A landmark, radically uplifting account of our species’ progress from one of the world’s pre-eminent thinkers – with breakthrough insights into the power of diversity and our capacity to tackle climate change. In a captivating journey from the dawn of human existence to the present, world-renowned economist and thinker Oded Galor offers an intriguing solution to two of humanity’s great mysteries. Why are humans the only species to have escaped – only very recently – the subsistence trap, allowing us to enjoy a standard of living that vastly exceeds all others? And why have we progressed so unequally around the world, resulting in the great disparities between nations that exist today? Immense in scope and packed with astounding connections, Galor’s gripping narrative explains how technology, population size, and adaptation led to a stunning “phase change” in the human story a mere two hundred years ago. But by tracing that same journey back in time and peeling away the layers of influence – colonialism, political institutions, societal structure, culture – he arrives also at an explanation of inequality’s ultimate causes: those ancestral populations that enjoyed fruitful geographical characteristics and rich diversity were set on the path to prosperity, while those that lacked it were disadvantaged in ways still echoed today. As we face ecological crisis across the globe, The Journey of Humanity is a book of urgent truths and enduring relevance, with lessons that are both hopeful and profound: gender equality, investment in education, and balancing diversity with social cohesion are the keys not only to our species’ thriving, but to its survival.
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Having read a number of books both by and on the mysterious Elena Ferrante, I’m always intrigued when something new appears. No fiction, alas, but we do get to hear from the reclusive writer on her own literary preferences, as well as being granted some glimpses into the work process. In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing (translated by Ann Goldstein) is a collection of Ferrante’s essays on, reading and writing. The first three, interestingly enough, were written for a series of public lectures at the University of Bologna (the Eco Lectures!), while the fourth is an added bonus, coming from a conference on Dante held in 2021. The performance honours for the first three essays went to actress Manuela Mandracchia, while Tiziana de Rogatis delivered the Dante talk to the conference. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to like about In the Margins. It consists of four short essays written in a style recognisable to anyone who has tried Ferrante’s other non-fiction work. While light and breezy in places, this belies a keen intellect and a vast knowledge of certain areas of literature, together making for an eminently readable and enjoyable set of texts. The first of the Eco Lectures, ‘Pain and Pen’, starts with childhood anecdotes, in which the writer reflects on school handwriting lessons: But I was easily distracted when I wrote, and while I almost always respected the margin on the left, I often ended up outside the one on the right, whether to finish the word or because I had reached a point where it was difficult to divide the word into syllables and start a new line without going outside the margin. I was punished so often that the sense of the boundary became part of me, and when I write by hand I feel the threat of the vertical red line […]
Sylvia G. Rice, Assistant Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Rice University. In 1938, a British engineer and amateur meteorologist made a discovery that set off a fierce debate about climate change. Scientists had known for decades that carbon dioxide could trap heat and warm the planet. But Guy Callendar was the first to connect human activities to global warming. He showed that land temperatures had increased over the previous half-century, and he theorised that people were unwittingly raising Earth’s temperature by burning fossil fuels in furnaces, factories and even his beloved motorcycles. When Callendar published his findings, it set off a firestorm. The scientific establishment saw him as an outsider and a bit of a meddling gentleman scientist. But, he was right. His theory became widely known as “the Callendar Effect.” Today, it’s known as global warming. Callendar defended his theory until his death in 1964, increasingly bewildered that the science met such resistance from those who did not understand it. Building on over a century of climate science A theoretical basis for climate change had been developed over the 114 years leading up to Callendar’s research. Scientists including Joseph Fourier, Eunice Foote, John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius had developed an understanding of how water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere trapped heat, noted that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also absorbed large quantities of heat and speculated about how increasing fossil fuel use could raise Earth’s temperature and change the climate. However, these scientists spoke only of future possibilities. Callendar showed global warming was already happening. An engineer runs his own climate experiments Callendar received a certificate in mechanics and mathematics from City and Guilds College, London, in 1922 and went to work for his father, a well-known British physicist. The two shared interests in physics, motorcycles, racing and meteorology. Callendar would later join the U.K. Ministry of Supply in armament […]
-Gal Beckerman From intimate conversations grow world-shaking movements, argues this probing intellectual history. New York Times Book Review editor Gal Beckerman (When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone) surveys small circles that incubated subversive thinking, including 17th-century French polymath Nicolas Peiresc’s scientific letter-writing network; Britain’s 1839 Chartist campaign for universal suffrage, which galvanised working-class politics; Soviet dissident Natalya Gorbanevskaya’s samizdat journal, the Chronicle, which landed her in a psychiatric hospital; and the 1990s feminist punk scene sparked by the zine Riot Grrrl. He also investigates the internet’s role in modern-day movements: the Facebook page that publicised Egypt’s Tahrir Square demonstration; the Discord chat rooms where alt-right activists organised the 2017 Unite-the-Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.; and the Red Dawn email group of health experts who brainstormed Covid-19 interventions. Drawing on communications theory, Beckerman analyses these intellectual channels for their ability to foster accessible but private conversations that shape innovative ideas, though he’s skeptical of social media as an organising tool because it’s too public, volatile, emotional, and virtual to nurture serious thinking and politics. Beckerman unearths fascinating lore about these ideological hothouses, from the Futurists’ love triangles in early 20th-century Italy to the alt-right’s public-messaging strategies. The result is a timely and stimulating take on how the fringe infiltrates the mainstream.
