What’s the Big Idea? New Titles for “Deep Thinkers”

June 21, 2012

The light “beach read” has its counterpart in the accessibly “heady” book you might keep on your nightstand, risking mind-racing insomnia for some thought provoking inspiration.  I especially enjoy the ambitious overarching Big Idea, radiated with the infectious enthusiasm of a Ray Kurzweil or Thomas Friedman.  But those guys don’t always churn them out fast enough, so here are some other new alternatives.

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1. Phipps, Carter.  Evolutionaries.

Summary (from Baker & Taylor): Combining innovative ideas with spiritual insight, this enlightening guide explores the exciting, progressive theories and thinkers that are prompting an explosive expansion of our consciousness about where we come from, who we are and where we might be going.

Note: Perfect ammunition for late night college bull sessions. Whoa!

 2. Mendelson, Cheryl.  The Good Life: The Moral Individual in An Antimoral World. 

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Summary:  The Good Life is a deeply reasoned, readable, and exciting polemic about the hijacking of the idea of morality by the political right and about the distortions of it in American culture in business, social life, law, science, and academia. Cheryl Mendelson puts her finger on a current that runs through American life today, one of pervasive, often covert hostility to the moral, that leads to unhappiness in personal lives as well as to the policies favoring cruelty and greed that afflict our times… The Good Life portrays morality as it really is: a source of clarity and satisfaction in emotional life, equity and justice in public life, and integrity and strength in both. Inspiring, temperate, and insightful, The Good Life offers a moving account of morality and a warm appreciation of the people who still understand what it is about.

Note: Regardless of your ideology, Mendelson’s book will give you something to argue over or think about. For one thing, she’s really dismissive of the recent fascination with finding biological or scientific bases for morality, and takes both laissez-faire relativists and authoritarians to task as examples of “antimoralism.” 

3.  Haidt, Jonathan.  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

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Summary (from Random House): Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.  His starting point is “moral intuition” the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong. Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right…He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures. But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

Note: There needs to be a word for the frustration you feel knowing you can’t argue with the author in person. Warning: this has quite a holds queue going at the moment.

4. Romano, Carlin.  America the Philosophical.

Cover imageSummary: A bold, insightful book that rejects the myth of America the Unphilosophical, arguing that America today towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world, an unprecedented marketplace of truth and argument that far surpasses ancient Greece or any other place one can name. Publisher’s description.

 Note:  My favorite of the bunch will give you timely patriotic pride.  This one also has some surprising strong opinions.  For example, Romano really rehabilitates B. F. Skinner and puts Noam Chomsky and Harold Bloom in their places.  It’s a nice corrective to all those jeremiads bemoaning American anti-intellectualism and hell in a handbasket descriptions of our culture.  In fact, it seems our universities and thinkers are the envy of the world and we ought to appreciate that.

Posted by Darren

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One Response to “What’s the Big Idea? New Titles for “Deep Thinkers””

  1. Jenny Says:

    These are great! Thanks, Darren!


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