The 2006 Highlands Forum Reading List, as always, consists of several categories. Most titles are new; some are classics worth discovering for the first time. They have been selected both for their topics and for their capacity to broaden our understanding of emerging issues and inform the way we think about things. We began compiling an annual list in 2000, at the request of many Highlands participants who read our periodic 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 year in a larger list. Review our lists for 2000-2005.
Esther Dyson, longtime analyst of the information technology (IT) and Internet worlds and author of the blog "Release 0.9" (http://blogs.zdnet.com/Dyson/), has a second life as an active investor and policy advisor in emerging markets. Previously Esther was the convener of the information industry's most important annual gathering, PC Forum, publisher of the Release 1.0 newsletter, and the author of the groundbreaking book, Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age. She was also the founding chairman of ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the independent agency that sets policy for the Internet's domain name system. She is a frequent presenter at the Highlands Forum. Her book recommendation for the Forum is The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Esther tells us:
"The Paradox of Choice, written by a psychology professor (Barry Schwartz), explores how humans react to the proliferation of choices in their lives. Yes, too much choice often leaves us confused, but there are far more fundamental and subtle impacts. Each option we forsake in favor of the option we choose leaves us a little less satisfied with the choice we made - even though we know we made the single best choice. Too many choices - whether of which toothpaste to buy or which war to fight - may leave us paralyzed. This book is likely to resonate deeply with your own experience - and then come back to mind each time you make choices going forward."
Daniel Yergin is Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) and is a highly respected authority on international politics, economics, and energy. Dan is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his book on the energy industry, The Prize, which also was turned into an award-winning PBS documentary series. He is a recipient of the United States Energy Award for "lifelong achievements in energy and the promotion of international understanding". Dan is both a world-recognized author and a business leader, at the helm of CERA, one of the world's leading consulting and research firms in its field. Dan recommends The Google Story by David Vise. Dan tells us:
"Once upon a time there was no Google, as hard as that may now be to believe. David Vise's lively narrative history, The Google Story, explains how a couple of graduate students turned the concept of "search" into a global verb - as in "to google". He shows how the concept and the doodles turned into a start-up and then into a business and then into a huge force in information and the internet. There are many insights about innovation and about "search"; and the Web. From the beginning, Google married hardware and software, and underpinning it today is a tremendous concentration of technology and continuing research with a strong focus on creativity. What I found particularly interesting is how Google was spawned out of a certain ecology (or is it yeast?) - Stanford, Silicon Valley, venture capitalists, techies. Had Sergey Brin and Larry Page become fascinated with search, but been studying somewhere else, Google would probably not have happened. But, no doubt, they would be well be on their respective ways to becoming distinguished professors of computer science."
Andrew Marshall is the Director of the Office of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense. WIRED magazine calls Andy, who has been in the Pentagon for more than 40 years, "the Pentagon's legendary 85-year-old futurist-in-chief". He founded the Office of Net Assessment, which provides Secretaries of Defense, other managers, and military commanders with assessments of military balancing, major geographic theaters, and mission areas. He has served as co-chairman of the Future Security Environment Working Group on the President's Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy and as chairman of the Nuclear Strategy Development Group. Always looking for new ideas, and looking for comparative views on the same idea, he has steered us to look at how Soviet, English, and French filmmakers explored similar themes, but how they differed. He applies this same point of view to geostrategic issues. Andy recommended two books which explore this territory: A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking by François Jullien, and The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why by Richard Nisbett. Andy tells us:
"I want to recommend two books, each of which deals with the differences in Western and Chinese, and related cultural (Korean, Japanese, etc.) frameworks for looking at the world. These two books have the same message: there are some important differences in the way people in the West's culture and those in Chinese culture think about and see the world. They start from different assumptions about the world. François Jullien provides the more detailed analysis of these differences, while Richard Nisbett provides a lot of empirical evidence of the differences."
