I cannot claim any authorship for most of the ideas in this hyper-essay. The grand conclusions about sequential versus parallel thinking are mine, as is the explanation of narrative’s role in re-parallelizing sequential thinking about social issues. But a great deal of reading lies behind all this hot air. Herewith a general bibliography, with editorial comments on the utility of each book. Yes, I have read each of these books; they are part of my personal library and I sometimes consult them again to check my claims.
Language and Linguistics
The 26 Letters, by Oscar Ogg. Revised Edition 1983 ISBN 0-442-27252-9. This is a straightforward history of the Latin alphabet, not particularly relevant to my study, but interesting.
ABC Et Cetera, by Alexander and Nicholas Humez 1985. ISBN 0-87923-587-X. Another history of the Latin alphabet, this has 26 chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet.
Accentual Change and Language Contact, by Joe Salmons. ISBN 0-8047-1659-5. A technical work on the way pronunciations change as a result of contacts between languages. The author argues that tonal systems tend to be replaced by stress-shifted systems.
The Alphabet Effect: the Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization, by Robert K. Logan. ISBN 0-688-06499-X. This book was immensely important to the develpment of my ideas on the history of thinking.+/==============/
The Atoms of Language, by Mark C. Baker. ISBN 0-465-00521-7. An attempt to figure out the fundamental components of all languages, the unifying concepts that underly the vast diversity of languages on the planet.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, by David Crystal. ISBN ISBN 0-521-55967-7 and ISBN 0-521-40179-8. I love these books! Crystal presents in vast detail the many aspects of his subjects, each one organized as a two-page ‘spread’. You can read bits and pieces or the whole thing in sequence.
Conjunction, Contiguity, and Contingency, by Leo Depuydt. ISBN 0-19-508092-0. A highly technical work on how ancient Egyptian (and modern Coptic) connected events as either simultaneous, sequential, or causally related — in effect, ‘and’, ‘after’, and ‘because of’. This is significant to my work because it illustrates the facility with which the language could handle different logical relationships.
Extinct Languages, by Johannes Friedrich. ISBN 0-88029-338-1. Explains the efforts of scholars to decode ancient written languages. Starting with the most celebrated case — Champollion and the Rosetta Stone — he proceeds to the vast work done on cuneiform, which was used for a number of completely different languages. There are quite of a few of these as-yet poorly understood languages: Etruscan, Linear A, Phrygian, Cretan, Indus Valley, and so on.
Ancestral Voices, by James Norman. ISBN 0-590-17333-2. Another book on decoding ancient written languages. More popular and less technical in style than Extinct Languages.
A History of Language, by Steven Roger Fischer. ISBN 1-86189-051-6. A somewhat condensed (220 pages) history of the gamut of language, from animal communication to the future of language.
How Language Works, by David Crystal. ISBN-13: 978-1-58567-848-8. A popular introduction to linguistics.
Language and the Lexicon, by David Singleton. ISBN 0-340-73174-5. An introductory textbook about lexicography.
Languages of the Mind, by Ray Jackendoff. ISBN 0262600242. Subtitled “Essays on mental representation”, this is a careful analysis of the role that language plays in cognition.
Language and Myth, by Ernst Cassirer. ISBN 0-486-2005105. An old book bringing vast humanistic knowledge to bear on issues of language in its religious and mythical contexts.
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker 1994 William Morrow and Company, ISBN 0-688-12141-1. An excellent book. If you can only read one book on language, this is the one to read. And if you are going to read a lot of books on language, this is still a good book to read. The author is an expert in the field and a fine writer.
Language, Society, and Paleoculture, by Edgar C. Polome. ISBN 0-8047-1149-6. A collection of tedious academic essays that I’m sure somebody, somewhere, would appreciate.
Language and Thought: Anthropological Issues ed McCormack & Wurm. ISBN 90-279-7540x. This collection of essays is devoted primarily to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language shapes thought. They conclude that language definitely influences some cognition, but certainly does not control it.
Linguistic Change, by E.H.Sturtevant. No ISBN. An old (1917) textbook on the processes of linguistic evolution.
The Linguistic Shaping of Thought, by Alfred Bloom, 1981 Laurence Earlbaum Associates, ISBN 0-89859-082-2. Subtitled ‘A study of the impact of language on thinking in China and the West’, this book concentrates on the notion of counterfactual thinking, e.g., “If Al Gore had won the 2000 election, would the USA have invaded Iraq in 2003?” The author discovered, quite by chance, that Chinese people did not handle counterfactual thinking well, usually responding to questions such as the example with the objection that Al Gore was NOT elected, so the question is nonsensical. He conducted some experiments confirming this, and attributes it to the structure of the Chinese language.
Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. ISBN 0-226-46801-1. A summary of Lakoff’s important work on the role of metaphor in human cognition, as revealed by language.
Origins of Human Communication, by Michael Tomasello. ISBN 978-0-262-51520-7. A very academic explanation of how human communication developed, based on gestures and “shared intentionality”.
The Origins and Nature of Language, by Giorgio Fano, translated by Susan Petrilli. ISBN 0-253-32121-2. The Italian original was published in 1962, and so this work is dated. Nevertheless, the author approaches the subject with considerable erudition and offers a lot of deep thinking on the nature of language. Still worth reading.
Patterns in the Mind, by Ray Jackendoff 1994, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-05462-5. A discussion of the relationship between language and thinking. I found it rather plodding, but it got good reviews. A good textbook for first-year students of language and mind.
Progression & Regression in Language, ed. Hyltenstam & Viberg. ISBN 0-521-43874. This is a hodgepodge of material on language change, but it also includes a lot of material on language acquistion and bilingualism. Quite academic.
Reading in the Brain, by Stanislas Dehaene. ISBN 978-0-670-02110-9. A thorough examination of reading by a neuroscientist. Dehaene looks at the phenomenon from all angles: neurophysiological studies of the brain while reading; evolutionary considerations; and cultural factors. Highly informative.
Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configurations, by Anna Wierzbicka. ISBN 0-29-5-7326. I hate semantics, so plowing through this long exposition of how different cultures don’t share words for what are thought to be human universals. She decries the tendency to impose English-language translations of words that really don’t mean the same thing. While her argument is itself impressive, I don’t think that she has undermined the basic concept that there are human universals.
The Story of Language, by Mario Pei. No ISBN. An old (1949) textbook on linguistics.
A Study of Writing by I.J.Gelb 1963, University of Chicago Press, No ISBN. The classic work on the subject, still quite interesting, somewhat dated.
Through the Looking Glass, by Guy Deutscher. This is a useful book; it describes how differences in language affect (in small ways) the way we think. Sadly, I got the Kindle edition, which is useless without the color illustrations.
The Unfolding of Language, by Guy Deutscher. ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8012-4. An absolutely brilliant book. Its exposition of how words are slowly eroded down (example: “I am going to”; “I’m gonna”; “Imonna”), then puffed back up, is astounding. Equally impressive is his explanation of how Hebrew developed its unique system in which vowels conjugate and decline words whose roots are consonants.
