The 2015 Highlands Reading List
We began compiling our annual reading list in 2000, and it is a continuing work. On the 2015 Highlands Reading List we are featuring twenty-four books, five by first-time authors. Of the two dozen books, there are twenty works of non-fiction and four novels. Some of our titles are current and address timely topics; others are timeless classics worth discovering for the first time. They have been selected for their themes; for their capacity to broaden our understanding of emerging issues; and for their ability to inform the way we think about things.
Each year we are joined by a small group of distinguished guest reviewers who share with us one or two books that they read during the year and found compelling. This year's panel of guest reviewers provided five of the twenty-two books on our list. Our reviewers include Admiral James Stavridis, former Commander of NATO and now the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University; Marjory Blumenthal, Executive Director of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology at the White House; Rosemarie Forsythe, scholar, diplomat, and business executive, serving on the National Security Council, as U.S. representative to the European Parliament, and as Director of International Political Strategy at Exxon Mobil Corporation; Tom Tugendhat, a member of the UK Parliament and former military assistant to the British Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards; and Markus Waibel, a leading robotics researcher in Zurich, Switzerland, and co-founder of the robotics company Verity Studio AG.
Recommendations From Our Guest Editors
Admiral James Stavridis, USN (ret.), is Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. While on active duty in the United States Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander. He also served as Commander of U.S. Southern Command, with responsibility for all military operations in Latin America from 2006-2009. A Fletcher PhD, he won the Gullion prize as outstanding student and has published six books and over 150 articles. His focus is on innovation, strategic communication and planning, and creating security through international, interagency, and public/private partnerships in this turbulent 21st century. As an author, his most recent book is The Accidental Admiral: A Sailor Takes Command at NATO.
Jim's selection is Seveneves, by Neil Stephenson. "A big, quirky, endlessly rewarding book of science fiction, Seveneves begins as the earth's moon suddenly explodes into seven massive pieces. All seems relatively well until the pieces start to collide with each other, beginning a chain reaction that mathematicians quickly deduce will end up creating an earth-destroying shower of rocks in about two years. Faced with the ultimate deadline, the earth's fractious nations more or less pull together to create the mother of all space missions: putting as many humans as possible, from every country in the world, in space on a jerry-rigged platform composed of the existing International Space Station ("Izzy") and whatever can be launched to hook up to it. Catastrophe after catastrophe ensues, and the seven pieces of the moon turn out to be mere foreshadowing of the new mothers of the human species, the seven Eves of the title. This is a book that combines the poignancy of Neville Shute's Cold War masterpiece On the Beach with superb and complex science-based views of the future of astrophysics, architecture and synthetic biology, and the most delicate of ethical questions looking five millennia into the future. Brilliant, tense and utterly fresh in every dimension, Seveneves poses the biggest of questions, while delivering punch after punch of surprise and readability. Ultimately a largely hopeful book that shows us the human race is both resilient and innovative, all the while carrying its faults forward generation after generation. And yes, to answer Maureen Dowd's question, it turns out men really aren't necessary after all-not that there is much doubt of that these days. Its not like the title of the book is "Sevenadams".
Marjory Blumenthal became Executive Director of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in May 2013, after a decade combining academic leadership at Georgetown University with research and advisory activities (including as a RAND adjunct) aimed at understanding Internet and cybersecurity technology trends and policy implications. At the White House, she is responsible for the stewardship of the Council, its bimonthly meetings, its program of analyses that culminate in policy recommendations to the President and the Administration, and efforts to promote the implementation of PCAST recommendations. Prior to becoming Associate Provost, Academic at Georgetown, Marjory was the founding Executive Director of the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB). Several of the over 60 reports she produced affected public policy in tangible ways and/or became trade books, reaching a broad audience in industry and academia. Marjory did her undergraduate work at Brown University and her graduate work at Harvard University.
Marjory's recommendation is Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex. "Big Science weaves together several historical strands that resonate today. It chronicles how Ernest O. Lawrence opened the door, through passion and persuasiveness, to science carried out in large, multidisciplinary laboratories with increasingly bigger and more expensive instrumentation--approaches that endure well beyond the institutions named after him (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Reflecting early-to-mid-20th century life, Lawrence and his colleagues used hands-on mechanical skills to build novel apparatus from scratch. Today's research realities-the need for multiple funding sources; the greater ease of fund-raising for anything related to health than for, say, pure physics; and the importance of personality even in "objective" science-hark back to the period described. This account of one man's career; his intersections (for better or for worse) with other scientists' careers and with patrons in academia, industry, and government; and the interaction of his science with World War II, McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the global evolution of science come alive in this insightful book".
