In My Hands Today…

How to Be Idle – Tom Hodgkinson

Yearning for a life of leisure? In 24 chapters representing each hour of a typical working day, this book will coax out the loafer in even the most diligent and schedule-obsessed worker.

From the founding editor of the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing, The Idler, comes not simply a book, but an antidote to our work-obsessed culture. In How to Be Idle, Hodgkinson presents his learned yet whimsical argument for a new, universal standard of living: being happy doing nothing. He covers a whole spectrum of issues affecting the modern idler—sleep, work, pleasure, relationships—bemoaning the cultural skepticism of idleness while reflecting on the writing of such famous apologists for it as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Johnson, and Nietzsche—all of whom have admitted to doing their very best work in bed.

It’s a well-known fact that Europeans spend fewer hours at work a week than Americans. So it’s only befitting that one of them—the very clever, extremely engaging, and quite hilarious Tom Hodgkinson—should have the wittiest and most useful insights into the fun and nature of being idle. Following on the quirky, call-to-arms heels of the bestselling Eat, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, How to Be Idle rallies us to an equally just and no less worthy cause: reclaiming our right to be idle.

In My Hands Today…

Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism – Rajiv Malhotra

India is more than a nation state. It is also a unique civilization with philosophies and cosmologies that are markedly distinct from the dominant culture of our times – the West. India’s spiritual traditions spring from dharma which has no exact equivalent in western frameworks. Unfortunately, in the rush to celebrate the growing popularity of India on the world stage, its civilizational matrix is being digested into western universalism, thereby diluting its distinctiveness and potential.

This book addresses the challenge of direct and honest engagement on differences, by reversing the gaze, repositioning India from being the observed to the observer and looking at the West from the dharmic point of view. In doing so it challenges many hitherto unexamined beliefs that both sides hold about themselves and each other. It highlights that unique historical revelations are the basis for western religions, as opposed to dharma’s emphasis on self-realization in the body here and now. It describes the integral unity that underpins dharma’s metaphysics and contrasts this with western thought and history as a synthetic unity. The west’s anxiety over difference and fixation for order runs in contrast with the creative role of chaos in dharma. The book critiques fashionable reductive translations and argues for preserving certain non-translatable words of Sanskrit. It concludes with a rebuttal against western claims of universalism and recommends a multi-civilizational worldview.

The discussions and debate within the book employ the venerable tradition of purva-paksha, an ancient dharmic technique where a debater must first authentically understand in the opponent’s perspective, test the merits of that point of view and only then engage in debate using his own position. Purva-paksha encourages individuals to become truly knowledgeable about all perspectives, to approach the other side with respect and to forego the desire to simply win the contest. Purva-paksha also demands that all sides be willing to embrace the shifts in thinking, disruptive and controversial as they may be, that emerge from such a dialectical process.

In My Hands Today…

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable than it was.

The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.

Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities.

We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible.”

For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. Now, in this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don’t know. He offers surprisingly simple tricks for dealing with black swans and benefiting from them.

Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications The Black Swan will change the way you look at the world. Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory.

In My Hands Today…

Chaos – James Gleick

Few writers distinguish themselves by their ability to write about complicated, even obscure topics clearly and engagingly. In Chaos, James Gleick, a former science writer for the New York Times, shows that he resides in this exclusive category. Here he takes on the job of depicting the first years of the study of chaos–the seemingly random patterns that characterise many natural phenomena.

This is not a purely technical book. Instead, it focuses as much on the scientists studying chaos as on the chaos itself. In the pages of Gleick’s book, the reader meets dozens of extraordinary and eccentric people. For instance, Mitchell Feigenbaum, who constructed and regulated his life by a 26-hour clock and watched his waking hours come in and out of phase with those of his coworkers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As for chaos itself, Gleick does an outstanding job of explaining the thought processes and investigative techniques that researchers bring to bear on chaos problems. Rather than attempt to explain Julia sets, Lorenz attractors and the Mandelbrot Set with gigantically complicated equations, Chaos relies on sketches, photographs and Gleick’s wonderful descriptive prose.

In My Hands Today…

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress – Steven Pinker

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature–tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.