On April 16, 2019, the book club met to discuss “What is Real: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics,” by Adam Becker. The arithmetic mean of the rankings, on a five-point scale, are as follows-
“Enjoyable for science/philosophy person.”
“A good primer on quantum theory for beginners as well as an interesting discussion of the intersection of philosophy and science.”
“Fascinating social and historical exploration of science (in general) and physics (quantum). Loved it”!
“Loved this book-the organization, the content, the layout of information, and the background material made this a page-turner.”
Niels Henrik David Bohr
Werner Karl Heisenberg
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger
David Joseph Bohm
Thomas Samuel Kuhn
Wolfgang Ernst Paul
John von Neumann
John Stewart Bell
1.Adam Becker’s “What is Real?” provides a carefully-researched but non-technical overview of “the unfinished quest for the meaning of quantum physics.” Did you enjoy his writing style? Was the book accessible?
2.According to Bohr’s “Copenhagen interpretation,” largely devised in the 1920s, subatomic particles have no definite properties until they are measured. One can only calculate the probability of a certain result—for example, the location of an electron—and the very act of measurement changes matters. Until his death, Einstein insisted that this bizarre picture couldn’t be correct, but most colleagues disagreed.
Which side is correct? Quantum physics works, so does the actual state of reality matter?
3. A century after its inception, quantum mechanics continues to puzzle us with dead-and-alive cats, waves “collapsing” into particles, and “spooky action at a distance.” Did this book serve to demystify some of those concepts?
4. The book displays the intersection of philosophy and science. The Copenhagen School, although not monolithic, thought it foolish to ask if “what is real?” if the question cannot be meaningfully answered. Do you agree with this proposition? Is not science the rejection of that which cannot be tested and proven untrue? What is the utility of positing the existence of infinite quantum universes that, even if “real,” can never be perceived?
5. Finally, did you like this book? Would you recommend it to a friend lacking a background in science?
A National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction, 2018, “We the Corporations” chronicles the revelatory story of one of the most successful, yet least known, “civil rights movements” in American history.
“This is a brilliant, beautifully written book on a topic affecting almost every area of law…the book is filled with new insights and information. Any future discussion of rights for corporations will be shaped by this wonderful book.” – Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
We the Corporations reveals how American businesses won equal rights and transformed the Constitution to serve the ends of capital. Corporations – like minorities and women – have had a civil rights movement of their own, and now possess nearly all the same rights as ordinary people. Uncovering the deep historical roots of Citizens United, Adam Winkler shows how that controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision was the capstone of a two-hundred-year battle over corporate personhood and constitutional protections for business.
Bringing to resounding life the legendary lawyers and justices involved in the corporate rights movement – among them Daniel Webster, Roger Taney, Lewis Powell, and even Thurgood Marshall – Winkler’s tour de force exposes how the nation’s most powerful corporations gained our most fundamental rights and turned the Constitution into a bulwark against the regulation of big business.
On March 14, 2019, the club met on “We the Corporations.” The final ratings, on a five-point scale, are as follows:
1). At first glance “We the Corporations” appears to be a book that is critical of corporations. The substance of the book, however, delves into the history of corporations in the United States and the corporate role in the establishment of civil liberties.It could be said the book is more pro-business than anti-business. Do you agree?
2). What is a corporation? Did reading this book change your conception of corporations? Are corporations “people” under the Constitution?
3). How did knowledge of corporate structure and practices shape early American history?
4). The author weaves quite a bit of legal history into his work. Did this add or subtract from its quality?
5). Winkler’s chief contribution is to show how corporations have been some of the most important innovators in American law. Why is this? Has the innovation been for good or ill?
6). Is there a way to reconcile First Amendment rights with campaign reform? Is corporate money influence the price democracy must pay for freedom of expression?
7). Finally, did you like the book? Would you recommend it?
About the Author:
Adam Winkler is a professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law. He is the author of “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” and a commentator about legal issues.
“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset.”
*****Book Club Review Results*****
The book club met on February 19, 2019, to discuss and review “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The review results, on a five point scale, are as follows:
“My first 5 star rating this year. Very impression story, very well written.
