Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was completely unaware that this was the 6th book of a series. I don’t think that really hurt my understanding of the expertly crafted world. This book explores, race, the sexes, sexuality, and the meaning of being human. Int his universe there are a number of worlds where humans live, at least 84, there could be more, but we only know of 83, plus the planet of Winter, where the story takes place.

The world is interesting for two main reasons. First, it takes place on a planet that has been in an iceage for millennia. Second, humans don’t have the two obvious genders, male and female. The humans on this planet are able to, and do, switch between the two during their “kemmering” whichis the ONLY time there are any sexes on the planet. In fact, the rest of the time they are essentially eunuchs. Technically having both male and female sex organs at this point. The book is interesting, because it’s a study of what life could be like without the duality of male/female. These discussions are important in this day and age, given importance of Trans rights in the political discourse and the general transphobia in parts of the polity (I literally looked at my twitter feed and the ACLU had just posted an article about a trans girl in Texas).

The book is, generally, written from the perspective of an Earth human, a young black man named Genly Ai. Which allows us to feel very connected to this book. The character struggles with handling the lack of duality and continually assigns maleness or femaleness to characters. He often gets them very wrong, especially in the case of his “Landlady.” Who looks more feminine to Genly Ai than many of the other humans on this planet. However, whenever he asked, he learned that the Landlady had never had any children of the flesh but had many children overall (essentially meaning the Landlady had never gotten pregnant but had gotten a number of other people pregnant).

Aside from the obvious relevance of the topic related to Trans rights, the book looks at how politics can change when a leader changes. How a peaceful country that has never known war, can create an otherness out of their neighbor and begin down the path of war. You can see through the action of people the impact of rhetoric of their leaders. This was written at the beginning of the Nixon administration and the end of the Johnson administration. But I think it still rings true given the Trump administration today. Our sense of otherness has moved from outside of our boarders to within our boarders in a terrifying way.

I really enjoyed this book. It was very thought provoking and definitely something worth checking out.

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Review of Farsighted by @StevenBJohnson

Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the MostFarsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Steven Johnson is always an interesting read. I’ve been a fan of his since I initially read “Where Good Ideas Come From.” In this book, he clearly begins with the question of “how do we make good decisions?” In a way, this book is the natural sequel (if it can be said that non-fiction books can have sequels), to Ideas. If you wonder how you come up with an interesting idea, the process is similar to coming up with a good decision – or at least an informed methodical decision.

Like ideas, decisions don’t really come from the blue. Even the famous stories that Gladwell discusses in Blink, come from a long history of experience and relate to the amount of information that we have about a given situation. Now, we can of course, come to a decision without all the information we need. In fact, it’s guaranteed that this will happen. We never have all the information we ever need to make a decision. This book takes that as an axiom, clearly stated and referenced throughout the book. It’s not just a one off obvious statement. Johnson notes that the uncertainty of the outcome prevents a perfect decision plus, the fact that we cannot test what a decision would do before taking action. The best we can do is simulate and for most decisions, the best way to simulate is to tell a story.

In fact, day dreaming is one of the best ways for us to tell a story about how life could be different or how we could positively impact our lives. For example, if you’re thinking of getting a new job, day dreaming about how that job can improve your life is a great way of helping understand the impacts of your decision making process.

This book includes a number of real life examples of complex decisions that went well or went poorly. In the cases where things went well he digs into the decision making process and how these tools made an effective case for following the decision that was ultimately used. In the cases where things went poorly, he investigates the blindspots that lead to the poor decision (including a couple personal anecdotes) and the result.

I found this book to be really helpful and believe that it provides tools that can help improve our deliberation process.

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