Ask a scientist about Hollywood, and you’ll probably get eye rolls. But ask someone in Hollywood about science, and they’ll see dollar signs: moviemakers know that science can be the source of great stories, with all the drama and action that blockbusters require.
That’s a huge mistake, says Randy Olson: Hollywood has a lot to teach scientists about how to tell a story—and, ultimately, how to do science better. With Houston, We Have a Narrative, he lays out a stunningly simple method for turning the dull into the dramatic. Drawing on his unique background, which saw him leave his job as a working scientist to launch a career as a filmmaker, Olson first diagnoses the problem: When scientists tell us about their work, they pile one moment and one detail atop another moment and another detail—a stultifying procession of “and, and, and.” What we need instead is an understanding of the basic elements of story, the narrative structures that our brains are all but hardwired to look for—which Olson boils down, brilliantly, to “And, But, Therefore,” or ABT. At a stroke, the ABT approach introduces momentum (“And”), conflict (“But”), and resolution (“Therefore”)—the fundamental building blocks of story. As Olson has shown by leading countless workshops worldwide, when scientists’ eyes are opened to ABT, the effect is staggering: suddenly, they’re not just talking about their work—they’re telling stories about it. And audiences are captivated.
Written with an uncommon verve and enthusiasm, and built on principles that are applicable to fields far beyond science, Houston, We Have a Narrative has the power to transform the way science is understood and appreciated, and ultimately how it’s done.
At our meeting yesterday, we selected books for our next seven meetups:
June 14 – In a Far Country by Jack London
July 12 – Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story by Randy Olson
August 8 – Debt, the First 5000 Years by David Graeber
Sept 13 – Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody
October 11 – Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick (FIELD TRIP: will see the movie Blade Runner 2049 which is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep)
November 8 – Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra
December 13 – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
We typically select six books, but decided to select seven this time so that for all future planning we can begin in January and end in December (rather than beginning in December and ending in the following November).
With the same sharp eye, quick with, and narrative drive that marked his bestsellers The Game, The Dirt, and How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, Neil Strauss takes us on a white-knuckled journey through America’s heart of darkness as he scrambles to escape the system. It’s one man’s story of a dangerous world—and how to stay alive in it.
Also, we will decide on six more books to read over the next six months. At our last meeting, we observed that many of the books we read over the past six months were quite similar. So, we came up with a list of genres to keep in mind when suggesting books for the next six months:
Our next meetup will be Wednesday, April 12 at 6PM at Gangplank.
We will discuss Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach.
“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war.
Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries―panic, exhaustion, heat, noise―and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.
Our next meetup will be Wednesday, March 8. We will discuss The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online by Mary Aiken.
Mary Aiken is the world’s leading expert in forensic cyberpsychology—a discipline that combines psychology, criminology, and technology to investigate the intersection where technology and human behavior meet. In this, her first book, Aiken has created a starting point for all future conversations about how the Internet is shaping development and behavior, societal norms and values, children, safety, security, and our perception of the world. Cyberspace is an environment full of surveillance, but who is looking out for us? The Cyber Effect offers a fascinating and chilling look at a future we can still do something about.
Are we living the good life—and what defines ‘good,’ anyway? Americans today are constructing a completely different framework for success than their parents’ generation, using new metrics that TED speaker and On Being columnist Courtney Martin has termed collectively the “New Better Off.” The New Better Off puts a name to the American phenomenon of rejecting the traditional dream of a 9-to-5 job, home ownership, and a nuclear family structure—illuminating the alternate ways Americans are seeking happiness and success.
Including commentary on recent changes in how we view work, customs and community, marriage, rituals, money, living arrangements, and spirituality, The New Better Off uses personal stories and social analysis to explore the trends shaping our country today. Martin covers growing topics such as freelancing, collaborative consumption, communal living, and the breaking down of gender roles.
The New Better Off is about the creative choices individuals are making in their vocational and personal lives, but it’s also about the movements, formal and informal, that are coalescing around the New Better Off idea—people who are reinventing the social safety net and figuring out how to truly better their own communities.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, NAMED BY THE TIMES AS ONE OF “6 BOOKS TO HELP UNDERSTAND TRUMP’S WIN”
“You will not read a more important book about America this year.”—The Economist
“A riveting book.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Essential reading.”—David Brooks, New York Times
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.
“This book changed the field of design. As the pace of technological change accelerates, the principles in this book are increasingly important. The new examples and ideas about design and product development make it essential reading.”—Patrick Whitney, Dean, Institute of Design, and Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology
“Twenty-five years ago The Design of Everyday Things was instrumental in orienting my approach to design. With this latest revised and expanded edition, Don Norman has given me a host of new ideas to explore as well as reminding me of the fundamental principles of great and meaningful design. Part operating manual for designers and part manifesto on the power of designing for people, The Design of Everyday Things is even more relevant today than it was when first published.”—Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO, and author of Change by Design
“Norman enlightened me when I was a student of psychology decades ago and he continues to inspire me as a professor of design. His new book underpins all essential aspects of interaction design, the mother of human creation. It equips designers to make the world a safer, more pleasant and more exciting place. The cumulated insights and wisdom of the cross-disciplinary genius Donald Norman are a must for designers and a joy for those who are interested in artifacts and people.”—Cees de Bont, Dean, School of Design, and Chair Professor of Industrial Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University