March 2014 Reading List: Big Thinking Edition

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's been a good month for thinking outside the box. (Photo source: Forbes)
Who wasn't writing about Crimea this month? No surprise that it was the talk of the town, of course, but I can only read so much about Russia before depression sets in. I'll save you the trouble. Ninety percent of the ink spilled in March boils down to this: Putin is a thug, and when nobody was able or willing to defend it, he snatched a vulnerable region with nice beaches off his southern borders. At least I can sleep well knowing my country would never do the same.

Luckily, I also read some great pieces on big thinkers in March. Here's my pick of the month's best:

A Star in a Bottle (Raffi Khatchadourian, New Yorker)
March's most awe-inspiring article. Meet ITER, a mad scientist's dream so audacious in its ambitions that it's hard to imagine how it even saw the light of day: a 23,000-ton, $20 billion nuclear fission reactor in southern France that—if its science proves sound (still an unresolved question), and its construction is ever completed (not easy, when weighing the interests of 35 competing "partner" nations mired in a global recession)—will swirl hydrogen faster than the speed of sound to temperatures ten times hotter than the sun's core, potentially solving Earth's energy shortage for the next 30 million years, yet generating almost no waste in the process. Whoa. But the most enduring takeaway of many "eureka" moments for me when reading this account? Current renewable energy sources are so many orders of magnitude behind humanity's needs that if this "star in a bottle" doesn't succeed, we might not survive much longer.

What's Gone Wrong with Democracy (The Economist)
Do not skip this article on the most important question of our age: how do we want our societies to be governed? To explain the stumble in democracy's forward march in the last decade, the authors propose and explore several strong hypotheses—from the 2008 recession, to the rise of China, to the explosive growth of technology. Their prescriptions to revive democratic progress didn't impress, but I remain an optimist on this front and expect the picture to start looking much better as economies rebound.

Why Wu-Tang Will Release Just One Copy Of Its Secret Album (Zack O. Greenberg, Forbes)
"Somewhere on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault housed beneath the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, there sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box with the potential to spawn a shift in the way music is consumed and monetized." Curious yet?

Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview (Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone)
The world's richest man spends his time and vast resources pondering modern society's biggest challenges: climate change, disease, poverty, and ignorance. (Yes, I certainly am jealous.) This interview offers a welcome look inside the mind of a big thinker with the means and the will to improve our world on a grand scale.

Three Years of Strife and Cruelty Puts Syria in Free Fall (Anne Barnard, New York Times)
March marks the third anniversary of Syria's descent into a staggering state of human misery. Where do things stand today, how did we get here, and why can't we seem to end this disaster? Barnard quantifies the tragedy with some stark figures, but solutions are still elusive.

A Map of God's Countries (Emma Green, The Atlantic)
Results from Pew's survey of 40,000 respondents in 40 countries asking the question "Is it necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values?" No surprise, us atheists are in the (goddamn) minority.
(Source: The Atlantic)
This is What American-Themed Parties Look Like Around the World (Matt Stopera, BuzzFeed)
Apparently people in all the countries I've visited have been holding these parties without my knowledge, perhaps ashamed to have a real American present to call them out on their gross inaccuracy and political incorrectness. Note to all of you: I don't care, this looks great. Invite me.

What is the Funniest Joke in the World? (Alva Noë, NPR)
Different cultures, different senses of humor: for anyone who has traveled widely, this is no surprise. Most interesting is researcher Scott Weems' analysis of 1.5 million votes from people around the world on their favorite jokes. I'm encouraged to learn that the winning joke (cited in the article) is satisfyingly morbid. Maybe there's hope for humanity after all. :)

And for those who haven't yet, check out my posts from March:

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