Rosemarie Forsythe is a scholar, diplomat, and business executive, having served on the National Security Council, as U.S. representative to the European Parliament, and as Director of International Political Strategy at Exxon Mobil Corporation. With over 34 years of international experience, she has worked in the former Soviet Union, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Until March 2013, She was ExxonMobil Corporation's Director, International Political Strategy and advised the CEO and Management Committee on devising long and short-term business strategies for the company's business around the world. From 1995-1997, Ms. Forsythe was the U.S. representative at the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg and covered EU enlargement issues. From 1993â€“95, Ms. Forsythe served as Director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council of the White House and directly advised the President and Vice President of the United States. During a 1989-91 assignment in the USSR, she was the principal contact with Soviet Republic Presidents during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Ms. Forsythe also served as a Soviet affairs analyst at the Rand Corporation, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau for Intelligence and Research, and the Foreign Demographic Analysis Division of the U.S. government. She holds academic degrees from the UCLA (MA and PhD work), Columbia University (MA), and Indiana University in Political Science and Soviet Area Studies.
Rosemarie tells us: "According to Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and co-founder of string field theory, "the world of the future is the world of the mind." Kaku's book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind, gives us a glimpse into the many possibilities opened up by new technology, scientific advances in many different fields, and recent multi-billion dollar projects to reverse engineer the brain. These possibilities include, among others, treating/curing certain kinds of mental illnesses, digitally storing memories and replanting them in Alzheimer's patients, practical telepathy and telekinesis, intelligence enhancement, and building more energy efficient, super-fast computers. Particularly interesting sections are on biotechnological advances bringing together robotics and neuroscience research. These new tools and insights have the potential to change the world in dramatic ways we are only just beginning to understand".
Tom Tugendhat MBE MP was elected to the British Parliament in May 2015 to represent Tonbridge and Malling in Kent after serving in the Army on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently as military assistant to the UK Chief of the Defence Staff. He graduated in Theology and Religious Studies before going on to read Islamics at Cambridge University. Starting as a journalist in Beirut, he followed the end of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon and the rise of religious movements including Hezbollah. His work in Afghanistan included helping to establish the National Security Council of Afghanistan and later the first non-warlord government in Helmand Province. In Iraq, Tom was part of the invasion forces and later ran the central region of the Iraq Currency Programme, exchanging the old money for the New Iraqi Dinar.
Tom has recommended The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky. "Understanding complexity is the greatest challenge today. Gone are the days of simple confrontations when an army needed only to consider the forces stacked before them. Today's conflicts are multifaceted, wicked problems that alter as the actors make decisions and require experts from a range of skills. Organisations must not only change how they act, but how they structure and evolve. Emma Sky's book addresses the challenge faced by the US military against in its operation in Iraq. Seeing through the fog and misunderstandings both in Baghdad and in Washington she raises questions for all organisations. As a British peacenik in a soldier's world she has brought a sharp eye and trenchant perspective as the most intimate critic of a US military machine identifying and addressing weaknesses to change from a Cold War hammer to a counter-insurgency scalpel. Her perspective is unique, direct and challenging for all organisations and structures seeking to change and understand change around them".
Markus Waibel has been a researcher in robotics and artificial intelligence for more than 10 years. He is co-founder of two award-winning robotics podcast series, and is co-founder of the ROBOTS Association and its flagship publication Robohub (robohub.org), an online platform that brings together leading communicators in robotics research, education, start-ups, and business from around the world. He is also the founder of Robotics by Invitation, an online panel discussion of 30 high-profile roboticists. Markus received his PhD in Robotics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2007 and an MSc in Technical Physics from the Technical University of Vienna, Austria in 2003. He is the holder of a U.S. patent for a robotic locomotion method and a mobile robot, and four other technologies. In 2006 he co-founded the project routeRANK, resulting in the world's first multi-modal travel-planning tool and a successful company, which he jointly ran until returning to robotics in 2008. From 2010 to 2014 he was the Deputy Director of ETH Zurich's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, and Program Manager of the pioneering Cloud Robotics project RoboEarth. In 2014 he co-founded the robotics company Verity Studios AG.
"First published in 1976, Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene was the first book that made our modern understanding of the workings of evolution accessible to non-experts. The book rapidly became popular after its release. It also rapidly became an important academic reference, with tens of thousands of citations to its name. The book has aged remarkably well, especially for a book arousing its level of controversy (important aspects of kin selection theory are still hotly debated by scholars, others have viewed it as a threat to their moral or religious beliefs). Its text has remained virtually unchanged. Endnotes provided in the second edition (which I read) provide helpful context and pointers to more recent developments (e.g., work on the prisoner's dilemma), some of which it helped pioneer (e.g., memes). Dawkins is a great writer and clear thinker, and tagging along as he explains why we exist is a real pleasure. To me this book, more than any other, has provided an anchor point for understanding life and an interesting outlook for understanding human behavior".