Peter Bernstein is an internationally renowned economist, historian, investor, author, and publisher of Economics & Portfolio Strategy. After serving as a member of the research staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and in a civilian capacity at the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, he joined the armed services and rose to the rank of Captain in the Air Force in World War II, assigned to the Office of Strategic Services in the European theater. In 1951, after teaching economics at Williams College and undertaking a five-year stint in commercial banking, Peter became Chief Executive of a nationally-known investment counsel firm, where he personally managed billions of dollars of individual and institutional portfolios. The assets under management at the firm had grown more than tenfold by the time he resigned in 1973 to launch Peter L. Bernstein, Inc. He served for many years on the Visiting Committee to the Economics Department at Harvard University, and is the author of nine books in economics and finance, including two previous Highlands Forum reading list recommendations: the classic Against the Gods and the recent Wedding of the Waters. Peter has two fascinating recommendations for Highlands readers: Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings by David Bodanis, and Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance by Perry Mehrling. Peter tells us:
"Passionate Minds is about a brilliant and beautiful woman, born into the French aristocracy in the 1720s. She became a great scientist, recognized by other scientists throughout Europe. She replicated most of Newton's experiments and developed one notion that was among the motivations for Einstein to square the speed of light in his famous equation, e=mc2. A woman of beauty and sexual power, she was Voltaire's mistress for over ten years, so there is much of interest and curiosity about one of the primary founders of the Enlightenment as well. Voltaire was a hugely successful speculator and made the equivalent of millions in our money. David Bodanis is an indifferent writer who makes you hunger for more detail about Emilie's scientific explorations, but the story is so strong that it is an illuminating read regardless.
Fischer Black was the leader of the trio - himself, Myron Scholes, and Robert C. Merton - who developed the options pricing model. He was a giant of an intellect, although kooky both intellectually and personally. His deep devotion to the idea of equilibrium and markets-know-best led him into many unusual discoveries in finance. For example, while at Goldman Sachs in the last years of his relatively brief life, he developed important models combining the notion of equilibrium with active management. This achievement should have significance and meaning beyond finance. Perry Mehrling is an economist and mathematician in his own right, but he has turned into a first-class biographer as well."
Norman Augustine is the former Chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for Phillips Petroleum, Proctor & Gamble, Black and Decker, and Lockheed Martin. He also serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He has served ten years in the Federal Government, including a term as Under Secretary of the Army. After retiring from the industrial sector, he taught at Princeton University in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He has been a trustee of Johns Hopkins, MIT, and Princeton. Also well known for his highly regarded classic management book, Augustine's Laws, Norm has two excellent management books for us this year: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, and Good to Great by Jim Collins. Norm tells us:
"If anyone ever believed that ethical transgressions can be conveniently overlooked, the recent experience of the business community involving ImClone (7), Rite-Aid (8), Computer Associates (12), Westar (18), Adelphia (15), Dynergy (24), Tyco (25), WorldCom (25), Enron (165), and others must certainly have disabused them. The numbers shown in parentheses are, of course, not stock prices; rather, they display the number of years executives of these firms were sentenced to prison. As a professional baseball player once prophetically noted, 'The world bats last.' The Smartest Guys in the Room is the definitive documentary of the implosion of Enron, and should be a graduation gift for every college student. It is little short of a Shakespearian tragedy. It is the story of how highly accomplished, probably basically decent people entrap themselves in a web of misdeeds and ultimately destroy their lives and much of that which surrounds them.
Of the hundreds of books written each year on the subject of management, only a miniscule few manage to make a meaningful contribution to the art. Good to Great by Jim Collins is perhaps the most noteworthy representative of the latter class. First, it is based on scientific analysis; and second, it provides implementable lessons. Every leader, whether in a 'line' position or a policy position, can benefit from the lessons contained in this book - since success can be achieved only if ideas can be implemented. And that, of course, is what management is all about."
