincare Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe – Donal O’Shea

December
97) Euclid’s Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace – Leonard Mlodinow
98) Millennium Problems – Keith Devlin
99) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
100) Godel’s Proof (Revised Edition) – Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman
101) Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon #8) – Daniel Silva
102) The Bourne Legacy – Eric van Lustbader
103) Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus – John Eldredge
104) Count Down: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad – Steve Olson
105) The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets – Alan Boss

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More on Linguistics – History of English Part 1

In my continuing quest to understand how culture and language affect thought, I picked up Inventing English: A Portable History of the English Language, by Seth Lerer.  To be honest, I’m not sure it fulfilled  purpose as stated in the subtitle except in the broadest sense, but was still a worthwhile read.

The book, while arranged in chronological order, is really a series of essays on different periods in the history of the English language.  It begins with the earliest Saxon and Old English roots, giving copious examples, and notes how different regional dialects affected pronunciation and grammar.  He shows how French, introduced by the Norman invaders, had a strong influence on the development of English, how Chaucer brought in a lot of new words, as did Shakespeare, and from there he continues on into the development of American English, from the dialects around the country and their combination, especially during wartime, to Black culture to Mark Twain and idioms.

The main problem I had is that the narrative never really seemed to flow smoothly, and in a lot of places, it seems like he had a reader in mind who was more knowledgeable about linguistics.

That said, I learned a lot.  For example, the chapter on black culture exposed me to a lot of authors I might not have encountered otherwise, such as Ralph Ellison, Cab Calloway, W.E.B. DuBois, Alice Walker and of course, Toni Morrison.  He mentions black preachers, and quotes at length from Martin Luther King’s incredible “I Have a Dream” speech.  There is a description of Mark Twain’s use of the word “Dude” and how it changed meanings.  Some of the most beautiful poetry in the book is quoted in the chapters on Old English and it was fascinating to see parts of Beowulf and Chaucer in the original languages.

It’s a deep book and I don’t really think it’s for the general reader.  But if you’re interested in how the English langauge has changed over time and incorporated words from other languages this book is a good read for you.

As for me, I’ll be checking out Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way coming up soon!

Continue reading “More on Linguistics – History of English Part 1”

Does Language Affect Culture? Part 2

In a previous post, I noted that I was exploring the notion of whether or not the language you speak can influence the way you think.  For example, our concept of justice may be completely different from what someone who speaks a different language uses their equivalent of the word to refer to.  Currently, most linguists will tell you that there is no difference, and that all languages are the same.

Guy Deutscher disagrees.  In some ways, he sets out to prove, culture CAN make a difference in the way we see the world.

In Part I of Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, Deutscher notes that in both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as Old testament Hebrew, there is no use of the color blue to describe things.  For example the sea (blue) is referred to as wine colored (red!).  In the Bible, heifers (brown) are referred to as red.  Theory once held that their eyes hadn’t evolved the ability to see those colors, but this was proven false when the same type of thing turned up in modern tribal langauges.  These languages – speakers of which are still alive – often refer to things as black, white, and maybe red, but not green or blue.  Brightness of the color seems to indicate which bucket it goes in.  Yet their eyes are identical to ours!  Further tests showed that they easily distinguish that blue and green are different – they can see the colors.  So the reason is cultural, not physical; i.e., it’s nurture, not nature.

In Part II, the author notes that although not all languages express all ideas, they are capable of expressing any idea and the speakers are able to comprehend them.  He then states his main point:

“The real effects of the mother tongue are rather the habits that develop through the frequent use of certain ways of expression.”

He gives three examples (I’m seriously oversimplifying these; read the book for more):

 

1) Spatial coordinates and orientation and memory:  Certain groups, rather than saying turn left or right, use north, east, etc all the time.  They are much better at knowing which way is north than someone who doesn’t.  It also affects the way they remember an event since they can’t say they jumped back, they jumped south.

2) Gender – In English, gender is gone from most of our words.  But in German and other world languages, each noun is either masculine, feminine and neuter.  And lest you think that’s simple, remember that most words for females in German are neuter, but many inanimate objects are feminine!

3) Color – as above, but also note that even the definition of each color can vary – for example, in Japan, green goes further into the blue area than in the United States.

There is much more in the book including how these examples can affect thought patterns.  Deutscher also notes that research is really just beginning on this area and that one of the major roadblocks right now is our lack of understanding of the brain works.  How language processing and thought take place is pretty much a black box.

This will be an interesting area to keep an eye on in the future! In related news, I have The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett in my antilibrary, so keep an eye out for that review coming up…

Does Language Affect Culture? Part 1

As I’ve been working with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, I’ve been amazed at the way so many fields are interlinked together and that are applicable to this area.  One subject area I recently discovered was that of linguistics and whether or not it can affect your view of the world.  I picked up some books on linguistics, and then I found that the February issue of Scientific American had an article on the very subject I was exploring entitled “How Language Shapes Thought!”  Such  serendipity has been occurring often as I go deeper into the field of security studies…

I haven’t really taken any English courses since grade school, so I decided a refresher course on linguistics was in order – especially after seeing the new Star Trek movie where Uhura mentions Xenolinguistics as her major.  To that end, I checked out Language, The Big Picture by Peter Sharpe because I wanted a book that was a general introduction to the field.

This was not that book.

It IS a good survey of the research in the field.  Sharpe begins with the origins of language and how our anatomy is related, and then moves on to why language change over time and variations by culture.  He discusses Noam Chomsky, who was the biggest influence on linguistics in the Twentieth Century, and various theories of how language is structured.  This is followed by a survey of semantics – how meaning is formed, and a discussion of semiotics, the symbols and signs of culture.  His final wrap-up talks about the mental representation of language.

This book is probably very good for use in a classroom, but not by someone who has little or no background in linguistics.  To be honest, I was looking for more detail on, as Jim Kirk said, “MorphologyPhonologySyntax.”

I’ll be tackling Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages next.  I also found this video by Lera Boroditsky to be quite fascinating.  In the meantime, does anybody have any good suggestions for an introductory text on Linguistics?

Scott

It’s All Greek to Me

I don’t usually post “link posts,” but since I’m in North Carolina for training today, here’s some useful links for learning languages.  These will only take you a few minutes a day, so check ’em out!

For Spanish:

The best one I’ve found to date, for maybe ten minute podcasts, is Coffee Break Spanish:

http://coffeebreakspanish.typepad.com/coffee_break_spanish/podcast/index.html

If you are more advanced, try Notes in Spanish:

http://www.notesinspanish.com/

For you Italians out there (and I’m tired of Italian-Americans saying how proud they are to be Italian but the only word they know is spaghetti!  Gotti fans, you know who you are!), try My Daily Phrase in Italian.  C’mon, one phrase a day, ANYone can do that!

http://www.mydailyphrase.com/italian/

And last but not least, German.  I took five years of it but this is helping me to remember it!  My Daily Phrase in German:

http://www.mydailyphrase.com/german/

One last resource, for when you think you’re ready for the next level, is a post at open culture.  They put news stories in slowly read German, French and even Latin, so you can follow along and learn more than just tourist speak.

http://www.oculture.com/weblog/2007/01/the_3_podcast_o.html

Have fun!

Scott