10 books like Steps to an Ecology of Mind

By Gregory Bateson,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Birth and Death of Meaning

By Ernest Becker,

Book cover of The Birth and Death of Meaning

This is to me is the best book ever written for understanding what human beings are, how we are similar to and different from other animal species, how we develop from helpless newborns to fully functioning adults, and what we are striving for in our lives. Most nonfiction books make a point and then repeat it over and over with examples and anecdotes. In contrast, The Birth and Death of Meaning begins with evolution and progresses logically from its first page to its last. When you finish this book, you will have a much better understanding of yourself, the people in your life, historical and current events, and problems ranging from anxiety and depression to interpersonal conflict to prejudice.  

The Birth and Death of Meaning

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Birth and Death of Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uses the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, sociology and psychiatry to explain what makes people act the way they do.


Interaction Ritual

By Erving Goffman,

Book cover of Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face-to-Face Behavior

Erving Goffman was a Canadian sociologist and the founder of the “dramaturgical” tradition within sociology, where metaphors of the stage and theatre are brought to the analysis of everyday life. This particular book is a collection of his early essays concerning “encounters,” or what happens when people, wittingly or unwittingly, come face-to-face and share information, handle interpersonal incidents, and manage identities. With surgeon-like precision, Goffman engages in “micro-sociology” analyses, nuanced descriptions of the ritual expression games in which interactants engage when they come into each other’s presence. The book is a delight to read partly due to Goffman’s uncanny ability to verbally capture the most subtle of expressions and to sum up relevant dynamics within interpersonal interaction; many of his sentences bear the fine-grade clarity of high-definition TV.

Interaction Ritual

By Erving Goffman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Interaction Ritual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Not then, men and their moments. Rather, moment and their men," writes Erving Goffman in the introduction to his groundbreaking 1967 Interaction Ritual, a study of face-to-face interaction in natural settings, that class of events which occurs during co-presence and by virtue of co-presence. The ultimate behavioral materials are the glances, gestures, positionings, and verbal statements that people continuously feed into situations, whether intended or not.

A sociology of occasions is here advocated. Social organization is the central theme, but what is organized is the co-mingling of persons and the temporary interactional enterprises that can arise therefrom. A normatively stabilized…


Philosophy in a New Key

By Susanne K. Langer,

Book cover of Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

Susanne K. Langer was a philosopher of aesthetics, and a specialist in the nature of symbolism and language. This classic book, dedicated to Alfred North Whitehead, contains her now somewhat famous distinction between “presentational forms” and “discursive forms,” which refers, roughly to symbolism such as sculpture and architecture which present much-at-once, and symbolism such as music and language which disclose their meaning linearly over time. She also brilliantly lays out her views on “Language,” where in a chapter by that name, she critiques instinct theories, challenges naïve views, and speculates on how human beings are evolutionary descendants of singing, dancing, pantomiming apes.

Philosophy in a New Key

By Susanne K. Langer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Philosophy in a New Key as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Modern theories of meaning usually culminate in a critique of science. This book presents a study of human intelligence beginning with a semantic theory and leading into a critique of music.

By implication it sets up a theory of all the arts; the transference of its basic concepts to other arts than music is not developed, but it is sketched, mainly in the chapter on artistic import. Thoughtful readers of the original edition discovered these far-reaching ideas quickly enough as the career of the book shows: it is as applicable to literature, art and music as to the field of…


The Rhetoric of Religion

By Kenneth Burke,

Book cover of The Rhetoric of Religion

Kenneth Burke was Shakespeare scholar, biblical scholar, poet, novelist, literary critic, rhetorical theorist, the father of “Dramatism,” and a ferocious homegrown, self-taught intellect, and this book is Burke at his best. It boldly addresses the vital role that language plays in human life and religious thought, advocates a thoroughgoing study of theology not to assess any veracity therein, but rather, as a specimen of language use, for, whatever else theology may be, it is, at the least, verbal, and, the study of religious language reveals much about human motives and self-understanding. This book also touches upon some of the interesting relations between money, guilt, and the Christian notion of redemption. It ends with an “Epilogue: Prologue in Heaven,” which is a lengthy mind-blowing fictional dialogue set in Heaven between “The Lord” and “Satan” regarding “the word-animal,” and it playfully draws out important connections between language, negativity, property rights, time, and…

The Rhetoric of Religion

By Kenneth Burke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rhetoric of Religion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"But the point of Burke's work, and the significance of his achievement, is not that he points out that religion and language affect each other, for this has been said before, but that he proceeds to demonstrate how this is so by reference to a specific symbolic context. After a discussion 'On Words and The Word,' he analysess verbal action in St. Augustine's Confessions. He then discusses the first three chapters of Genesis, and ends with a brilliant and profound 'Prologue in Heaven,' an imaginary dialogue between the Lord and Satan in which he proposes that we begin our study…


Globes

By Peter Sloterdijk, Wieland Hoban (translator),

Book cover of Globes: Spheres Volume II

What does a castle and Noah’s ark have in common? What is a castle, if not an over-dimensioned hull? In Globes, part of his Sphere trilogy, the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk brings architecture to its anthropological origin, the necessity to regain the initial womb’s protection, a shared comfort zone confronting exterior threats. Like the mythical cities in which history always start by a ground delimitation, the castles are erecting their walls and closing their gates to preserve the interior world and its coherence from the exterior chaos. In an analogy to the Middle Age, gated communities reproduce in a regressive way this reality. Only the privileged will be saved.

Globes

By Peter Sloterdijk, Wieland Hoban (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Globes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second, and longest, volume in Peter Sloterdijk's celebrated Spheres trilogy, on the world history and philosophy of globalization.

