2 Big Books About Big Ideas

‘Keynes Hayek’ and ‘The Shape of the New.’

November 12, 2015

I have a colleague who refers to the ceaseless jockeying for resources, attention, and influence as the Academic Game of Thrones. When I need to mentally escape the daily edtech academic grind I retreat into the magisterial world of big books on the history of ideas.

Have I got two wonderful big ideas books for you:

Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott.  Published in September of 2012.

The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World by Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot.  Published in May of 2015.

Keynes Hayek is essential, as the debate between these two thinkers defines most of the territory of the fundamental disagreements in macroeconomics. Your answers to questions of how society should address the coming age of technological underemployment (The Rise of the Robots) will come down to your allegiance to the ideas of Keynes or Hayek. Thinking clearly about the employment challenges of our 21st century digital economy requires an understanding of how Keynes and Hayek thought in our 20th century industrial economy.

The Shape of the New is an intellectual survey of the 4 big ideas that lie at the root of the material, political, and cultural life that we navigate today. These ideas are capitalism, socialism, evolution and  democracy - and their Enlightenment era progenitors are Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Thomas Jefferson / Alexander Hamilton. The Shape of the New places the development of these four ideas into the historical contexts in which they emerged - and then carries the narrative thread forward to untangle of how each of these ideas created our modern world.

Those of us in the academic edtech game would do well to situate our thinking within the marketplace academic ideas.

Our practices and assumptions are embedded in ideas about efficiency, efficacy, and progress.

We are the inheritors, and propagators, of a belief system that puts its faith in the ability of technology to address social, economic, political, and cultural challenges - including the challenges we face in our work in higher education.

Any conversation about academic transformation and digital learning that is separated from the history of ideas about progress will be an impoverished conversation.

This is all to argue that edtech nerds like myself should spend more time thinking and talking about big ideas, and less time thinking and talking about gadgets.

A word about how I read Keynes Hayek and The Shape of the New.  Combined, these books are 912 pages.

Information overload and attentional scarcity make it difficult for even the most committed read to tackle big books.

My solution is Whispersync for Voice.

If ever a Faustian bargain to surrender our book buying/reading autonomy to Amazon can be  justified, it is surely in the form of Whispersync for Voice.  

The ability to seamlessly switch between an e-book and an audiobook provides reading rewards over-and-above those gained by squeezing in more time to read. The rapid pace that a book can be read when it is read during single-focus (Kindle) and multi-tasking (audiobook) reading serves as a motivator to choose the reading over other options. I would have never have completed these two book this summer/fall if they had not been Whispersync enabled.

Are you a Whispersync devotee?

What are your favorite books on big ideas?

What are you reading?



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