‘The Demolished Man,’ by Alfred Bester, is an American science fiction novel and inverted detective story, that was the first Hugo Award winner in 1953. The story is a police procedural set in a future where telepathy is common, although much of its effectiveness is derived from one individual having greater telepathic skill than another. In the 24th century, telepaths—’Espers’ (short for Extrasensory perception), colloquially known as ‘peepers’—are completely integrated into all levels of a class-based society.
Class 3 Espers, the most common, can detect only conscious thoughts at the time they are formed and are often employed as secretaries or administrators; Class 2 Espers can dig more deeply, to the pre-conscious level, detecting subliminal patterns, epiphanies and tenuous associations, and they are employed in the professional middle class—lawyers, managers, psychologists, etc. Class 1 Espers can detect all of the foregoing plus sub-conscious primitive urges, and they occupy only the highest levels of power in fields such as the police, government and medicine (such as psychiatry).
‘Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy’ (2008) is a bestselling book by Danish marketing expert Martin Lindstrom, in which he analyzes buying decisions. The author attempts to identify the factors that influence buyers’ decisions in a world cluttered with messages such as advertisements, slogans, jingles, and celebrity endorsements. Lindstrom, through a study of the human psyche, examines the subconscious mind and its role in deciding what the buyer will buy. He debunks some myths about advertising and promotion.
‘Buyology’ is claimed to be a result of the author’s three year neuromarketing study on 2,081 people to identify the effect of brands, logos, commercials, advertisements and products on them. Neuromarketing investigates the sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. The study was funded by seven corporations, including GlaxoSmithKline, Hakuhodo, Fremantle – and Lindstrom himself. The study evaluates the effectiveness of logos, product placement and subliminal advertising, the influence of our senses and the correlation between religion and branding.
How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb is a book written by Peter Kuran and published in 2006 by VCE. It documents the stories of the men who photographed US nuclear weapons tests between 1945–1963 and the techniques they used to capture nuclear blasts on film. The book contains 250 photos and 12 technical diagrams, some of which were previously classified.
Research on the book began while Kuran was working as an animator for ‘Star Wars.’ He was able to interview and collect material from photographers who witnessed the blasts, whom he calls unrecognized patriots. A traveling exhibit based on the book was purchased by the Atomic Testing Museum and put on display in 2007. In 2010, the ‘New York Times’ featured a 23-image slideshow on its website with photos taken from the book accompanied by an audio recording of George Yoshitake, then one of the few surviving cameramen.
Liar’s Poker is a non-fiction, semi-autobiographical book by Michael Lewis describing the author’s experiences as a bond salesman on Wall Street during the late 1980s. Two important figures in that history feature prominently in the text, the head of Salomon Brothers’ mortgage department Lewis Ranieri and the firm’s CEO John Gutfreund. The book’s name is taken from a high-stakes gambling game popular with bond traders.
First published in 1989, it is considered one of the books that defined Wall Street in that era, along with Bryan Burrough and John Helyar’s ‘Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco,’ and the fictional ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.’ The book captures an important period in the history of New York’s financial markets.read more »
‘The Design of Everyday Things‘ is a 1988 book by cognitive scientist and usability engineer Donald Norman on design’s role in enabling communication been objects and their users, and how to optimize that conduit to make the experience more effective. One of the main premises of the book is that although people are often keen to blame themselves when objects appear to malfunction, it is not the fault of the user but rather the lack of intuitive guidance that should be present in the design. In the book, Norman introduced the term ‘affordance’ as it applied to design, defining it as things that afford the opportunity for an organism to perform an action.
For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling. 20th century American psychologist James J. Gibson originally coined the term ‘affordance’ to describe changes made to one’s environment to make them more usable, such as carving stairs into a steep hill. Norman also popularized the term ‘user-centered design’ to describe design based on the needs of the user, leaving aside what he deemed secondary issues like aesthetics. User-centered design involves simplifying the structure of tasks, making things visible, getting the mapping right, exploiting the powers of constraint, designing for error, and explaining affordances.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. First published in 1968, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, where Earth’s life has been greatly damaged by nuclear global war. Most animal species are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning, so that owning an animal is now a sign of status and empathy, an attitude encouraged towards animals. The book served as the primary basis for the 1982 film ‘Blade Runner.’
