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About Jason Kirk

Jason Kirk is an incurable bibliophile. He lives and works in Seattle and is the author of Reverb: Poems and The Other Whites in South Africa. Thick-skinned and quick to laugh, he regrets little and sleeps less.

Posts by Jason

The Language of Science Is Language: Lee Smolin and "Time Reborn"

Lee_Smolin_Time_RebornAll things originate from one another,
and vanish into one another
according to necessity...
in conformity with the order of time.
   -- Anaximander, On Nature

My second favorite book is called The Life of the Cosmos. Originally published in 1997, it details physicist Lee Smolin's ideas about cosmological natural selection, a mind-expanding intellectual panorama depicting the universe itself as a manifestation of deep laws that trigger self-organization at literally all scales. Beyond physics' usual fundamental forces and constants, Smolin's natural laws suggest that even the cosmos itself emerges from -- and resembles, though not exactly-- its predecessors.

Inspiring for reasons that are as poetic as they are scientific, Smolin's thinking bridges physics, biology, and even philosophy. With his latest book, Time Reborn (hardcover | Kindle edition), Smolin suggests a radical reconception of the nature of time. With his trademark sincere and curious reverence for nature, Smolin kindly entertained a few questions for Omnivoracious readers.

***

Lee_SmolinHow do you think about conveying your ideas to readers not instinctively drawn to science?
Everyone is interested in the question of what time is because how you think about time affects everything we think about our own lives. Are our futures determined already? Are our experiences of willing, choosing, imagining, and inventing all illusions because the future is already written? Or are they true and real and in fact deep hints as to the nature of reality? Is it already fixed what kind of life my child will have or how bad global warming will be, or does what we choose to do really matter? These are the questions my book addresses, and I offer a hopeful answer explained in a way that all can understand.

Continue reading "The Language of Science Is Language: Lee Smolin and "Time Reborn"" »

Oliver Broudy: My Favorite Kind of Atheist

Non-believers generally fall on a spectrum from militant to utterly disinterested, but some, like New Yorker Oliver Broudy, truly care about religious faith. To their immense credit, they tend to be actively curious listeners with an overt willingness to suspend disbelief and approach the faithful with the peace offering of an open mind, in an attempt to understand better how the other half lives.

Broudy is fast becoming the essayist of record for such generous atheism. In the past eighteen months, his Kindle Singles have explored this theme through the lenses of three unique narratives, building a cohesive body of work that portends Broudy's emerging mastery of the long-form, high-stakes, nonfiction narrative.

OliverBroudy_TheSaintThe Saint (also available in Spanish as El Santo) profiles James Otis--a wealthy Gandhi devotee and collector of Mahatma-related memorabilia--a seemingly routine journalism gig that takes Broudy halfway around the world and through a whiplashing gauntlet of emotional crests and troughs. Forced to play friend, protector, fixer, PR agent, and a host of other duties on Otis's behalf, Broudy weathers lies, danger, and difficult self-discovery, emerging from his Gotham ennui with a tale that succeeds as profile, travelogue, and tale of true adventure.

On its surface, The Codex is a coyly unfolding narrative of Broudy's trip to Prague in pursuit of the meaning of a strange book, "a book so explicit that it would be banned by any public library, a book whose pages chronicled the extinction of mystery, and at the same time spawned new mysteries just by existing." Featuring an outspoken cosmetic surgeon--a mysterious artist of the female form who may provide the key to Broudy's own mixed feeling about adulthood--it employs gorgeous prose, a keen succession of nested structures, and a parade of scalping insights into modern life.

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Gonzo Curiosity: David Wolman and "The End of Money"

David_wolman_end_of_moneyThe most important thing that teachers can impart to their students is a desire to learn. Similarly, there's a certain class of book that I think of--and evangelize--as "nonfiction for non-specialists." When successful these books tackle widely relevant subjects via more or less dramatic narrative, spun in language that's unabashedly intended for a popular audience. (Recent blockbuster examples include Moneyball, Steve Jobs, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). The very best of these inspire a desire to find out more.

Enter David Wolman, a Portland-based journalist and contributing editor for Wired whose surprising bibliography illustrates just such eclectic curiosity. When I first came upon his work--via his Kindle Single, The Instigators--Wolman had already written books on the history of English spelling and the meaning of left-handedness. This year, he published The End of Money (print | Kindle). An Amazon Best Book of 2012 (#85 on our Top 100 list: Print editions | Kindle books), this fascinating book explores "the coming cashless society" through a cast of compelling characters that includes an end-times fundamentalist who views the growing obsolescence of cash as a sign of the coming rapture; an Icelandic artist whose claim to fame illustrates the complicated relationship between cash and nationalism; an American libertarian and coin-maker convicted on federal charges for the distribution of "Liberty" coins and Ron Paul dollars; and an Indian software engineer (self-billed as "the assassin of cash") whose firm is enabling digital payment methods that are lifting the living standards of thousands of poor New Delhi residents via their cell phones. Raising the stakes with a personal experiment, Wolman even goes (almost) a full year without using cash at all.

Readers need neither an advanced degree in economics nor even a basic understanding of currency markets to have a lot of fun with this book. If you've ever paid for a purchase in cash, you’ve got all the background you'll need. "I suspected the book would resonate, but I didn't anticipate such a loud and sustained response," Wolman tells Amazon. "Perhaps I should have. After all, the story of cash is enmeshed within the much broader story of money, the economy, and value itself."

Continue reading "Gonzo Curiosity: David Wolman and "The End of Money"" »

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