Thursday, July 30, 2009

What I'm Reading - Late July, 2009

I give summer school finals this evening at UAA's Eagle River campus. Then it is off to Washington, Oregon and California for a few days. Mom's 91st birthday celebration is this coming weekend. I'll try to post some entries about the travels and on any notable Alaska events.

Here are some of the books I'm now reading:

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. This was recommended to me by somebody who was as impressed as was I by the book, 1491. Wright is a skeptic of many aspects of conventional thinking on what the term "progress" really means. Wright concentrates on civilizations that had "cashed in all their natural capital." I feel we are doing much of the same with our industrial farming, meat production, fishing and mining practices, among other things.

Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press
by Eric Boehlert. I'm almost finished with this book. Chapter 13, as has been observed, is about Alaska bloggers and their role in getting timely and accurate information out about Sarah Palin after she was selected to be Sen. John McCain's 2008 running mate.

Train Your Mind; Change Your Brain
by Sharon Begley. Here's from a review by Nancy Fontaine:

Neuroplasticity is nothing less than the ability of the brain to grow new neurons and rewire itself, which neurologists and psychologists until recently believed impossible. Sharon Begley, as science columnist for The Wall Street Journal, takes a subject that could have been dry as dust or, conversely, simplified into self-help slogans, and turns it into a riveting story. Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain is as entertaining as it is edifying. This unlikely page turner fascinates, and suggests optimism about your brain's capacities.

Begley frames her story around the 2004 Mind and Life Institute meeting, whose subject was neuroplasticity. The Mind and Life Institute was formed in 1990 as a way for the Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile and spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, to both learn more about science and integrate it into Buddhism. Every few years, prominent scientists are invited to Dharamsala, India, to make presentations to the Dalai Lama, who discusses their findings with them.

Alternating between the scientists speaking to the Dalai Lama and a more general narrative, Begley begins at the beginning and lays out clues like in a detective novel. When the pioneers of the field found indications that the brain rewires itself, the establishment rejected the ideas by refusing to publish the findings in prestigious journals and rejecting funding requests. The investigators kept going and chipped away at the status quo, adding up studies of animals and people, discovering such things as why the blind have more acute hearing and amputees still feel their missing limbs. One-by-one, the tenets of the unchanging brain were felled, until it became official: even adults can achieve physical changes in their brains.

The Grammar of Conducting
by Max Rudolf. The most comprehensive guide to conducting instrumental ensembles. This book has been around for generations, and is still widely regarded as the best. I'm re-reading it.

Listen to This
by Mark Evan Bonds. This is a newly published student text for music appreciation classes. I'm learning it, as I'm switching my classes over to this text, beginning in late August.

No spy books or light reading on this trip.


AKMuckraker said...

Train Your Mind: Change Your Brain is fascinating. I think you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

Tell us about chapter 13 again.

ella said...

Enjoy your reading Phil! Great selection. If you decide on a fiction addition, "Two Babies" looks intersting - it is on
Thank you for being one of those vital characters in "Bloggers on the Bus." I don't know how I would have retained sanity these past 10months without you. : )

Gregg in Milwaukee said...

I wonder what Sarah is reading this summer. Oh yeah, I forgot. She reads 'em all.