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Oprah Time: Coming apart: an informal history of America in the 1960s by William L O’Neill

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When I read William O’Neill’s book Coming Apart, it reminded me of a definition of art not being something that looks like its subject, but IS its subject. O’Neill’s book is the very personal account of the 1960s putting into perspective the events that occurred with the perspective that only someone who lived through them could do. He dissects the new journalism of Tom Wolfe and explains the history and development of different subject areas from sport, the civil rights movement to the counter-cultural movements.

It provides context about why seemingly innocuous events were so influential and explains how marginalised and small the hippie movement and black power movements really were.

O’Neill’s background as a history professor  at Rutgers University gives the book a studied learned viewpoint, but he also manages to write in an easy accessible way: a kind of learned oral history. This provides the unique charm of the book.

The views and changes reflected in the book still reverberate through our world today. From the fashion for wearing military surplus clothes to music of the folk revival that the likes of Bruce Springsteen still reference and the counterculture values that sit at the centre of the technology industry. For instance, Apple would be nothing without the ethos of its hippie founders.

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Oprah Time: Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks by Mark Buchanan

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I met up with Tim Hoang earlier in January and he marked this book for my reading list. The book’s primary goal is explaining the Small World phenomenon as a modern network theory.

Buchanan begins by explaining Stanley Milgram’s social network experiment of the sixties which revealed that there are rarely more than six steps between any two people on the planet – now known as the principle of six degrees of separation – by which popular culture has forever attached to actor Kevin Bacon. He then goes on to explain the clustering tendency of connections in our social networks, in the web and in nature.

Loose connections bridge from one cluster to the next. The author moves beyond network modeling to show how small world theory can be used to understand a diverse range of phenomena from the numbers and location of tributaries to major rivers through to how the AIDS virus spread.

The ideas in the book are as powerful as chaos theory was a decade ago. explaining the Small World phenomenon in this readable and well balanced account of modern network theory. Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks by Mark Buchanan

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Oprah Time: The Writing On The Wall China And The West In The 21st Century by Will Hutton

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I didn’t start reading economics for fun until I read Will Hutton’s The State We’re In when I was in college. I was interested to find out what Hutton thought about China and the west. China has a history of technological and legal progression going back three millenia and made an unprecedented move back to the forefront of the global economy.

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The Writing On The Wall China And The West In The 21st Century by Will Hutton writes in a narrative style that would be familar to readers of The State We’re In. Hutton covers how the teachings of Confucius led to a ‘modern society’ in China when my ancestors were building Brú na Bóinne.

How the western colonial powers (notably the UK, France, Germany and the US) managed to embarrass and humble the celestial kingdom. the hard choices which the communist party had to make and the hard road that the country has walked to gain its present status and the challenges that the party faces in maintaining an even keel.

Whilst Hutton is critical of some Chinese measures, he points out were the west has made similar mistakes and the lessons learned from them. Some readers may feel mis-sold as Hutton discusses the global politics of energy and protectionism by the US. However the world is connected and I feel his discussion of the intertwined fates of the US and China is a valid one.