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Two kick-ass books: “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language” and “The Darwin Economy”
I sometimes receive books in the mail, as review copies from publishers, as gifts from far-away friends and as my personal purchases. Because I am an unapologetic bibliophile and bookworm, and a science/nature book reviewer, I like to let people know what books are newly available based on what I’ve received recently. Unfortunately, you are all so far away, so instead of hosting a book party in my flat, I’ll do the next best thing: I’ll host a book party on my blog each Friday of the week when books arrive by giving you my quick “first impression” of these books and relevant links so you can get a copy of the book if you wish:
Roughly half the world’s population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of the ancient mother tongue? How did they manage to spread it around the globe? The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony [Princeton University Press; 2007: Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US] gathers the latest research about the original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how the domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization.
This book has all the makings of a fascinating read because it discusses the relationships between two topics that I love: horses and linguistics. But this book has a twist because instead of being written by a linguist or an archaeologist, it is written by an anthropologist who is one of the world’s experts on the domestication of the horse and the early origins of horseback riding. Based on my reading of one chapter, “Domestication of the horse”, I found that the author is a engaging writer with a sense of humor that translates nicely to the printed page.
The book is a satisfying thick 553 pages and a heavy paper cover. It includes many illustrations, maps, diagrammes and black & white photographs, an appendix that discusses radiocarbon dates, a chapter notes section, references and an index. As you can see, the chapters develop the story in a natural and logical way:
Part One: Language and Archaeology
Part Two: The Opening of the Eurasian Steppes
The other book that arrived this week is a hot-off-the-presses examination of the relationships between evolution, economics and society — topics that I read and tweet about daily. This book, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good by New York Times economics columnist, Robert H. Frank [Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US], promises to ignite a firestorm of controversy. In this book, the author predicts that Charles Darwin will come to be recognised as the greatest intellectual contributor to modern economic theory, replacing Adam Smith as the intellectual founder of economics.
The author argues that Darwin’s understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith’s. He argues that unbridled competition favours self-interest over the common good, based on Darwin’s insight that individual and group interests often diverge sharply. This leads to “arms races” that reward behaviors that cause enormous harm to the group — and these behaviours provide no lasting advantages for individuals, either, because any gains tend to be relative and mutually offsetting.
Frank argues that the best solution to this problem lies in not prohibiting harmful behaviors but to tax them. This could eliminate government debt and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. As an evolutionary biologist and political progressive, this certainly makes sense to me, but I still have to read the book before I am certain that I understand the details of the author’s ideas.
This hardcover is 240 pages long, and includes chapter notes (citations) and an index. The chapters:
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