Cory Ondrejka is the CTO of Linden Lab, where he leads the team developing Second Life, the award-winning, user-created digital persistent world. His team has developed the revolutionary technologies required to enable collaborative, atomistic creation, including distributed physical simulation, three-dimensional (3D) streaming, completely customizable avatars and real-time, in-world editors. He also spearheaded the decision to allow users to retain the intellectual property (IP) rights to their creations and helped craft Linden's virtual real estate policy. Cory's recommendation is The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future by Juan Enriquez. Cory tells us:
"The Untied States of America begins with a surprising fact: no United States President has ever been buried under the same U.S. flag as he was born under. From there, Juan Enriquez asks how many stars our flag will have in 50 years. This leads to an exploration of the wealth of data demonstrating that national permanence and stability are far less certain than most would believe. Moreover, the pace of creation of new nations is accelerating. Although presented in an unusual style, using short phrases, multiple typefaces, and photographs rather than paragraphs, the ideas and trends presented are important to our understanding of the world around us. In an age where technology should be enabling greater cooperation and understanding between geographic and ethnic groups, Untied does an outstanding job of highlighting the many forces pulling us apart."
From our November 21 posting: We first met longtime New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright at Highlands Forum XXV: Connectedness, Content, and Security - 2015. He had been working on essential issues such as the use of the Internet by terrorists and had been looking into the key figures in al-Qaeda. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, his latest book, examines how al-Qaeda formed after the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, and how the U.S. government only gradually became aware of a radical Islamist threat. Wright takes us back to the beginnings of modern Islamic fundamentalism. Along the way he supplies unique portraits of three primary players in the events of 9/11: Egyptian philosopher Sayyid Qutb; his spiritual descendant, Osama bin Laden; and a flamboyant Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterterrorism agent, John O'Neill. Throughout The Looming Tower, Wright continually broadens our focus, illuminating the major turning points of al-Qaeda's philosophy and strategy. His combination of thorough research and lucid presentation, which required years of study and long visits to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Sudan, make this insightful book a most highly recommended Highlands Forum selection. It was nominated as a National Book Award Finalist for 2006. For more Highlands commentary on The Looming Tower, please see contributor Paul Kretkowski's review and an exclusive interview with Larry Wright on our Web site.
In 2002 I ran across the fascinating story of the search for the point of origin of the 1854 London cholera outbreak in Edward Tufte's Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, one of my favorite books. Tufte only devoted ten pages to this example in "Visual and Statistical Thinking", and I looked about for more. This year, Steven Johnson has provided us with one of the best books of the year, The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, which gives us the full story and more. Johnson, whose earlier book, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, was featured in our 2001 Reading List, has a larger narrative in mind than just the cholera outbreak; his subtitle gives an insight to where he is taking us.
Dr. John Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead are the heroes who believe, contrary to prevailing thought, that the disease is not airborne but rather waterborne; thus begins the search for the source. The epidemic took hold in the midst of a teeming and fouled, stench-riddled mega-city, the great city of London that was home to over two million people. Johnson's gripping account helps us appreciate the vibrancy of cities, as well as the perils that they face, and leads us to understand how Dr. Snow "saved" London. The lessons by extension are vivid for Johnson, who himself loves the cities of the world (and lives in New York). For a look into his new projects that share the diversity, romance, and fulfillment offered by neighborhoods and cities, visit his blog outside.in (http://outside.in/), "the best way to discover the conversations that are going on in your neighborhood". Steven Johnson is one of America's smartest and best writers. The Ghost Map is an exceptional follow-on to Emergence and we most highly recommend it to you.
From our November 14 posting: We first heard Chris Anderson (Editor-in-Chief of WIRED magazine) speak about Long Tails and power laws of distribution at Kevin Werbach's Supernova conference in 2005. It was a stunning presentation and we asked him to speak to Highlands Forum XXVII: Strategic Listening in November of that year. Again he stimulated our thinking and related the principles of the Long Tail to a variety of situations. We learned more from him about how technology has changed the context for how news and message are created, delivered, and consumed. With the advent of cable and satellite television and most recently the Internet, the number of accessible news outlets has gone from dozens to millions (especially when you consider weblogs). People use all of these sites to track the issues of the day, one for every point of view. These niches - and the technologies that help people find them - are what make up the Long Tail, Anderson's term for the Internet's transformation of the marketplace for media and information.
