Deep Thoughts (2019 OAT Titles)

1. What is the present?
North, Michael. Princeton, 2018

North (English, UCLA) offers the results of his extensive research on the question that serves as the title of this book. Writing in an almost conversational style, the author reveals that there is much to be learned about how “present” time was regarded in ancient and medieval times—e.g., before and after tended to be calibrated to significant events)—and how it came to be regarded in the modern and contemporary period, i.e., after the calendrical method took over in the 17th century. For millennia humans muddled through social commerce without universal ways of keeping track of past, present, and future.
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2. The universe as it really is: Earth, space, matter, and time
by Thomas R. Scott with James Lawrence Powell Columbia, 2018

Scott (emer., psychology, San Diego State Univ.) strikes a good balance between breadth and depth in this entertaining tour of science. Nonscholarly audiences will find much to ponder in each chapter. One might imagine this narrative as taking a “powers of 10” approach because the book is organized primarily by scale rather than by chronology or discipline. The tour begins with elementary particles before moving up to atoms and molecules. After an intermission on gravity, time, and light, readers move on to Earth, the solar system, and the rest of the universe. Physics, astronomy, and Earth sciences are the primary source fields. Exceptional figures in science are introduced along the way, among them many who deserve more recognition, such as Claire Patterson.
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3. How things count as the same: memory, mimesis, and metaphor
by Adam B. Seligman and Robert P. Weller Oxford, 2019

How do human groups construct perceptions of sameness and difference among themselves and others? This is the core question Seligman (Boston Univ.) and Weller (Boston Univ.) address in this masterful monograph. Drawing on insights from a variety of philosophers, linguists, and social theorists, the authors identify three interrelated schemas by which societies construct sameness and difference: memory (shared stories connecting the present with the past, such as sharing a belief that God rescued one’s ancestors from slavery in Egypt); mimesis (shared behavioral conventions, such as participating in the Eucharist together); and metaphor (attempts to construct new perceptions of sameness, such as promoting feelings of identify among indigenous peoples due to similar experiences regardless of historical or geographical context).
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4. Astrology through history: interpreting the stars from ancient Mesopotamia to the present
ed. by William E. Burns ABC-CLIO, 2018

Astrology through History: Interpreting the Stars from Ancient Mesopotamia to the Present is a welcome addition to the burgeoning academic literature on astrology. The introduction presents a summary history of astrology that encompasses the scope of human practice. The bulk of the text is given to individual entries, arranged alphabetically, but a number of additional tools enhance the encyclopedia’s utility. These include separate topical and alphabetical lists of entries, a time line, a curated bibliography, and a glossary. Each entry consists of a detailed article of varying length, a brief bibliography of further resources, and—when relevant—a list of related articles under a “see also” heading. Authoritative in scope, this work covers the undeniable historical engagement of astrology, in entries ranging from Ancient Greece to New Age, Theosophy to Judaism, Yeats to Chaucer, and Nazism to Feminist Astrology.
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5. A scientific search for altruism: do we care only about ourselves?
Batson, C. Daniel. Oxford, 2019

The author of this fine new book is one of the pioneers in the study of prosocial behavior, specifically altruism: helping another when there is a cost, sometimes significant, to oneself. Batson (emer., Univ. of Kansas) is the author of scores of papers and chapters on altruism and related subjects, including one of the most oft-cited articles on prosocial behavior in social psychology (“From Jerusalem to Jericho,” Darley and Batson, 1973); he has been particularly interested throughout his career in the relationship between empathy and altruism. Batson’s most notable contribution to the longstanding debate about whether humans are fundamentally selfish or fundamentally altruistic has been his use of various experimental methodologies to approach the problem. This book is a kind of busman’s tour of his own and other’s research into the empathy-altruism relationship, the twists and turns that research has taken, and the conclusions the author has drawn from it.
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