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Books to Watch | August 18, 2020

August 18, 2020

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Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights five new books we are most excited about.

This week, our choices are:

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Analogia: The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Control by George Dyson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 

I did not expect a book subtitled “The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Control” to open with what Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was up to in July 1716.” And I didn’t know a whole lot about Leibniz until these last seven days. It was he who suggested to Peter the Great that he should take up the project of building a reasoning machine using binary logic, an idea that wouldn’t be built until the twentieth century in the form of the digital computer. George Dyson uses this fact not only to introduce the idea of mechanical reasoning and one of its roots, but also to begin laying out humanity's relationship with the world around us, and with each other, and the way technology has and continues to alter it. He suggests that “There are four epochs, so far, in the entangled destinies of nature, human beings, and machines.” The preindustrial and industrial are the first two. The third epoch began “when analog components were assembled into digital computers”—computers that in just fifty years spread around and connected the world in such a way that they now mirror the world itself. Dyson believes there will be a fourth, and it may well be underway:  

In the fourth epoch, so gradually that almost no one noticed, machines began taking the side of nature, and nature began taking the side of machines. 

Stick with him. The stories he tells—about our history, his family history, Native American history, the history of ideas and theories, of science and technology—to explain how we got to the verge of this fourth epoch, are as well written as they are informative and enlightening. (DJJS)

Read an excerpt on "From Analog to Digital and Back."

 

How to Handle a Crowd: The Art of Creating Healthy and Dynamic Online Communities by Anika Gupta, Tiller Press

One comment I recently read on an exercise video posted to YouTube read: "Sydney you’re my best friend even tho we don’t know each other. At least that’s how you make it feel when we workout." In another time, considering someone you've never met a "friend" might label you a stalker, but technology has expanded our society's ideas of friendship and community.

And besides technology, the physical separation necessitated by COVID-19 has led to feelings of mental and emotional separation as well. Speaking to strangers or even meeting up with my sister can be overwhelming for me after spending the majority of my time working alone in my apartment, engaging more often with Porchlight's online communities and the many Facebook groups I've joined since the beginning of quarantine. Others also in search of community support...at a distance.

I really admire the friendliness that online influencers are able to evoke despite the conversational limits of videos or the facelessness of blog posts, and How to Handle a Crowd provides further reporting on the support found and nurtured within these online communities. This book is a guided trip around the internet, from YouTube to Twitter to Discord to Reddit and more. It explores the importance, not only of online communities, but of the moderators who keep them in check and help them grow. Author Anika Gupta profiles different moderators or moderation teams of groups like the "Make America Dinner Again" movement which encourages conversations with others from across the political spectrum, Sleeping Giants, "an online movement that's used Twitter and Facebook to pressure brands into withdrawing advertising from right-leaning media organizations," and also more leisure-focused groups that interact while playing online games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV. Whether or not you're interested in the often unpaid job of moderating an online community for something you're passionate about, How to Handle a Crowd offers valuable insights into this era's new ideas of community, communication, and friendship that are applicable to your business and personal life. (GMC)

If this sounds like something you'd be interested in reading, enter our giveaway for a copy this week!

 

Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them by Gary Hamel & Michele Zanini, Harvard Business Review Press

One thing this pandemic has forced us to recognize is that much about the way we work, and many of the things we believed were unchangeable in our organizations, can in fact change very drastically. Unfortunately, most of the change that has had to take place is being done simply and literally to just survive, rather than to evolve and thrive. The reality remains that more people work for large corporations today than ever—which shouldn’t surprise us in our age of industry consolidation—and most have a fundamental structural weakness:

The typical medium-or large-scale organization infantilizes employees, enforces dull conformity, and discourages entrepreneurship; it wedges people into narrow roles, stymies personal growth, and treats human beings as resources.

