As a part of my “Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age” exploration (see some previous posts, and here a preprint), I’ve recently read some non-academic books about the topic. This is not intended as a review and clearly not as an exhaustive list, but I decided to make a quick blog post as it may be of some interest. Also, I’d be certainly happy to receive other reading suggestions in the comments.
A few books very relevant for cultural evolution have been published in the last months.
A researcher in the field of cultural evolution – whom I never met in person and would be probably very surprised of this wildly out-of-context mention – twitted, few weeks ago, that “Implementation is the hard part, not the idea. […] I have five ideas in the shower every morning. That’s the easy part.” My showers are, alas, far from being that exciting, but, for some reason, the musing resonated with me when I first saw it, and it continued to resonate through the reading of “The Origins of Monsters”.
In general, I tend to read books that are quite closely related to my research (Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success is on my desk, nothing surprising there) or ones – generally fiction – that have nothing to do with it (Station Eleven and Americanah are both half-read on my kindle, waiting for better times). More rarely I try to delve into academic essays on subjects I am only half familiar with, but I might plan to do it more in the future. In fact I just had a very nice surprise with Addiction by Design. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas written by MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll.
[Second post of the series “Things that I probably will not develop in a proper paper, but I find interesting enough to write here”. The first is on the XX century decrease of turnover rate in popular culture]
In the last couple of years, part of my research has been dedicated to explore the emotional content of published books, using the material present in the Google Books Ngram Corpus. Our analysis produced some interesting results. While analysis like ours need to be carefully weighted and possibly re-produced with various samples (but this should happen always…), I think that tools like the Google Books Corpus represent an extraordinary opportunity, as my goal is to study human culture in a scientific/quantitative framework.