Archive for the ‘Social Science’ Category


You Review: How to Make a Human Being – Christopher Potter

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Reviewed by David Young

How to Make a Human Being has to be the most interesting and challenging book I’ve ever reviewed. No information about the author (I discover he is a publisher with a well-received “pop science” book to his name) or an introduction explaining the purpose of the book – no, the reader is plunged straight into the famous 18th century “Materialism” versus “Idealism” controversy stimulated by Bishop Berkeley. And it doesn’t get less challenging….

The book is divided into 3 sections: the first covers our physical environment (cosmology, physics, mathematics, philosophy), the second where we come from (genetics, psychology, more philosophy) and the third how we relate to the world around us (psychology, neurology, sociology). The author is an amazingly well-read polymath, but he wears his learning very lightly and is capable of explaining highly complex topics in a very comprehensible fashion – this is the nearest I’ve ever come to understanding Quantum Mechanics, for instance.

I recommend reading this book in small chunks, as every chapter is really full of meaty stuff which needs some absorbing. On the plus side the author occasionally drops in a delightful insight of his own which will certainly make you think, and there are some nuggets with which you can impress your dinner party guests (did you know that humans share 50% of their genes with bananas?).

Overall Christopher Potter has succeeded in presenting a remarkably comprehensive summary of the Human Condition, one from which I learnt a great deal and will return to in the future with enormous pleasure.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

You Review a Local Author: Ready, Steady, Go Dutch – Dutch News & Access

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Reviewed by Patricia Kooyman

Ready, Steady, Go Dutch is not really a book but rather a collection of snippets from a survey among expats living in The Netherlands.

I like the idea of gathering experiences of people with very different backgrounds going through the same experiences, but if you publish such a collection and ask to be paid for it I would have expected you to do some work on it. As it is, it is really only that – a collection of snippets. Very few editorial comments, hardly any synthesis, and the main conclusion? “How you react to the peculiarities of the Dutch way of doing things reflects your own origins”. Now THAT’s an eye-opener!

Yes, some people love a certain fact of life in The Netherlands while others hate that same fact. That would hold for ANY country.

I find some snippets have been formulated rather judgmentally, and I don’t think that’s due to my being Dutch. There are quite a few things in the way ‘we’ run our society that annoy ME on a daily basis, and most of those are indeed addressed in this book.

If you search hard you can find a few useful practical tips hidden in between lots of rather incoherent and not always very logically arranged snippets. Fortunately these are not completely anonymised, so you quickly realise that Victoria thought life would be the same all over the world (and maybe would have done better not to relocate instead of whining about differences between her childhood paradise and real life) whereas French is really trying to give some helpful tips and to enjoy life in a different country. But if you’re looking for practical information you will easily find many websites and forums that offer up-to-date info with useful ‘live’ answers to your particular personal questions. Some of those are listed at the end of the book. And if you’re looking for a relaxed and fun introduction to all that is different to foreigners coming to The Netherlands buy The Undutchables instead. Which fortunately is also in the list of recommended books.

Reviewed by Linda Radwan

Ready, Steady, Go Dutch was a fun book to read. I was amazed at the various experiences of people coming to the Netherlands and their view on the Dutch world. I have to say, being a foreigner myself in the Netherlands makes it easier to relate to some subjects. Yet with most of the subjects I could not relate at all. I think it also depends from which country you originally came from. If you came from the U.S., for example, it is normal to think that the Dutch customer service is low while my experience is that the Dutch customer service is quite high but that is in comparison to my own country. Also the idea of Dutch people being more laid-back in work is strange to me, having experienced nothing more than a truly hardworking, sometimes harsh mentality and exaggerated eagerness to stay late and finish one’s own work. But, once again, it depends from which country you came from.

So in conclusion, I liked the book.  It was fun to read but I could not relate to most of the quotes. Perhaps that is not necessary but I would have liked more similarities that could have made me nod eagerly or make me laugh and think ‘Yes, that is exactly what I thought as well!’. I would have liked to identify myself more with the rest.

If you want to have an idea of what it’s like to live and work in the Netherlands then this book can be confusing because of the different opinions. But if you would like to know what people from different nations and cultures have experienced while living in the Netherlands then this book, thought up by Robin Pascoe and Deborah Valentine, is perfect.

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

Robin Pascoe is the founder of DutchNews.nl and presented her book at the first Meet My Book! event this past January.

A large part of the profit from Ready, Steady, Go Dutch will go to volunteer organisation ACCESS to help it continue providing information and advice to expats in the Netherlands.

You Review a Local Author: Ritual: The Magical Perspective – Luc Sala

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

In January, we started with a new event series: Meet My Book! These events give local authors a chance to present their book to a live audience. Each Meet My Book! author provides 2 review copies that are reviewed by a group of ABC customers who signed up for the You Review a Local Author program.

This inaugural post combines two reviews of Ritual: The Magical Perspective by Luc Sala, who was one of the authors at the very first Meet My Book! in January.  Ritual: The Magical Perspective is self-published and printed at ABC on our Espresso Book Machines.