In consequence, our organizations are often less resilient, creative, and energetic than the people inside them. The culprit is bureaucracy …

What if our people weren’t being stymied inside of such organizations? What if, instead, efforts to change them were socially constructed rather than bureaucratically managed? What if they were simply more human? What forces could they unleash? It is now more important than ever to find out. Humanocracy not only makes the case for why, but shows us how. (DJJS)

 

Nourish Me Home: 125 Soul-Sustaining, Elemental Recipes by Cortney Burns, Chronicle 

Cortney Burns is most well known for her work at San Francisco’s infamous Bar Tartine, but when I look at her work, I see an earlier influence—that of the glorious food scene in Madison, Wisconsin. While I do not know her, it turns out we lived in that beautiful college town at the same time (Me, just married with my husband in Veterinary School, and she, studying towards degrees in anthropology and Tibeten language). As I read her new cookbook, Nourish Me Home, I am happily reliving my time there in the late 90s. Her Cucumber Cattail Salad with Buttermilk Bagna Cauda takes me right back to harvesting cattails for the CSA we volunteered at west of town, wading through the marshes in our tall rubber boots as we pulled the fat, leek-like stalks from the mud with a loud slurp-pop. Beaver Tail Mushrooms with Bone Marrow has me reliving a dinner at the infamous L'Etoile (Madison’s Chez Panisse) with my friend Laura, who ordered the bone marrow appetizer as a nod to the bone marrow transplant she had just undergone. And in her hearty cookie offerings I fondly recall the Guerilla cookies from my days working the register at the Mifflin Street Community Co-op, where I had a crash course in the politics of food. 

But this trip down memory lane is only a small part of the reason I want to celebrate this book. What I love here the most is Burns’ dedication to building and utilizing a seasonless larder, which she calls the backbone of her kitchen. Whether your harvest is pickled or fermented or steeped or boiled down into a jam, “the beauty of building a larder that captures each season’s bounty is that it harnesses time.” What is most plentiful now in August will be enjoyed again in February and April, with a slightly different flavor profile. And while I have been making concoctions of my own for several decades now, I have never thought of it framed quite like she does. “Investing in a larder is how I build intensity of flavor. … You’ll have an arsenal of building blocks, like sauces, dips, spice blends, and infusions, at your fingertips to elevate weeknight cooking.” During this time when it’s easy to fall into a cooking rut, I’ll be looking to this book and my own larder to give my meals a magical boost. (BRM)

 

Show Them You're Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College by Jeff Hobbs, Scribner

For anyone who says "kids these days have it so easy," Jeff Hobbs wrote a book to make you think otherwise.

"This book is about people⁠—mostly young people who are foolish and flawed and impulsive, of course, but who are also (I believe) among the best of us. They are certainly the future of us," writes author Jeff Hobbs in something like a content warning in the introduction to Show Them You're Good. The book is a work of immersive journalism, assembling the cast of four main characters in different areas of Los Angeles with the shared goal of college admission but effectively steering each into various 21st-century roadblocks along the way: altercations with gangs, concerns about a family's culture, one lacks American citizenship, another's mother is grievously ill, among other matters.

Though their schools provide much of the scenery, Show Them You're Good reveals quirks and difficulties of the boys' neighborhoods and home lives as well through the well-documented conversations amongst them and their friends, teachers, and others. You may recognize parts of yourself in the boys in one moment and you may feel completely cut off from their reality the next. No matter how similar or different your concerns may be from theirs, I think it's safe to say that Hobbs will make you care deeply about Carlos, Tio, Sam, and Owen within just a few chapters. Show Them You're Good is more than a narrative about the American Dream. It's a book about the people and places in America that we need to remember exist, because, as Hobbs wrote, "They are certainly the future of us." (GMC)

 

What we're reading away from work:

Intimations by Zadie Smith“Zadie Smith’s new book of essays written during the time of Covid is a slim volume but has left an outsized impression on my psyche. I cannot shake her framing of the pandemic as a 'global humbling' as I read the news every day. I look forward to revisiting these essays as the year stumbles along.”

Blyth Meier, Marketing Manager

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