John Nash, An Appreciation. Author Of Game Theory, Subject of the film A Beautiful Mind

John Nash, a principal originator of game theory, and the subject of the Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind was recently killed in an automobile accident.

John Nash titles here. Our copy of a Beautiful Mind here.

Among many contributions, Nash was famous for the Nash equilibrium in game theory. From the obituary in the Guardian:

“In his discipline, he gave his name to the Nash equilibrium – a position in a situation of competition or conflict in which both sides have selected a strategy, but where neither side can then independently change their strategy without ending up in a less desirable position.”

Terry Pratchett: An Appreciation

Renowned British fantasy author Terry Pratchett has died. He was 66 years old.  Link to all of our Terry Pratchett material here.

From the New York Times obituary:

Mr. Pratchett’s primary setting, Discworld, is a planet of sorts, Frisbee-like in shape and balanced on the backs of four elephants who themselves stand upon the shell of a giant turtle.

Mr. Pratchett introduced it in 1983 in the novel “The Colour of Magic.” Its protagonist, Rincewind, one of a number of recurring characters in the series, is a feckless wizard-wannabe who was an unsuccessful student at Unseen University, the principal school for wizards in the city-state of Ankh-Morpork.

Over three decades and 40 or so volumes (a handful of which were aimed at young readers), Discworld grew into a multilayered society inhabited by witches, trolls and other creatures of varying personalities and powers who often seem to re-enact the follies of Englishmen and other Earth people. Death was a character in almost all of the Discworld books, speaking in all capital letters and expressing a fascination with humans.

Nadine Gordimer, Fiction Writer of South African Apartheid, Obituary

All Nadine Gordimer books here. 

From The New York TImes Obit:

Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer whose literary ambitions led her into the heart of apartheid to create a body of fiction that brought her a Nobel Prize in 1991, died on Sunday in Johannesburg. She was 90.

Her family announced her death in a statement.

Ms. Gordimer did not originally choose apartheid as her subject as a young writer, she said, but she found it impossible to dig deeply into South African life without striking repression. And once the Afrikaner nationalists came to power in 1948, the scaffolds of the apartheid system began to rise around her and could not be ignored.

“I am not a political person by nature,” Ms. Gordimer said years later. “I don’t suppose, if I had lived elsewhere, my writing would have reflected politics much, if at all.”

But whether by accident of geography or literary searching, she found her themes in the injustices and cruelties of her country’s policies of racial division, and she left no quarter of South African society unexplored, from the hot, crowded cinder-block neighborhoods and tiny shebeens of the black townships to the poolside barbecues, hunting parties and sundowner cocktails of the white society.

Daniel Keyes (Flowers For Algernon) Obituary and Books

Daniel Keyes, best known for the classic short story and book Flowers For Algernon has died. All Daniel Keyes books here. It’s sci-fi, young adult, and just plain shows the power of writing to play with ideas.

From the New York Times Obit, here’s a quick intro to Flowers to Algernon:

Charlie Gordon, a 32-year-old bakery worker with an intellectual disability who is chosen for an experimental operation to increase his intelligence. A white mouse named Algernon had undergone the procedure and had become intelligent enough to solve mazes much faster than Charlie.


Featured Author: Hernando de Soto, Theorist of 3rd World Property Rights

No, not the conquistador Hernando de Soto! This Hernando de Soto is a Peruvian economist who has put forward his ideas about ending poverty in third world and undeveloped countries and encouraging development in those countries. .

In The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, De Soto tackles one of the oldest mysteries: how can societies unlock their human potential? The answer, as he argues, lies in individual rights and a predictable, open legal system. Which the third world poor lack.

But how do you establish such a thing? De Soto’s central idea is that the poor need titles for their often informally owned land and property. If you have legal title, you can get loans, and grow economically with that capital. But obtaining titles to some of these holdings would be fraught with controversy and entanglement….

This book is more of a thought piece and critics have noted De Soto’s lack of empirical data in his work. But it’s an interesting idea and ideas have to start somewhere.