Words and Rules, by Steven Pinker. ISBN 0-965-43746-9. Who would have thought than a close examination of the difference between regular and irregular verbs would reveal so much?
The World’s Major Languages. editor Bernard Comrie. ISBN 0-19-506511-5. This is about as dull as you can get: a huge compendium of every significant language group and language spoken today. It’s got declensions and histories and conjugations and all tenses and all that other stuff, except instead of getting it for just one language, it’s got them for a zillion languages! What fun!
The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker. ISBN 978-0-670-06327-7. A brilliant examination of (as the subtitle puts it) ‘Language as a window into human nature’.
Using Language, by John T. Kearns. ISBN 87395-809-8. A rather old book presenting a model of language from a highly theoretical perspective.
Visible Speech, by John DeFrancis. 1989 ISBN 0-8248-1207-7. This book presents the unconventional hypothesis that all writing systems are at heart phonetic in nature. This is easily accepted for alphabets, but is usually rejected for Chinese writing, which is held to be morphemic (each glyph represents a word rather than a sound). Mr. DeFrancis is an expert on Chinese writing and he maintains that it is, at the deepest level, fundamentally phonetic in structure.
Vico, Metaphor, and the Origin of Language, by Marcel Danesi. ISBN 0-253-31607-3. A semioticist takes on the problem of the origin of language by harkening back to the ideas of Giambattista Vico, an 18th century Italian polymath who had some truly impressive ideas. Nevertheless, this feels more like philosophy than science.
Writing Systems by Geoffrey Sampson 1985 Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-1254-9. A very good explanation of the basic components of all writing systems; it will help you understand why writing systems around the world are so different.
Animal Minds, by Donald R. Griffin. ISBN 0-226-30864-2. What we know about animal cognition.
In the Blink of an Eye: How Vision Sparked the Big Bang of Evolution, by Andrew Parker, Basic Books, 2004 ISBN 978-0465054381. Explains how the development of vision freed up animals to diversify into all kinds of new species.
How Monkeys See the World by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth. 1990 University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-10246-7. Simian cognition.
Life Ascending, by Nick Lane. A description of the ten crucial steps in the evolution of life in general and humans in particular.
The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence, by William H. Calvin. ISBN 0-553-35230-X. I’m not sure what to write about this book. Some of Calvin’s speculations strike me as off the mark, and he seems too certain of them. He attributes the development of intelligence to ice ages, but in fact hominines did not experience ice ages while they developed in Africa; it was only after they had developed considerable intelligence that they moved into colder climes.
The Ape that Spoke Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind by John McCrone. 1991 William Morrow ISBN 0-688-10326-X. A good overall treatment of the place language played in the evolution of cognition.
Catching Fire, by Richard Wrangham. The role of cooking in human evolution. It turns out to be a lot more important than most people would think.
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, by Michael Tomasello. ISBN 0-674-00582-1. I must confess, I read this book so long ago, and it made so little an impression on me, that I cannot recall its central concepts.
The Evolutionary Emergence of Language, ed Knight et al. ISBN 0-521-78696-7. A large collection of essays about early language from scholars of many different stripes. Like any such collection, it’s spotty: some of the essays proved highly illuminating, and some were duds. I suppose that a different reader would come away with a different assignment of sparks and duds.
The Evolution of Consciousness. Of Darwin, Freud, and Cranial Fire -- The Origins of the Way We Think by Robert Ornstein 1991 Prentice Hall ISBN 0-13-587569-2. I have mixed reactions to this book. It makes some good points but strains a little too hard to be clever.
The Evolution of Evil, by Timothy Anders. ISBN 0-8124-9174-1. A broadly based evolutionary examination of how the antisocial behavior developed and how the concept of evil developed.
Evolution and the Human Mind: Modularity, Language, and Meta-cognition, ed Carruthers and Chamberlin. ISBN 0-521-78908-7. A nice collection of essays broadly centered on evolutionary psychology.
Finding Our Tongues, by Dean Falk. ISBN 978-0-465-00219-1. Argues that the driving force in the evolution of language was the interaction between mothers and infants. Well argued.
Gossip, Grooming, and the Evolution of Language. by Robin Dunbar. ISBN 0-674-36334-5. Offers the hypothesis that social interactions lay behind the rapid development of language in the hominines.
The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution. by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza. ISBN 0-201-40755-8. A summation of an entire career devoted to tracing the genetic roots of the human family.
Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution, ed Andrew Lock and Charles R. Peters. ISBN 0-631-21690-1. This is a monster compilation of articles on paleoanthropology and related subjects. Nearly 900 pages long, this thing took me a long time to plow through. The articles are dense but this is “the real thing”.
A History of the Mind Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey 1992 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-68644-5 Although this book is subtitled "Evolution and the birth of consciousness", it is more of a work of philosophy than science. Most of its questions concern the nature of sensation, meaning, etc.
How Brains Think: The Evolution of Intelligence by William H. Calvin. ISBN 0-75380-200-7. I don’t know; for some reason this book simply didn’t catch my interest. I slogged through like a trooper, but got little from it.
The Journey from Eden: the Peopling of our World, by Brian M. Fagan. ISBN 0-500-05057-0. Traces the paths by which hominines spread out of Africa to colonize the rest of the world.
Language and Human Behavior Derek Bickerton 1995 University of Washington Press ISBN 0-295-97457-5. An excellent book on the role language played in the human cognitive development.
Language and Species by Derek Bickerton 1990 University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-04610-9. Excellent book on the development of human language. Highly recommended.
Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the human brain. by William H. Calvin and Derek Bickerton. These two prominent authors met at a conference in Italy and decided to collaborate on a book about evolution and language. The result doesn’t quite hang together.
Lowly Origin, by Jonathan Kingdon. ISBN0-691-12028. A careful analysis of the environmental conditions in southeast Africa where hominines developed. Kingdon argues that the driving force was the cyclic changes in climate, with cool dry periods alternating with warm moist periods. During the cool periods, pre-hominine populations were confined to river valleys and shrank, undergoing rapid genetic changes due to environmental stress; during warm periods they expanded, linked together, and shared gene pools. The whole process drove the evolution of the hominine mind.
The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. by Geoffrey F. Miller. ISBN 0-385-49516-1. Well written, exactly what the title says.
The Moral Animal by Robert Wright. 1994 Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-40773-1. An excellent explanation of evolutionary psychology. Well-written and well-researched. Evolutionary psychology is the study of how evolutionary factors shaped human psychology. Some people think it’s heretical because, to them, it suggests that we are not responsible for our actions ("Mother Nature made me do it!”)
Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny. by Robert Wright. ISBN 0-965-007110. Another brilliant work by Robert Wright, this one investigating a core concept of biology in general and human evolution in particular: progress is made through the development of “non-zero-sum games” — in other words, cooperative relationships among competing elements in which one side’s gain is not derived from the other side’s loss.