In his book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, Anderson defines the Long Tail as a "culture and economy [that] is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of 'hits' (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers." The Long Tail offers an explanation of how and why media messages pushed top-down may be becoming less effective than small grassroots Web sites and blogs maintained by passionate amateurs. It is an international bestseller and a highly recommended Highlands selection. For more Highlands commentary on The Long Tail, please see contributor John Scott's review and an exclusive interview with Chris Anderson on our Web site.
In this heroic and expansive biography, Caesar: Life of a Colossus, author Adrian Goldsworthy presents a complex and compelling picture of the great Roman general, orator, and dictator. Caesar was a remarkable presence and leader in his world and continues to maintain that hold on us two thousand years later. Much of Caesar's life is well known, and little new is forthcoming in the way of original source material, yet Goldsworthy brings the lesser-known aspects together with the canon and produces a new view of Caesar. That he was not an experienced military man prior to his campaign in Gaul when he was forty-one years old is surprising, given the stunning military achievements he amassed afterward. His power and intelligence in building and maintaining the empire that would last for several hundred years after his death cannot be underestimated. This most readable and well-written book brings Caesar to life, yet again.
From our November 14 posting: The question of whether other countries' science and technology (S&T) prowess will approach or even surpass that of the United States - which has traditionally led in nearly every category of both research and commercialization - is a growing concern of American policymakers. For decades, the U.S. has enjoyed the unique benefits of both leading and being entirely self-sufficient in science and technology. However, other countries are gradually improving their education systems, conducting more of their own research, and innovating and marketing their own consumer products, all of which - at least theoretically - cuts into broad and deep U.S. leads in military, economic, and scientific realms. At home, the U.S. could potentially lose S&T prowess because of declining numbers of students and businesses active in S&T fields. This could result in declines in manufacturing capability, new products for export, and prestige in ever-greater numbers of markets. It is widely thought, however, that the primary way in which competitor nations will close the gap with the U.S. is by emulating its S&T successes, overcoming limitations of culture, capital, and education along the way.
Two recent books address one country's attempts to close the S&T gap and capture the elusive formula for innovation: Adam Segal's Digital Dragon looks at how successfully city governments encouraged high-tech businesses in the People's Republic of China (PRC) since the Cultural Revolution, while Evan A. Feigenbaum's China's Techno-Warriors examines top-down science and technology policy since the PRC's founding in 1949. These books illustrate the point that ending restrictions on private enterprise does not automatically create bottom-up innovation environments; at the same time, China has not been aiming at across-the-board advances in its S&T capabilities, either. Rather, its S&T development has intentionally been uneven, either because of a strong focus on military needs to the exclusion of both pure science and technology with commercial potential (at the national level), or because of regional differences in how Beijing's S&T initiatives have been executed (at the city level).
For more Highlands commentary on these books on Chinese innovation, please see contributor Paul Kretkowski's double review as well as the exclusive interview with Adam Segal on our Web site.
This little-known book of short stories by first time author Yiyun Li is a "painfully beautiful" look at Chinese on the mainland and Chinese Americans in the most poignant of circumstances. We infrequently put fiction titles, and short stories at that, on the Highlands Forum Reading List; this book, however, is an argument to do it more often. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers takes us inside these worlds that have not frequently been open to Western audiences. Li examines years of Chinese Communist rule on the everyday, and how that context shapes language, faith, love, and values. Drawing from our successful evening of Iranian films in last year's Highlands Forum enrichment session, One Night in Tehran, we wanted to look at another culture through the lives of ordinary people, by "smelling the dirt", and Li's powerful stories provide that look for us. Many of these stories weigh heavily on their characters' lives and emotions, yet even at its most desperate disappointments, A Thousand Years still provides hope for them. But not in all cases. Tragedy abounds, and often provides a cathartic kick to the midsection; this only serves to make these characters more real and accessible, and the circumstances of their lives are the texture for us to understand them and China. A hidden gem from a new writer.