The main plot follows a single day in the life of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter hired by the San Francisco Police Department to ‘retire’ (kill) six escaped androids. A secondary plot follows John Isidore, a driver for an electric-animal repair company, who is a ‘special’ (a radioactively-damaged, intellectually slow human whose status prohibits him from emigrating). In connection with Deckard’s mission, the novel explores the issue of what it is to be human. Unlike humans, the androids are claimed to possess no sense of empathy.
‘Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future’ is a 1990 book written by Scottish geologist Dougal Dixon exploring future evolutionary paths for humanity. Illustrator Philip Hood’s depictions of Dixon’s speculative organisms have been called fear-provoking and biologically horrific to the modern eye.
The book starts 200 years in the future where modern humans have genetically modified themselves into several subtypes including ‘aquamorphs’ (marine humans with gills instead of lungs) and ‘vacuumorphs’ (engineered for life in the vacuum of space, its skin and eyes carry shields of skin to keep its body stable even without pressure).read more »
A Short History of Progress is a nonfiction book and lecture series by Canadian author Ronald Wright about societal collapse. The lectures were delivered as a series of five speeches, each taking place in different cities across Canada as part of the 2004 ‘Massey Lectures’ (an annual series of lectures on a political, cultural or philosophical topic given in Canada by a noted scholar) which were broadcast on the CBC Radio program, ‘Ideas.’
Wright, an author of fiction and nonfiction works, uses the fallen civilizations of Easter Island, Sumeria, Rome, and Maya, as well as examples from the Stone Age, to see what conditions led to the downfall of those societies. He examines the meaning of progress and its implications for civilizations—past and present—arguing that the twentieth century was a time of runaway growth in human population, consumption, and technology that has now placed an unsustainable burden on all natural systems.read more »
Nicholas Nickleby is a novel by Charles Dickens. Originally published as a monthly serial from 1838 to 1839, it was Dickens’ third novel. The book centers on the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies. Dickens began writing ‘Nickleby’ while still working on ‘Oliver Twist’ and while the mood is considerably lighter, his depiction of the Yorkshire school run by Wackford Squeers is as moving and influential as those of the workhouse and criminal underclass in ‘Twist.’
Like most of Dickens’ early works, the novel has a contemporary setting. Much of the action takes place in London, with several chapters taking place in Dickens’ birthplace of Portsmouth, as well as settings in Yorkshire and Devon. The tone of the work is that of ironic social satire, with Dickens taking aim at what he perceives to be the class injustices of Victorian England. Many memorable characters are introduced, including Nicholas’ malevolent Uncle Ralph, and the villainous Wackford Squeers, who operates an abusive all-boys boarding school at which Nicholas temporarily serves as a tutor.read more »
‘Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe’ is the third novel by George Eliot, pen name of English novelist Mary Ann Evans. Published in 1861, it is an outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialization to community. Eliot’s novels often presented the cases of social outsiders and small-town persecution.
The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in an unnamed city in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation’s funds while watching over the very ill deacon.read more »
‘The Truth Machine‘ is a 1996 science fiction novel by James L. Halperin about an infallible lie detector. Soon, every citizen must pass a thorough test under a Truth Machine to get a job or receive any sort of license. Eventually, people begin wearing them all the time, thus eliminating dishonesty in all parts of human interaction, including most crime, terrorism and a great deal of general social problems.
The novel focuses on the life story of the machine’s inventor, Pete Armstrong, a child prodigy whose life has been defined by the tragic murder of his younger brother, Leonard, by an ex-convict who was believed to be capable of committing violent crimes again, but who could not be incarcerated on mere suspicions. Armstrong claimed that as long as it was employed universally (and not just by government officials), the ‘truth machine’ could revolutionize humanity and take it to that next evolutionary step. However, the protagonist places a back door in the device, allowing him to avoid detection when he repeats fragments of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ in his mind.
‘Character Strengths and Virtues‘ (CSV) is a 2004 book by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman that presents humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner. Seligman describes it as a ‘positive’ counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While the DSM focuses on what can go wrong, CSV is designed to look at what can go right.
In their research they looked across cultures and time to distill a manageable list of virtues that have been highly valued from ancient China and India, through Greece and Rome, to contemporary Western cultures. Their list includes six character strengths: wisdom/knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Each of these has three to five sub-entries; for instance, temperance includes forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation. The authors do not believe that there is a hierarchy for the six virtues; no one is more fundamental than or a precursor to the others.read more »