Mind Matters — Not Necessarily for the Beach Reading
Summertime is here, at least for a little while longer. The books thumbnail-reviewed here are hardly escapist beach reading, so perhaps you’ll choose to read them by a wintry fire. However, consider how they might engender great topics for conversation on a breezy summer evening.
- The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, by Frans de Waal, Ph.D.
This book reverses the misnomer that evolution is all about cutthroat competition. It was the business world of the 1800’s, not Darwin, that coined the term, “survival of the fittest.” De Waal shows us that it is empathy that is deeply ingrained in our DNA and is an “innate, age-old capacity.” And we are not singular in this: our distant relatives up our ancient family tree—animals—show empathy as well—sometimes even to us. Empathy has been necessary for our survival: where would we be if mothers (and fathers) did not respond to the cries of their young for nurture and protection? (Women, by the way, seem to have a dollop more of empathy.)
- Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl.
Hvistendahl sounds a warning about sex selection that is occurring all over the world. The ratio of boys to girls is becoming more and more skewed, with boys being the desired gender. This imbalance has already lead to a rise in sex trafficking and bride buying in Asia. This is a provocative read that questions past American policies regarding “population control”—especially in the developing nations.
- Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV, by Jennifer L. Pozner.
This is a bubble bursting book to anyone thoroughly enamored with Reality TV. Pozner reminds us that these shows aren’t really so prodigious because “it’s what the viewer wants,” but because they are dirt cheap to produce. However, Pozner argues, Reality TV, in both their content and their ads, are denigrating women and minorities. Pozner dissects the shadow side of reality TV: her book may be bitter medicine for some, but certainly she gives a strong antidote to TV’s toxicity.
So summer at least is an easy time to turn off that TV and read some hefty books in the hammock. Then go back to those mysteries that are so much easier to solve. Just remember: the bottom line is empathy.