Most people have never heard of the Jasons. In fact, most people in the Department of Defense have no idea what a Jason is or what it does. That is a pity, because the Jasons have made extraordinary contributions in science and technology supporting national security over the past forty years. Founded in 1960, the Jasons were a self-selected group of the most remarkable scientists of their time who met throughout the year, but in particular in concentrated doses in their amazing summer studies to assess new approaches to vexing military or intelligence questions. Apocryphally named the Jasons for the mythical Jason and the Argonauts, or perhaps for the first letter of the months that they met (July, August, September, October, November), this group of scientists included Nobel Prize winners such as Hans Bethe, Donald Glaser, Leon Lederman, and Murray Gell-Mann and great physicists like Freeman Dyson, Richard Garwin, and Herbert York, who worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II.
Now in the first published book on this group, The Jasons: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite by Ann Finkbeiner, we have an inside look at these great scientists and the projects that focused their intellects in support of national security questions. Finkbeiner has a difficult task here because most of what the Jasons have worked on has been highly classified, and many of the Jasons did not want to be identified or to speak to her. Nevertheless she has produced an interesting book about a unique group that deserves to have more known about them. One ends this read wishing for a bit more on these fascinating people and their projects, but we will take what we can get until the next installment.
Curtis R. Carlson and William W. Wilmot
We have been fortunate to have Dr. Curt Carlson with us on a number of occasions over the past decade plus of Highlands meetings. First, as head of Sarnoff Labs (where he won an Emmy award for the development of high-definition television, HDTV) and later as President and CEO of SRI, International, Carlson has been at the leading edge of technology research and innovation. He has shared his insights on technologies and on the innovation process at various Highlands sessions. Now he and Bill Wilmot have produced a book unique not just for its insights into innovation, but because they describe how organizations can innovate.
Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want pays careful attention to areas that many others ignore: needs, approach, benefits per cost, and competition, or the "NABC" method. In an email note to us, Carlson said, "Our ability to innovate has become a major national issue because it is now the primary source of prosperity, security, and quality of life. Fortunately this is a time of abundance for those with the necessary innovation skills. But the appalling failure rate of large companies and new products indicates that there is much room for improvement. The five disciplines described in Innovation detail practical steps that any individual or enterprise can take to be more effective and competitive - whether it is a large business, a small start-up, a university, or a government agency." Given Carlson's track record and his process that accounts for listening and collaboration to produce something at the end, this is a book that should be read by anyone in an organization seeking to improve itself.
Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George
We were in a bookstore in Singapore in February this year, looking for a book to help pass the time on the long 18.5-hour flight home. The bookstore we wandered into specialized in management books, but in a small section on fiction the name Neal Stephenson stood out on the spine of The Cobweb. We had never heard of this Stephenson novel before, nor had we seen it in the U.S. (that may have changed since February), so our interest was peaked. Also interesting was the fact that he co-authored this book with his uncle, Frederick George, under the pseudonym Steven J. Bury, and the publisher made a decision to republish the book with both Stephenson's name and pseudonym on the cover - a result no doubt of the great success his books have enjoyed over the past ten years.
The Cobweb is a biting satire on politics, government bureaucracy, and the possibility of a terror act in Iowa. For those who have served in government and, in particular, in the intelligence community, you may recognize the interagency meetings, the bureaucratic wrangling, and the hoarding of information. In the unlikely setting of a university lab in Iowa in 1991, a steadfast local sheriff finds a foreign exchange student murdered, and the investigation carries all the way to the agencies of Washington and beyond to the Middle East. Characters such as Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz make appearances in this rich thriller that carries you rapidly to its amazing outcome. Another excellent Stephenson novel, shorter than The Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon, and both accessible and compelling.