The Origins and Nature of Language by Giorgio Fano. 1992 Indiana University Press ISBN 0-253-32121-2. English translation of an Italian classic first published in 1962. Quite dated, it still presents some of the foundations rather clearly.
Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human. by Richard Leakey & Roger Lewin. ISBN 0-385-41264-9. A straightforward explication of human evolution from the point of view of one of the foremost fossil hunters.
Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mind, by Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson. ISBN 0-674-71445. When Mr. Wilson had the temerity to suggest in the 1970s that human behavior might be partly influenced by genetic factors, he raised a storm of abuse. Over the years he tried to re-phrase his work in terms that wouldn’t set off a backlash. This book was his last attempt in that direction, and it presents a well-argued, solid case.
The Prehistory of the Mind The cognitive origins of art, religion, and science. by Steven Mithen. 1996 Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05081-3. I like this book. The author comes at the problem from the point of view of an archaeologist, and he seems to do the best overall job of integrating all the pieces. He has an illuminating approach to mental modules.
The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture, by Timothy Taylor. ISBN 0-553-09694-X. Pretty much what the title says: an examination of how sexual behavior shaped human behavior.
Promethian Fire Reflections on the Origin of Mind by Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson Harvard University Press 1983 ISBN 0-674-71445-8. Rather old now, it’s pleasant reading.
The Origins of Complex Language: an inquiry into the evolutionary beginnings of sentences, syllables, and truth. by Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy. ISBN 0-19-823821-5. I must confess, I do not completely grasp the subtle hypothesis offered in this book. Mr. Carstairs-McCarthy presents an alternate explanation of the origins of human language. He obviously knows what he’s talking about, but this book is tough sledding.
Origins of the Modern Mind Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. by Merlin Donald. 1991 Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-64483-2
The Runaway Brain The Evolution of Human Uniqueness by Christopher Wills 1993 Basic Books ISBN 0-00-255275-2. Bones and brains.
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body. by Steven Mithen. ISBN 067402192-4. I like everything Mithen writes, and this book is no exception. Very illuminating in the matter of the development of music, language, and cognition.
Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran their Evolutionary Purpose. by Deirdre Barrett. ISBN 978-0-393-06848-1. An examination of how we can get carried away by extreme versions of things that we previously desired. An example might be males who are obsessed with gigantic breasts.
The Symbolic Species - the co-evolution of language and the brain by Terence W. Deacon 1997 Norton ISBN 0-393-03838-6 This book is at heart a neuroanatomical treatment of language and the brain, but the author is able to integrate material from other fields. It’s a slog, but if you want to understand this stuff, you’ve got to plow through the neuroanatomy.
Thumbs, Toes, and Tears, by Chip Walter. ISBN 0-8027-1527-3. An examination of six traits unique to humans that played significant roles in human evolution: the big toe, opposable thumb, special pharynx, laughter, kissing, and crying.
The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact. by Colin Tudge. ISBN 0-684-80726-2. This book is difficult to describe. It’s a thoughtful analysis of human evolution, relying much more heavily on conceptual considerations than the evidence. There isn’t much about fossils, but a lot about the process of human evolution.
The Transition to Language, ed. Alison Wray. ISBN 0-19-925066-9. A collection of academic chapters addressing various aspects of the evolution of language. Sample chapter: “The finished artefact fallacy: Acheulean hand-axes and language origins.”
Uniquely Human by Philip Lieberman, 1991 Harvard University Press ISBN 0-674-92182-8. A very good all-round discussion of evolutionary psychology, with an emphasis on language.
Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution. by Ken Wilber. ISBN 0-394-71424-5. A strange approach to human evolution, approaching it in terms of cultural developments and their role in mental evolution.
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. ISBN 978-0-465-00221-4. Presents the hypothesis that civilization created selection effects that accelerated evolution. I find it hard to believe; after all, we’re talking about only 400 generations. Most experiments show that it takes tens of thousands of generations for evolution to function. There is some evidence of rapid evolution in times of rapid change (“punctuated equilibrium”). Still, the evidence that the authors present is weak. Their strongest item is the elimination of lactase intolerance among cattle-breeding peoples. Inasmuch as this involves modification of a single gene, I find it hard to believe that the much more complex changes the authors claim could have taken place in so short a time.
Archaeology and Language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins, by Colin Renfrew. ISBN 0-521-38675-6. Renfrew combines archaeological evidence with linguistic evidence to posit that the Indo-European languages simply followed the spread of agriculture. Indo-European speaking peoples replaced hunter-gatherers as they spread through Eurasia. The hypothesis is elegant but it doesn’t quite jibe with what we know of Indo-European culture. See, for example, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language below.
The Ancient Mind edited by Colin Renfrew and Ezra Zubrow 1994 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-43488-2. A collection of papers on cognitive archaeology. Spotty, with a few good papers and some lousy ones.
The Ascent of the Mind Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence William H. Calvin. 1991 Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-35230-X. A good book about the role of the Ice Ages in the development of the human mind.
Death, War, and Sacrifice, by Bruce Lincoln. ISBN 0-226-48200-6. I really liked this book. The author discusses the fundamental beliefs of Proto-Indo-European cultures. He challenges the notion that there was a core religion the evolved into the later religious beliefs of many Indo-European cultures. He does demonstrate the cultural kinship of Indo-European ideas of the role of the soldier and the priest.
A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, by Carl Darling Buck. ISBN 0-226-07937-6. This dictionary organizes the basic Indo-European vocabulary by areas of interest and presents each word in different languages. For example, spoon is ligula in Latin, liag in Irish, sauksias in Lithuanian, lozka in Russian, darvi in Sanskrit, and sked in Swedish. Obviously, this word developed long after different Indo-European families formed.
The Evolution of Human Societies, Second Edition, by Johnson and Earle. ISBN 0-8047-4032-1. Presents a rather complicated thesis regarding the means by which human societies evolved from hunter-gatherers to agricultural kingdoms. The interplay of population growth, economic stresses, and social structures drove the process.
In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaelogy, and Myth, by J.P.Mallory. ISBN 0-500-05052-X. A synthesis of all the information available in the late 80s regarding the origin of the Indo-European peoples. Very nice.
Inside the Neolithic Mind, by David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce. Thames & Hudson, 2005, ISBN 978-0-500-28827-6. An interesting attempt to divine the workings of the Neolithic mind by careful cross-comparison of artistic motifs appearing in Neolithic art. Spirals, zigzags, circles — all of these appear in Neolithic art. What do they mean? The authors to answer this question, without much success, in my opinion. A little too woo-woo and not enough rigor.
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony. ISBN 978-0-691-05887. A thorough analysis of the culture that spoke Proto-Indo-European, replete with detailed presentation of archaeological findings. Especially useful for its explanations of the domestication and early use of the horse.