In The Other Path, Hernando de Soto makes the populist argument for capitalism and property rights in the 3rd world.

The social and economic environment of many 3rd world nations resembles feudalism, with entrenched economic privileges and near-overt ethnic discrimination. The privileges of the elite are protected by law, which creates economic stagnation for the poor – if they follow the law, which, out of the need for survival, they don’t!

So, an informal economy springs up, with noisy microbuses and illegal markets. For the majority of the people, this is where market clearing prices exist. People live as squatters, oftentimes in rather nice houses.

Trouble is, you are outside the law and you do not have formal title to property or legal protection.

De Soto argues that the fait accompli of these markets and businesses should be recognized formally and given protection of the law. This action unlocks capital (via loans), reduces crime, and brings people psychologically into the community.

At the time, Peru was fighting a Maoist insurgency in The Shining Path (hence the title of this book).

Featured Author: Heinrich Harrer (Seven Years in Tibet), Mountaineering/Travel Writer

If you’re into the outdoors and want some background of the history of modern mountaineering,you should read Heinrich Harrer.

Harrer wrote some of the earliest books in the modern age (published in the 1950s) of mountaineering. The White Spider deals with his ascent of the titular White Spider, a near vertical challenge in the Alps that prepared him to pioneer several important climbs in the Himalayas. It’s an interesting look into the equipment, comradeship and ethics of the early climbers.

Of course, his most famous book, Seven Years in Tibet, covers his years in Tibet (1944-1951) after escaping from a World War II prisoner of war camp in India (Harrer was in the German army). This book is noteworthy because of its account of the last days of a free Tibet (China invaded in 1950). It was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt.

Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Canadian writer Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in LIterature – link to our holdings here

From Literature Resource Center:

Many critics echo the sentiments of Catherine Sheldrick who states that the stories of Alice Munro present “ordinary experiences so that they appear extraordinary, invested with a kind of magic.” It is this emphasis on the seemingly mundane progression of female lives that prompted Ted Solataroff to call Munro a “great stylist of 1920’s realism, a Katherine Anne Porter brought up to date.” Similarly, Joyce Carol Oates finds “the evocation of emotions, ranging from bitter hatred to love, from bewilderment and resentment to awe . . . [in] an effortless, almost conversational tone” evidence that “we are in the presence of an art that works to conceal itself, in order to celebrate its subject.” Occasionally faulted for limiting herself to a narrow thematic range, Munro is, nevertheless, widely regarded as a gifted short story writer whose strength lies in her ability to present the texture of everyday life with both compassion and unyielding precision.

Featured Author: Robin Waterfield, Translator of Classics

If you’ve ever read or seen the classic The English Patient, you’ll remember they keep name checking Herodotus and his book The Histories. Intrigued, I went to the library and checked out a copy, Which was a lucky accident, because that was the year Robin Waterfield’s translation of Herodotus came out.

Robin Waterfield translates the classics Into modern but poetic English. They are very easy to read but still evoke the sonority and magic of the original.

This is a great chance to read the great nonfiction works of the Greek and Roman worlds. There’s some pretty cool stuff: Greek mercenaries battling back home through a thousand miles of hostile territory, the lives of the debauched emperors, the secret history of the origin of Sparta, and a lot more.

Recommended for their literary value as well as for students of history, political science, military science, sociology and more.

Featured Author: Jon Ronson, Observational Journalist

Jon Ronson writes books best described as satirical journalism. Best known for his piece on a proposed New Age Army later made into the all-star film The Men Who Stare at Goats. I won’t link to the film (we have it), because the book from which it is taken, Them: Adventures with Extremists, is much better.

Ronson is also well-known for interviewing the paranoid and the conspiracy theorists. In the process, he subtly deconstructs the subjects’ own psychological problems without ever overtly saying anything (he’s British after all).

His journalistic style is low-key and British. Ronson generally asks his odd subjects dead-pan questions and gets them to reveal much about their worldview.

Recommended for fans of non-fiction writing, journalism, and studying the art of interviewing.