December 30, 2006
Comfort Food +
Christmas was lovely.
Indulgent, remote, much needed winding down time. I got some books for Christmas. This year there was no fashion books, only some truly excellent non-fiction stuff to get me thinking.
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. My Mom got this one for me – I don’t know how she knows what I’m into. It’s about how viruses, trends, and ideas get disseminated, and how sometimes that happens with a suddenly with mass momentum. Gladwell presents scenarios of disease, crime waves, and fashion trends and what is similar about these phenomenon. By trying to understand the pattern Gladwell shows examples of how the phenomenon can be encouraged for positive things like spreading ideas. Written in engaging, journalistic style it is a quick, fun read. I will read it again soon I am sure.
The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock, the scientist and writer who came up with the Gaia Hypothesis. My Dad lent me this book. The title is pretty wacked – and a big hint to why this book is fascinating. Lovelock is not afraid to take a controversial stance and push a scientific idea outside of scientific language to get his point across. Gaia describes how life on earth (the biosphere) is a complex yet self-regulating, interconnected system. Lovelock shows how the heavy pressure our population is exerting on those systems. With a candid serious tone, Lovelock chooses his solutions to the situation with the needs of Gaia uppermost, and the necessity of maintaining a populations of 6-8 billion people second. With these priorities his recommendations are at odds with a lot of modern environmentalists as well as scientists and politicians. Lovelock has a compelling argument for nuclear power, doesn’t think much of organic farming, and deplores initiatives for wind, solar, and biofuels as misguided.
Whether you agree with Lovelock or not I think the Gaia idea is one of the most important ones I’ve read in my short life. Lovelock is a thinking man akin to famous big-thinkers like Galileo and Newton. Few modern scientists take such a broad view of such a vast subject. Trying to explain these ideas to an unready and resistant population is challenging, Lovelock also writes about that. There is a level of the Hypothesis which is very conducive to the imagination. Whether it’s the overtones of religion, or the dramatics of science fiction, it turns on the mind like no other scientific argument I’ve ever read.
A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. I listened to this when it was on the radio in 2004. Now it’s out in book form. Either way it is an amazing story. Wright, like Lovelock, tackles a broad subject (the development and life cycles of civilization) as a compelling narrative. Not to be missed is the best take on the Easter Island history I have ever read.
Wright traces the origins of civilization from its most ancient advances, through the rise and fall of empires, all in a small volume of lectures. The lectures consider what circumstances are favourable for civilizations; and what contributes to a civilizations decline. The symptoms of the end are chilling; a spike in population and prosperity followed by a shortage of resources. Leaders and populations cling to ideology and avoid facing the inevitable. Energies are directed towards war and faith. At first the poor suffer while the elite build monuments to glory. Then everyone suffers, scatters or dies, leaving behind salty deserts where there was once verdant farmland.
All of these books encourage looking at a larger picture and put me in a thoughtful mode as the year turns over. One thing I have always enjoyed about fashion is trying to identify patterns – looking at the history and trying to guess what will tip next. Now I am no longer just interested in patterns of dress – the broader picture is beginning to fascinate me just as much as my own small specialty. Looking at the past and the future has never been so intriguing.
What’s going to happen next?