Nostratic: Examining a Linguistic Macrofamily. ed Colin Renfrew and Daniel Nettle. ISBN 1-902937-00-7. Nostratic is thought to be the great-granddaddy of many linguistic families. Its existence is controversial, but there is certainly enough evidence to make the hypothesis worthy of detailed consideration. This book brings together the results of a major conference on the subject.
The Origins of Human Society. by Peter Bogucki. ISBN 1-57718-112-3. A textbook tracing human society from its earliest hunter-gatherer forms up to the first civilizations.
The Origin of Language: Tracing the evolution of the mother tongue. By Merritt Ruhlen. ISBN 0-471-58426-6. A truly fascinating book that presents the hypothesis that there is a single mother tongue for all languages. The hypothesis is not accepted by most linguists, and you can see why from the sketchiness of the evidence presented in the book. Nevertheless, it does offer some fascinating ideas.
Patterns in Prehistory by Robert J. Wenke 1980 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-502557-1. Introductory textbook on hominid archaeology. Not much on evolutionary theory; just the bones, ma’am.
Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind by Colin Renfrew. ISBN 978-0-8129-7661-8. A fairly straightforward summary.
The Threshold of Civilization: An Experiment in Prehistory, by Walter A. Fairservis, Jr. ISBN 684-12775-X. “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” – so Haekel’s Law, long since discredited but still occasionally useful. The author examines three ancient archaeological sites and argues that the levels of cognition demonstrated at those sites correspond to phases in the mental development of children. I was a bit skeptical.
Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, by Eric H. Cline. Princeton University Press 2014, ISBN978-0-691-14089-6. A detailed examination of the Late Bronze Age collapse, bringing to bear the latest archeaological findings. The author demonstrates that the collapse was due to a ‘perfect storm’ of coinciding factors. Highly recommended.
Ancestor of the West Writing, Reasoning, and Religion in Mesopotamia, Elam, and Greece by Bottero, Herrenschmidt, and Vernant 2000, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-06715-7. A dense explication of a collection of ideas regarding the intellectual development of these civilizations. It didn’t answer as many questions as the subtitle suggests. Dances around the problems at great length, but never quite comes to grips with them.
Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, by Martha T. Roth. ISBN 0-7885-0126-7. Here are laws both preceding and succeeding Hammurabi. They are all in the form IF (event) THEN (judgement). Example: “If a dog bites a slave and causes his death, the owner shall weigh and deliver 15 shekels of silver.” There is no abstraction, none of the legal terms we use all the time, such as liability, breaking and entering, assault and battery, etc. It’s all just a bunch of specific instances.
Letters from Early Mesopotamia, by Piotr Michalowski. ISBN 1-55540-820-6. Because the Mesopotamian peoples wrote on clay and fired their clay tablets, the tablets have survived the millennia very well, and we have tons of stuff from those times. However, because the clay tablets were small, these tend to be short messages. Example: “Thus says Sergeant Luba: Tell His Majesty that Luzah the son of Azuzu, is serving in the army. Dada, the son of Nigar, has seized his estate, but he is to release it.”
Judgement of the Pharaoh: Crime and punishment in ancient Egypt, by Joyce Tyldesley. ISBN 0-75381-278-9. This book reveals that the only evidence used in Egyptian jurisprudence was the testimony of witnesses. If there were no other witnesses and the defendent would not confess under torture, they had to let him go.
Civilization Before Greece and Rome, by H.W.F. Saggs. ISBN 0-300-04440-2. A thorough study of all aspects of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization before classical period.
The Collapse of the Bronze Age, by Manuel Robbins. ISBN 0-595-13644-8. This is the dramatic story of the Sea Peoples and the mayhem they wrought that brought to an end the Bronze Age civilization of the Eastern Mediterranean. This paved the way for the rise of the Greeks.
The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright. ISBN 978-0-316-06744-7. A history of religion, beginning with the early shamanistic religions and going through the monotheistic religions. A well-written book explaining how religion developed and evolved through history.
The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, By Frankfort at el. ISBN 0-226-26008-9. The subtitle says it pretty clearly: “An essay on speculative thought in the ancient Near East”. It addresses cosmology and religion in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Hebrews.
Ancestor of the West: Writing, Reasoning, and Religion in Mesopotamia, Elam, and Greece. by a bunch of French guys. ISBN 0-226-06715-7. This book provides much to think about. It is largely about writing and the impact it had on these cultures. While it does address religion in some depth, its handling of the development of rationalism is revealingly skimpy. I don’t think that rationalism arose in Mesopotamia.
The Phoenicians and the West, by Maria Eugenia Aubet. ISBN 0521795435. The Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians; the Phoenicians had a trading network every bit as extensive as the Greek trading network that came later. So why didn’t the Phoenicians develop rationalism before the Greeks? This book doesn’t directly answer that question, but the background information it provides on the nature of Phoenician trade provides the answer.
Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant, by Shelly Wachsman. ISBN-10: 1603440801. Just about everything there is to know about ships and sailors during that time period. Crucial to this study because it demonstrates that, while pre-Greek civilizations did indeed know how to get around on blue water, they didn’t do much sailing or seaborne trade other than for luxury items.
The Ambitions of Curiosity, by G.E.R. Lloyd. ISBN 978-0-521-89461-6. A comparison of the intellectual styles of classical Greek and classical Chinese civilization.
Athenian Economy & Society, A Banking Perspective, by Edward E. Cohen. ISBN 0-691-01592-9. The Greeks developed an impressively sophisticated banking system, but it was entirely in the hands of individuals.
Atlas of Ancient History 1700 BC - 565 AD. by Michael Grant. ISBN 0-88029-009-9. A nice collection of maps showing the spread and ebb of empires and kingdoms.
The Beginnings of Western Science, by David C. Lindberg ISBN-13: 978-0-226-48205-7. Covers the history from Greek science through the medieval period. Decent, thorough, almost pedestrian. No great flashes of insight, but lots of details.The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law, ed Gagarin and Cohen. ISBN 0-521-52159-9. A detailed examination of the operation of Greek law during the classical period. The emphasis is on Athens because that’s where we have the most information, but some other Greek city-states are addressed as well.
Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought. by R.J. Hankinson. ISBN 0-19-924656-4. This is an exposition on Greek philosophy; it doesn’t consider rationalism in the rest of Greek civilization. I found it useless.
Christianity and Classical Culture, by Charles Norris Cochrane. ISBN 0-86597-413-6. A long-winded history of the relationship between the Church and the Roman government.
The Coming of the Greeks. Indo-European conquests in the Aegean and the Near East, by Robert Drews. ISBN 0-691-02951-2. This book is really about the spread of the Indo-European peoples into the region, not just the Greeks. Its focus is the new kind of warfare (horses and chariots) that they used to conquer the lands during the Bronze Age.
A Companion to Justinian’s Institutes, ed. Ernest Metzger. ISBN 0-8014-8584-3. Seven chapters present the Justinian Code broken down by areas such as Persons, Property, and Criminal Trials. The Institutes were a crucial development in Western thought because they arose from the realization that a body of law must be consistent, and Roman law had grown to such size that its internal contradictions were no longer acceptable.
