The Solid Mental Grace

I’ve mentioned the website on several occasions; it is a fascinating place, an online salon where some of the world’s brightest minds exchange ideas — and occasionally “cross hands”, as we say in the martial-arts racket. In its most recent newsletter, its founder, John Brockman offers us the site’s annual recommended-reading list, and laments the absence of similar material in any of the more prominent year-end literary roundups:

Books By Edge Contributors (and others) – 2007

This is the season for year-end lists of books in which the mainstream review media steer literate culture away from deep questions about how our world works and who we are and toward celebrations of narcissism, celebrity gossip, and literary cliques. What I wrote in 1991 in “The Emerging Third Culture”, still pertains today:

“A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.”

Given the well-documented challenges and issues we are facing as a nation, as a culture, how can it be that there are no science books (and hardly any books on ideas) on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list; no science category in the Economist Books of the Year 2007; only Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker’s list of Books From Our Pages?

Instead of having science and technology at the center of the intellectual world-of having a unity in which scholarship includes science and technology along with literature and art-the official culture has kicked them out. Science and technology appear as some sort of technical special product. Elite universities have nudged science out of the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum-and out of the minds of many young people, who, arriving at their desks at the establishment media, have so marginalized themselves that they are no longer within shouting distance of the action. Clueless, they don’t even know that they don’t know.

But science today is changing our understanding of our universe and species, and scientific literacy is indispensable to dealing with some of the world’s most pressing issues. Fortunately, we live in a time when third culture intellectuals-scientists, science journalists, and other science-minded writers-are among of our best nonfiction writers, and their many engaging books have brought scientific insight to a wide audience.

We are pleased to present a list of books published in 2007 by Edge contributors (and others in the science-minded community) for your holiday pleasures and challenges.

John Brockman
Publisher & Editor

You can find the list here.

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  1. Thanks a million, Malcolm, you’ve just added another six books to my ‘Waiting-To-Be-Read’ pile – “I should live so long, my life, already!” Also, I am tempted to sing you two quick choruses of “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” but my singing would consistitute a very un-Christmasy act. Actually, the Lindley book might have to go to the top of the pile because I am angling after the job of directing Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen” some time in the near future and it would be helpful, to say the least, to possess a modicum of expertise in the subject.

    Very Best Seasonal Wishes to you and yours.

    Posted December 23, 2007 at 9:12 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    And the same to you, David! Good luck with the directorial project.

    Posted December 23, 2007 at 1:40 pm | Permalink