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Excellent book + political musings - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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June 4th, 2009

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01:29 am - Excellent book + political musings
I just finished reading The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson, which is (like all of Johnson's work) an exceptionally swift and enjoyable read. This book is about Joseph Priestley, the 18th century scientist, political commentator, and theologian who is known to have both discovered oxygen and the first glimmerings of photosynthesis. Johnson's book looks at Priestley's involvement with religion and politics as well as science and in addition to being an excellent layman's history of science book, Johnson is also discussing politics and dissent. One of the most interesting parts is about Priestly being forced to leave Britain for the newly independent US for espousing exceptionally unpopular opinions about religion (he was a fairly hard-core deist) and the French Revolution. The newspaper campaign against his writings as well as the popular working class protests that at least in part were urged on by members of the upper class who were deeply uncomfortable with his ideas is exceedingly familiar, and one of the most striking pieces of information in the book is how little the basics of conservative rhetoric have changed – it's all based upon both rigid and deeply emotional nationalism and an obsession with perceived offenses against the accepted structures of political and religious authority. This fits with information I've recently read about psychological differences between progressives and conservatives (summarized here in a surprisingly balanced article by someone who is normally a laughing jackass of a conservative). The same disgust and the same focus on authority structures were as present in 1794 as they are today. I very much hope that humanity (or more likely posthumanity) will soon outgrow this sort of nonsense.

In any case, the book is as good as The Ghost Map , Johnson seems to have very much found his niche writing historical accounts that tie into modern issues.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 4th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
I went to his reading at Powells, and he was interesting in person too.
[User Picture]
Date:June 4th, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
Darn, I didn't see that.

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