Some Preliminary Thoughts

The purpose and shape of this blog are ever-changing, but one thing I do is read and talk about books—here's a running list of which ones.

Data and other technology

Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know (2010): What can we learn about generative AI from the discomfort and anxiety many early modern scholars felt about the rise of reference genres like encyclopedias and florilegia?

Megan O’Gieblyn’s God, Human, Animal, Machine (2022): Why do hardline Calvinist eschatology and transhumanism’s apocalyptic visions of the singularity have so much in common? How can we escape this bleak vision of consciousness that leaves little room for human freedom?

Jacob Soll’s The Information Master (2011): How did Jean-Baptiste Colbert build a very modern-looking information bureaucracy and surveillance state, before "bureaucracy" was even coined?

History of biology

Gerald Gieson’s The Private Science of Louis Pasteur (1995): What can famed bacteriologist Louis Pasteur's lab notebooks tell us about the role of myth-making and outright deceit in scientific discovery?

Hannah Landecker’s Culturing Life (2010): Inspired by a visit to a cultured-meat start-up, I turned to Landecker to think about some forerunners to the changes such ventures hope to induce in our very concepts of food, life, and animality.

Banu Subramaniam’s Holy Science (2019): What does it mean that Hindu nationalists have embraced scientific modernity while claiming to connect it to ancient tradition? Are there more liberatory possibilities for this sort of “archaic modernity”?

History of the social sciences

Elizabeth Popp Berman’s Thinking Like an Economist (2022): How did efficiency, rather than any other moral principle, become the yardstick against which American policy is measured? What does that mean for our ability to govern ourselves?

Sarah Igo’s The Averaged Americans (2008): How did Americans come to see themselves–as people, and as a nation–as something knowable through opinion polling?

Fernando Vidal’s The Sciences of the Soul (2011): Psychology means the study of the psyche, the soul—what does taking that literally tell us about the field’s origin and central place in Enlightenment knowledge?


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