Summer Reading List 2018

Sunday, August 19, 2018
First Aired: 
Sunday, July 1, 2018

What Is It

Summer is here – what philosophers, philosophies, or philosophical issues do you want to read up on? Heidegger's Being and Time may not be the obvious choice to take on vacation, but there are lots of readable, beach-friendly classics and non-classics to add philosophical depth to your summer reading. Host emeritus John Perry joins Debra and Ken to think about which classics of political philosophy to dig into this summer, and Josh and Ken talk to a couple of past guests with new books, and take suggestions from the Community of Thinkers.

Listening Notes

Ken introduces the annual summer reading list episode with the usual question: What books should thoughtful people read this summer? Debra and John join Ken’s discussion of thought-provoking reads. John asks Debra for recommended readings in political philosophy, and she explains that Enlightenment theorists were remarkably prescient of the challenges of populism and inequality that our democracy currently faces. She gives John a myriad of book suggestions — from those of 18th century thinkers like Locke and Rousseau to modern academics like Milton Friedman and Jan-Werner Muller. 

Ken and co-host Josh are joined by Harvard University Psychology Professor Steven Pinker to discuss his recent, controversial book Enlightenment Now. In the book Steven claims that by any statistical measure — material progress, quality of life, extreme poverty, literacy, et cetera – the world is better off now than it ever has been due to the institutions of democracy and capitalism created by Enlightenment thinking. Ken pushes back with the common objection that there is more to life than material progress and that this progress can come at the expense of romanticism and enchantment. 

Next, Josh and Ken welcome Kathleen Dean Moore, professor of philosophy from Oregon State University, to the show. Her new book Great Tide Rising encourages people to stand up for the environment in a time of widespread corporate plunder, making a philosophical argument that humans have a moral obligation to fight back. Ken points out that for a challenge as daunting as saving the environment, there is little that individuals can do to create tangible change. Kathleen maintains, however, that when individuals act collectively, they can implement great change.

In the last segment, our hosts receive a few callers with summer reading recommendations of their own. Jillian adds The Innocence of the Devil by Nawal El Saadawi to the list, a magical realist novel that explores complex questions of Good and Evil. Eliyu suggests The Overstory by Richard Powers, which tells of humans' relationship with the environment. 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 2:50): Liza Veale talks to two “book healers,” matchmakers who prescribe books to afflicted souls. Dr. Hannah Kingsley-Ma and Dr. Louise McHugh hear their clients’ source of trouble and choose specific readings to guide, comfort, or console them. 
  • 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 48:40): Ian recommends a new biography of Edward Lansdale, The Road Not Taken by Max Boot. This historical narrative of the legendary World War II spy and CIA operative provides unique insight into America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.




Ken Taylor  
What books should people read this summer?

Welcome to Philosophy Talk the program that questions everything... except, of course, your intelligence.

Comments (2)

marycpa's picture


Sunday, July 1, 2018 -- 11:42 AM

steven pinker

Why do we care what Steven Pinker thinks about anything outside of his area of expertise (linguistics)? I fear we are throwing gasoline on an open flame; we will end up with another Noam Chomsky. Both men have veered far from linguistics to opine about matters in which they're no better informed than the rest of us. I hate when that happens.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, July 12, 2018 -- 11:15 AM

I do not presume to know how

I do not presume to know how well Professor Pinker is informed about the things in his books. I do, however, accept the fact that he is much better informed than am I. When I remarked on Ms. Gopnik's critique of his latest book, I was merely saying that her concern was (to me) of minimal importance, given the scope of Pinker's book and his attention to a broad range of issues was (again, to me) impressive. We can pick all we want but the book is among his best---like it, or not.