What is with the Highlands Forum and its preoccupation with curves, tails, and graphs this year? Not to be outdone by the Long Tail (see above), we went on to discover the "J curve", which can be used to describe many things from the shape of a country's trade balance following a devaluation of the domestic currency, to measuring high cholesterol and high blood pressure against cardiovascular disease and death. Wait... before you give up, this is a different J curve we are talking about, and it is related to our discussions in Highlands Forums XXV (Connectedness, Content, and Security: 2015), XXVII (Strategic Listening), and XXIX (Strong Angel III: Integrated Disaster Response Demonstration). This is The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall by Ian Bremmer, and it is highly correlated to the work of Clare Lockhart and Ashraf Ghani on "state effectiveness"; Frank Fukuyama's thoughtful State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century; C. K. Prahalad's The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid; and Tom Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map.
In graphing and describing the J curve, Bremmer sees closed states such as North Korea being stable (a debatable definition of stability, but not worth pursuing here) and representing the short head of the curve; openness or connectivity to the world is a dangerous place to go (the bottom of the J), as organizations, tools, and infrastructure have not yet taken hold sufficiently to prevent instability; and as nations manage that maturity in their institutions and remain open to the outside world, they rise up the head of the J. Bremmer describes the curve and its attributes that determine why states fail. It is a most worthy read, particularly when read in conjunction with the related texts above. As we watch nations failing around the world, it might be a good notion to read Bremmer's descriptions and see what fits and why.
At Highlands Forum XIV: The World of the Small, Washington award-winning architect Travis Price engaged Nobel Prize winner Rick Smalley (carbon nanotubes) in a discussion of the elements of nanotechnology and smart materials that he might consider using in his next structures in places around the globe. At a later session, Price described how he built structures in various parts of the world in a "spirit of place", for example an "eco hotel" floating on the Amazon that took the best from the local culture and environment and became one with it. His projects are spectacular in vision, appearance, function, and simplicity. For some time he has been building the future, and now he has produced a beautiful and compelling look at architecture in a slightly different way: Archaeology of Tomorrow. Price has advised the Forum on ideas such as "leave-behinds" for Strong Angel projects, always thinking that even in a disaster - or perhaps especially in a disaster - those providing humanitarian assistance needed to provide "human" shelter that inspires rather than demoralizes, that would be consistent with the local culture, and that could be left behind when the responders finally left. This is a beautiful book about design, but it is also a book about culture, philosophy, and our better selves.
David S. Landes
Dick Foster, former Senior Partner and Director of McKinsey and author of Creative Destruction (a Highlands Forum pick in 2001), suggested to us during a breakfast meeting in New York that we get a copy of Revolution in Time by David Landes. Always mindful of his vast interests and his sense of history, we picked up this volume and gave it a read. As always, Foster has it right. This is a wonderful book about technology, time, and time keeping across the sweep of.well, time, from the ancients to medieval time to the present. Author Landes places these developments against the history and culture of the period, providing us with not just context but also a deeper understanding and a view to the changes in society that time and managing time provided. This is fascinating reading.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean Carroll was presented to us earlier this year by Highlands Forum participant Andrew Parker, an Oxford zoologist and now Science Advisor to His Royal Highness Prince Charles. Andrew tells us that evolutionary theory can be divided into three eras: (1) Darwin's original formulation; (2) the New Synthesis of the 1920s (and inclusion of DNA that followed); and, (3) beginning only in the 1990s, Evolutionary Developmental Biology ("Evo-Devo"). "In my opinion, all criticism of evolutionary theory relates only to the first two eras. Evo-Devo is a little complicated, but is well worth spending time to understand. It is clever, elegant, fascinating and answers all questions asked of evolution. It is, unfortunately, little known outside of biology, but certainly that must change." In Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll breaks down the complex theories of Evo-Devo into manageable chapters, using attractive cases such as "monsters" to make his points. Evo-Devo is all about how embryos form and how genetic mutations lead to changes in that process of formation.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Another of the three fictional entries on this year's list, Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson is set in Washington, DC, and deals with the ravages of climate change. Perhaps surprisingly, Dr. Rita Colwell, a past Director of the National Science Foundation, brought this book to our attention early this year. All the more reason to recommend this work of fictional science when it is recommended by a world-class scientist, researcher, and foundation manager. Here is an interesting connection. The main character works for the National Science Foundation, and the plot is very much local politics. In this near-future novel, the first in a trilogy, Robinson explores the events leading up to a worldwide catastrophe brought on by global warming. Given the strange climatic patterns we have experienced in the past few years, we can easily imagine that world. Each of the main characters holds a small piece of the puzzle and can see calamity coming, but bureaucratic inertia and politics stymie any action our heroes take. A provocative read for that long flight.
