Some not-very-recent reading

Read these yonks ago, but never got round to posting anything on them…

A Brief History of the Future – John Naughton

This is an excellent study of the origins of the internet, by academic and journalist John Naughton, whose Observer column (go to The Observer site and search on his name, or try his entertaining blog) is essential reading for anyone remotely interested in the ‘net and its possible applications. He traces the web all the way back, before ARPAnet at the Pentagon and discusses the ideas and theories expressed by those dreamers who imagined a vast communications network before any of the technology existed. He writes well, and manages to pass on his enthusiasm to the reader, especially when discussing issues such as open-source technology and the collaborative nature of the internet. Highly recommended.

How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World – Francis Wheen

Another non-fiction one, this time dealing with the current decline of rationality in both politics and society in general. Written by Francis Wheen, a columnist on The Guardian, it is by no means lefty polemic, though much of the neo-conservative values are attacked, quite rightly, as being completely irrational. Other targets include ‘New’ Labour, spiritualism, homeopathy and Islamic fundamentalists. Wheen starts off with the rise of Marget Thatcher and her idolation of the free market; but mirrors that with the coming to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Thatcher wanted to taken Britain back to her golden age of late-Victorian values and entrepreneurism; the Ayatollah also wished to take his country back in time, but to a medieval-like society. All kinds of fuzzy thinking is subjected to Wheen’s witty and thoughtful attack – he genuinely laments the apparent loss of scientific understanding in almost every walk of life. Of course, much of what he writes is mere common sense – the taking of any political or religious creed to extremes is a pretty dumb thing to do – but I think this is a timely book, and a call-to-arms for all of us of the opinion that all people need to do is think now and again, and then everything will be ok. The trouble is, of course, is that they never will, and nor will it ever be.