Recommendations from the Highlands Staff
by Evan Osnos
Evan Osnos has written one of the most insightful and entertaining book yet on modern China, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, which received the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2014. Much as Alexis de Tocqueville did for America in the nineteenth century, Osnos travels the expanse of China with a keen eye for detail and a gift for storytelling. He lived in China from 2005 to 2013, during "a ravenous era of a different kind, a period when people have awoken with a hunger for new sensations, ideas, and respect." Osnos describes his book as an account of the collision of two forces: aspiration and authoritarianism, and within that framework he weaves stories around three themes-fortune, truth, and faith. In a tale of risk taking, Osnos explores the idea of gambling and what that means to Chinese in a variety of standings of wealth; "the stock market and real estate, in the Chinese view are scarcely different from a casino...Chinese take consistently larger risks than Americans of comparable wealth". In his section on truth, Osnos relates the story of Ms. Hu Shuli, the powerful publisher of the slick magazine Caijing, and an "incurable muckraker, who had cultivated first name familiarity with some of China's most powerful Party leaders". Osnos traces Hu's rise from a young Red Guard ("ten years later, I realized everything was wrong") to a young journalist trying to find her way through what was allowed to be written and what was not, to being the most admired and watched person in journalism as Caijing navigated how much it could push the Party and the government with her news stories. In his final section on faith, Osnos explains that the Cultural Revolution destroyed China's old belief systems; Deng's economic revolution could not rebuild them. "In sprinting ahead, China had bounded past whatever barriers once held back the forces of corruption and moral disregard. There was a hole in Chinese life that people named the jingshen kongxu-the spiritual void-and something was going to fill it." While there is a growing need for spirituality and a marked increase in attendance at churches, the Party, Osnos believes, will encourage more outbursts of nationalism and demagogues to play on feelings of humiliation. "By setting China against 'universal values,' the Party is ensuring that it will face more snubs, more protests...yet it is raising its people to believe that humiliation, and those responsible for it, must not be tolerated." Part travelogue, part social and political analysis-Age of Ambition explores how life is changing at a dizzying pace in contemporary China.
by David E. Hoffman
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Hoffman has appeared on our list in the past with his highly regarded book of non-fiction, Dead Hand. His latest book is The Billion Dollar Spy, a thrilling true story of a Soviet aircraft and radar designer high atop the Soviet military R&D apparatus who made repeated attempts to be recruited by the CIA's Moscow Station; Adik Tolkachev was a determined Soviet engineer, waiting in gas stations in the cold of winter looking for American embassy license plates so that he might approach them with a request to defect or spy for the US. Tolkachev carried out at least a half dozen attempts to interest the CIA at Moscow Station, handing notes to embassy personnel as they were shopping or placing a letter in an open car window, to the shock of the American diplomat inside. After almost eighteen months of trying this dangerous gambit under the nose of possible Soviet surveillance keeping an eye on the Americans, he was accepted. From 1977 to 1985, Tolkachev provided the most sensitive military R&D secrets on radars, new aircraft designs, circuit boards, and more to his handlers. In the early days of his work with Moscow Station, The Director of the CIA wondered what his value was to the US: "Could they (US Air Force) estimate what his intelligence was worth, in a broad way...how much had he saved them in research and development costs? The answer was 'somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion.' Tolkacheve was the billion dollar spy". Tolkachev continually pressed the CIA for money, but only as an indication to him of his worth to them-he wanted to be appreciated. What he most wanted were items from the west for his son (music albums by Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Alice Cooper; drafting supplies for his design classes; a Sony Walkman). For eight years Tolkachev continued to elude detection and provide the CIA with crown jewels of the highest classificiation. Tolkachev, an admirable hero in this tale, is utlimately undone by a CIA washout seeking revenge against the Agency. This is a grand story with risk and danger at every turn. Hoffman reminds us that human intelligence "remains indispensable to national security. As long as it is necessary to know an adversary-to steal secrets, uncover intentions, and crack open safes-it will be essential to recruit agents who can conquer their fear and cross over to the other side. It will be necessary to look them in the eye, earn their trust, calm their anxiety, and share their peril".