“Easy to read for nonfiction-the price is content.
Very interesting. First time. I heard read about the Osage! Suspenseful.
Loved this book- The style of writing and the information gathering.
Hard to keep track of the characters without a list of characters.
Very dismaying but a great novel. Would love the read Lost City of Z (another book by the author).
Found it to be a fair overview of the murder and a pretty glossy overview of the FBI overall, wish [the author] had gone more in-depth of both topics.
Loved the book.
Cast of Characters
Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Osage woman whose family was targeted
Lizzie, Mollie’s mother, deeply attached to Osage traditions even as the world around her changed; she suffered a slow, inexplicable death
Anna Brown, Mollie’s oldest sister, a divorcee who spent a lot of time in the reservation’s rowdy boomtowns
Rita, Mollie’s sister, and her husband, Bill Smith
Ernest Burkhart, Mollie’s white husband, the father of her three children, and her official financial guardian
Bryan Burkhart, Ernest’s younger brother
William Hale, Ernest’s uncle, a self-made man of great wealth and staggering power; revered by many people as “King of the Osage Hills”
Margie Burkhart, the granddaughter of Mollie and Ernest Burkhart; she shared her father’s memories of the “Reign of Terror” with Grann as well as stories about Mollie’s and Ernest’s lives in later years
The Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover, the twenty-nine-year-old newly appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation; he saw the Osage cases as a way to redeem the bureau’s bad reputation and advance his own career
Tom White, an old-style frontier lawman and former Texas Ranger who was put in charge of the investigation
John Wren, recruited by White, he was then one of the few American Indians (perhaps the only one) in the bureau
Barney McBride, a white oilman who sought help for the Osage
W.W. Vaughan, a lawyer who worked closely with private detectives trying to solve the Osage cases
James and David Shoun, local doctors (and brothers)
Scott Mathis, owner of the Big Hill Trading Company and a close friend of both Mollie Burkhart and William Hale; he managed Lizzie’s and Anna’s financial affairs and administered Anna’s estate
James Bighart, the legendary chief of the Osage who negotiated the prescient treaty with the government to retain mineral rights for the tribe
George Bighart, James’s nephew who gave information to W.W. Vaughan
Henry Roan, briefly married to Mollie when they were young; he borrowed heavily from William Hale and made Hale the beneficiary of his insurance policy
1. Before starting “Killers of the Flower Moon,” had you ever heard of the Osage murders? If so, how did you learn about them, and what did you know? Do you think this history should be taught in schools?
2. Grann begins the book with a line describing the flowers spread over the Oklahoma hills where the Osage Indian nation resided — and how those flowers break and die in May. How does this line set the tone for, and introduce the subject of, the rest of the book?
3. What do the contemporary media reports on the wealth and lifestyle of the Osage reflect about white perceptions of Native Americans (pp. 6–7; pp. 76–77)? In what way do they lay a foundation for the way the murders and mysterious deaths were treated by law enforcement?
4. What was your first impression of William Hale (p. 17)? How does Grann bring to life his strengths and appeal, as well as the darker side of his nature? What qualities does he share with people who achieve power and influence today?
5. What does Grann’s portrait convey about J. Edgar Hoover (p. 107)? What traits stand out and what do they foretell about Hoover’s future as director of the FBI?
6. Are there recent examples of racial prejudice and injustice that parallel those described in Killers of the Flower Moon? What has changed about the approach taken by law enforcement? About the attitudes expressed by the white community in the face of racial or religious discrimination? In what ways have things remained the same?
7. Grann ends the book with a quote from the Bible about Cain and Abel: “The blood cries out from the ground.” Why do you think he chose to close the book this way?
About the Author:
David Grann has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the hunt for the giant squid to the presidential campaign. His stories have appeared in several anthologies, including What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001; The Best American Crime Writing, of both 2004 and 2005; and The Best American Sports Writing, of 2003 and 2006. A 2004 finalist for the Michael Kelly award for the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth,” Grann has also written for “The New York Times Magazine,” The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The New Republic.
Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He lives in New York with his wife and two children.
