Tag Archives: knowledge

It’s Only a Paper Moon

Paper: An Elegy (A Celebration of the Age of Paper) by Ian Sansom (Fourth Estate, $24.99, 230 pages)

Paper

Since paper books seem so clearly to embody knowledge it’s hardly surprising that we have come to believe that the possession of books is in itself sufficient to possess knowledge.

A copy of Paper: An Elegy in e-reader format is unthinkable! From the deeply embossed dust jacket to the creamy off-white thick pages resplendent in their crisp dark type font, the reader needs to experience the physicality of the hard cover original. Inside, the text is supplemented with illustrations and pithy quotes appropriate for the focus of each chapter. It’s not often that tactile, visual and auditory experiences are bound up together so neatly.

At first glance, Paper might be taken for a garden variety survey of the title subject. Author Ian Sansom quickly adjusts the reader’s perspective to his own, wherein he offers an approach that is thoroughly different from the routine of every day non-fiction. Sansom details in depth the notion of paper as a receptacle for knowledge (book), a communication tool (advertising handbill), an object conveying authority (warrant or judicial decree), a stand-in for value (currency), and therapy (origami). His is a style of indulgence that teaches and distracts while ultimately engaging the reader’s imagination. Oddly, the book provides feelings of coziness, charm and intellectual expansiveness — quite a combination for a single-subject non-fiction topic.

Detail oriented readers will delight in the depth of information provided. Book collectors may be willing to lend their volume to a trusted friend.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on October 24, 2013.

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Much Ado About Something

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room by David Weinberger (Basic Books, $25.99, 231 pages)

What we have here is a situation that’s either really simple or overwhelmingly complex.   This reviewer isn’t so sure of what to make of David Weinberger’s history and background survey of the Internet.   Weinberger’s credentials are impeccable.   He is a senior researcher at the Harvard University Berkman Center for the Internet and Society.   Perhaps it’s his professional training that had led to a penchant for sequencing, numbering and setting forth the pros and cons of an issue.

The book begins with the background of how, over the past few centuries, man has considered knowledge to be facts gathered by elite scholars and used these facts as the basis of a broad acceptance of scientific principles and general information.   Prior to the ubiquity of the Internet, small numbers of experts who were organized into scholarly associations that, along with the publishing industry, controlled access to knowledge.   The limits of peer review and publishing kept this information under tight control.

We have given up the idea that there is a single, knowable organization of the Universe, a Book of Nature that we’ll ever be able to read together or that will settle bar fights like the Guinness Book of World Records.Too Big to Know (nook book)

Weinberger readily offers his own take on the new use of knowledge by everyone and his uncle.   We know that the growing number of online communities provides ample opportunities for anyone with an opinion to broadcast it all over the world.   He argues that specialized communities on the Internet are becoming insular in much the same way past experts operated within the walls of academia, literally echo chambers.   Of course there is a glaring difference between the past scholarly cliques and today’s echo chambers because anyone with a laptop and access to WiFi can appear to be an expert.

On the Net, everyone is potentially an expert in something – it all depends on the questions being asked.

Too Big to Know sometimes bends back on itself with examples.   The premise of the book may be a bit overworked.   The target audience for this book is not clear to this reviewer.   Perhaps it might be someone of an indeterminate age who is inquisitive about knowledge.

This survey book may be the answer to a question that no one was asking.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Connection

What the Dog Saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books; $16.99; 410 pages)

Learning is so much fun when Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) is the instructor.   Gladwell’s calm but engaging style is the common thread in this anthology composed of nineteen essays previously published in the New Yorker magazine.   There is just enough cohesion among the essays to  make for smooth transitions.   Yes, Gladwell cites some facts and studies used by other authors; however, his use of the material takes on a new look when seen through his question and answer format.

This reviewer was fascinated by the piece titled, “The Ketchup Conundrum.”   The reader is presented with the statements, “Mustard now comes in dozens of varieties.   Why has ketchup stayed the same?”   This is a condiment that dominates most others, whether it’s in a booth at a burger joint or on a family’s kitchen table.   One brand in particular rises above the rest in taste tests, and that’s Heinz.   Gladwell provides a charming history of ketchup along with the various challenges that have been made to the Heinz dominance of the field.   After reading the essay, I felt compelled to buy a bottle of Heinz for my own taste test.   Mind you, our household is rarely the scene of actual cooking so I had to be creative in using my purchase.   Happily, the flavor of Heinz blends perfectly with cottage cheese resulting in a pseudo-macaroni and cheese flavor without the carbs.

The preceding example is indicative of the connections that can be made to the everyday life of the reader.   This anthology is by no means a heavy-duty literary work; rather, it prompts conversations with family and friends.   Isn’t that what knowledge does?

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the book was purchased for her.

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The World in Six Songs

The world in six (lg.)Music has played a decisive role in the evolution of the human brain and in the creation of civilization, and psychology has also played a prominent role.   Grasping these concepts could be challenging, but not with the best type of teacher – one who’s quite cool and connected to the subject – a role that author and McGill University professor Daniel J. Levitin fits to a T.   His career path included music production (resulting in his receiving several gold records) and music performances before he settled into academia.   Levitin earlier authored This is Your Brain On Music.   The World in Six Songs is his second book, an enlightening and entertaining work in which he combines his meaningful life experiences with music to illustrate each of the six songs (friendship, joy, comfort, religion, knowledge and love).     

The songs he has selected as examples represent a wide array of musical genres.   Also quite interesting are the included discussions between Levitin and singer/songwriters/performers that he counts as friends/co-workers within the music industry – most notably Joni Mitchell and Sting.   These elements have the combined effect of giving the reader a front-row seat in a well-orchestated learning session.  

Be prepared to pay close attention while consuming this book.   The payoff you will receive for this is certainly worth the extra bit of added effort.

Plume, $16.00, 358 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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