All history is the history of struggles for spheric expansion.
—from Globes

In Globes—the second, and longest, volume in Peter Sloterdijk's celebrated magnum opus Spheres trilogy—the author attempts nothing less than to uncover the philosophical foundations of the political history—the history of humanity—of the last two thousand years. The first, well-received volume of the author's Spheres trilogy, Bubbles, dealt with microspheres: the fact that individuals, from the fetal stage to childhood, are never alone, because they always incorporate the Other into…


The Proper Study of Mankind

By Isaiah Berlin,

Book cover of The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays

This is the book for readers who wish to sample Berlin’s kaleidoscopic, multidisciplinary work in a single volume across its whole range. It includes his most celebrated essays in philosophy, political theory, the history of ideas, and twentieth-century portraiture. His two most famous pieces, The Hedgehog and the Fox (on Tolstoy’s view of history) and Two Concepts of Liberty (on ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ political freedom), are here, as are his accounts of his formative meetings with the great Russian poets Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, his impressions of Churchill and Roosevelt, and his pellucid accounts of romanticism and nationalism. The essays are linked by his ruling preoccupation with understanding human nature in all its irreducibly various guises: what he called, following Kant, ‘the crooked timber of humanity’.

The Proper Study of Mankind

By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Proper Study of Mankind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'He becomes everyman's guide to everything exciting in the history of ideas' New York Review of Books

Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century, and one of the finest writers. The Proper Study Of Mankind selects some of his best essays in which his insights both illuminate the past and offer a key to the burning issues of today.

The full (and enormous) range of his work is represented here, from the exposition of his most distinctive doctrine - pluralism - to studies of Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Churchill and Roosevelt. In these pages he encapsulates the…


The Most Human Human

By Brian Christian,

Book cover of The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

This is an entertaining and lighter read than my other recommendations about AI. It is specifically about chatbots trying to pass the Turing Test, and ultimately is a witty story of what it means to be human. For anyone who has ever mistaken an answerphone for a person, or a person for an answerphone!

The Most Human Human

By Brian Christian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Most Human Human as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A playful, profound book that is not only a testament to one man's efforts to be deemed more human than a computer, but also a rollicking exploration of what it means to be human in the first place.

“Terrific. ... Art and science meet an engaged mind and the friction produces real fire.” —The New Yorker

Each year, the AI community convenes to administer the famous (and famously controversial) Turing test, pitting sophisticated software programs against humans to determine if a computer can “think.” The machine that most often fools the judges wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there…


The Creative Spark

By Agustín Fuentes,

Book cover of The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional

I love the way that Fuentes digs right back into human pre-history for clues to understand our extraordinary creative capacity as a species. From stone tools to warfare, religion, and innovative sex (yes, really!) he traces the ‘creative spark’ through the uniquely social and communicative demands on homo sapiens. The way he explains the vital part played by failure in all creativity is very helpful. And, of course, it’s refreshing and encouraging to read that science is one of the creative fields in his anthropology. 

The Creative Spark

By Agustín Fuentes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Creative Spark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold new synthesis of paleontology, archaeology, genetics, and anthropology that overturns misconceptions about race, war and peace, and human nature itself, answering an age-old question: What made humans so exceptional among all the species on Earth?
 
Creativity. It is the secret of what makes humans special, hiding in plain sight. Agustín Fuentes argues that your child's finger painting comes essentially from the same place as creativity in hunting and gathering millions of years ago, and throughout history in making war and peace, in intimate relationships, in shaping the planet, in our communities, and in all of art, religion, and…


The Knowledge Illusion

By Steven Sloman, Philip Fernbach,

Book cover of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

This book focuses on the psychology of decision making, but is highly relevant to consumer decision making. Humankind’s greatest strength is the ability to share knowledge. However, one side effect of this strength is the inability to distinguish between what one knows and what others know. This can lead to a surprisingly large array of decision-making biases and errors. Most of these errors pertain to the overestimation of how much one knows about a topic and the overconfidence that results.

The Knowledge Illusion

By Steven Sloman, Philip Fernbach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Knowledge Illusion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Human reasoning is remarkably shallow - in fact, our thinking and justifications just scratch the surface of the true complexity of the issues we deal with. The ability to think may still be the greatest wonder in the world (and beyond), but the way that individuals think is less than ideal. In The Knowledge Illusion, Sloman and Fernbach show that our intelligence resides not in individual brains but in the collective mind. To function, individuals rely not only on knowledge that is stored within our skulls but also on knowledge stored elsewhere, be it in our bodies, in the environment…


Gods of the Upper Air

By Charles King,

Book cover of Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century

Margaret Mead belonged to a rambunctious generation of anthropologists who were trained by Franz Boas at Columbia. His star students were unconventional women—Mead, Ruth Benedict, Ella Deloria, and Zora Neal Hurston—who asked different questions and told different stories than any scholars before them. Were gender and race merely cultural constructions, and what would it take to overhaul them? How did Native Americans and Black Americans understand themselves, without the distortion of the white gaze? Could humans learn to live with their differences, or would the fascists win?

King unpacks the human drama in which these scholars participated on both the interpersonal and the global scale.

Gods of the Upper Air

By Charles King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gods of the Upper Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

From an award-winning historian comes a dazzling history of the birth of cultural anthropology and the adventurous scientists who pioneered it—a sweeping chronicle of discovery and the fascinating origin story of our multicultural world.

A century ago, everyone knew that people were fated by their race, sex, and nationality to be more or less intelligent, nurturing, or warlike. But Columbia University professor Franz Boas looked at the data and decided everyone was wrong. Racial categories, he insisted, were biological fictions. Cultures did not come in neat packages…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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