Perspective Challenging Books

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NardoLoopa
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Perspective Challenging Books

Post by NardoLoopa » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:11 pm

I'm finishing up a reading contest at work and I'm running out of books on my short-list. Can anyone suggest some perspective challenging books they might have run across? Here are a few I knocked out recently:

Zinn's, A People's History of the United States -- Marxist interpretation of US history.

Diamond's, Guns, Germs and Steel -- why Europeans ended up ruling the world (accident of geography)

Galbraith's, The Affluent Society -- why old economic models aren't a good fit for us today

Gladwell's, The Tipping Point -- how certain social models turn small changes into large trends

Gladwell's, Blink -- a celebration of gut-instinct and vindication of first impressions

Suggestions?
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by stupac2 » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:26 pm

I liked Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in high school, I'm not honestly sure how it would hold up to a much more knowledgeable reader.

I generally recommend Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me to people (gave it to snark for her birthday last year), it's all about the psychology of blame and that kind of thing. I wouldn't necessarily call it perspective-challenging, but it's pretty close.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by drecsutal » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:34 pm

In the same vein as "The Tipping Point" one would find "Freakonomics". Both are interesting, though not in my usual range.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Lespectre » Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:42 am

I liked Freakonomics as well and would recommend it to everyone.

The other book I recommend to everyone is The Language Instinct. It's good to know going into it that the model of language learning that Pinker describes in it is not universally accepted and several other positions he takes are at odds with mainline views and their major competing theories, but it's an excellent introduction to and overview of a bunch of awesome topics from linguistics and probably will change the way you think about language. (As someone who does linguistics, it blows my mind how totally willing people whose knowledge of linguistics is essentially nil are willing to spout absolute BS about it that they completely hallucinated or very shakily extrapolated from seventh grade English class. I wouldn't go out in public saying things that I just made up or sort of guessed about particle physics because I know it would be immediately obvious to every physicist that I'm full of it. I guess people either don't know that linguistics is a real field or assume that their blind intuitions about how language works are more likely to be correct than equally blind intuitions about physics would be?) Even if you're planning on reading stuff by other people later, I'd read Pinker's book first because he's devilishly good at laying out the landscape in a way that's fascinating and thoughtful for anybody, even when he's probably wrong.

I don't know if it qualifies as a perception-challenging book, but it's one of the most influential general-interest books in my life in that it pulled me into the field where I work. (Many of the other most influential books for me deal with my faith, which might not be as much what you're looking for.)

(Note to any other language people out there: Feel free to hate me for recommending Pinker's book if you think he's full of it - I certainly disagree with him about an increasingly large number of things - but if you know of any other books that are equally awesome introductions to the field for laypeople, I'd love to know about them.)

But yeah, definitely Freakonomics, high on the list.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by JParmar44 » Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:08 am

The last book I finished, and can easily recommend, is "Quantum" by "Manjit Kumar" - Interesting book about the history of the big developments in the early part of the 20th century. Not very technical and its interesting to see how the physicists would be scramble to publish their ideas. I know that A Brief History
of Time by Hawking is the book people tend to get when they want to learn some Physics, and it puts them off, but this isn't nearly as dry.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by stupac2 » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:39 am

Les, plenty of people spout off BS about physics. See: entire New Age movement (especially Deepak Chopra and The Secret).

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by lotsofphil » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:34 am

"Influence" by Robert Cialdini covers similar ground to Gladwell's books and does it better.

I'd go with "Naked Economics" too. Better than Freakonomics.

If you want something more science-y, try a book by Heinz Pagels. I read either "Perfect Symmetry" or "The Cosmic Code" a while ago (I think it was The Cosmic Code that I read). I only remember them vaguely (this was 15 years ago) but the person who recommended them carries a lot of weight.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Eigenbasis » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:32 am

"War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" - Chris Hedges

A pretty rude awakening to how cruel (and pointless) war can be.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by big_mara » Wed Aug 18, 2010 2:08 pm

Continuing in the format used by the op:

Hofstadter's, Anti-intellectualism in American Life - - The title here is pretty self-evident and rather relevant given the current culture. Despite using primarily secondary sources, Hofstadter's interpretations are enlightening and worth reading.

Beard's, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - - Looks at the financial interests of the founding fathers and how they impacted the creation of the Constitution. Although a lot of his facts have been reevaluated, Beard's work contrasts the too oft too optimistic view of the founding fathers espoused by historians.

Dawkins's, The God Delusion - - After reading Hitchens and Harris, I picked up this. Looks at religion from a scientific perspective, giving it the same treatment as is due from a scientist.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Raccoon » Wed Aug 18, 2010 2:11 pm

"Simple Justice" by Richard Kluger is a book that every American should read. It's about the civil rights movement in the late 19th century all the way through Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. At times, it made me ashamed to be an American because of our sordid past with slavery and Jim Crow. Kluger is a spectacular writer, which means that with material this potent and raw, you really feel the depths of cruelty and oppression.

I liked "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and add to the endorsement of that as well.

