Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Book Report Meme

Timothy Sandefur has tagged me to answer some questions about books. Here are my answers:

1. Total number of books I’ve owned. I have no idea. At this point, I have boxes full of books, probably numbering somewhere close to 2000. And I’ve never sold any books at garage sales or to second hand stores or anything, or for that matter thrown them out, so that must be pretty close to the number of books I’ve owned.

2. Last book I bought. Hmmm. It’s either Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett, or Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I forget the order in which I bought them, but it was within a few days of each other.

3. Last book I read. This is actually a more difficult question to answer than it might seem. Like most people I know, I typically have multiple books going at the same time. Along with the two books above that I recently bought, I’ve also been rereading Finding Darwin’s God by Ken Miller.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me.

A Mencken Chrestomathy by HL Mencken. A book I seem to return to again and again, and have for nearly 20 years.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. A brilliant exposition of the necessity of freedom.

Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. And why people fear it.

United States by Gore Vidal. A massive collection (over 1300 pages) of essays written over the course of 50 years, most of them before Vidal went off into conspiracy mongering.

Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan.

I’m supposed to pass it on to 5 people, but I’d rather just let people pick up on it if they feel so inspired.


  1. #1 raj
    May 24, 2005

    Total number of books that we owned? I have no idea, but I’ll just let you know that, when we moved into our home in 1983, we moved over 30 boxes of books and magazines. I have Bon Apetit and Gourmet from 1977 or so.

  2. #2 raj
    May 24, 2005

    Best book?

    I’ve read a number of interesting books. Currently some in my technical specialty (physics) which would be uninteresting to most here.

    A really interesting book that I’ve referred to over the past few years is The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. It’s available over the internet. The cynicism in the book is palpable. And it’s very funny. Do a google search.

  3. #3 Ginger Yellow
    May 25, 2005

    How did you find Freedom Evolves, Ed, or have you not read it yet? I didn’t find it as persuasive as Consciousness Explained or as insightful as Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, but it had some interesting things to say nonetheles.

  4. #4 GeneralZod
    May 25, 2005

    How many I own: No idea – I lend out a lot and lose a lot.

    Last book I bought: The End of Faith by Sam Harris.

    Last book I read: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (read it fot the 2nd time – still great).

  5. #5 Dave S.
    May 25, 2005

    1. Total number of books I’ve owned.

    Unknown, but at least 2-3000. Maybe I’ll count them some rainy Sunday.

    2. Last book I bought.

    Bruce Catton’s 3-volume opus on the Civil War. Unputdownable.

    3. Last book I read.

    I’m not proud of this. The book was there and closest to the chair, so I read it all. Liberace’s autobiography.

    4. Five books that mean a lot to me.

    All books mean a lot to me.

  6. #6 Uber
    May 25, 2005

    1.probably 500-700, mostly natural history stuff.

    2. ‘Ancestors Tale’ by Dawkins. ‘Science Friction’ by Shermer.

    3. ‘Bad Thinking’ by Shermer

    4. Bible that my grandmother gave me, a keepsake from a remarkable woman. Several books on crocodiles, one which is over 100 years old.

  7. #7 Ginger Yellow
    May 25, 2005

    To answer the questions…

    1 How many books do you own?

    Don’t really know, but probably 1000-2000

    2 Last book I bought?

    I bought a load at once: Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, a collection of Phil Dick short stories, A Confederacy of Dunces, Guns, Germs and Steel, and the TPB of the Futurama comics.

    3. Last book I read?

    Funnily enough, Freedom Evolves, by Daniel Dennett.

    4. Five books that mean a lot to me.

    Scoop – I’m a journalist, what do you expect?

    If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler – narrative magic

    Beowulf – England’s epic (even if it’s not set in England)

    Consciousness Explained – my idea of a perfect non-fiction book

    If This Is A Man/The Truce – No explanation necessary. Or possible.

  8. #8 Dave S.
    May 25, 2005

    Oh, I did snag a first edition set of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771) from a used bookstore once, and I’m pretty fond of those. A bit hard to read with the non-terminal s’s looking like f’s, but very fun.

    At least I like to think they’re original. They might be some kind of sneaky facsimile. Apparently they’ve made some very convincing copies to celebrate the original. Where is the Antiques Roadshow when you need ’em!? *L*

  9. #9 Bill Ware
    May 25, 2005

    Wow! Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom. That’s near the top of my list.

    Language in Thought and Action by S. I. Hayakawa is my personal favorite.

  10. #10 carpundit
    May 25, 2005


    Why do we use “meme” to refer to these Amway-like spam quizzes?

    I think I understand the term’s genesis, a meme being a repeated more – some bit of culture passed on and on and on. But a meme is always the same, isn’t it? I mean that’s the whole idea, right?

    Yet everyone’s answers to these little quizzes are different, which seems to be the whole point of the little quizzes in the first place.

    Meme, then, seems to me to be exactly the wrong word.

    Am I wrong?


  11. #11 Jim Anderson
    May 25, 2005

    But, carpundit, everyone calls these things memes, which is a meme in itself.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    May 25, 2005


    The word “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins (at least I think he originated it, but perhaps he just expanded on someone else’s work) and it is intended to mean an idea that replicates itself, the equivalent of a gene.

  13. #13 carpundit
    May 25, 2005

    So you mean the meme is the idea of the questions themselves, without regard to the answers? The answers don’t replicate themselves, so that must be what you mean.

    I’m not trying to be an idiot (who ever does?) or to be pedantic, but “meme” hasn’t sat well with me in this context. I guess I’ll have to get used to it.

  14. #14 Ginger Yellow
    May 26, 2005

    “But a meme is always the same, isn’t it? I mean that’s the whole idea, right?”

    No, no, no! A meme is a self-replicator whose medium is the human brain. That’s the point. These little quiz things, or Googlebombs, or other stuff like that aren’t really memes in the Dawkins sense. Dawkins meant memes to be the exact parallel of genes, and hence the engine of cultural evolution. I suppose the key point is that the success of a meme doesn’t necessarily depend on any beneficial effect for its host, but rather it’s own reproductive viability. For example, either Dawkins or Dennett cites the meme of faith, which by discouraging critical thought enhances its own reproductive success. Smoking is another obvious example.

  15. #15 Ginger Yellow
    May 26, 2005

    Sorry, the medium is actually the human mind, but you know what I mean.

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