The Criminal Law of Ancient Rome. by O. F. Robinson. ISBN 0-8018-6757-6. This provides a complement to “An Introduction to Roman Law” below; it is devoted to crminal law. Unfortunately, it has little to say about standards of proof, which would be an excellent indicator of the state of rigorous logic in Roman culture. For that, we must rely on the various trial records from classical Rome.
Early Greece, by Oswyn Murray. ISBN 0-8047-1185-2. A nice summary of the history of Greece prior to the golden age; covers economics, politics, and cultural issues.
Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, by M.I. Finley ISBN 0-14-02-2520-X. A collection of essays covering a wide variety of topics ranging from Mycenaean times to the Persian invasion. The focus is entirely on economics.
The Economy of the Greek Cities from the archaic period to the early Roman empire. by Leopold Migeotte. ISBN 978-0-520-25366-7. The title says it all. Addresses agriculture, trade, and crafts.
Engineering in the Ancient World, by J.G.Landels ISBN 0-520-03429-5. A compendium of the various engineering technologies, such as power (animal, water, wind, etc), pumps, cranes, catapults, and so forth. The key point is that there was no rigorous analytical approach to improving technology; it was all just a matter of people messing around until they got something better.
Greece in the Bronze Age, by Emily Vermeule. ISBN 0-226-85354-3. Presents the results of archaeological investigations going as far back as the Stone Age. Covers everything that can be determined from archaeological research.
Greece in the Making 1200 − 479 BC, by Robin Osborne. ISBN 0-415-03583-X. Covers the dark age following the collapse of Eastern Mediterranean civilization, focusing especially on the dramatic surge in population in the eighth century BCE.
How History Made the Mind, by David Martel Johnson. ISBN 0-8126-9536-4. I have long believed that “philosophy” is derived from two Greek words meaning “shit” and “bull”. This book supports my prejudice with its endless verbiage meaningful only to philosophers. Despite the book's magnificent obfuscation, the author manages to zero in on two crucial points regarding the cognitive revolutions in the Upper Paleolithic and classical Greece. Reading this book is rather like watching a demented bowler prance, dance, throw the bowling ball backwards over his head, and somehow knock down most of the pins.
An Introduction to Roman Law, by Barry Nicholas. ISBN 0-19-876063-9. Focuses solely on civil law: marriage, contracts, slavery, debt, and so forth. Very technical. Roman law was nothing if not detailed. That’s why it is still the foundation of much European law.
Law and Crime in the Roman World, by Jill Harries. ISBN 978-0-521-53532-8. Criminal law in Rome.
The Law in Classical Athens, by Douglas M. MacDowell. ISBN 0-8014-9365-X. An explanation of the technical processes of Athenian law.
The Muse Learns to Write by Eric A. Havelock. 1986 Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-04382-1. A professor of classics focuses on how thinking changed because of writing. Unfortunately, I don’t think he truly grasps the subject. For example, he attributes the Greek cognitive explosion to the supposed superiority of the Greek alphabet, which included vowels, while the Hebrew and Phoenician alphabets did not. In this, he missues two key points: first, that it was the ease of learning to read and write that triggered the change, and second, that the dominance of mercantilism in Greek society forced literacy on a large portion of the population. Nevertheless, there are many useful insights.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes 1977 Houghton Mifflin. Controversial when it was released 25 years ago, this book is now regarded unsympathetically. I find its four primary hypotheses unconvincing. Dr. Jaynes has definitely pointed out some important parts of the puzzle, but he puts them together all wrong, in my opinion.
The Origins of Greek Thought, by Jean-Pierre Vernant. ISBN 0-8014-9293-9. This is a very French book: it is loaded with lots of grand erudition but little in the way of rigorous logic. It is brilliant but uncompelling.
Parallel Lives, by Plutarch. One of the great classics, this demonstrates repeatedly just how superstitious Romans and Greeks could be.
Murder Trials, by Cicero. ISBN 0-14-044288-X. Presents Cicero’s orations in five murder trials in which he served as defense advocate. Remarkable for how unnecessarily weak his logic is.
On the Good Life, by Cicero. ISBN 0-14-044244-8. A collection of Cicero’s essays on the nature of virtue. Useful because it clearly shows that, while he clearly differentiated between rationalism and emotionalism and superstition, he falls short of rigorous logical thinking.
The Rise of the Greeks, by Michael Grant, ISBN 0-684-18536-9. An excellent presentation on the rise of the different regions of Greece from the tenth century BCE to the classical era. I relied heavily on this book.The Roman Mind at Work, by Paul MacKendrick. 1958. Not at all what the title suggests, this is really an explication of Roman values on a variety of issues, such as slavery, warfare, government, stoicism, and so forth.
Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World, by Lionel Casson. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0. The classic work on the subject, a bit dated by shipwreck discoveries subsequent to its publication in 1971. Only the first four chapters are pertinent to this study. It relies more on documents than on archaeology, as marine archaeology was just getting started when Casson wrote this book.
Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, by Robin Lane Fox. ISBN 978-0-679-44431-2. I have reservations about this book. Mr. Fox argues that settlers from Euboea were responsible for the spread of Greek civilization and the early colonization efforts. He presents some excellent arguments, but I just don’t see that many Greeks in Euboea to start with. Where’d they all come from? And what were all the other Greeks doing at this time? Sitting on their hands?
Trials from Classical Athens, by Christopher Carey. ISBN 0-415-107-61X. The criminal trial is the best test of the logical rigor of a society. These trials reveal that Athenians were still quite susceptible to appeals to emotion, and seldom engaged genuine logical thinking in deciding their verdicts.
Warriors into Traders: The Power of the Market in Early Greece. by David W. Tandy. ISBN 0-520-22691-7. This is an important book; it informed much of my thinking on the rise of Greek rationalism.
Works and Days, by Hesiod ISBN 0-19-281788-4. One of the earliest intact Greek writings, it offers a good idea of the domestic economy of Greek farms.
Aristotle’s Children, by Richard E. Rubenstein. ISBN 0-15-100720-9. A Euro-centric view of the revival of Aristotelian teachings. Starts with the Islamic and Jewish scholars in Spain who introduced visiting Christian scholars to Aristotle. Tells how the Christians went home and went wild over Aristotle.
Capitalism & Arithmetic, by Frank J. Swetz. ISBN 0-87548-438-7. The rise of the Hinu-Arabic numerals combined with the growth of trade volume to force greater arithmetic competence onto the merchants of northern Italy in the Rennaissance. Thus was born the techniques of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division that has been ground into students ever since. In the process, it dramatically changed Western civilization.
At the Dawn of Modernity, by David Levine. ISBN 0-520-22058-7. A very interesting analysis of the cultural and technological changes that swept through Europe after the year 1000. Population was growing rapidly, new farmlands were being opened up, and new technologies were changing everything.