As we prepared for Highlands Forum XXIX: Strong Angel III - Integrated Disaster Response Demonstration, the influence of recent real world natural catastrophes were evident in the planning considerations and conversations among the demonstration's organizers. With the tsunami in Indonesia in their recent memory, international humanitarian assistance was a key area of exploration; but hanging over the demonstration at every juncture also was Hurricane Katrina, and the devastation caused to the Gulf Coast. Strong Angel III was being held on the eve of Katrina's first anniversary. In the months leading up to Strong Angel, historian Douglas Brinkley, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, produced an unflinching and powerful account of the hurricane and its aftermath, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was a most valuable part of the preparation for our Highlands Forum gathering. This story reflects the discussion with John Markoff, David Brin, and Dan Gillmor at the Forum, about trusting the citizens to be responsible for their welfare and to use their amazing "amateur skills". Those are Brinkley's heroes, while he saves his criticism for the appointed or anointed leaders at each level, whom he cites as making a horrible situation worse. This is the book of choice chronicling Katrina's swath across the Gulf Coast.
John M. Barry
This must be the year of recognizing great epidemics throughout history. Joining our recommendation of The Ghost Map is John M. Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. As part of our preparation for Strong Angel III, Barry's work proved most enlightening and valuable; this volume is regarded as the book of choice in understanding the nature of epidemics and their impact on societies. The connection among public health, epidemic disease, and politics can be seen throughout history. Barry spells out this connection in fascinating detail. In his description of the dire consequences that resulted when short-term political expediency trumped the health of the public during the 1918 influenza pandemic, Barry points out that the government response to an epidemic is all too often colored by the politics of the moment.
The influenza pandemic of 1918, the worst pandemic in history, killed more people than died in World War I. Barry focuses only on what was occurring in the United States at the time, and he tries to place this unprecedented human disaster both against the background of American history and within the context of the history of medicine. He spends a good deal of time on the state of American medicine at the turn of the last century, focusing on the dismal status of medical education and laboratory research, particularly as compared with that in Europe at the same time. Given the state of rapid global transportation to all parts of the world and that new diseases may erupt at any place as ecosystems are disrupted, we should take another look at history and focus on what needs to be done. An excellent read and a cautionary tale.
We met John Francis at Highlands Forum XXIX this summer, where he was serving as the "Ethical Advisor" (EA) to Strong Angel III. The role of an EA proved to be an important one, providing the individuals participating in the demonstration a neutral space and an environment of conscience and reflection that allowed them to step out of the intensity of their own Strong Angel role and refocus on the broader goals of their specific tasks. We sat down with John to learn more about this unique function in the organization, but instead we learned more about the amazing life and career that John Francis has had. His own ethical training is founded in the experiential, but also embraces the formal study of environment ethics. His environmental work began in 1971, when he witnessed a tanker collision and oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. It was then that he gave up the use of motorized vehicles and began to walk. He started walking because he felt partly responsible for the mess that washed up on the shore. Several months later, on his 27th birthday, fed up with the arguments that his decision to walk seemed to create with friends, John stopped speaking for a day. The one-day vow of silence became two days, then a week. It was more than 17 years before John spoke again.