“Are we open-minded enough to assume that other species have a mental life? Are we creative enough to investigate it? Can we tease apart the roles of attention, motivation, and cognition? Those three are involved in everything animals do; hence poor performance can be explained by any one of them.”
On January 16, 2019, the book club met to discuss and evaluate “Are we Human Enough . . . .” The mean results, on a five point scale, are as follows:
Readability: 4.25 Content: 4.05 Overall: 4.0
“It was ok. I was hoping there would be more information on other types of animals.”
“Very much liked this book and the author.”
“Loved everything about this book!”
“Very interesting and informative!”
In “Are we Smart Enough,” author Frans de Waal, a primate expert by training, explains how prejudice and misconceptions hampered the study of animal cognition. Now those prejudices are being swept away as experiments reveal “animals” are proficient in many areas previously thought to be within the exclusive domain of homo sapiens.
1). One of author Frans de Wall’s conclusions is that, while humans are animals, he will use the shorthand “animal” to describe non-human species. Do you accept the fact that you are a homonoid and quite closely related to chimpanzees?
2). What separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future―all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition.
In your opinion, what is left? What cognitive traits, if any, do humans have that make us unique?
3). Aristotle’s Scala Naturae (“Ladder of Being,” also “Great Chain of Being”) depicts intelligence as a hierarchical tree-like structure with God and angels at the zenith and man right beneath. We now know that cognition is not linearly hierarchical but more diffuse, like a bush. Can you think of examples where non-human abilities surpass those of homo sapiens?
4). One of Frans de Waal conclusions is that: “Instead of making humanity the measure of all things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are. In doing so, I am sure we will discover many magic wells, including some as yet beyond our imagination.” (p.275.) Do you agree? Is there a tendency for homo sapiens to “anthropomorphize” animal behavior?
For an interesting discussion about whether we unduly credit animals with human emotions see:
5). For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, other species were assumed to be inferior in most ways to human beings, and the world’s creatures were assembled on a ladder with humans at the top, primates on the rung below and all other species delineated on rungs below that. Behaviorists, for example, believed that on the output of the creature mattered, not the internal mental processes.
Why do you think science was blind for so long to the amazing abilities of animals?
6). Finally, was the book worth reading? What was the most amazing animal feat related by the book?
About the Author:
Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?,” among many other works.
He is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
“There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.” — Hans Rosling, “Facfullness”
“This book is my last battle in my life-long mission to fight devastating ignorance…Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software, an energetic learning style and a Swedish bayonet for sword-swallowing. It wasn’t enough. But I hope this book will be.” — Hans Rosling, February 2017.
Author Rosling’s website with links to other useful sites including “Dollar Street”
On December 18, 2018, we met about this book at the Veggie House. The mean evaluation results, on a five point scale, are as follows:
Readability: 4.29 Content: 4.14 Overall: 4.14
Comments: “Loved it. Excellent organization with fun anecdotes to demonstrate the author’s points”
“Nobody believes [the book’s statistics] when I talk about it.”
“Not the best for audible but still enjoyed the book”
“Easy read, very useful information, interesting”
“Way longer than it needed to be”
Organizer comment: Not the most advanced, information dense book, but very well-written. The data the book does outline is remarkable and contrary to the beliefs of virtually everyone. The author is approachable and writes in pleasing style. An enjoyable book that is likely to change the way you view the world and the progress of modern civilization.
Author Rosling starts the book with a series of questions about the world that he has asked thousands of people—questions that people always get wrong. Did you answer these questions for yourself? How did you do on his quiz? Which questions were most surprising to you?
Each chapter highlighted a different trap we can fall into if we are not careful with our data. Which of these common misunderstandings most resonated with you? How have you seen these instincts play out when you describe the world around you?
Rosling’s data proves two main things: first, “Every group of people I ask thinks the world is more frightening, more violent, and more hopeless—in short, more dramatic—than it really is.” And second, “Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.” This research is summarized in Rosling’s subtitle: “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” Did either of these truths surprise you? How have they shifted the way you look at some of the major global challenges we face?
