Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

100: The Big Questions by Steven E. Landsburg


100: Landsburg, Steven E. The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics, and Physics. New York: Free Press, 2009. 248 pp. ISBN 978-1-4391-4821-1.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 100: General works on philosophy

I’m going to be open-minded here. I will be. First, I will address the book on its style, its writing, and the information presented. Then, there will be a rant and I do not apologize for that.

Steven E. Landsburg’s The Big Questions is an intriguing foray into the use of non-typical sciences to look at macroscopic philosophical questions. The questions in questions range from why is there something rather than nothing, is there a God, is logical disagreement a sign of inherent meaninglessness, can we really know everything, and so on. These are indeed interesting and challenging questions. Looking into philosophy using physics and economics is kind of fun and gets one thinking laterally and not directly, which on the whole is a good skill to have.

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878: Plutarch’s Lives by Plutarch


878: Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. Translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1969. 389 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 870: Literature of Italic and Latin languages
  • 878: Latin miscellaneous writings

Note: This edition of Plutarch’s Lives, published as part of the Harvard Classics, is not the complete set written by Plutarch. The original collection consisted of 23 pairs of biographies, each containing a Greek and Roman figure, and four unpaired biographies. My version covers Themistocles, Pericles, Aristides, Alcibiades, Coriolanus, Demosthenes, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Antony. Alcibiades and Coriolanus are paired together as well as Demosthenes and Cicero.

If you want a pretty decent picture of both the everyday lives of Greeks and Roman as well as an overview of ancient, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Plutarch. Writing in the late 1st century, Plutarch is about as close to a contemporary source as one could want. In the Harvard Classics collection of Plutarch’s Lives, we get a cross section of historical figures:

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986: Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt


986.10634092: Betancourt, Ingrid. Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle. New York: Penguin, 2010. 528 pp. ISBN 1-101-43891-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and geography
  • 980: History of South America
  • 986: History of Columbia and Ecuador
  • 986.1: History of Columbia
  • 986.106: 1863 to present
  • 986.1063: 1930 to present
  • 986.10634: 1974 to 1991
  • +092: Biography

Without a doubt, Ingrid Betancourt’s Even Silence Has an End is one of the most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching memoirs I’ve read in a long time. In 2002, Betancourt was campaigning to become President of Colombia as a Green Party member. At a traffic checkpoint in Colombia’s DMZ, she was kidnapped by a member of the revolutionary FARC, and then held for more than six years. She was kept with many other captured people from around the world. She found herself among a mix of nationalities, social statuses, and walks of life. Her story is one of hope and loss, of freedom and failure.

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386: Wedding of the Waters by Peter Bernstein


386.4809747: Bernstein, Peter L. Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 381 pp. ISBN 0-393-05233-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 380: Commerce, communications, and transport
  • 386: Inland waterway and ferry transportation
  • 386.4: Canal transportation
  • 386.48: Small craft and barge canals
  • +09747: United States—New York

At the beginning of the 19th century, the United States was just getting its feet wet as a nation. One of the many problems in governing the country was simply its size. Getting news and goods from one side of the colonies to another could take an inordinately long time. At the time, water-based travel was the fastest, but boats could get to only so many cities. But in 1807, an interesting idea came along to cut a waterway from New York all the way across the state to Lake Erie. Barges could travel from the eastern seaboard to the Great Lakes. From there goods to be delivered to inland cities or even taken to the Mississippi River system. Peter Bernstein’s Wedding of the Waters tells the story of the planning, politics, and piloting of the Erie Canal.

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556: Fieldwork by Christopher Scholz


556.883. Scholz, Christopher. Fieldwork: A Geologist’s Memoir of the Kalahari. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997. 190 pp. ISBN 0-691-01226-1.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 550: Earth sciences (geology)
  • 556: Earth sciences of Africa
  • 556.8: Earth sciences of Southern Africa and the Republic of South Africa
  • 556.88: Earth sciences of Namibia, Botswana. Lesotho, and Swaziland
  • 556.883: Earth science of Botswana and the Kalahari Desert

In 1974, Dr. Christopher Scholz, a newly-minted professor of geology at Columbia University, received a rather interesting and unexpected phone call. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization called to ask him if he would want to serve as an earthquake consultant in Botswana. The U.N. was trying to run an agricultural project in the Okavango Delta and wanted to know what, if any, threat was posed by earthquakes changing the way that the delta flows and drains. A simple enough project, everyone thought. As Scholz writes in Fieldwork, “Africa is a continent like no other.” And his work there would be like no other as well.

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202: Armageddon Now by Jim and Barbara Willis


202.3: Willis, Jim and Barbara Willis. Armageddon Now: The End of the World from A to Z. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2006. 426 pp. ISBN 1-57859-211-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 202: Doctrines
  • 202.3: Eschatology

While the Book of Revelation covers the intricate and symbolic end of the Christian world, Jim and Barbara Willis are interested in every possible postulated apocalypse. In Armageddon Now, they gather together (alphabetically) every conjectured end of the world. From the Abomination of Desolation to Zoroastrianism, they cover Armageddon from an interesting and removed perspective. All of these can’t possibly be true, but each one is given equal weight and description. There are even sections on catastrophic world collapse due to global warming, alien invasion, meteors, and even doomsday cults.

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