An Examen of Witches, by Henry Boguet. ISBN-13: 978-0-486-47358-1. A French magistrate in the sixteenth century explains how to ferret out all the witches and get their confessions before burning them. It’s interesting to see an apparently intelligent man so utterly lost to rationalism.
The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, by Edward Grant.Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 078-0-521-56762-6. This book had a huge impact on me; it brought home to me the magnitude of the achievement of medieval scholars in transforming Aristotelian thought into modern science. This truly was one of the great intellectual leaps in human history, and the author explains it in enough detail to make the reader appreciate their achievement — but not so much detail as to overwhelm the reader with fine points. That in itself is a major achievement. Highly recommended, but only to those who already know enough about the history to appreciate it.
God & Reason in the Middle Ages, by Edward Grant ISBN 0-521-00337-7. A solid history of the rise of reason in Western civilization during the period between the 12th and the 15th centuries.
An Historical Geography of Europe, 450 BC to AD 1330, by Norman J.G. Pounds. ISBN 0-521-08563-2. Presents in great detail the terrain in which Europeans lived. Presents snapshots at five moments: fifth century BC; second century AD; ninth century; twelfth century, and fourteenth century.
A History of the English Language, by Albert C. Baugh. No ISBN. A college textbook starting with Indo-European, by a professor of old English literature.
The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250 − 1600, by Alfred J. Crosby. ISBN 0-521-63990-5. Another approach to the change in Western thinking arising from the greater use of quantification. An important book.
Medieval Cities, by Henri Pirenne. This is an old but still important book. Pirenne explains how Europe recovered from the Dark Ages by re-constituting its cities. This turned out to be a more complicated process than one would think, largely because big landowners did not like losing their serfs to cities.
Reason and Society in the Middle Ages, by Alexander Murray. ISBN 0-19-822540-7. Definitely an odd book, this includes chapters on ‘Money’, ‘Avarice’, ‘Ambition’, and ‘The Religious Effects of Noble Condition’. I really don’t know what to make of this book.
Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning 1300 − 1600. by Paul F. Grendler. ISBN 0-8018-4229-8. Useful for establishing the degree of literacy in Renaissance Italy. It was certainly higher in the mercantile cities such as Venice and Florence than in cities like Rome.
The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe. ed Rosamund McKitterick. ISBN 0-521-42896-3. Covers the period from the 5th century to the 11th century, showing how literacy, while practised by a few educated churchmen, played an important role in early medieval society.
The Victory of Reason, by Rodney Stark.ISBN 1-4000-6228-4. A truly ghastly book attributing all that is good in Western civilization to Christianity. Among other absurdities, he claims that the stirrup was a Christian invention, that Christians discovered the magnetic compass, that trade played little role in the economic life of Roman cities, and that Roman roads were too narrow for large carts. The book is filled with such ignorant nonsense. I suspect that it was written to counter the equally nonsensical view that the Church was responsible for nothing but evil throughout history.
The Voice of the Middle Ages, by Catherine Moriarty. ISBN 0-87226-343-6. A fascinating collection of personal letters from the 12th through 15th centuries discussing all manner of issues. A window into the minds of literate people who weren’t necessarily important.
The Modern Era
The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson. A disappointingly brief explanation of how complex financial institutions developed in Europe during the crucial period from 1400 CE to 1900 CE.
Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, by Galileo Galilei. ISBN 0-7624-2015-4. These were the dialogues that got Galileo in hot water with the Church. It truly is impressive to see how Galileo pushed rationalism and logic into quantitative territory. This guy truly did lay the foundations for modern science.
A Farewell to Alms, by Gregory Clark. ISBN-13: 978-0-691-14128-2. A controversial work that suggests that the Industrial Revolution was triggered by genetic refinement of the British people. The author suggests that intense meritocracy of English mercantile society rapidly improved the intelligence of the population, which within just a few centuries led to the Industrial Revolution. While the author provides excellent research, and hedges his claims carefully, I nevertheless find the notion preposterious.
The Great Decision, by Cliff Sloan and David McKean. A detailed examination of exactly how the monumental case of Marbury v. Madison was decided. Much of the book is about the politics and personalities, but there are some revealing sections about the legal reasoning at work in the case.
The Great Divergence, by Kenneth Pomeranz. A study of how and why the West was able to jump past all other civilization after 1500 and conquer the world. His answer does not convince me.
How the West Grew Rich, by Rosenberg and Birdzell. ISBN 0-465-03109-9. An explanation of the explosion of Western power in the modern era. It provides a useful counterpoint to the overwrought hypothesis offered in A Farewell to Alms above. The authors zero in on the cultural and institutional structures that the West developed as the source of its fabulous success.
A Natural History of the Common Law, by S. F. C. Milsom. ISBN 0-231-12994-7. These are some lectures by a frumpy old English professor on the English common law as it developed over the centuries.
The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. ISBN 0-521-27735-3. This is an abridged version (275 pages) of Eisenstein’s monumental work on the impact of printing on Western civilization. The printing press set off a series of fundamental changes whose repercussions continue to bounce around Western civilization.
On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, by Nicolaus Copernicus. The book that kicked medieval science in the butt. It’s impressive reading because it’s so damn dense. You really have to read the thing line by line to figure out exactly what Copernicus was saying. It’s especially difficult to follow his calculations because they’re so complicated. And he did everything by hand!
The Salem Witchcraft Trials, A Legal History, by Peter Charles Hoffer. ISBN 0-7006-0859-1. This presents the whole idiotic episode, explaining the personal animosities, social mores, and general tenor of the times that led to the outrages. It also shows how people reacted with such shock to the results that belief in witchcraft flickered out rapidly afterwards.
Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West, by Margaret C. Jacob. ISBN 978-0-19-508220-3. Jacob explains how science became a hot topic in Enlightenment society. People paid money to hear lectures about the latest scientific discoveries. Scientists were cool; excitement was in the air. This led to a dramatic expansion of scientific effort and, more important, an open-mindedness about science that permitted funding of ambitious new technologies.
A Splendid Exchange: how trade shaped the world. by William J. Bernstein. ISBN-13: 978-0-87113-979-5. A history of trade spanning earliest times to modern day. It shows how trade conferred wealth and power upon nations. It does not, however, much discuss the ancillary effects of trade on civilization.
State Trials, Volume 1 (Treason and Libel) and Volume 2 (The Public Conscience), ed Donald Thomas. ISBN 0-7100-7325-9 and 0-7100-7326-7. This is a condensation of the huge record of state trials gathered and published nearly 200 years ago. Here are the proceedings of state trials from that of Thomas More in 1535 to John Hatchard in 1817. They clearly show the progress of rationalism in English law. More was railroaded by obvious perjury and condemned. Over time, rationalism played an increasingly important role in trial proceedings, until by the beginning of the 19th century, English legal proceedings showed an admirable respect for logic.
