October Reading Roundup
Behavior genetics, democracy, and Amazon in this month’s reads. Plus, more HigherEd hot takes from this past month.
October has been a bit slow on the reading front for me. Between my teaching duties, a very busy time at work, and football season, I’ve been reading a bit less than I have in months prior. This month included the highly anticipated book by Paige Harden, a random book on how our online orders make it to our door, and some thoughts from Andrew Yang on our democracy.
At the end are some other outputs from me this past month on higher ed. I’d appreciate you sharing this post and my outputs at the bottom of this newsletter should you find them interesting.
Arriving Today by Christopher Mims
If you’re an engaged citizen in our modern American life you, like me, probably order a ton of things online (especially from Amazon). Our home has several packages arrive each week containing everything from books to air filters. But what does the journey of these products really look like? In Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door-Why Everything has Changed About How and Why We Buy, Christopher Mims follows the journey of a single USB charger from a factory in southeast Asia to the buyers front door. The book focuses on four specific phases of this arduous journey: The manufacturing of the product which often takes place in multiple factories, the shipping of the finished project to a port in the United Sates which covers a detailed history of the shipping industry, the ground truck shipping from ports to fulfillment and distribution centers, and finally how packages are fulfilled (going into detail of Amazon’s infamous fulfillment centers) and delivered to your door. I found the book really fascinating and would recommend if you want a nerdy read about how your Amazon order really gets to your door in under two days.
The Genetic Lottery by Kathryn Paige Harden
Anyone on Twitter this past month who has a network interested in genetics or social justice likely is familiar with the highly anticipated book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality by Kathryn Paige Harden. Harden tackles the highly controversial topics of behavioral genetics in education and bridges that with a progressive left political agenda. Her goal is to ensure that those on the political left understand that ignoring the reality that genetics has a (loose) causal effect on important life outcomes will only allow the conservative right to weaponize genetic findings and inhibit the goals of creating a more equal society.
I think she absolutely nailed it.
Most of part one of The Genetic Lottery focuses on the genetics of educational attainment given that in our society, education is a core funneling mechanism that is highly influential to many of the life outcomes we care about. Even for those who are reluctant to engage with her work because of her politics (how dare someone read political work that differs from their own views!) at least read part one which is an absolute treasure trove of information on the state of the genetic data on education. Paige expertly explains what the data mean, how environments influence our genetic data and interpretations, and why heritable traits are not immutable. In part two she outlines how those data should be used to create a more equal society. Of the reviews I have seen and twitter quibbles I’ve read, it seems to me that most critics disagree with her politics in part two more than the data she presents in part one, which is of course ironic because this crowd of critics is all about “the data” and “facts” though they seem to ignore their own ignorance of interpreting these kinds of data in the nuanced way Paige does. Highly recommend for anyone working in education or those interested in genetics.
Forward by Andrew Yang
I’m a big fan of Andrew Yang and would have happily voted for him had he been able to secure the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election. His new book Forward: Notes on the Future of Democracy, was an interesting listen to better understand his unlikely rise in 2018-2020 due notably to Sam Harris’s and Joe Rogan’s podcast (I first heard of him on the Sam Harris podcast), and get an interesting glimpse into the campaigning of smaller names in the presidential race. I also particularly liked his primary reform argument of ranked choice voting being the key that can unlock the partisan gridlock we’re experiencing here in the United States. Forward, in combination with The Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver on Economic Growth—and How to Fix it by Dambisa Moyo that I read in August offers a bit of a grim outlook on our country in the coming decades, but also perhaps some optimism given that both of these books provide very clear reform plans to move us in a more positive direction. I’d highly recommend this book, and honestly found myself laughing out loud at some of his stories and quips – great book.
ICYMI: More HigherEd Hot Takes
Last week, my opinion essay on the negative impacts of the academic publishing system on knowledge production was published on the Heterodox Academy blog. This is a follow up to a popular Substack post of mine from July on how the academic publishing system inhibits knowledge dissemination. Read and share!
I recently appeared on the Helix Education podcast to discuss the results of the research report I published back in July as part of the College Innovation Network, which shares results about how students are experiencing edtech and online learning. Give the brief video summary below a quick listen!
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