Nuclear War and the Periodic Table @ BYOB Party in March 2018 (Part 2)

There was a bit of doom and gloom in the BYOB Party.

Image result for Has Man a Future?amazonArchit got the famous book Sapiens by Yuval Harari. We’ve talked about the book many times. It made sense that the book he bought with it was Has Man a Future? by Bertrand Russell, one of the world’s most eminent philosophers of the twentieth century. The book was written during the Cold War when the world was on the brink of nuclear war. What struck Archit as scary was that book is relevant even today.  Even today, disarmament hasn’t turned into a collective objective with guns entering classrooms and nuclear warheads raising their heads in political banter. The possibility of a nuclear war is not exaggerated.

Image result for sapiensamazonAlthough Sapiens means Wise, the term is at best ironic. In the book, Sapiens, Harari explains how man evolved and hasn’t become wiser. He seemed to have been better off in the pre-agricultural era when he was a hunter-gatherer.  This was the only time in recorded history that he was aware of the food that he ate and the true nature of his surroundings. An argument grew around this- can anyone know everything? Doesn’t the very reason for stratification and division of labor stem from the fact that knowledge is shared property? Since there is a discrepancy in the time required for evolution to occur and the lightning speed of the human brain, inequality is the norm. Human beings have always tipped the scale and so this whole idea of an equal society in pursuit of happiness is silly. Sapiens is an important book simply because of the arguments it encourages. Part 2 of the book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is equally horrific in the way it lays bare mankind’s stupidity.

Amrutha talked about a six-part sci-fi story set in a dystopian world where only Korea remains, the rest having being destroyed by nuclear war,  and mentioned how human beings are reborn as their prehistoric ancestors. Can anyone tell me which book this is? All my google searching didn’t help.

Image result for the periodic table primo levi amazonRitu was spurred to get a copy of a book she read long ago when she was young and later again when she was older. The book called The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is a series of short stories which tells the author’s own story- his experience being an Italian Jewish chemist during the World War era, a particularly unfortunate time to be Jewish.  Each story in the book is named after a particular element, which very cleverly becomes heavier and heavier towards the end of the book.  The book begins with so much promise but towards the end, the author must face the concentration camp. Although the ending is sad, it feels like dusk, Ritu says, beautiful and filled with color but with the heaviness of the ending day.

Amrutha read this book too and wondered how teachers could make a subject like chemistry so boring. “You need to include one of these chapters in the school curriculum,” she said. That’s a nice thought.

Meaning and the Little Prince @ BYOB Party in July 2017 (Part 5)

Bhargavi found positivity in a book that emerged from the fire of the Holocaust. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Emile Frankl, a leading psychologist of the time, is a book based on real experiences that he witnessed when he was taken prisoner. Although the first part of the book is harrowing as it deals with the harsh realities of the Nazi regime, the rest of this book breathes with a fiery optimism and gives great hope and great courage. Originally written in German, the English version is a small volume that makes for quick reading.

Bhargavi was impressed by these words: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” The book confirms that it is the search for meaning rather than meaning itself that makes even brutality bearable. Listed among the top ten influential books in the world, this one is a must-read.

Abhaya mentioned another book filled with hope but that carries a redeeming sadness — The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, again a small book with a beautiful message encapsulating lost childhood. One of the most translated books from French, the story is about a pilot whose plane has crashed in the Sahara desert where he meets the little prince.

Talking about sad books led to the inevitable discussion of death, its inevitability, and how some cultures let go of their elderly to die as compared to the fight with death today that involves methods like cryogenics to preserve the body until a cure is found. On the downside, conquering death can only be a strain on our own resources and that led to a discussion of the science fiction scenario laid out by John Wyndham in a book called Trouble with Lichen, where extended mortality is shown to lead to complete upheaval, causing fundamental changes in the way that society is organized.

More books coming up.