Neuron Culture

On the reading table lately

Been a while, so these cover a span of reading.

I’m in the midst of my friend Adrienne Mayor’s The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy, and can report that Mr. M is quite a poisonous but complicated handful — a dark and deadly echo of his hero and model, Alexander — and this reconstruction a splendid read.

A few weeks ago I finished Thomas Ricks’ The Gamble, an excellent account of the surge in Iraq. Ricks — who earlier wrote Fiasco, a devastating indictment of the run-up to the war, makes three things quite clear:

  1. The surge was not about more soldiers, but soldiers doing different things — protecting the populace rather than hunting the enemy. They killed fewer enemies — but reduced even further the number of new enemies made.
  2. This made things safer for both Iraqis and Americans, but didn’t necessarily solve any long-term problems.
  3. We’re going to be there a long long time.

While researching a feature I wrote that will be appearing soon in a major magazine near you, I read:

Deborah Blum’s Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. First-rate history of science here, and a fascinating look at Harry Harlow, a monkey researcher whose powerful but sometimes disturbing experiments in the middle decades of last century helped replace a cold behavioralist view of infancy and childhood with the theories of attachment and bonding that still rule today.

The 10,000-Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, by Harry Harpending and Gregory Cochran. “The Beak of the Finch (a favorite of mine), but this time about us.

And amid those I read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, which went through me like a bullet. Withering. Beautiful.