When Covid-19 forced the brakes on the global economy, millions of people decided to step off the treadmill to refuel their aspirations. As many as 40-75% of the workforce is reported to be considering quitting their current job. This movement has precipitated a talent crisis, fuelling debate on whether this is the Great Resignation or the Great Reshuffle. While each analysis is insightful, we are looking at something completely different; we are at the tipping point of the Great Relearning Revolution. The workforce is eager to learn While attrition numbers have been widely reported, the number of people choosing to learn has not. Enrollment on popular MOOC (massive open online course) platforms has skyrocketed. At Coursera, it was 640% higher from mid-March to mid-April 2020 than during the same period in 2019, growing from 1.6 to 10.3 million. At Udemy, enrolment was up over 400% between February and March 2020. The e-learning market, growing at a compound annual rate of 20%, is on course to reach a trillion dollars by 2027. Among the courses in high demand are data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning. For those struggling to find talent in these areas, that’s promising news. This hunger to relearn within the workforce also reflected some interesting dimensions in other recent surveys. A Gallup-Amazon study revealed that 48% of workers in the US are willing to switch to a new job if offered skills training opportunities and 65% of them believe employer-provided upskilling is very important when evaluating a potential new job. A MetLife survey highlighted an even more interesting insight: two in three (63%) women who left the workforce during the pandemic said they are ready to return – and eight in 10 of those are considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We seem to be witnessing a redefining of literacy, akin to Alvin Toffler’s prophecy, […]
by Peter S Goodman From the New York Times’s Global Economics Correspondent, a masterwork of explanatory journalism that exposes how billionaires’ systematic plundering of the world—brazenly accelerated during the pandemic—has transformed 21st-century life and dangerously destabilised democracy. The history of the last half century in America, Europe, and other major economies is in large part the story of wealth flowing upward. The most affluent people emerged from capitalism’s triumph in the Cold War to loot the peace, depriving governments of the resources needed to serve their people, and leaving them tragically unprepared for the worst pandemic in a century. Drawing on decades of experience covering the global economy, award-winning journalist Peter S. Goodman profiles five representative “Davos Men”–members of the billionaire class–chronicling how their shocking exploitation of the global pandemic has hastened a fifty-year trend of wealth centralisation. Alongside this reporting, Goodman delivers textured portraits of those caught in Davos Man’s wake, including a former steelworker in the American Midwest, a Bangladeshi migrant in Qatar, a Seattle doctor on the front lines of the fight against COVID, blue-collar workers in the tenements of Buenos Aires, an African immigrant in Sweden, a textile manufacturer in Italy, an Amazon warehouse employee in New York City, and more. Goodman’s rollicking and revelatory exposé of the global billionaire class reveals their hidden impact on nearly every aspect of modern society: widening wealth inequality, the rise of anti-democratic nationalism, the shrinking opportunity to earn a livable wage, the vulnerabilities of our health-care systems, access to affordable housing, unequal taxation, and even the quality of the shirt on your back. Meticulously reported yet compulsively readable, Davos Man is an essential read for anyone concerned about economic justice, the capacity of societies to grapple with their greatest challenges, and the sanctity of representative government.