During that period of self-imposed silence he founded Planetwalk, a non-profit environmental awareness organization, received a B.S. degree from Southern Oregon State College, a Masters degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana-Missoula, and a Ph.D. in Land Resources from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He ended his silence on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. He served as project manager for the United States Coast Guard Oil Pollution Act Staff of 1990, in Washington, DC, where he assisted in writing oil spill regulations and formulated a natural resource damage assessment model to understand better the cost of oil spills to society. For this work, he received the U.S. Department of Transportation's Public Service Commendation. In 1991, John was appointed the United Nations Environment Program's Goodwill Ambassador to the World's Grassroots Communities.
Over the years, John Francis has walked more than 20,000 miles across the United States, through the Caribbean, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. John's memoir chronicling these experiences, Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time, may be the most unusual book we have recommended on the Highlands Forum annual book lists, and certainly among the most inspirational. Slated to become a feature motion picture in the near future, Planetwalker tells John's remarkable story through the lens of environmental issues, social justice, and a bottom-up view of the American landscape. Near the end of this wonderful account, John writes, "Somewhere between Philadelphia and New York, I stop beside the road and look back to where this journey began, and tears well up and cloud my eyes. Traffic is passing, and maybe people are staring, but I don't care. I knew that someday this would happen, that I would have to look back and see from where I'd come. All I can think of is having taken that first step on an impossible journey, and now beside an interstate, I ask myself how I got here and how I have changed. I sit down in some grass and scattered litter as the rush of years and miles settles close. I bow my head, shiver, and feel a silent laugh." Please read this book and share an astounding experience along with John Francis.
Highlands Forum XXVIII: Information Security and Sharing examined how we classify, protect, and share sensitive information in order to make better judgments. It also asked how cultural changes could be managed in order to make collaboration in a decentralized and distributed framework possible. It was a continuation of our studies on networks, this time aimed at the intelligence community specifically and at government more generally. Among our topics were the future of networks, search, openness, and the mashups that might result in new capabilities. Google demonstrated some of that to us, and then followed up with exciting possibilities at Strong Angel III. The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle, is a look at some of the remarkable people working in Silicon Valley who made this technical and fiscal juggernaut possible. He also analyzes the role of search engines and then focuses on the potential future directions of Google and its products' development. One can only imagine where Google will take us technically or what its place will be in the market vis-à-vis other approaches or other companies; at our session, in an attempt to inject humor into the discussion, we showed the now-famous EPIC 2014 Web clip which speculates how Google comes to dominate, forcing such standards as The New York Times to go offline and become the choice of "the elderly and the elite". Nobody was laughing.
Jim Harper is Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. He is also an expert on the subject of identity, privacy, and identity theft. In our preparation for Highlands Forum Thirty: Identity Protection and Management, Sxip CEO Dick Hardt suggested that we read Harper's book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood. It was a good recommendation in helping us prepare for the Forum, in which we examined the essence of identity and how to protect and manage identity in large-scale networks. Both government and the private sector, here and abroad, are working toward the development of frameworks that address the tension between a systems-oriented and a user-oriented approach to this challenge, seeking standards and protocols for ensuring privacy and security. Harper was an excellent introduction as he deftly explains identification with great detail while never losing the reader in jargon. He describes identification processes and technologies, showing how identification works when it works and how it fails when it fails. Harper maintains that identification cannot protect against future terrorist attacks and not surprisingly, given the book's title, asserts that a national identification card is a poor way to secure the country.
Phillip Windley is a nationally recognized expert in using information technology and is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. Prior to joining BYU, he served from 2001-2002 as the Chief Information Officer for the state of Utah. His book, Digital Identity, provides a great overview of a topic that is much more complex and difficult to understand than one might expect. Windley, using his diverse experiences both in the private sector and in the public sector as well as his research at BYU, explains clearly how to think about creating an identity architecture and gives excellent examples which serve to enable a practical set of solutions. This is the most highly recommended book by identity and security professionals. If you have an interest in this topic, this is the right place to start.