by Marc Reisner
We have offered a number of book recommendations over the years dealing with environmental and natural resource issues, including several historical works of significance: Year of the Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910; The Great Deluge; and the beautiful Letters from the Dust Bowl, a heartbreaking collection of letters from the wife of an Oklahoma farmer written in 1931 that were published in the Atlantic Monthly and then caught the attention of the Secretary of the Agriculture. She wrote: "To old-timers in this deep-water country, so nearly destitute of flowing streams, the virtual destruction of a well of our excellent, life-nourishing water comes close to being the unpardonable sin against future generations". In Marc Reisner's exquisite and pointed story of the making of Los Angeles at the turn of the twentieth century, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, we see again the effects of policy decisions and nature converging in unanticipated ways. Reisner tells the story of Irish immigrant William Mulholland who came to Los Angeles in 1878 to work as a ditch digger for the water system. A remarkable character, Mulholland rose to become Chief of the Water Department. Despite his best efforts at water conservation amid the great migration into Southern California, the Los Angeles River became a dry bed. In order to meet its needs, Mulholland has the city quietly purchase almost the entire water rights to the Owens River, which led to the decimation of the ranches and farms of the Owens Valley. Reisner details the corruption, water wars and the violence that followed, all part of keeping Los Angeles and its suburbs growing and verdant. But this period of acquisition was only the beginning, as the thirst for water was proving insatiable. Plentiful water meant great crops and a protected agricultural economy, swimming pools and lush lawns in what was a desert, and more water for the relocating and startup businesses making Los Angeles a powerhouse. Now in 2015, entering the fifth year of an interminable drought (one of several long periods of drought) in the West, citizens, businesses, and governments have had to come to grips with hard choices on water management. Reisner's story of the Cadillac Desert is timely and cautionary. Written in 1986 and recently updated, this is a wonderful read.
by Pankaj Mishra
Several years ago we included an insightful new book from Asian diplomat, philosopher and scholar, Kishore Mahbubani titled The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. It details the forces that underlie the changing balance of power in the world. Simply put, Mahbubani tells us that "although European countries are still significant, their economic and demographic growth does not match those of either the emerging powers (including China and India) or the United States", and that we should be prepared to act in different ways with new and old powers. In 2012 a brilliant young Indian essayist named Pankaj Mishra wrote a book that serves as a companion to the Mahbubani book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia. Nominated both in the East and the West for numerous book prizes, Ruins of Empire was internationally recognized for its presentation of themes that were most timely in the West and the East, but told with a clarity for understanding the other through different lenses that was seen as uncommon and important. Uncomfortable for many westerners, it pushed back on comfortable assurances that they rested on. Mishra tells us "This book seeks to offer a broad view of how some of the most intelligent and sensitive people in the East responded to the encroachments of the West (both physical and intellectual) on their societies. It describes how these Asians understood their history and social existence, and how they responded to the extraordinary sequence of events and movements...that together decided the present shape of Asia." In following with both a historical and intellectual biography of three little known (in the West) but remarkable scholars and activists, Mishra aims to explain the "why's" that govern the beliefs and actions of those we often misunderstand or with whom we have less than satisfactory relationships.
by Jeremy Brotton
English explorer Nicholas Crane wrote: "Maps codify the miracle of existence." Maps and their impact have turned out to constitute a key theme over the course of our annual reading lists, including Steven Johnson's Ghost Map; Edward Tufte's Visual Explanations; Edward Huth's The Lost Art of Finding Our Way; and a most timely recounting of the creation of the maps of the modern Middle East, Georgina Howell's biography Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations. In A History of the World in 12 Maps, author Jeremy Brotton curates the amazing array of maps representing not just the known world or locale, but cultures, histories and identities-how we get to where we were and where and who we hope to become. The range of this rich exhibition and history covers the known world in the time of Ptolemy and extends to our time and the hyper-local and interactive mapping of the world by Google. Brotton's mapmakers often inject themselves as the center of what is being mapped (no map is ever completely accurate or objective) and one of his twelve, the circa 1300 "Mappa Mundi", is a map of the world with Jerusalem at its center (and a cross at the center of Jerusalem) with Jesus looking down from the top of the map; this was a display for medieval Christians looking for the second coming of Christ. In this case the map is focused on religion first, geography second, but the range of what they tell us and why is astounding. David Mitchell, author of two remarkable novels on our previous lists writes in his book The Bone Clocks, "Mental maps. Maps with edges. And for Auden, for so many of us, it's the edges of the maps that fascinate..."
by Andrea Wulf
Author Andrea Wulf has produced a an amazing achievement: a rousing adventure story masquerading as a fascinating history lesson wrapped up in a pursuit of ecological exploration. The Invention of Nature is a truly remarkable book about a man (Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859), famous in his time around the world, and now long forgotten by most. How famous? So famous and highly regarded that when Charles Darwin left to explore the world on HMS Beagle in 1831, he was permitted only a few books on the cramped Beagle, and among the handful of books he took was a multi-volume set by Alexander von Humboldt of his travels in South America 30 years earlier. More to the point, Humboldt was Darwin's inspiration for this trip. In 1799, Humboldt had set off on his voyage, making landfall in modern Venezuela. His adventures took him by canoe into the rain forests, where Humboldt became the first to map the Amazon. He next hiked the Andes, being the first scientist to reach both the snow covered peaks and the tropical rainforested valleys. Wulf's beautiful storytelling also manages an energizing discussion of the discoveries and the ideas that Humboldt wrote about in his detailed journals-showing us both sides of the man-and his ideas about ecosystems remain with us today. Wulf writes, "he saw the earth as one great living organism where everything was connected, conceiving a bold new vision of nature that still influences the way that we understand the natural world".
