The ideal job, I always imagined, would be one in which I sat around amusing myself one way or another and every once in a while I'd put my finger in the air and say, "I've got an idea."
Today I'm sharing a few people who actually get to do just that. People who get ideas and have somehow talked someone into paying them to pursue them, expand upon them, and share them with us. The idea people here are just a few of those who have helped inform my own take on history, culture, and the world around us.
Lewis Mumford's makes a compelling vindication of the concept of the city in human history. One of the more memorable ideas I gleaned from it was understanding the role of a city in intellectual and artistic growth. Genius in a village cannot prosper. Small towns demand a certain homogeneity. And genius cannot prosper alone. It is in the relative anonymity of the city that genius can find a niche, can find like minds, can expand and flourish. Without cities, there is no art, no literature, little philosophy, and not a lot of cool stuff. Today we can have art, literature, philosophy and cool stuff in the country, but only because there are cities.
. I have not read this book, but it was referenced in another book I read this year and contains a list of things all human cultures the world over have in common.
That book was , by Steven Pinker. I'm currently reading Pinker's . He tends to illustrate his ideas in pictographs that look a little too much like chemical composition diagrams for my comfort, but the ideas about language acquisition and the evolution of the brain which Pinker defends are worth any amount of skipping past the hieroglyphics.
Jared Diamond, in , leaves no doubt that human beings the world over have been equally capable of exploiting their environments to the furthest extent possible. There is a reason that what we today call "civilization" grew up in the places that it did, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with innate differences between populations.
Lastly today, Robert Wright makes a thoughtful case for . It suggests a fascinating history of an idea, an idea that retains a remarkable hold on the modern world and that may hold within itself seeds for future change. How we will interpret and reinterpret those ideas as the years go on is anybody's guess. Lewis Mumford would remind us that it takes a city.