Just in time for the New Year, the Highlands Forum 2003 reading list appended below features 31 books for your reading pleasure: ten books that we used in researching topics for the 2003 meetings, Highlands Forum XXI through XXIII (two of these volumes were reviewed on the Highlands Forum Web site earlier this year); thirteen compelling titles that we have run across recently and want to share with you; and eight books recommended by our guest editors. The distinguished Highlands Forum guest editors this year are David Brin, Walter Gilbert, David Ignatius, Greg Bear, William Coleman, William Brody, and Edwin Schlossberg. Lastly, we recommend an important new report published by the Markle Foundation.
The 2003 Highlands Forum reading list comprises several categories: science, technology, management, history, sociology, international relations, science fiction, and art. Most are new titles, some are classics. They have been selected both for their topics and for their capacity to broaden our understanding of emerging issues and the way that we think about things. We began compiling an annual list in 2000 at the request of many Highlands participants who read our book reviews on the Web site. This is a continuing work - additional titles will be added during the year and compiled at the end of each in a larger list. If you have not yet perused them, please review our lists for 2000, 2001, and 2002.
Brin, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of the
science fiction classics
by Gregg Easterbrook. Brin tells us: "Easterbrook's flood of facts, examples, and statistics converge toward what I have called the 'diamond metaphor'. Nearly all societies that moved beyond simple agriculture adopted a pyramid-shaped social structure - armed elites lording over ignorant, sweating masses. In our commonwealth, several factors - education, skill, liberty, and good-will - combined to smash that feudal pyramid. In a 'social diamond' the well-off outnumber the poor, an accomplishment almost as stunning as the way we overlook it. It's still possible to fail. We must charge ahead to technologies that will let ten billion people live as well as a billion North Americans and Europeans do now, at a tenth the cost in resources. That ambitious goal is no more impossible than this garishly successful nation might have seemed, a century ago. We can accomplish it, if we shrug aside both guilty gloom and complacency."
Gilbert, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Chemistry
for developing DNA sequencing technology, and founder of the
biotech giant Biogen, was the keynote speaker at this year's
Forum XXII: Life Sciences, Complexity, and National Security.
Wally sends along his recommendation for
by Brian Greene.
Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Cornell and
Columbia universities, makes the seemingly complex theory
of strings accessible to all readers. He possesses a gift
for using the everyday to illustrate what may be going on
in dimensions beyond our feeble human perception.
Bear, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of books
Ignatius is a syndicated columnist for the Washington
Post, former Executive Editor of the International
Herald Tribune, and author of five novels. A frequent
contributor to the Highlands Forum and a speaker at Highlands
Forum XXII, David recommends a pair of related books to our
Schlossberg is the founder of Edwin Schlossberg Incorporated,
a 50 member multi-disciplinary design firm that specializes
in interactive exhibit design, museum master planning, public
information systems, and entertainment sites. Among his books
by Jose Van Dijck: "This book explores genetic research from the perspective of a cultural metaphor. It traces how people have thought about it and what images and stories have been associated with it. The lens that this book applies to genetic research is fascinating and heuristic to other research applications."
Coleman is Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Cassatt
Corporation. Previously Bill was the Chairman and CEO of BEA
software, from the time he co-founded BEA in early 1995 with
Ed Scott and Alfred Chuang until 2001. Bill was our kickoff
speaker last June at Highlands
Forum XXI: Directions in Networking: End to End. Bill
says: "I have several, but if I can only recommend one,
it would be Michael Mandelbaum's
Brody, President of Johns Hopkins University, was
a presenter at Highlands Forum XXII this summer. Bill recommends
by Duncan J. Watts
University and Santa Fe Institute sociologist Duncan Watts
tells us that the structure of the network in which individuals
and events operate may be of primary importance. Watts was
present at the creation of network theory in the 1990s, working
at Cornell University with mathematician Steven Strogatz (see
by William Gibson
one of the best novels of the year, William Gibson reads between
the lines of what's going on in pop culture and the
world, assembling stories that anticipate the zeitgeist.