by John Markoff
Last year's Reading List included Robot Ethics by Patrick Lin and Keith Abney. Highlands alumnus John Markoff put us onto that book as well as several others. John was at Stanford University where he was finalizing his research on the emerging technologies behind robotics. He told us "AI and Robotics are going to have the impact on the world in the next decade that computers and the Internet have had in the last three decades." Now Markoff's own book, Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots has been published. Markoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times technology journalist, has covered Silicon Valley for decades and has a reporter's sense that takes him to the centers of leading edge development of these new technologies and their applications, from software agents to robots. With a detailed eye he tells the stories of these innovators and their creations and an exciting and uncertain future emerges. But Markoff also poses the hard questions about design of these "machines of loving grace", thinking about the second and third order effects ...essentially that ethical questions must be posed before and during the design of these machines. Richard Brautigan, in his 1967 poem "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace", writes:
I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
Markoff tells us: "The best way to answer questions about control in a world full of smart machines is by understanding the values of those who are actually building these systems." This is a most valuable and timely read.
by Andrew Roberts
This year marks the two-hundredth anniversary of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, a watertshed event in European history that marked a long period of peace and set the stage for changes in governance across the continent. There is no shortage of material published this year in commemoration of Napoleon and his military and diplomatic career. We present first a towering biography by Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life; then a shorter companion piece, of how the reporting of that battle reached the heads of government in The News from Waterloo; and finally, a compact overview by HF alumnus Mike Rapport (1848: Year of Revolution, previously reviewed here) from the Oxford University Press series of "Very Short Introductions", The Napoleonic Wars.
Andrew Roberts is a highly respected historian and exceptional author. His task here is to present in a single volume the entire sweep of the life of the brilliant general, emperor, diplomat, politician and man of letters (Roberts researched tens of thousands of Napoleon's letters and adds wonderful insights to each story with personal detail), and he succeeds mightily. Napoleon: A Life is elegantly written, and Roberts presents the sweep of Napoleon's impressive life, rising from his early military action against the mobs in the French Revolution to sweeping France up as Emperor to his liberal reforms across Europe (including th creation of the civil law reforms in the Napoleonic Code). All the while we are able to see the human side of the great leader through his letters. Yet what most readers may be attracted to are the carefully drawn military narratives, and the vignettes which shaped them: "At the breakfast conference, Jerome told Napoleon that the waiter at the King of Spain inn at Genappes where Wellington had dined on June 16 (the day before the battle at Waterloo) had overheard an aide-de-camp saying that the Prussians would join them in front of the Forest of Soignes, which was directly behind Mont Saint-Jean...Napoleon could be forgiven for not altering his entire strategy on the basis of a waiter's report of an over-loquacious aide-de-camp...". And on June 17, "he did not rise until 8 a.m. and then wasted the next five hours (instead of pressing Wellington's still incomplete coalition force) reading reports from Paris, visiting the Ligny battlefield, giving directions for the care of the wounded, addressing captured Prussian officers on their country's foreign policy and talking to his own generals 'with his accustomed ease' on various political topics". This is a glowing, insightful, and admiring biography of a great leader, filled with details benefitting from Napoleon's newly found correspondence.
by Brian Cathcart
The Fog of War. That famous term from Carl von Clausewitz refers broadly to incomplete, dubious, and often completely erroneous information on the battlefield. Two centuries ago this year, in the case of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo where Clausewitz himself was a participant with the Prussian forces at the nearby battle of Ligny, the fog also informs the conveying of the outcome to waiting capitals across Europe. In the fascinating and exciting The News from Waterloo: The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington's Victory, author Brian Cathcart takes us to the battlefield and follows the unofficial and official couriers of the news in a competitive battle to get the news to investment bankers, a waiting public, and in particular to the Prince Regent and ministers in Great Britain. It is the story of pre-electronic media, where news and post were slow and controlled by government; where fortunes could be won or lost speculating on the outcome of the battle in the burgeoning "omnium market"; where many competing forces strove to outrace the Duke of Wellington's official courier, the dashing Hon. Major Harry Percy, to London with the news; and where in the haste to be first, the incomplete or erroneous tales that arrived early in both Britain and France from only a short distance, kept Europe on uncertain footing and markets in flux. By horseback, sailing ship, rowboat and coach, the race was on-who would be first and who would be believed? Cathcart begins with a sprightly retelling of the battle of Waterloo and its principals to set the stage, and through newspaper accounts, letters, and personal histories, he pieces together this amazing race.
