How History Gets Things Wrong

The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories

How History Gets Things Wrong

Why we learn the wrong things from narrative history, and how our love for stories is hard-wired. To understand something, you need to know its history. Right? Wrong, says Alex Rosenberg in How History Gets Things Wrong. Feeling especially well-informed after reading a book of popular history on the best-seller list? Don't. Narrative history is always, always wrong. It's not just incomplete or inaccurate but deeply wrong, as wrong as Ptolemaic astronomy. We no longer believe that the earth is the center of the universe. Why do we still believe in historical narrative? Our attachment to history as a vehicle for understanding has a long Darwinian pedigree and a genetic basis. Our love of stories is hard-wired. Neuroscience reveals that human evolution shaped a tool useful for survival into a defective theory of human nature. Stories historians tell, Rosenberg continues, are not only wrong but harmful. Israel and Palestine, for example, have dueling narratives of dispossession that prevent one side from compromising with the other. Henry Kissinger applied lessons drawn from the Congress of Vienna to American foreign policy with disastrous results. Human evolution improved primate mind reading--the ability to anticipate the behavior of others, whether predators, prey, or cooperators--to get us to the top of the African food chain. Now, however, this hard-wired capacity makes us think we can understand history--what the Kaiser was thinking in 1914, why Hitler declared war on the United States--by uncovering the narratives of what happened and why. In fact, Rosenberg argues, we will only understand history if we don't make it into a story.

Justice and Popular Culture

Star Trek as Philosophical Text

Justice and Popular Culture

This book examines how humanity faces of the absence of a coherent, universal conception of justice. By analyzing Star Trek, this book argues that in order to obtain true democracy and justice the productive forces of society must be geared toward achieving a thriving society, the whole individual, and the ecology.

What is this thing called The Meaning of Life?

What is this thing called The Meaning of Life?

What are we asking when we ask, "What is the meaning of life?"? Can there be meaning without God? Is a happy life a meaningful life? Can an immoral life be meaningful? Does our suffering have meaning? Does death threaten meaning? What is this thing called The Meaning of Life? provides an engaging and stimulating introduction to philosophical thinking about life’s meaning. Goetz and Seachris provide the reader with accessible examples, before looking at the main theoretical approaches to meaning and key philosophers associated with them. Topics covered include: What does the question, "What is the meaning of life?", even mean? Does life have a purpose? What is valuable? Do we matter? Does life (or my life) make any sense? Is there any meaning in suffering? Does death threaten meaning? Would immortality be good or bad news for us? With boxed summaries of key concepts and noteworthy examples, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading included within each chapter, this book is the ideal introduction to life’s meaning for philosophy students coming to the subject for the first time.

American Harvest

God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland

American Harvest

An epic story of the American wheat harvest, the politics of food, and the culture of the Great Plains For over one hundred years, the Mockett family has owned a seven-thousand-acre wheat farm in the panhandle of Nebraska, where Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s father was raised. Mockett, who grew up in bohemian Carmel, California, with her father and her Japanese mother, knew little about farming when she inherited this land. Her father had all but forsworn it. In American Harvest, Mockett accompanies a group of evangelical Christian wheat harvesters through the heartland at the invitation of Eric Wolgemuth, the conservative farmer who has cut her family’s fields for decades. As Mockett follows Wolgemuth’s crew on the trail of ripening wheat from Texas to Idaho, they contemplate what Wolgemuth refers to as “the divide,” inadvertently peeling back layers of the American story to expose its contradictions and unhealed wounds. She joins the crew in the fields, attends church, and struggles to adapt to the rhythms of rural life, all the while continually reminded of her own status as a person who signals “not white,” but who people she encounters can’t quite categorize. American Harvest is an extraordinary evocation of the land and a thoughtful exploration of ingrained beliefs, from evangelical skepticism of evolution to cosmopolitan assumptions about food production and farming. With exquisite lyricism and humanity, this astonishing book attempts to reconcile competing versions of our national story.

In Truth

A History of Lies from Ancient Rome to Modern America

In Truth

From ancient Rome to the current Internet age, this sweeping history of ideas explores how different epochs wrestled with the issue of truth and lies.From the ancient Greeks and Romans to the modern era, how have people determined what is true? How have those with power and influence sought to control the narrative? Are we living in a post-truth era, or is that notion simply the latest attempt to control the narrative? The relationship between truth and power is the key theme.Moving through major historical periods, the author focuses on notable people and events, from well-known leaders like Julius Caesar and Adolf Hitler to lesser-known individuals like Procopius and Savonarola. He notes distinct parallels in history to current events. Julius Caesar's publication of his Gallic Wars and Civil Wars was an early exercise in political spin not unlike what we see today. During the English Civil War and the Enlightenment, pamphleteering coupled with the new power of the printing press challenged the status quo, as online and social media does in our time. And "fake news" was already being used by German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in nineteenth-century Europe and by the "yellow journalism" of American newspaper magnates William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer near the turn of the twentieth century.The author concludes optimistically, noting that we are debating and discussing truth more fiercely today than in any previous era. The determination to arrive at the truth, despite the manipulations of the powerful, bodes well for the future of democracy.