Bashar Al Shawa, PhD Student in Architecture, University of Bath It’s been claimed that technology is the answer to the climate crisis. By eventually separating economic growth from its effects on the environment through improving energy efficiency, the argument runs, better technology promises to prevent catastrophic global warming. But among the many things that this argument fails to consider is the reality that new technology has often encouraged extravagant forms of consumption: from private cars and planes to kitchens full of appliances and air conditioning in countries with mild climates. Technology has also caused what’s called the “rebound effect”: where improving energy efficiency leads to cheaper energy and therefore higher rates of energy consumption. For example, buying a more fuel-efficient car will reduce your average fuel cost per trip and thus is likely to lead to more trips, taking away at least some of your anticipated energy savings. A similar trend appears in architecture, where advances in artificial cooling, heating and computer-aided design have – rather than creating more efficient designs – actually introduced wasteful building styles. In my work, I call this phenomenon the “architectural rebound effect”. This effect becomes especially clear when we look at how building façades (the “skin” that covers buildings) have evolved over the past 100 years. Façade failures The Cité de Refuge residential building in Paris, designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier in 1933, boasts one of the earliest examples of a façade made entirely out of glass. But with no windows or air conditioning, its summer indoor temperatures reached up to 33°C – making it a “notable failure” in architecture. To fix this, the façade was fitted with external shading devices and about a third of its glass was made opaque. This strategy was mostly effective: computer simulations have shown that the upgraded design reduced indoor summer temperatures to below 25°C. From the 1950s, fully glazed façades without shading […]
In February 1991, the media mogul and former MP Robert Maxwell made a triumphant entrance into Manhattan harbour aboard his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, to complete his purchase of the ailing New York Daily News. Crowds lined the quayside to watch his arrival, taxi drivers stopped their cabs to shake his hand and children asked for his autograph. But just ten months later, Maxwell disappeared from the same yacht off the Canary Islands, only to be found dead in the water soon afterward. His death was thought to be one of three scenarios: suicide, accidental or foul play. The leaning towards suicide still persists. Maxwell was the embodiment of Britain’s post-war boom. Born an Orthodox Jew, he had escaped the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, fought in World War 2, and was decorated for his heroism with the Military Cross. He went on to become a Labour MP and an astonishingly successful businessman, owning a number of newspapers and publishing companies. But on his death, his empire fell apart, as long-hidden debts and unscrupulous dealings came to light. For example, his use of three hundred and fifty million pounds from his company’s pension scheme. Within a few days, Maxwell was being reviled as the embodiment of greed and corruption. No one had ever fallen so far and so quickly. What went so wrong? How did a war hero and model of society become reduced to a bloated, amoral wreck? In this gripping book, John Preston delivers the definitive account of Maxwell’s extraordinary rise and scandalous fall. Footnote: He had on going challenges with Rupert Murdoch. Whenever Maxwell was close to buying a newspaper, Murdoch would invariable swoop and take the deal from him.
–Peter McNeil, Distinguished Professor of Design History, UTS, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. André Leon Talley dreamed of a life ‘in the pages of Vogue, where bad things never happened’ Every time we see a “fashion moment”, we use the words of André Leon Talley, from his description of Galliano’s 1994 Japonisme show. Talley, who died recently age 73, was a flamboyant, over-the-top figure from the fashion industry, inclined to snobbery and rather overbearing. He had a longstanding love of French culture and the cross-fertilisation of fashion, art, poetry and life. Most prominently, he worked at Condé Nast for four decades, where, as creative director and editor-at-large of Vogue, he shaped the way we understand and talk about fashion. Born in Washington in 1948, Talley was raised by his modest grandmother in segregated North Carolina and graduated high school in 1966. Slight and bookish, he dreamed of: living a life like the ones I saw in the pages of Vogue, where bad things never happened. A regular church-goer, he later said that particular ritual was akin to going to a royal court. The bright women’s clothes and careful accessories seen there were filed away mentally. Talley went to college at the historically black university, North Carolina Central University, before completing his masters at Brown University, Rhode Island – the first in his family to attend an Ivy League School. At Brown he wrote his thesis on black models in the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, a figure who upheld fashion as the epitome of modernity. New fashion narratives Talley’s first fashion job was as an assistant with Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The “fashion empress”, as he called her, had been fired as editor of American Vogue (1963-1971) for her over-literary imagination and costly fashion shoots. In her second life as a […]
By Gerald Posner, Paperback, 816 pages Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Gerald Posner reveals the heroes and villains of the trillion-dollar-a-year pharmaceutical industry and delivers “a withering and encyclopedic indictment of a drug industry that often seems to prioritize profits over patients. Pharmaceutical breakthroughs such as anti biotics and vaccines rank among some of the greatest advancements in human history. Yet exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs, safety recalls affecting tens of millions of Americans, and soaring rates of addiction and overdose on pre scription opioids have caused many to lose faith in drug companies. Now, Americans are demanding a national reckoning with a monolithic industry. Gerald’s dogged reporting, sets Pharma apart from all books on this subject as we are introduced to brilliant scientists, incorruptible government regulators, and brave whistleblowers facing off against company exec utives often blinded by greed. A business that profits from treating ills can create far deadlier problems than it cures. Addictive products are part of the industry’s DNA, from the days when corner drugstores sold morphine, heroin, and cocaine, to the past two decades of dangerously overprescribed opioids. Pharma also uncovers the real story of the Sacklers, the family that became one of America’s wealthiest from the success of OxyContin, their blockbuster narcotic painkiller at the center of the opioid crisis. Relying on thousands of pages of government and corporate archives, dozens of hours of interviews with insiders, and previously classified FBI files, Posner exposes the secrets of the Sacklers’ rise to power-revelations that have long been buried under a byzantine web of interlocking companies with ever-changing names and hidden owners. The unexpected twists and turns of the Sackler family saga are told against the startling chronicle of a powerful industry that sits at the intersection of public health and profits. Explosively, even addictively, readable Pharma reveals how and […]