by Mike Rapport
As a wonderful companion to both Roberts' biography of Napoleon and Cathcart's side story of the conveying the news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, we want to call your attention to Mike Rapport's The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction (and in general to the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction series of books, "concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects" written by experts in the field for a general audience. http://bit.ly/1JS9ftu). This series is a great way to enter many topics, including art, philosophy, religion, science, and hundreds more. Rapport clearly explains why the Napoleonic Wars have an important place in the history of Europe, and left their mark on European and world societies. This was a global war in that in traversed not just Europe, but South Asia as well with battles fought in India. And it was a most bloody war, with a relative high body count that presaged the violence of the coming World War I. Also, the wars "provided the stimulus for radical social and political change - particularly in Spain, Germany, and Italy - and are frequently viewed in these places as the starting point of their modern histories". In this Oxford Very Short Introduction, Mike Rapport provides a brief, yet thoughtful summary and analysis on the origins and course of the wars and its legacies.
by Robin Chase
The rise of networks has given us a great deal to ponder over the past two decades, including file sharing music, social media as connective tissue, and challenges to hierarchical institutions. In their thinking and writing about these changes to our lives, authors Clay Shirky, Steven Johnson, and others have given us a great deal to ponder in our annual reading list. Another of our alumni, April Rinne, has lead the way in the sharing economy. In her new book Peers, Inc: How People and Platforms Are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism, author Robin Chase delves deeper into the the ways that individuals can maximize their economic utility, enjoy improvements to their lives, and in the process fundamentally help to transform the nature of capitalism. As the founder of ZipCar, the automobile sharing venture, Chase has redefined the nature of new businesses in a collaborative world with the word "platform". In Chase's view the venture becomes a platform for sharing excess capacity for the good of all. In this excellent new book, Chase demonstrates the public and private good that can emerge from collaborative undertakings and suggests that bigger issues might benefit as well (e.g., how agents around the world might preserve and share resources to lead to a reenvisioning of peacebuiding). Chase is an innovator, an operator, and a theorist; her well-detailed book gives us a number of case studies to illustrate her key points; in moving from the commonplace process of auto-sharing to the environment or stability and security, she gives us something much bigger to consider.
by S. C. Gwynne
Historian and author S.C. Gwynne, a finalist for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, has delivered a fascinating tale of transformation with his new work, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. Rebel Yell tells of the metamorphosis of a man, a nation, and of warfare in wonderful detail, interweaving each of these stories to capture and retain the reader's attention throughout this compelling narrative. We initally meet Major Thomas Jackson, an army officer of no distinction who has been banished prior to the opening volleys of the Civil War to the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute as an instructor of optics and the fine points of artillery; the students roundly regarded him as an oddball--their worst teacher--and derided him for everything from his speech to his appearance and bearing. Yet an amazing series of events catapulted Jackson within 18 months to the rank of general and a leading role in the Confederate Army, one which saw him emerge as an inspirational leader of troops whose aggressive and innovative tactics were to be studied by militaries around the world; and who, with his great adversaries Grant and Sherman, envisioned and pursued a strategy of total war. This lightly regarded professor, at the opening battle at Bull Run, "continued to ride up and down his line on his mount (Little Sorrel), who was as unperturbed by gunfire as he was, repeating, 'Steady, men, steady. All is well.' Jackson moved, according to one admiring soldier, 'in a shower of death as calmly as a farmer about his farm when the seasons are good. He seemed to be a different man in the heat of battle; his eyes blazed, his whole being seemed to glow with the ardor of the fight." Seeing his steadfast example, General Barnard Bee exhorted the remnants of his own brigade: "Will you follow me back to where the fighting is going on? Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall. Let's go to his assistance". Thus was born a name and a legend.
by Charles Hauss
In his latest book, Security 2.0, political scientist Charles Hauss moves the conversation about security from that of a military context to one of security writ large, in which the complex, interlocking, and interdependent nature of problems confront us with serious and often overwhelming challenges to stability, well-being, and peace. "In the last twenty years or so, the world has changed in such profound ways that we can no longer defined security simply in (those kind of) geopolitical terms. Rather, it is now common for people to refer to human rather than 'just' national security". With networked communications and networked forms of organization comes a key driver of that change. In an earlier review (above) by British MP Tom Tugendhat, he wrote: "Today's conflicts are multifaceted, wicked problems that alter as the actors make decisions and require experts from a range of skills. Organisations must not only change how they act, but how they structure and evolve." This is the point at which Hauss introduces us to to a systems approach to security challenges, both complex and wicked. Hauss, a professor of comparative politics and a peace activist, has spent most of the past two decades working with the U.S. military and in particular the Office of the Secretary of Defense, searching for new ways of addressing our most vexing security issues and new collaborations of non-traditional partners in the military and the NGO world. In this short (but overflowing with novel ideas) book Hauss gathers insights from many of the more interesting authors and practitioners he has encountered: among them sociologist David Ronfeldt and his theory of organizational evolution (Tribes+Institutions+Markets+Networks); Steven Johnson and his work on emergence and networks; the late C.K. Prahalad and his view of economics in the emerging world; and Horst Rittel and his framework for defining wicked problems. These new views are essential to Hauss's proposals, "because today's problems are so different, there is little or no hope that we can solve them using the analytical and political tools currently at our disposal". This is a most valuable starting point in trying to address the most difficult challenges facing us today and in the future.
