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The American Mind

The Second annual best books of 2017

William Hillman

(1/2018) Ok, well, most of these books are not from 2017, I just got around to reading them last year.

(Warning, _ Any of these books left in sight of a left wing- western culture hating, identity politics social justice type, - might trigger uncontrolled convulsions).

Top Book of the year was - Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb published on November 27, 2012, by Random House. A book on how some systems actually benefit from disorder. Honestly, almost anything written by Taleb is worth reading. In this book, Taleb focuses not only on how to make yourself less vulnerable to fat tale events, but how to take advantage of these events. He makes his case with modern examples from our economic system and ancient wisdom from Phoenician, Roman, Greek, and Medieval sources.

"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

"Simply, antifragility is defined as a convex response to a stressor or source of harm (for some range of variation), leading to a positive sensitivity to increase in volatility (or variability, stress, dispersion of outcomes, or uncertainty, what is grouped under the designation "disorder cluster"). Likewise, fragility is defined as a concave sensitivity to stressors, leading a negative sensitivity to increase in volatility. The relation between fragility, convexity and sensitivity to disorder is mathematical, obtained by theorem, not derived from empirical data mining or some historical narrative. It is a priori."

Taleb’s, The Black Swann and Antifragile have done more to shape my thinking and perception of events than any other series of books. My college economic professors would hate these books. Taleb completely destroys the social sciences, especially economics. He gives us another argument on why centrally controlled systems will almost always fail, and the larger and more complex they are, the more people will suffer when they do fail. As our society becomes more interdependent and complex, the more small, un-foreseen events can have devastating effects.

Taleb calls into question the value of our higher education system and university-based research. Most of the technological developments, from the spinning wheel and loom, to the modern computer as we know it, did not come from the research departments of universities or government think tanks, but from private tinkerers.

Tied for second place are The Camp of the Saints, The Fourth Turning and The True Believer.

The Camp of the Saints (French: Le Camp des Saints): a 1973 French novel by Jean Raspail. The novel depicts a setting where Third World mass immigration to France and the West leads to the destruction of Western civilization.

I gave this book to several friends this year. One friend from England said it best, "We are living this book today."

The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us about America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by William Strauss, Neil Howe. Recommended by Steve Bannon. This book describes a theorized recurring generation cycle in American history.

"Strauss and Howe laid the groundwork for their theory in their 1991 book, Generations, which discusses the history of the United States as a series of generational biographies going back to 1584.[1] In their 1997 book, The Fourth Turning, the authors expanded the theory to focus on a fourfold cycle of generational types and recurring mood eras in American history.[2] They have since expanded on the concept in a variety of publications." – Wikipedia

"Yet the great weakness of linear time is that it obliterates time's recurrence and thus cuts people off from the eternal—whether in nature, in each other, or in ourselves. When we deem our social destiny entirely self-directed and our personal lives self-made, we lose any sense of participating in a collective myth larger than ourselves. We cannot ritually join with those who come before or after us." William Strauss, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy

The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, is a 1951 social psychology book by American writer Eric Hoffer, in which the author discusses the psychological causes of fanaticism.

The author explains the people that give rise to mass movements and how these movements start. He delves into the similarities of movements - political, radical, religious, and nationalistic. Most of the founding elements of these movements are the same and follow a predictable pattern. The book takes a very nonjudgmental approach, noting that some movements are beneficial to humanity while others are destructive. In common, these groups tend to attract the same type of followers that behave in the same way and use the same tactics and rhetorical tools.

My third choice goes to a book recommended by my friend Mark Lloyd - The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World, by Chris Stewart & Ted Stewart. Over the course of time many events of extreme importance often fade into the pages of history and become forgotten, or turn into a simple footnote in a dusty textbook. Other events become the source of myths and legends.

This book identifies seven events, mostly famous, some seemingly forgotten, that redirected the course of world history:

  1. The defeat of the Assyrians in their quest to destroy Judah in 701BC.
  2. The victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Thermopylae and Salamis
  3. Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity
  4. The defeat of the armies of Islam at Poitiers
  5. The Mongol’s failure in their effort to conquer Europe in 1241AD
  6. The discovery of the New World
  7. The Battle of Britain in WWII

The circumstances surrounding these events made it very unlikely that these events would have turned out as they did. Most of these happenings began as what most would consider a desperate lost cause, or some sort of folly, but the results and impact of these events redirected what seemed to be an undeniable surety of the course of history. Well worth the read.

Read other articles by Bill Hillman