Blow Hard: The Power of Explaining Without Brevity

by phil on Friday Aug 19, 2005 11:06 AM

Quick question: What do you call a small intellectual awakening sprawled out over three hundred pages?

Answer: A bestseller.

There is just too much talk and too many books occupying too much shelf space. When really, most of these things can be cut down to to a couple headlines.

Here's the test: If you can satisfactorily explain a book in a noisy bar, then maybe it's not insightful.

Here are some results of this test (Disclaimer: I get book sales commisions):

100 People Who Are Screwing up America - I'm a conservative and I've heard many people say annoying things on television.

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution - Sometimes groups without leaders can do amazing things. Therefore, groupware such as text messaging, can produce amazing things.

Hackers & Painters - Engineering can be as creative as painting.

Fahrenheit 9/11 - The President allowed members of the Bin Laden family to take off a few days after 9/11. Sketchy, huh?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - Instincts matter.

Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America - Think twice before taking Prozac because it is over-prescribed.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century - We import and export tons of things now, including culture and ideas.


Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means - You know they say "it's a small world." Well that is an efficiency in all systems from physics to social relations, and we are just beginning to know what it means.

This one passed the test; this book was more than just the author's epiphany. The book actually reads more like a textbook, with formulas that you need to wrap your head around to appreciate.

On the sidebar of my website, I have a collection of reading material that I've also just gone through and condensed.

On the sidebar of my website, I have a collection of reading material that I've also just gone through and condensed. Upon summarization, some appear worth reading, while as others, not so much.

Anglosphere Primer - There's been a trend over the past centuries of English dominance. Maybe the top English-speaking nations' success is due to their culture.

Carl Sagan Speech - We are all connected now, brother.

Cluetrain Manifesto - Corporate-speak is disgusting, and corporations can succeed by being more reactive to the market and their consumers.

Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre - There is no God, therefore you must choose what to do on your own.

Extropian Principles - Grow with technology.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions - If we met a cartoon character in real life, he would become invisible when viewed from the side. Likewise, we are unaware of many things about ourselves.

How to Operate Spaceship Earth - Good solutions can be found by focusing on the biggest and most general pictures possible.

Huxley's Doors of Perception - Mescaline can show you some of the perceptual and conceptual invisibilities suggested by Flatland.

Logical Fallacies - If you stop and think for a minute about what you are saying, holes can be found.

Lucid Dreaming FAQ - Write down your dreams right after you wake up. After a couple weeks, you will be so involved with the dreaming process, that you'll be able to control your dreams.

Singularity, Vinge - The last hundred years of progress are equivalent to the previous thousand years of progress. Therefore the next ten years will be equivalent to the previous ten thousand years.

The Abolition of Work - Alternatives to an all-consuming 9-to-5 work lifestyle should be explored.

The American Scholar - Most people's education consists of imitation. You should not just be more critical about your schoolwork, but also be critical about your life.

The Eight Circuits of Consciousness - Here is an analogy between human intelligences, lobes of the brain, our billion-years evolution, and illegal drugs.

Transhumanist FAQ - There are a lot of new technologies out there that can make you feel like a superhero.

This summarization process is a bit of an apostasy for me. (apostasy, n. Abandonment of one's religious faith, a political party, one's principles, or a cause.) My site is titled "Philo + sophistry" or the "love of rhetoric." All of the works mentioned in this post have inspired me in the moments I've spent reading them. But after putting the books aside and discussing them with others, much of the excitment and insight evaporates.


Bob said on August 19, 2005 3:41 PM:

That was awesome! It sounds a lot like something I've thought of before--that there are some books I want to read, and some books I want merely "to have read".

I think generally the books I'm reading just to "have read" are those that can be summarized in a sentence or two; those I'm reading because I want to read them are harder to pin down...

It may also be that some books you read because you know you'll agree with them and just want the simple, repetitive pat on the back. Other books you read because you don't know what they're talking about--those are generally also harder to summarize...

Josh said on August 20, 2005 6:35 PM:

Another good book related to your "exception" is Nexus: The groundbreaking science of networks. You should check it out

Philip Dhingra said on August 21, 2005 9:07 AM:

Thanks Josh.

The paperback is titled "Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking _Theory_ of Networks" and the hardcover "Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking _Science_ of Networks." Maybe after seeing "A New Kind of Science" get panned they changed the name in the newer edition. Although, ANKoS has sold a lot of copies.

Based on the intro, looks pretty similar to Linked. Nexus has as 4.5 stars out of 5, while as "Linked" has 4 stars, though.

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