The Taste of Conquest: the rise and fall of the three great cities of spice, by Michael Krondl, ISBN 978-0-345-48083-5. The “three great cities” were Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam, and each in turn accumulated vast wealth by capturing the spice trade from the east. They accomplished this by sometimes brutal means. This book interested me because of the possible relationship of mercantilism to the advance of rationalism, but I found little material either way.
The Triumph of Science and Reason 1660 − 1685. By Frederick L. Nussbaum. (1953). Whatever the title says, this is NOT about the progress of science and reason in Europe. It’s a general history of European civilization during this period. Yes, science and reason did show their influence, but this book is not primarily about that influence. Harrumph!
Vermeer’s Hat, by Timothy Brook. The explosion of Europe out of Europe and into the rest of the world led to profound changes in European thinking. Trade played a crucial role in this process.
Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750, ed. Marion Gibson. ISBN 0-8014-8874-5. A collection of historical documents showing how witchcraft was perceived, legislated against, prosecuted, and supposedly practised. Covers the period during which superstitions about witchcraft were replaced with more rational attitudes.
Words and Deeds in Renaissance Rome: Trials before the Papal magistrates, by Thomas V. and Elizabeth S. Cohen. ISBN 0-8020-2825-x. Detailed accounts of nine criminal cases that came before the Papal magistrates between 1540 and 1575. The cases are decided solely on the basis of testimony. Even in a case of supposed witchcraft, the devices used are discussed in great detail but never actually examined by the court. All in all, the process does not bespeak a highly rational approach.
Chinese Thought, Society, and Science, by Derk Bodde. ISBN 0-8248-1334-0. Unlike Needham’s work above, this book explores the intellectual foundations that denied China the science to have its own scientific revolution akin to what Europe produced. He demonstrates that the Chinese writing system held back Chinese thought, and the deeply humanistic tone of Chinese philosophy further retarded scientific progress.
Confucius, A Throneless King. A biography of China’s greatest sage, which includes a basic examination of his teachings.
The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics, by George Gheverghese Joseph, ISBN 0-691-00659-8. A broad survey of mathematics as developed and used by non-European cultures. I was struck by the spotty nature of other cultures’ achievements: mighty leaps in some areas mixed with primitive ideas in others.
The First Emperor: Selections from the Historical Records, by Sima Quam. ISBN 978-0-19-957439-1. One long quote says it all: “If [the sovereign] really and truly does so, then the subjects are without depravity; if the subjects are without depravity, then all under Heaven is at peace; if all under Heaven is at peace, then the sovereign’s severity is venerated; if the sovereign’s severity is venerated, then the supervision and allocation of responsibility become automatic; if the supervision and allocation of responsibility become automatic, then what is sought is obtained; if what is sought is obtained, then the nation becomes rich; if the nation becomes rich, then the ruler’s pleasures are abundant.” Even taking into account the clumsiness introduced by translation across languages and cultures, this strikes me as pseudo-rationalism.
The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. By Richard E. Nisbett. ISBN 0-7432-1646-6. An explanation of the radically different thinking styles of East Asians and Westerners. The difference can be traced as far back as Classical Greece and Han China. Westerners analyze, East Asians strive to see everything in context.
The House of Wisdom. A presentation of the scientific achievements of Islamic culture. During its cultural efflourescence in the period 800 CE to 1200 CE, Islamic civilation made big strides in science and mathematics. Sadly, a wave of conservatism afterwards snuffed out the scientific curiosity and ended these efforts. Fortunately, the Europeans were able to pick up the ball even as Islam was dropping it.
Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by Toby E. Huff. A detailed examination of the reactions of various cultures to the newly-discovered telescope. The Europeans went ape over it; the Chinese, Indians, and Islamic societies wondered why anybody could get excited over a silly toy. They just didn’t have the sense of curiosity that the Europeans had.
Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu, by Marcia and Robert Asher. ISBN 0-486-29554-0. An impressive collation of most of what we know about quipus — which isn’t much. Despite having a number of original quipus in our possession, we have never succeeded in decoding them. The suspicion is that they were more like mnemonic devices than recording devices; the patterns of knots and colors could be interpreted only by the creator of the quipu. Quipus demonstrate a number of fascinating mathematical properties, but we really don’t know what it all means.
Mencius, ISBN 978-0-14-044971-6. Mencius is probably the second most revered philosopher after Confucius. The book reveals great wisdom bereft of rationalism. It exerted profound influence over subsequent Chinese civilization.
Science in Traditional China, by Joseph Needham. ISBN 0-674-79439-7. This is a much shorter version of the author's humongous work on Chinese science and civilization. It clearly demonstrates that, although the Chinese invented a vast array of technologies, these were never the result of scientific analysis. Chinese inventions were always extensions of or improvements on existing technologies. I therefore believe that ‘science’ is the wrong term to apply to Chinese technological progress; it was technology, not science.
Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World, by Gerd Gigerenzer. ISBN 0-19-513622-5. The author believes that rationality is not a cultural artifact, as I do, but instead an intrinsic result of the interaction between the human brain and its environment. His definition of rationality, however, is not as narrow as mine.
The Algebraic Mind: Integrating Connectionism and Cognitive Science. by Gary F. Marcus. ISBN 0-262-13379-2. The title captures the book’s thesis. The author sets out to merge connectionist theory with the notion that the mind is a symbol-manipulating machine. I wasn’t convinced.
An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind, by Ian Glynn. ISBN 0-19-513696-9. This is more about the brain than the mind; I would characterize it as “neurophysiology without all the gunk”.
Art, Mind, and Brain: A Cognitive Approach to Creativity, by Howard Gardner. ISBN 0-465-00445-8. A rather old book presenting some interesting ideas on cognitive development and art. I fear that it has been rendered obsolete by the research of the last twenty years, but it still has a few useful insights.
Bedouin Law. I was curious how a non-written legal system works, and the Bedouins have such a system. It’s not at all what we would call rational; the entire legal system resides in the heads of the old men who have specialized in it. They don’t have any formal legal education; if you want to learn the law, you listen in on the trials and pick up what you can. They don’t say how differences of opinion between judges are resolved. All in all, this system doesn’t work very well, but the Bedouins could never afford to dedicate the resources necessary to get the kind of complex legal system that the West has developed.
Beyond Civilization: The World’s Four Great Streams of Civilization. by Keith Chandler. ISBN 0-9636843-0-2. A little-known book with a fascinating concept: that civilizations are driven by fundamental mindsets addressing the fundamental challenges that each civilization faced.
The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker. ISBN 0-670-03151-8. A ferocious and devastating attack on the notion that the mind is a blank slate that can be programmed with anything given the right nurturing. Pinker doesn’t argue that nature overwhelms nurture, but that nature is just as important as nurture.
The Brain: An Introduction to Neuroscience, by Richard F. Thompson. ISBN 0-7167-1462-0. A basic textbook.
Computers and Thought, by five people, ISBN 0-262-19285-3. A standard textbook on artificial intelligence.