Reviewed by Catarina Queiroz

In Ritual, the Magical Perspective, Luc Sala defends that rituals are basically practical and effective magic, present everywhere even if we don’t acknowledge them. Through extensive explanations with reference to a large number of different sources that range from philosophers to magicians, Sala addresses the basics of rituals according to his research and personal experience with the spiritual realm.

The first volume points out that, regarding rituals, our focus should be on the magical, the spiritual world, which can be reached once we learn how to let go of our ego and access our true self or inner child. According to Sala, rituals existed before language, myth or religion. They were a decisive factor in the creation of cultural identity and helped prehistoric men build a structured society, thus enabling progress and modern civilization as we know it. The author also attempts to make a connection between rituals and the notion of information, raising some good questions about rituals in virtual environments, cyberspace ethics and information freedom. The second volume is practical and aims to elucidate the theories presented with the study of rituals related to fire.

This is an interesting book if you’re into the theme and are keen to find arguments in favor of the effectiveness of magic. On the other hand, it’s kind of overwhelming in terms of size and references to different thinkers, perspectives and historical moments. The approach is also very personal (the author makes a point of saying so) and I think that without a background on the various references that Sala mentions it’s difficult to have a clear understanding or position about the book. Nevertheless, the author’s intention is clear: it’s urgent that we embrace the magical aspect of life, accepting ritual as a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds.

Reviewed by Richard Metcalf

This is an audacious and thought-provoking work by a fascinating author. In this self-published volume Luc Sala – entrepreneur, would-be politician, psychonaut, and writer – sets out his views on ritual, and examines its role in just about every aspect of the known (and unknown) universe.

Sala claims that – in contrast to a “ceremony”, which has a merely social and psychological function – a proper “ritual” involves a conscious attempt to change the world (both future and past) through an intangible connection to “the otherworld”, and argues that contemporary science (quantum brain, string theory) offers a possible explanation for how this back door to the universe works.

In over 500 large, two-column pages, Sala presents his personal views and theories, together with a survey of other perspectives in an impassioned, rambling style which make it sometimes hard to find the thread of his arguments. There is something rather dubious about such passionate advocacy of the power of the magical arts, and there’s a hint of frustration at an inability to change the world through more conventional means (the author seemingly believes that the “thought police” behind the “Wikipedia website” have it in for him). If rituals can effect real change through magical means, why bother to argue the point? Surely it’s better to spend your time performing those powerful rituals? True enough, in Sala’s definition, the publication of a book could clearly qualify as a series of rituals, but this one might have more impact after a hefty spell of “Wielding the Magical Red Pen”.

Despite these misgivings, there is a huge amount of interesting information here (Timothy Leary, Burning Man, Roger Penrose, Aleister Crowley and Rudolf Steiner all get a mention or three), accompanied by striking illustrations, and it’s certainly worth giving Sala’s multi-faceted perspective some degree of consideration.

Ritual: The Magical Perspective is a relatively long and somewhat frustrating read; but it’s also highly entertaining, and in a way, curiously compelling. (Hmmm… Who knows, perhaps there is some strange magic at work here after all?)

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

You Review: Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Reviewed by Oona Juutinen

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is about what the authors call a “science in the making”: the science of scarcity, the shortage or lack of something, and the effects it has on us. The book touches on so many topics that it’s simply impossible to sum it up shortly and the authors, Mullainathan and Shafir (an economist and a psychologist, respectively), have chosen to tackle several very big questions. Like why is it so difficult to fight poverty? And why do we keep doing things at the last minute? Amazingly enough, the explanations to both question have to do with scarcity.

In order to explore and and eventually explain the exact effects of scarcity, Mullainathan and Shafit introduce several new terms. One of them is “tunneling” – the intense focus created in our minds by the lack of something. Tunneling is the reason someone with financial trouble might not make the wisest decisions when trying to come up with the money to pay the next bills. It also explains the way we might completely neglect a project or a paper for weeks, only to finish it in one feverish flurry once time is about to run out. (Admit it, we’ve all been there.)

And though tunneling can momentarily pump up our productivity, it also harms us. Such a preoccupation in our mind “taxes our bandwidth”, making us unable to think of much else. This renders us less capable of seeing the big picture and thinking ahead. And so, in order to pay the next bill, the poor might take a loan with a too-high interest; the busy are likely to push other important projects aside in order to finish the one with the pressing deadline. Tunneling and taxed bandwidth make us all act in a shortsighted way.

Already the idea itself is fascinating, but the most important chapters of Scarcity are the ones where these concepts are connected to poverty and improving the lives of the poor. With their numerous examples Mullainathan and Shafir clearly illustrate how things like the poor taking ill-advised loans or performing worse in certain kinds of IQ tests are not caused by the poor being somehow less able, let alone stupid. Instead it’s a matter of scarcity: worrying about money has severely taxed their bandwidth and for the time being affected their cognitive capacities. So why are such things not considered when planning social programs? And could this failure be one of the reasons why poverty persists so?

Scarcity is very interesting in general, but it would be worth a read even for these chapters alone.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook of Scarcity available here.

Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime against Peace: An Interview with Polly Higgins

Friday, July 12th, 2013

“Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime against Peace”

- an interview with author and Earth’s Lawyer Polly Higgins by Femke Wijdekop, ABC’s former Consciousness buyer.  She interviewed Polly for AmsterdamFM, and we are very happy to be allowed to share it here with you.

Polly Higgins is an environmental activist, an international lawyer and the award-winning author of Eradicating Ecocide (eBook available here) and Earth is Our Business. In April 2010 she proposed to the United Nations to make Ecocide – the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems in a given territory – the 5th Crime Against Peace. Since that moment, she has been traveling around the world non-stop as “Earth’s Lawyer”, speaking at the International Criminal Court, the European Parliament, World Climate Summits and many other venues. On June 30th she visited Amsterdam to give an Earth Guardian Training organized by Rishis. Polly has also inspired the launch of the European Citizen’s Initiative to End Ecocide, which proposes to make Ecocide a crime in Europe and which needs 1 million signatures before 2014 in order to be tabled by the European Commission.

Polly and I talked on Skype and had a most inspiring conversation about the biggest challenge of our time, Ecocide, her own journey to become a spokeswoman for the rights of the Earth, and how each and everyone of us can be a ‘trim-tab’: a catalyst in the creation of a better world.

You can listen to the entire interview on our SoundCloud account, or via the player at the bottom of the interview.

Seven years ago something happened when you were representing a case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London that completely changed your life. What happened there?

Yes. Well occasionally in our lives we end up at a moment where we come to a junction. I didn’t actually realize that at the time, but I see now looking back, that I had reached one of those junctions in my life. And the challenge was, “which direction was I going to go”. What happened was I found myself at the very end of a three-year long case. And we were literally waiting for judgement – it was judgement day, we were waiting for the judges to return. This was at the Royal Courts of Justice in the center of London at the Court of Appeal, and there was a delay. I found myself looking out of the window, waiting for the judges to come in, thinking about how I had been, for the last three years, the voice on behalf of my client, who had been very badly injured and harmed in the workplace. And I looked out of the window and I thought “you know it’s not just my client that has been badly injured and harmed, so is the Earth. Something needs to be done about that.” And I found myself thinking after that, “The Earth is in need of a good lawyer” (laughs).

It was one of those thoughts that just wouldn’t leave me alone, it stayed with me. And as a barrister, as a court advocate, I was looking for the tools that I could use, the laws, quite literally, that could be used to stop this mass damage and destruction. And it really bothered me, that actually they didn’t exist. The existing environmental laws, as far as I could see, were not fit for purpose. You just have to look at the Amazon, and what’s happening there, to know that. And so I looked around to see what lawyers were creating, the international laws, to stop damage and destruction. I couldn’t find them. It actually came back to me and I realized then that maybe I need to put my head to this. Which is precisely what I did (laughs).

The most important thing that came out of your research into ways to defend the rights of the Earth, was the concept of Ecocide. What is Ecocide?

Ecocide is a word that has been around since the 1970s. I didn’t actually know that at that time – I subsequently found that out. What I have done is, I’ve given a legal definition to it. So I basically created a legislative framework in which we can prosecute those who have caused mass damage and destruction to a lot of ecosystems. But there’s more than that. It’s about creating a legal duty of care, and that’s very important here. Because it’s not just human-caused ecocide, largely corporate ecocide, but it’s also about creating a legal duty of care on those who are in positions of what is known in international criminal law as a position of superior responsibility. So those who made the decisions at the very top end, that can have an adverse impact on many millions of people – and not just people, but other inhabitants of ecosystems, too. We are widening our ambit of concern here. It’s not just human engagement, but also non-human engagement. We are imposing a legal duty of care on those who must make decisions that do not cause mass damage and destruction. We have to draw a line somewhere, and say ‘no longer can we do this’, because the often unintended consequences of such business decisions have huge adverse impacts, way into the future.

In Eradicating Ecocide you say that Law has caused the problem of the massive environmental damage and destruction we’re seeing. How has Law caused the problem, and how can a Law of Ecocide now be the solution to the problem?

The irony is that we have created laws over time without looking to the consequences. It is the law for a CEO and directors to put the interest of their shareholders first. Which means maximizing profits for big transnational corporations. This has become a real problem. It is fine when you start out small, but when your operations become so large that they have huge unintended consequences, and those companies are hidebound by those laws that insist that profits are put first, then we have really a huge problem on our hands, where you externalize or actually just ignore the consequences. When profit is the number one driver, it means that communities aren’t actually looked after.

So the Law of Ecocide is legislation that will actually assist corporations – this is really about making the problem into the solution! Corporations actually work very well with international legislative frameworks because they have very sure indicators of what you can and cannot do, and it also means that they can finance their change in policy and gain subsidies from government to create the innovation in the other direction. So this is very much about creating the green economy, but also about creating resilient long term economies as well. And creating jobs, and preventing resource-wars. So you could say it’s just a win-win all round. The environment benefits, humanity benefits and business benefits.

You say that Laws can be “Consciousness Shaping Tools” because Laws can trigger a change in mindset and change the ruling paradigm. Can you give a historical example of a Law that has done just that?

(more…)