1493, by Charles Mann. Tyler Cowen is a huge fan of this series, and he’s smarter than I am, so I figured I’d check it out. The book explains how Europeans arriving in the new world in 1492 changed the world after it. While Columbus didn’t discover America, and he wasn’t even the first European to visit it, the impact of his arrival is still not fully appreciated for its significance. Unlike with other periods of discovery and exploration, Columbus’s arrival in Hispaniola precipitated a huge exchange of people, diseases, and crops unlike ever before. It’s created an era that Mann calls the Homogenocene era, a great merging of all biological phenomena around the globe. In 1493, Mann describes how the merging of these phenomena has affected human societies from the arrival of Columbus to the present. I thought the chapter about the development of slavery vs. indentured servitude was particularly enlightening, as were the chapters about the evolution of potato and rubber crops. Look forward to reading 1491 when I’m done with this one.
The Revenge of Geography, Robert D. Kaplan. This book tries to answer a similar question to Guns, Germs, & Steel, by Jared Diamond. Why did some countries end up with great wealth and prosperity while others suffer from poverty? Kaplan explains different countries’ political tensions and economic status through the lens of geography. Among other things, Kaplan argues that countries in temperate climates with sea barriers are more likely to be prosperous (England, US, China, Japan) and landlocked countries are more likely to be insecure and bellicose (Russian, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan). It’s a different lens from which to evaluate political and social developments, one I had never previously considered. Recommended.
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, by Sarah Knight. After getting feedback on this site from a few smart friends, the first conclusion was that it was a little over the top with the self-help-y vibe. Guilty as charged, I guess. I admit I’m a sucker for books designed to help you out of your ruts and inspire you to do your Special Work. So be it. This book was easy breezy. In a sentence, it just says, be polite, but don’t feel bad about doing whatever the fuck you want with your life. In fact, insist on it. Nothing earth shattering here, but it’s a fun read, if you’re into the self-help-y vibe like I am.