by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
In 2010 we ran across Phil Tetlock's landmark work on prediction, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? We asked him to lead a conversation on the frontiers of prediction just as data analytics were becoming more sophiticated and more widely used. Collecting data and thousands of predictions from experts over a two decade study, he found "that people who make prediction their business-people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables-are no better than the rest of us". In 2011 Tetlock began a new study, the Good Judgment Project, crowdsourcing participants focused on a wide range of political, economic and other trends around the globe in order to "explore the effectiveness of techniques such as prediction markets, probability elicitation, training, incentives and aggregation that the research literature suggests offer some hope of helping forecasters see further and more reliably into the future". What Tetlock shares with us in Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction is both an emphatic validation of his earlier work as well as new insights into an improved human capability for forecasting among a group of non-expert individuals that he labels "superforecasters". While they have certain personality attributes and skills, they are not subject matter experts. Among his major findings, and importantly for all of us, is that the things that make for superforecasting can be taught and learned. Tetlock's Superforecasting is a highly valuable book.
by Isabel Wilkerson
"People leave when life becomes untenable where they are." In nine simple words underlying a set of difficult and complex issues, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson summarizes The Great Migration, the movement of six million African Americans out of the rural south to mostly urban centers in the north and west in two stages between 1910 and 1970. The first stage, from 1910 saw over one million people on the move, slowed only by the terrible job losses of the Great Depression in the 1930's. With the end of World War II, and America's great industrial growth in northern cities demanding more labor, the rate of southern migration showed a loss of another five million people until the pendulum swung back at the beginning of the 1970's. While economic push and pull certainly caused large numbers of people to seek better jobs, it would be a mistake to see the Great Migration strictly in terms of higher pay. Mistreatment and regaining self-worth figure heavily in the lives Wilkerson traces:
"Perhaps he might have stayed had they let him practice surgery like he was trained to do or let him walk into the Palace and try on a suit like anyone else of his station. The resentments had grown heavy over the years. He knew he was as smart as anyone else-smarter, to his mind-but he wasn't allowed to do anything with it, the caste system being what it was. Now he was going about as far away as you could get from Monroe, Louisiana. The rope lines that had hemmed in his life seemed to loosen with each plodding mile on the odometer."
In this 2011 National Book Award winning history, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Wilkerson spent almost two decades interviewing over a thousand people, researching and writing this remarkable book which she acknowldeges is a universal story of people leaving their homeland to make a better life for them and their children and touches all of us.
by David McCullough
Imagination, creativity, and innovation-these are key themes that we return to frequently in Highlands sessions as well as on our book list. In his exciting and insightful new biography of the the Wright Brothers, historian David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize-winner and the National Book Award and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, incorporates those themes in describing the shared life and adventures of Wilber and Orville Wright. McCullough highlights their single-minded determination; the importance of tinkering; the incredibly tight bonding of a family supporting a clear vision; the international collaboration and competition that captured the imagination of the world; and a thoughtful and factual treatment of the moment that the world changed. "Learning the secret of flight from a bird, Orville would say, was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician." Wilber, who in 1899 took the lead early in building the mechanical flyer, wrote to the Smithsonian, "I am about to begin a systematic study of the subject (flight) in preparation for practical work to which I expect to devote what time I can spare from my regular business. I wish to obtain such papers as the Smithsonian Institution has published on this subject..." While the head of the Smithsonian complied, it was the last time until well after the brothers' successful flights that the US government saw their accomplishments in a positive, suppportive light. Naysayers abounded, including the Chief Engineer of the US Navy, RADM George Melville: "A calm survey of certain natural phenomena leads the engineer to pronounce all confident prophecies for future succcess as wholly unwarranted, if not absurd." McCullough recounts the historic moment of the first flight in December of 1903: "The day was freezing cold. Skims of ice covered several nearby ponds. A gusty wind was blowing hard out of the north-nearly a gale force of 20 to 27 miles per hour, far from ideal...Orville now positioned himself on his stomach at the controls...At exactly 10:35, Orville slipped the rope restraining the Flyer and it headed forward...At the end of the track the Flyer lifted into the air and Daniels, who had never operated a camera until now, snapped the shutter to take what would be one of the most historic photographs of the century". This is a beautifully written and highly readable story of the Wrights and their amazing achievement.
