Steven Johnson believes that, nowadays, the greatest projects aren’t executed by the market nor the government, but by peer networks. Johnson argues that networked thinking holds the key to an incredible range of human achievements, and can transform everything from local government to drug research to arts funding and education.
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Today’s ideas come from Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. Yesterday, the first advance copy of his new book Shakespeare’s Restless World, burned its red-hot way into our offices. Stuart Proffitt, editorial whirlwind, picked up the editorial and production duo who had helped him deliver it at amazing speed, and dropped them all into Neil MacGregor’s beautiful Georgian office at the British Museum to present him with the first copy (and have a well-earned cup of tea). Neil was comparing the world of London in the 1590s with China today; in which people found themselves in a world which was unlike almost anything their parents knew. Here they were, grappling with a brand-new religion, a newly discovered world on the other side of the Atlantic, and flocking to London’s first ever public theatres. Life was fast, exciting and unnerving.
This lovely picture is of Stuart reading his favourite bit from the introduction, back to Neil. “As with television in the 1960s, the new theatres attracted some of the greatest writing talents of the day.”
One looks at some building of the past whose use one is ignorant of, and yet it has a modernity.
Life is short. Yet books are, for the most part, long and innumerable. So how many can you still realistically read in your life?
Well, here’s the math.
If you read 50 books a year - a book a week, excluding Christmas and New Year (optimistic to some, we know, but it’s good to have honourable goals in life) - and set as your life expectancy the UK average of 80 years, what you get are the following figures:
If you are 20 years old, you still have time to read 3000 books.
If you are 30, you can still devour 2500 novels.
If you are 40, you should be able to get through 2000 more pieces of literature.
If you are 50, it should be possible for you to read another 1500 books.
If you are 60, you can easily fit in 1000 extra books to your library.
If you are 70, that figure is still a substantial 500.
Phew! So that’s all a lot isn’t it?
It is, but so are the actual numbers of published books. Bear in mind that there are over a thousand Penguin Classics alone and each year, over 200,000 books are published in the UK. Clearly, you can never read everything.
The question is: will you have read all the books you wanted to before it’s too late? There’s still time!
”The concept is simple: 100 plucky applicants each receive a blank postcard of a classic Penguin jacket design. They must then buy the book and review it, in whatever fashion they like, using only the space on the back of the postcard. They post back their review, which joins its brothers and sisters and is recorded for posterity. Forever.”
Such is the manifesto of The Penguin Postcard Project, a one-person independent operation, that has seen all of its one hundred postcards snapped up in a flash. The submissions are now trickling in at http://thepenguinpostcardproject.wordpress.com/ and they’re absolutely beautiful.
In 1988 Pankaj Mishra was a recent university graduate in the northern Indian city of Benares with big literary ambitions he had little idea how to fulfill. But when he heard that a local library was going to be auctioning back issues of The New York Review of Books as waste paper, he knew exactly what to do.
“I convinced a friend of mine who was a student to pose as a paper recycler,” Mr. Mishra recalled recently. “He put in a very high bid and brought a whole bunch of stuff over in a rickshaw.”
Here is the Aerotropolis, or the way we’ll live next.
In the book of the same name, John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay present the future of globalization: a world where we build our cities around our airports, instead of the other way round.
Read an extract from the book in the Financial Times here.
People often credit their ideas to individual “Eureka!” moments. But Steven Johnson shows how history tells a different story.
”Networks [like Occupy Wall Street] may start revolutions, but they can’t finish them. Our job is to remind Millennials of the importance of hierarchies as well as networks.”