The Intrigues of Jennie Lee

A Novel

The Intrigues of Jennie Lee

A gripping and evocative story of love, politics, betrayal and bravery, which reimagines events of the interwar years. Jennie Lee was elected to parliament aged just twenty-four, five years too young even to vote in 1929 Britain. From the Labour backbenches, she hurled barbs and bolts of thunder at the likes of Winston Churchill, Lady Astor, even her own party’s Prime Minister, Ramsay McDonald. The novel intertwines real events with a personal story involving Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, the future Queen Mother; the womanizing fascist Oswald Mosley; the Great War prime minister Lloyd-George; and the radical Labour MP Aneurin Bevan. A series of political and intimate intrigues turn history into thriller when Jennie has the chance to radically change the course of history for Britain, Europe and the world. '...marvellous in so many ways... An excellent take on the twisted, dangerous politics of 1930s Britain and a rattling good read.' C.J. Sansom, author of Dominion and the Shardlake mysteries

Sociobiology and the Preemption of Social Science

Sociobiology and the Preemption of Social Science

Why have the social sciences in general failed to produce results with the ever-increasing explanatory power and predictive strength of the natural sciences? In seeking an answer to this question, Alexander Rosenberg, a philosopher of science, plunges into the controversial discipline of sociobiology. Sociobiology, Rosenberg asserts, deals in those forces governing human behavior that traditional social science has unsuccessfully attempted to slip between: neurophysiology, on the one hand, and selective forces, on the other. Unlike previous works in the two fields it straddles, Rosenberg's book brings thinking about the nature of scientific theorizing to bear on the most traditional issues in the philosophy of social science. The author finds that the subjects of conventional social science do not reflect the operation of laws that social scientists are equipped to discover. The author argues that much of the debate surrounding sociobiology is irrelevant to the issue of its ultimate success. Although largely conceptual, the book is an unequivocal defense of this new theory in the explanation of human behavior.

Speaking in the Past Tense

Canadian Novelists on Writing Historical Fiction

Speaking in the Past Tense

“Speaking in the Past Tense participates in an expanding critical dialogue on the writing of historical fiction, providing a series of reflections on the process from the perspective of those souls intrepid enough to step onto what is, practically by definition, contested territory.” — Herb Wyile, from the Introduction The extermination of the Beothuk ... the exploration of the Arctic ... the experiences of soldiers in the trenches during World War I ... the foibles of Canada’s longest-serving prime minister ... the Ojibway sniper who is credited with 378 wartime kills—these are just some of the people and events discussed in these candid and wide-ranging interviews with eleven authors whose novels are based on events in Canadian history. These sometimes startling conversations take the reader behind the scenes of the novels and into the minds of their authors. Through them we explore the writers’ motives for writing, the challenges they faced in gathering information and presenting it in fictional form, the sometimes hostile reaction they faced after publication, and, perhaps most interestingly, the stories that didn’t make it into their novels. Speaking in the Past Tense provides fascinating insights into the construction of national historical narratives and myths, both those familiar to us and those that are still being written.

Terrible Beauty: A Cultural History of the Twentieth Century

The People and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind: A History

Terrible Beauty: A Cultural History of the Twentieth Century

A history of the twentieth century which covers all the ideas, people, great events, literary and artistic movements, scientific discoveries which have shaped the twentieth century. Terrible Beauty presents a unique narrative of the twentieth century. Unlike more conventional histories, where the focus is on political events and personalities, on wars, treaties and elections, this book concentrates on the ideas that made the century so rich, rewarding and provocative. Beginning with four seminal ideas which were introduced in 1900 - the unconscious, the gene, the quantum and Picasso's first paintings in Paris - the book brings together the main areas of thought and juxtaposes the most original and influential ideas of our time in an immensely readable narrative. From the creation of plastic to Norman Mailer, from the discovery of the 'Big Bang' to the Counterculture, from Relativity to Susan Sontag, from Proust to Salman Rushdie, and Henri Bergson to Saul Bellow, the book's range is encyclopedic. We meet in these pages the other twentieth century, the writers, the artists, the scientists and philosophers who were not cowed by the political and military disasters raging around them, and produced some of the most amazing and rewarding ideas by which we live. Terrible Beauty, endlessly stimulating and provocative, affirms that there was much more to the twentieth century than war and genocide.