by P. W. Singer and August Cole
Peter Singer is best known as a strategist and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. He has been named by the Smithsonian Institution-National Portrait Gallery as one of the 100 "leading innovators in the nation," by Defense News as one of the 100 most influential people in defense issues, and by Foreign Policy to their Top 100 Global Thinkers List. Singer is the author of two recent well-regarded non-fiction books, Wired for War, and Cybersecurity and Cyberwar. Co-author August Cole is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. He is the Director of the Art of Future War project, which explores narrative fiction and visual media for insight into the future of conflict. Together Singer and Cole have written a near-future techno-thriller novel, Ghost Fleet. Think of William Gibson's sense of the networked enabled individuals combined with Tom Clancy's technology driven storylines, writing about the rise of China's military and a weakened U.S.-politically and economically-lacking the capacity or will to push back, and you have Ghost Fleet. Singer and Cole have incorporated not only the technology, but also a strong narrative that drives us from space based attack vehicles to Chinese special forces to an occupied Hawaii, where rebels mount a MacGyver-like counter-offensive. It is at first a terrific page-turner, and then a cautionary tale. The authors' voices come through: "We need to become again the country that breaks the hard problems, that sees the virtue in innovation and the reward in risk."
For a companion piece you might consider reading a small classic of cautionary non-fiction from 1986: Frank Barnaby's The Automated Battlefield, in which he describes warfare fought entirely by computers, sensors, and intelligent machines.
by Mary Doria Russell
Last year, on our 2014 Reading List, we recommended The Martian a fast-paced, terrifically entertaining novel about an astronaut, presumed dead, who is stranded alone on Mars and must survive without hope of rescue for many months. We heard from many that this was a favorite; this year we want to offer you another well-conceived and beautifully written novel set partly in outer space, titled The Sparrow (1996). It is the first novel of author Mary Doria Russell and it revolves around the discovery by scientists of another planet with life and what that means for all of us. If there are others, are they like us? What is the nature of their culture, their civilization, their technology, and their ability to communicate? And most deeply for this story, what is the concept of "otherness" and their relationship to us, and possibly to their creator? Among the scientists who travel to this planet to make "first contact" is a linguistic scholar, Fr. Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest. For him the anthropologic and cultural questions balance off with that of the idea of God and his own growing doubts. The narrative is highly suspenseful, unraveling a bit at a time as the novel alternates between 2016 and 2060, when an inquiry is convened to examine the disastrous results of this momentous meeting. The ideas and Russell's beautiful language and narrative bring us into the minds and actions of these all-too-human characters. An award-winning book-of-the-year for fiction. For those wanting more, Russell wrote a highly regarded sequel, Children of God.
by Luo Guanzhong (Ronald C. Iverson, editor; Yu Sumei (translator)
Jeff Ubois, who leads Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives and oversees exploratory grants at the MacArthur Foundation, is a constant source of interesting ideas and unique perspectives. Over a recent breakfast conversation, he mentioned a book we might find to be both timely and interesting. First published in China in the 14th century, The Three Kingdoms is an historical novel considered to be one of the four greatest classical novels in Chinese literature. It illuminates the relationships between character, intelligence, and military victory, while exploring questions of leadership, strategy, duty, diplomacy, and loyalty. It's also a great series of tales based on historical fact: maybe a bit like Shakespeare's Macbeth, but in a more complex setting (second and third century China) with smarter and often more devious protagonists. Jeff opines, "There's no way to do justice to this work in a short review. It offers profound studies in enduring questions: when can leaders compensate for their own defects by surrounding themselves with complementary associates? how is it possible (and when is it advisable) to translate soft power into hard power? what causes coalitions and alliances to form, and to divide? what are the limits of loyalty in clan-based societies? how do tyrants come to and fall from power? The book's influence is broad and deep. It has been a continuous inspiration to Chinese military strategists, and readers of the Highlands Reading list may have seen excerpts in various editions of Sun Tzu's Art of War. A central character, Guan Yu, has been deified (usually as a fierce looking figure with a halberd), and many episodes in the book have been the basis for movies, video games, and other stories. Americans who read the book will find it opens surprising conversational doors with Chinese counterparts". This lengthy and majestic novel is alternatively referred to as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or The Three Kingdoms; there are multiple volumes, and in this review we refer you to the first volume, The Sacred Oath. As with all works written in other languages, translations are important. While Moss Roberts' translation is widely regarded as the modern standard, and is available in both abridged and unabridged forms, we refer in this review to a new translation by Yu Sumei and Ronald Iverson which has been well received.