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Three (plus) Great Reads / Listens While You’re Contemplating The Pandemic (including a freebie)

Image by Marisa Sias from Pixabay

No doubt, we live in interesting times, and 2020 isn’t shaping up like anyone predicted. Around the world, we have been ordered, cajoled, or beseeched to isolate ourselves in our homes, or whatever spaces we might find ourselves occupying.

If you are like me, you don’t like being unproductive. For me, a good day is one where I feel I have made progress, accomplished something, helped someone…and learned something.

Here are three of my favorites, available in traditional, Kindle e-Book, or my favorite, Audiobook.

The End is Always Near—podcasting deity Dan Carlin released his first book late last year, almost prophetically. In the book, he talks us through so many case studies in history when civilizations have collapsed, completely in the case of Nineveh, for example, or partially such as during so many earlier pandemics: The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, Smallpox.

Though Dan is a great storyteller, he is also a good teacher, and a mental provocateur. As a bonus, audiobook listeners get to hear the book read by Dan in his inimitable voice.

21 Lessons For The 21st Century—Historian, philosopher and social critic Yuval Noah Hariri published this forward looking book several years ago, but it is still absolutely timely. As we are already well into the 21st Century, living in a world inconceivable only halfway through the last, how must we adapt as a species, a civilization; how do we build on lessons learned from the past rather than repeat the same bloody mistakes?

If you are not familiar with Yuval Noah Hariri, here is an article he wrote regarding how we might think about, and react to this Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. There is also an audio option to listen. If you like this, you’ll love his book. His other books are also worth your time.

Man’s Search For Meaning—It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” but it took Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl to demonstrate it through his own life experience and then apply his observations to create his own discipline of psychotherapy called “Logotherapy.”

But this book is no dry psychobabble. The first half of the book is Frankl’s autobiographical recount of his time in concentration camps. Not in the way of “this happened to me, then that happened,” but rather his observations into human nature. What extreme conditions bring out in people, both good and bad. Then he attempts to understand “why? Why do we behave the way we do? What are the predictors and triggers?”

The book is not long. The audio version is less than 5 hours. In the latter part he then describes, for a non-specialist, what his “Logotherapy” is. Different from most psychological therapies, it is not necessarily for neurotic or mentally ill people. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy such as psychoanalysis, Frankl explains how it is useful for many people, perfectly mentally healthy, but who may be facing challenges coping or adjusting to life’s events…perhaps such as a viral pandemic and simultaneous economic recession.

 

Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges

If you want an escape into the world of fiction, try “The Lottery in Babylon” by Jorge Luis Borges. The short, provocative story, only a few minutes in length, will challenge your notions of fortune and luck. While right now, you may be worried whether your number will be called when it comes to a viral infection. Maybe you have been infected. This book is not about viruses or sickness, but it is very much about “your number being called,” literally. Read it. You will never forget it. The short story is now in the public domain and you can download it right here.

 

A bonus recommendation:

Do the current times have you down? Steven Pinker makes the case for optimism in his seminal work “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” One of today’s greatest living psychological researchers deviates from the subject matter of his previous works such as “How The Mind Works” and “The Stuff of Thought” to state the case that human civilization overall is getting better, that we are becoming less violent, less warlike, and more enlightened; even though news and social media seems like it is trying to convince us otherwise.

 

What are your recommendations? What did you think of these? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Headline image by Marisa Sias from Pixabay

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Coexistence

On Civility in Boys

"The Fight Interrupted" (boys fighting outside school) engraved by Lumb Stocks after a picture by W.Mulready, published in The Art Journal, 1875. Steel engraved antique print.
  • Don’t foul the staircases, corridors, closets, or wall hangings with urine or other filth.
  • Don’t relieve yourself in front of ladies or before doors or windows of court chambers.
  • Don’t slide back and forth on your chair as if you’re trying to pass gas.
  • Don’t touch your private parts under your cloths with your bare hands.
  • Don’t greet someone while they are urinating or defecating.
  • Don’t make noise when you pass gas.
  • Don’t undo your clothes in front of other people in preparation for defecating, or do them up afterwards.
  • When you share a bed with someone in an inn, don’t lie so close to him that you touch him, and don’t put your legs between his
  • If you come across something disgusting in the sheet, don’t turn to your companion and point it out to him, or hold up the stinking thing for the other to smell and say “I should like to know how much that stinks.”
  • Don’t blow your nose onto the tablecloth or into your fingers, sleeve, or hat.
  • Don’t offer your used handkerchief to someone else.
  • Don’t carry your handkerchief in your mouth.
  • Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it, as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head.
  • Don’t spit into the bowl when you are washing your hands.
  • Do not spit so far that you have to look for the saliva to put your foot on it.
  • Turn away when spitting, lest your saliva fall on someone.
  • If anything purulent falls to the ground, it should be trodden upon, lest it nauseate someone.
  • If you notice saliva on someone’s coat, it is not polite to make it known.
  • Don’t be the first to take from the dish.
  • Don’t fall on the food like a pig, snorting and smacking your lips.
  • Don’t turn the serving dish around so the biggest piece of meat is near you.
  • Don’t wolf your food like you are about to be carried off to prison, nor push so much food into your mouth that your cheeks bulge like bellows, nor pull your lips apart so that they make a noise like pigs.
  • Don’t dip your fingers into the sauce, and the serving dish.
  • Don’t put a spoon into your mouth and then use it to take food from the serving dish.
  • Don’t gnaw on a bone and put it back in the serving dish.
  • Don’t wipe your utensils on the tablecloth.
  • Don’t put back on your plate what has been in your mouth.
  • Do not offer anyone a piece of food you have bitten into.
  • Don’t lick your greasy fingers. Wipe them on your bread, or wipe them on your coat.
  • Don’t lean over to drink from your soup bowl.
  • Don’t spit bones, pits, eggshells, or rinds into your hands or throw them on the floor.
  • Don’t pick your nose while eating.
  • Don’t drink from your dish, use a spoon.
  • Don’t slurp from your spoon.
  • Don’t loosen your belt at the table.
  • Don’t clean a dirty plate with your fingers.
  • Don’t stir sauce with your fingers.
  • Don’t lift meat to your nose to smell it.
  • Don’t drink coffee from your saucer.

From “On Civility in Boys” by Desiderius Erasmus, published in 1530

I first heard this in Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” which I highly recommend. It made me laugh out loud, but then again, aren’t most of these these timeless? Not just for boys, but I think for everyone. Some things don’t go out of style.


Headline Image:  “The Fight Interrupted” (boys fighting outside school) engraved by Lumb Stocks after a picture by W.Mulready, published in The Art Journal, 1875. Steel engraved antique print

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