by Andrew Parker
the recent Highlands Forum on "Life Sciences, Complexity,
and National Security", 35-year-old Oxford Zoologist
Andrew Parker talked about his remarkable theory of evolution,
the role of vision in general, and the specific part it played
in the Cambrian explosion. These are all detailed in his new
and exquisite book,
by Greg Bear
Greg Bear, a speaker at Highlands Forum XXII this summer, delivers a powerfully-written and inventive novel that combines cutting-edge science and unforgettable characters, illuminating dazzling new technologies - and their dangers. In Nebula award winner Darwin's Radio, Greg draws on state-of-the-art biological and anthropological research to give us an ingeniously plotted scientific and political thriller that questions basic beliefs about human origins and destiny. The discovery of a sexually transmitted retrovirus heralds a breakthrough in the understanding of the human genotype, while spelling potential disaster for the human race - and the beginning of a new phase in evolution. As scientists and researchers wage a desperate battle to unlock the secrets of the virus, a few far-sighted individuals attempt to cope with the possibility that something entirely new might replace humankind in the evolutionary pattern.
by Peter Bernstein
Peter Bernstein was the kickoff speaker at our recent Highlands Forum meeting on "Risk in a Networked Environment". This fascinating book, already deemed a classic in the field, reads more like a novel than a history of mathematicians, gamblers, and investors. Peter, an icon for investors for almost sixty years, shows an acute appreciation of this arcane but highly interesting facet of history. He delivers great insights into how and why human beings think about risk/reward problems and opportunities. In so doing he explains how crucially important parts of the world work. The characters are all assembled: Pascal, and his question of "Is God" which led him to his wager and ultimately to a cloistered life in a seminary; and Bayes, Gauss, Bernoulli and many more who have brought us to our understanding of life, chance, probability, and risk. A towering work.
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
featured speaker at Highlands Forum XXIII, Taleb thinks we're
mistaking noise for signal. In
by William Poundstone
Poundstone's three-dimensional outline of game-theory mathematics sketches the life of its inventor, John von Neumann, and his role in Cold War policy-making. This very readable book is partly a biography of John von Neumann, partly a non-technical history of the branch of mathematics known as game theory, and partly a description of some of the paradoxical findings that arise from that theory. Von Neumann was a brilliant mathematician who was the major figure in the Manhattan Project and later an active public figure. Of major interest is a section on Bob Axelrod and his groundbreaking work on the "prisoner's dilemma"; Bob figured prominently in the recent Highlands Forum on "Risk in a Networked Environment".
by Ben Mezrich
In the study of risk, we looked at a number of case studies, from hedge funds to the space shuttle to casino gambling. In the latter category, we learned that there are many organized efforts to "beat the house", but this one is an exciting story that we had to recommend. In the midst of the eighties and nineties, a group of MIT students joined a decades-old underground blackjack club dedicated to counting cards and beating the system at major casinos around the world. While their classmates were working long hours in labs and libraries, the blackjack team traveled weekly to Las Vegas and other gambling locales, with hundreds of thousands of dollars duct-taped to their bodies. Underwritten by "investors" they would never meet, these kids bet fifty thousand dollars a hand, enjoyed VIP suites and other upscale treats, and partied with showgirls and celebrities. Handpicked by an eccentric mastermind - a former MIT professor and an obsessive player who had developed a unique system of verbal cues, body signals, and role-playing - this one ring of card savants earned more than three million dollars, making them the object of the casinos' wrath. This is their inside story.
by Andrew Beyer
Beyer is the syndicated horse racing columnist for The
Washington Post, a position he has held since 1978; a
professional gambler; and the author of four best-selling
books on handicapping. Andy is a legend among horse players
around the world as the creator of Beyer Speed Figures, the
most important tool in horse handicapping, used by bettors
to remove or minimize risk in their calculations. In 1975,
Andy Beyer wrote a book outlining the theory and practice
behind his speed figures. His book,
by Diane Vaughan
the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986,
millions of Americans became bound together in a single, historic
moment. Many still vividly remember exactly where they were
and what they were doing when they heard about the tragedy.
by Stephen Bungay
Bungay is a director of the Ashridge Strategic Management
Centre where he is working on a book about mission command
and its value to business. We were introduced to him and his
work by his former colleague at Boston Consulting Group, Philip
Evans. Stephen's previous work of military history was
by Bing West and Major General Ray Smith
No one reporting on the war in Iraq had the unique battlefield clearance afforded the authors of this dramatic eyewitness account. Unlike embedded journalists confined to a single unit, West and Smith acquired a captured yellow SUV and joined with whatever unit was leading the assault every day of the fight. The result is a report of what really happened from the heart of the action unlike anything you'll read anywhere else. The discussion of adaptive planning "on the fly" and how the troops were able to move so rapidly and decisively is a worthy read for those thinking about new ways of waging war. The "fog of war" is ever present as well, mitigating the value of shared awareness in some circumstances that graphically demonstrate the tragedies of war. But by and large, this is a remarkable story of the guys on the ground at the point of the spear and their inspiring leader, Major General James Mattis, USMC. His speech to his men on the eve of battle sets the tone from the outset; in part he says: "While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression." Bing West and Ray Smith have captured modern battle and its dynamic tension between technology and old fashioned soldiering with commander's intent, as the 1st Marine Division outraced the planners to Baghdad.