Steven Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You" is kind of interesting and perspective changing as well, though on a somewhat less weighty subject -- pop culture. Still, it's a good response to pretentious literary snobs who think all video games are a waste of time and prefer to read books about life in the 1700s. His thesis is that TV and video games (among other things) today are far more challenging on an intellectual level than their analogues in the 1970s or earlier.

I don't know if these two books are truly perspective changing, but anyone with an interest in modern foreign affairs, particularly counterterrorism, will want to read Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower" about the formation of al Qaeda and the planning of the 9/11 attacks, and Mark Bowden's "Guests of the Ayatollah" about the 1979 Iran embassy hostage crisis. Most of you in the clan weren't even born back then, I think, but I vaguely remember the palpable anger that Americans felt on a daily basis for 444 days. Bowden rightly notes that the hostage crisis was the opening salvo in a 30 year (and counting) conflict we've been engaged in with radical extremist Muslims.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by bleary » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:17 pm

How to start thinking like bleary:

Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life
Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty
Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction
Weil, War and the Iliad
Weil, The Need for Roots
Perlstein, Nixonland
Borges, Collected Fictions
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Manendra » Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:24 am

big_mara wrote:Dawkins's, The God Delusion - - After reading Hitchens and Harris, I picked up this. Looks at religion from a scientific perspective, giving it the same treatment as is due from a scientist.
Heh, I'm actually reading this right now. Good so far. Speaking of Hitchens, did you see this?

Nardo: I'm impressed you actually got all the way through the late Howard Zinn's People's History. It got boring, depressing and a bit repetitive after a while and I put it down and never picked it back up. I know, it's supposed to be depressing, but I have a hard time getting through books like that.

Freakonomics is also excellent, though I'm unsure how perspective challenging it is. The authors approach topics from a weird angle, but it's not really groundbreaking.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by NardoLoopa » Tue Aug 24, 2010 4:07 pm

lotsofphil wrote:"Influence" by Robert Cialdini covers similar ground to Gladwell's books and does it better.
Hmm, which one. He has 3 books that begin with "Influence:".

I'm about half-way through Freakonomics based on everyone's recommendations. Pretty fun and light read. Better writer than Gladwell IMO.

Manny, yeah Zinn is a bit of a slog. The content is much more interesting than the rest of these books, but his writting is lackluster at best. And he cover's Beard's thesis on the founding fathers, which is pretty interesting in itself.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by lotsofphil » Tue Aug 24, 2010 7:21 pm

NardoLoopa wrote:
lotsofphil wrote:"Influence" by Robert Cialdini covers similar ground to Gladwell's books and does it better.
Hmm, which one. He has 3 books that begin with "Influence:".
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (ISBN 0-688-12816-5)

I'm going to go with that one after consulting wikipedia.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Eigenbasis » Wed Aug 25, 2010 4:23 pm

I couldn't get through Zinn. Kinda hated it. He bashes the reader over the head with the "PEOPLE WERE OPPRESSED AND KILLED AND STUFF" hammer and it undermines his premises, IMO.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by NardoLoopa » Wed Aug 25, 2010 10:01 pm

Now having read Sway, Tipping Point, Blink, Freakonomics, Appiah's Experiments in Ethics and the first chapter of Influence I can confidently say that all these people are inbreeding. There are a few cases where what they're talking about are the same cases, but in general all their formats are pretty much the same. It's not that that really surprises me, just that I'm surprised people [like me, apparently] bought the same book 5 times.

As for Zinn belaboring the point -- I guess it would have been funny if he stopped around 1680 and said, "yeah, and the rest of America's history is more of the same." ;)
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Pet Rock Steve » Thu Aug 26, 2010 11:07 am

These may be more interesting than view challenging:

It Looked Good on Paper: Bizarre Inventions, Design Disasters, and Engineering Follies, edited by Bill Fawcett.

Discarded Science: Ideas that seemed good at the time... by John Grant.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by quamper » Thu Aug 26, 2010 11:51 am

Little Brother & For The Win by Cory Doctorow

Those two books aren't quite in the same class as the other mentioned books but I feel like they are pretty relevant to today's culture at least.

Some people love Cory and some people can't stand him. Some things he says pisses me off but in general I probably agree with him. Anyway's both of the books are technically "Young Adult" but I think they're great reads for an adult or any aged person to see how the current internet savvy culture views the world.