The Cradle of Thought, by Peter Hobson. ISBN 0-19-521954-6. Presents the thesis that thought develops ontogenetically rather than phylogenetically. In other words, we aren’t born with the ability to think, we learn how to think in the first eighteen months of our lives. I reject the thesis entirely.
Creating Minds, by Howard Gardner. The author looks at seven highly influential creative people and seeks to understand the common ground they share. His subjects are Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Ghandi. Each one gets a chapter-long biography that concentrates on creative influences. The final chapter summarizes the results. He succeeds in finding some common elements, but finds just as many differences.
The Creative Loop: How the Brain Makes a Mind, by Erich Harth. ISBN 0-201-57079-3. I did not like this book. The book attempts jump from neurons to consciousness, and his style of writing is too loosey-goosey for my taste.
Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio R. Damasio. ISBN 0-399-13894-3. Soundly demolishes the notion that there is anything like a mind-body problem. The mind and body are too intiminately interconnected to consider them as separate entities. Our bodies profoundly affect our thinking.
Empires of Time, by Anthony Aveni. The measurement of time across different cultures reveals something about their thinking processes.
The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. by Shigehisa Kuriyama. ISBN 978-0-942299-89-2. A very impressive work analyzing in great detail the profound differences between medicine as practiced in ancient Greece and Han China. Illuminates the fundamental differences in thinking styles in a very specific fashion.
History of the Idea of Progress, by Robert Nisbet, ISBN 0-465-03025-4. A comprehensive analysis of the belief that humankind can better its condition. While it addresses the idea only in the context of Western history, this presents little problem because the advance of civilization is very much a Western article of faith.
The History of Mathematics, Second Edition, by Carl B. Boyer. ISBN 0-471-54397-7. Only the first 15 chapters are relevant to this study — but they are great utility. Boyer’s explanations of how ancient civilizations used and thought about mathematics greatly illuminates the difficulty they had with rigorous logical thinking.
A History of Reading, by Steven Roger Fischer. No ISBN. Part of a trilogy on language, writing, and reading, this volume covers reading from ancient Mesopotamia to modern email.
Human Universals, by Donald E. Brown. ISBN 0-07-008209-X. To understand what is different about different cultures, it is useful to know what is common to all cultures. This book presents those universal cultural elements.
Ideas, by Peter Watson. An ambitious book about the development of human thought, this falls short in several ways.
In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, by Scott Atran. ISBN 978-0-19-517803-6. Pulls together evolutionary theory, anthropology, archaeology, history, and sociology to explain how it is that religion plays so large a role in human life. Excellent.
A History of Mathematics, by Carl B. Boyer and Uta C. Merzbach. How and why mathematics developed in various cultures.
Kinds of Minds, by Daniel C. Dennett. ISBN 0-75380-043-8. An attempt to unify philosophical and biological approaches to consciousness. Inasmuch as I believe that consciousness is merely the modern euphemism for “soul”, I didn’t get much out of this book.
Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, by Gary Marcus. ISBN 978-0-618-87964-9. This is a fun little book that explains just how screwed up our brains are. It really is a mess inside that skull!
The Law of Primitive Man, by E. Adamson Hoebel. Not much here for my interests; an anthropological study of social mores in numerous extant primitive societies.
The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative. ed. Gottschall and Wilson. ISBN 0-8101-2287-1. A collection of papers attempting to position narrative in human evolution. I found it to be too strong on the literary side and too weak on the evolutionary side.
The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society, by Jack Goody 1986 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-33962-6. This is an anthropologist’s take on the effects of literacy on society. He devotes a goodly amount of space to the role religion plays in conjunction with writing and social organization. He also discusses law, primarily as a means to expose the many contradictions in the applications of law in less literate societies.
The Man Who Tasted Shapes, by Richard E. Cytowic. ISBN 0-87477-738-0. A discussion of a bizarre medical condition that causes cross-connections in the sensory systems (e.g., “That hamburger tasted very triangular”). The author uses this as a lever to crack open various issues with cognition and emotion.
The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Thought, by David Gelernter. ISBN 0-02-911602-3. Entirely too woo-woo for my taste.
Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures our Imagination, by Robert Jourdain. ISBN 0-688-14236-2. An attempt to explain how music works in the mind. Fairly good.
Orality and Literacy, by Walter J. Ong. 2002 Routledge (many editions) ISBN 0-415-28129-6. A classic in the field, this book examines the differences between oral cultures and literate cultures, with an emphasis on how consciousness changes with literacy.
Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity, by Dean Keith Simonton. ISBN 0-19-512879-6. An illuminating examination of creative genius from an evolutionary point of view.
The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukayama. This is another peripherally relevant book. It describes how the Chinese, Mamluks, the Catholic Church, various European states including Russia, and the English addressed the problem of “repatrimonialism” — the leader of the state installing his friends and relatives in positions of power, from which positions they abuse everybody else.
The Pinnacle of Life by Dr. Derek Denton 1993 Harper Collins ISBN 0-06-251124-6. A more physiological approach to the problems of consciousness and self-awareness. Oddly unilluminating.
Of Primeval Steps and Future Leaps, by Ardea Skybreak. ISBN 0-916650-19-7. A rather high-strung feminist take on human cultural evolution.
On The Origin of Stories, by Brian Boyd. An ambitious book that applies lessons from evolutionary psychology to the task of storytelling.
The Pythagorean Theorem, by Eli Maor. This is a mathematician’s history of proofs of the theorem. I was hoping for some information on the thinking behind the theorem in various cultures, but no such luck.
The Story of Law, by John Maxcy Zane, ISBN 0-86597-191-9. A broad history, starting with small tribal groups and tracing law in ancient cultures, right up to modern times. Quite thorough, it manages to show the big picture in detail.
The Storytelling Animal, by Jonathan Gottschall. A seriously flawed attempt to explain the role that storytelling plays in cognition.
Thinking, Fast and Slow. by Daniel Kahneman. ISBN 978-0-374-27563-1. An explanation of two different styles of thinking, which are basically the pattern-based thinking and sequential thinking that I explain in this essay. I don’t think the author really gets the difference.
The Trial: A History. A rather popularist book describing some landmark trials in Western history.
Understanding Early Civilizations, by Bruce G. Trigger. ISBN 978-0-521-70545-5. This excellent book has much to teach. It presents a detailed comparison of seven major early civilizations: Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Aztec, Maya, Inca, and Yoruba. It presents a series of topics and examines all seven civilizations in that topic. Typical topics include class systems and social mobility, allocation of wealth, cosmology, and art. A highly impressive work.
Where Mathematics Comes From, by Lakoff and Nunez. ISBN 0-465-03771-2. A brilliant examination of the cognitive mechanisms by which we form abstract mathematical concepts. Lakoff and Nunez argue that the fundamental mechanism is conceptual metaphor.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Most of this book is irrelevant this my study. However, it does illustrate the thinking style of the quintessential “Enlightenment Man”. Particularly striking are his detailed reports on various technologies he saw during his travels in Europe. Most are simple: clever gate designs, intriguing architectural ideas, and so forth.