Why is it so dangerous for business leaders, politicians, and change agents to have such a skewed view of the world? How might our “un-factful” understanding of global issues be impacting our policy, business decisions, and strategic plans? And what can we do to change this?
What is one change you are going to make—in research, thought, the way you speak, or the way you perceive the world—after reading this book? What steps will you take to cultivate and practice a more “factful” worldview?
Videos about the Book
About the Author
Hans Rosling (1948 – 2017) was a Swedish physician, academic, statistician, and public speaker.
He was the Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and was the co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software. He held presentations around the world, including several TED Talks in which he promoted the use of data to explore development issues.
“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of an eye-that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?
*****Final Results for “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell*****
The club met on this book on November 13, 2018. On a 1-5 scale, the average ratings the group provided are:
Readability: 4.625 Content: 4.375 Overall: 4.4375
Summary of Comments:
“I enjoyed it. It was informative and had a lot of anecdotal information.”
“Enjoyable but forgettable.”
“A fascinating topic with interesting examples.”
“I love this book. Easy to read with an interesting topic.”
“As usual, an informative, easy to read Malcolm Gladwell book.”
Kouros statue, side view
Cook County Hospital
1. The central argument of the book is that our unconscious is able to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. This is called ‘thin-slicing.” What kinds of phenomena, if any, do not lend themselves to ‘thin-slicing?’
2. Have you ever had a feeling that a couple’s future is successful or doomed just by witnessing a brief exchange between them? What do you think you’re picking up on?
3. Many couples seek marriage counseling from a therapist, a priest, rabbi etc. But do you think a couple about to get married should go and see John Gottman, the psychologist who can predict with a 95% accuracy whether a couple will be together in 15 years just by watching an hour of their interaction? If you were about to be married or could go back to before you were, would you want to see Gottman and find out his prediction?
Dr. John Gottman
John and Julie Gottman-The Gottman Institute
4. The psychologist, Samuel Gosling, shows how ‘thin-slicing’ can be used to judge people’s personality when he uses the dorm room observers. Visualize your bedroom right now. What does it say about you?
Dorm room at the University of British Columbia
5. The Iyengar/Fisman study revealed that what the speed-daters say they want and what they were actually attracted to in the moment didn’t match when compared. What does this say for on-line dating services? Can we really predict what kind of person we will ‘hit it off’ with? Is it better to let friends decide who is more suited for you as opposed to scanning profiles that correspond with your notion of what you think you are looking for?
Nerd seeking Nerd: Speed dating at the Salt Lake City Comic Convention
6. The Warren Harding error reveals the dark-side of ‘thin-slicing’—when our instincts betray us and our rapid cognition goes awry. Looking at the example of that 1920 presidency, can we say that this type of error is happening today in political elections? Do you think this explains why there has never been a female president?
President William G. Harding (1920)
7. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. So like car salesmen who unconsciously discriminate against certain groups of potential customers or businesses that appear to favor tall men for CEOs, do you find it plausible that we are not accountable for these actions because they are a result of social influences as opposed to personal beliefs?
8. The Diallo shooting is an example of a mind-reading failure. It reveals a grey area of human cognition; the middle ground between deliberate and accidental. Do you think the shooting was more deliberate or accidental?
9. Just as the National Symphony Orchestra members were shocked to find their newly employed horn player was a female, do you think that even as far as we’ve come with issue of race and gender equality, we still judge with our eyes and ears rather than our instinct? Are our interpretations of events, people, issues etc filtered through our internal ideologies and beliefs? Do you agree that perception is reality? And with this in mind, could improving our powers of rapid cognition ultimately change our reality?
10. “Blink” has received negative feedback for being overly simplistic. What Gladwell calls “thin-slicing” may well just be deliberative process made unconscious through habituation. What do you think of Posner’s criticism (link below)?
Aeron chair is an office chair designed in 1992 by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf.
About the Author:
Malcolm Gladwell is a United Kingdom-born, Canadian-raised journalist now based in New York City. He is a former business and science writer at the Washington Post. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He is best known as the author of the books “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000),” “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005),” “Outliers: The Story of Success (2008)” and “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013).”