The first half of both books start slow and feel fairly overly simplistic/amateur but by the end they are pretty riveting I though perspective challenging. If you want to read some not too heavy fiction you might give them a try.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by NardoLoopa » Thu Aug 26, 2010 3:48 pm

Gee, Quamper, I'm coming to you for a second opinion on popular recommendations in the future. I love Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon / Snowcrash) and so lots of AFHers/geeks recommend Little Brother. I was pretty surprised when I read it. Certainly "young adult". I didn't know that going in. Unfortunately, most the of tech wasn't a surprise to me either. And for a 1984 novel the question of "who can you trust" seems to be answered simply by "the people you think you can trust." *yawn*

Do you have a few fiction recommendations that are a bit more mature/sophisticated?
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by thacon » Thu Aug 26, 2010 4:05 pm

I don't know if it meets the definition of perspective challenging, but Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan is a pretty amazing book (and it's ~350 years old)

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by quamper » Thu Aug 26, 2010 4:58 pm

NardoLoopa wrote:Do you have a few fiction recommendations that are a bit more mature/sophisticated?
Yeah I wouldn't hold either of them up against Neal Stephenson :) If you felt that way about Little Brother you won't be impressed by For the Win for sure. It's basically world economics lite for Teenagers but for someone who isn't tech savvy or interested in economics its an easy intro wrapped in fiction.

That said, I'm a big Fantasy/SciFi reader and the following suggestions don't necessarily stritcly fit the perspective challenging but I think they are excellent literature if you like Fiction. Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari; Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham; Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (social views aside?) and maybe a lesser known by him Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

now back to people suggesting highbrow works :)

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Eigenbasis » Thu Aug 26, 2010 5:16 pm

Pastwatch is probably my favorite OSC novel (that and Ender's Game and Shadow are all close together), though I like his short stories the best, especially Unaccompanied Sonata.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Serra725 » Thu Aug 26, 2010 5:19 pm

quamper wrote: That said, I'm a big Fantasy/SciFi reader and the following suggestions don't necessarily stritcly fit the perspective challenging but I think they are excellent literature if you like Fiction. Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari; Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham; Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (social views aside?) and maybe a lesser known by him Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus
I am, too, and Pastwatch is my favorite Card book. I will have to take a look at the others you recommended! Another perspective-chainging fiction I thought of right away but didn't post amid the highbrow stuff is Replay by Ken Grimwood.

Edit: Pastwatch ninja'd! *High five*

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Kelemvor » Thu Aug 26, 2010 6:33 pm

Whoa, someone else has read Replay? I liked that book quite a lot when I read it originally, but I don't know if I'd say it was perspective-challenging (then again I think I was a pre-teen at the time, so I'm not sure I had much of a perspective worth challenging).

I found Wisdom of Crowds to be interesting, though I'd heard the basic concepts before so it wasn't really perspective challenging. Also I hear Omnivore's Dilemma might fit the bill. It's on my list but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Finally, it's not a book (yet), but I really, really like this blog: http://scorpiojing1026.blogspot.com/. Some of the early stories, like The Pizza Guy, are fall-out-of-your-chair funny, and some of the other stuff I think is genuinely perspective challenging; I mean, we all know the US has a military, and sometimes we get involved in wars, and people die as a result, but some of the stories that go into how that actually happens are quite thought-provoking.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by stupac2 » Thu Aug 26, 2010 6:48 pm

The Omnivore's Dilemma was fantastic.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by quamper » Thu Aug 26, 2010 7:13 pm

stupac2 wrote:The Omnivore's Dilemma was fantastic.
I can second that recommendation!

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Pet Rock Steve » Thu Aug 26, 2010 8:13 pm

In the SciFi/speculative fiction genre:

"The Caliphate" by Jack Stewart
"MetaGame" by Sam Landstrom

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Serra725 » Fri Aug 27, 2010 12:10 am

I think Omnivore's Dilemma is one that I spent about 30 minutes reading parts of at a bookstore once. Did it talk about where meat comes from? I meant to get that from the library, if it's the one I'm thinking about, so thanks for the reminder.

Edit: Oh, oh yeah, I'm *very* much enjoying the website Kel linked (http://scorpiojing1026.blogspot.com/). I couldn't tear myself away to finish the day's turns earlier this evening!

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by NardoLoopa » Sat Aug 28, 2010 12:23 am

Just finished Omnivore's Dilemma. Very good book. Thanks, everyone, for the recommendation. Polyface farm is about a half-hour from here. I think I'll plan a visit this Fall.

Also, the chapter labeled "Vegetarian's Dilemma" is spot on. I'm a Veg, and after reading this book I'd concede to at least taste the meat from Polyface. When I was in Ghana I was shocked by how much more chickeny the chicken tasted. I hope I have a similar experience at Polyface.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Manendra » Sat Aug 28, 2010 12:39 am

Threadjack!

While we're on the topic of fiction that's not necessarily perspective challenging, but kicks ass: the Warlord Chronicles, by Bernard Cornwell. They're loosely based on Arturian legend, but they're way more gritty than something like The Once and Future King. Highly recommended.
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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Friederike » Sat Aug 28, 2010 7:11 am

For science fiction, read Strugatsky. My favourite ones were Roadside Picnic and Prisoners of Power/The Inhabited Island, but I liked pretty much everything by them I read.

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Re: Perspective Challenging Books

Post by Rigatoni Rex » Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:40 am

For metaphysics, I really enjoyed "The Holographic Universe" by Michael Talbot.

Also, "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell.

[runs to look at his bookshelf]

Also also, "The Multi-Orgasmic Man" by Chia and Abrams (a how-to book... no joke).

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