by Donald Kagan
Professor Donald Kagan is a chaired professor of classics and history at Yale. This is a book about a war that was fought 2,500 years ago. Taken together, those two items might put off some readers, but they would be the lesser for it. This is an "instant classic". The war between the Athenian Empire and the Spartan Alliance, fought in the last half of the 5th century B.C., was tragedy. Fifty years earlier, the united Greek states had defeated the Persian Empire and inaugurated an era of growth and achievement seldom matched and never surpassed. The Peloponnesian War, however, ushered in a period of brutality and destruction unprecedented in the Greek world. As with the Great War in 1914-1918, participants recognized even while the fighting went on that things were changing utterly. The contemporary history written by Thucydides is the best source for this complex story, but not the only one, and much of the value of this work lies in Kagan's brilliant contextualization of his ancient predecessor's work. The volume's ultimate worth, however, lies in the perceptive, magisterial judgment Kagan brings to his account of the war that ended the glory that was ancient Greece.
by Neal Stephenson
of Stephenson's previous works,
by Elias Canetti
is a Bulgarian-born German novelist, essayist, sociologist,
and playwright, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature
in 1981. Canetti's best-known work is
by Robert F. Rubin
Rubin has been a major figure at the center of the American
financial system for several decades. He was a key player
in the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. With his
by Roger Scruton
One of the world's great intellects, British philosopher and university professor Roger Scruton looks at the West and the Islamic world, and examines what has brought on the present tensions. It is his contention that both the Western and the Islamic worlds are in a state of crisis. In the Islamic world, the increase in population and the concomitant urbanization has produced alienation, while the march of globalization has brought it face to face with a Western world that it both envies and hates. In the West, the whole of Western culture is under assault from an elitist, post-Modernist "Culture of Repudiation" that wishes to tear down the culture, but has nothing to erect in its place. Professor Scruton treats the reader to a profound and highly enlightening look at the foundations of modern Western and Islamic political ideology; where they came from - where they are going, and what has produced such hostility. This book is both enlightening and somewhat frightening. Scruton's analysis suggests that the roots of the present hostility emanating from the Middle East are very deep indeed, and not likely to be ameliorated by any simple or easy solution. This is an essential read for our times.
by Ellen Ullman
This little gem of a book manages to simultaneously be an insider's look at the computer industry, a humorous collection of bawdy tales, a serious look at the social impact of computing, a comic description of industry mores and, most importantly, a clear and honest account of a woman's response to her professional and personal environment. Author Ellen Ullman, an independent computer programmer, holds little back in recounting her experiences. Ullman's main theme is technology's alienating effect. In its programming context, "getting close to the machine" means working with low-level code. Here, where the commands make no intuitive sense but are pure strings of 1s and 0s, the programmer loses touch with the program's purpose. The operation of the system becomes paramount; the needs of the users are forgotten. Ullman develops this theme effectively in a series of personal glimpses of her growth during two decades as a professional programmer.
by Ellen Ullman
normally shy away from suggesting two books by the same author,
but in this case,
by Steven Strogatz
offer this volume up as a worthy companion to the books on
networks recommended both this year and last year on the Highlands
Forum Web site.
by Edward Tenner
is a marvelous companion to Tenner's previous classic
of the genre,
by Michael Fumento
area of science is moving faster or will have a greater impact
by Norman Cantor
Black Death of 1347 to 1350 is the focus of Norman Cantor's
brief but elegantly written
Our final recommendation for 2003 is not a book, but is nonetheless an important and worthwhile read that is highly relevant to our current Highlands Forum areas of interest. Numerous Highlands Forum "regulars" contributed to this report, including Gilman Louie, Jeff Jonas, Esther Dyson, and Danny Hillis. The report was released earlier this month by the Markle Foundation, and can be found at http://www.markletaskforce.org/.