The Americas were home to some of the world’s most complex and established civilizations in the world at the time of European contact.
As many as 100 million people may have lived in the Americas in 1491, far more than Europe. In the next century, an estimated 80 million of them died, largely because of diseases humans didn’t understand yet.
Though those estimates are still actively contested, a growing number of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians defend the concept that perhaps as many as one in five people on the planet died. It would have been the largest epidemic in human history.
That massive change in understanding pre-Columbian was chronicled in the celebrated 2006 book 1491, by Charles C. Mann, who had written on the issue for the Atlantic. It made a stir then, and I finally got to picking through it, regularly reading news articles on the topic.
I shared my notes below.
Continue reading The Americas were more populated than Europe at the time of first contact
There was likely once a single language, first developed 150,000 years ago. That grew to as many as 100,000 languages, before we developed farming. Today there are 6,000 and by 2100, that might be back to as few as 500.
Along the way, languages have emerged, influenced each other and continue to change.
That comes from the 2003 book “Power of Babel,” the third consecutive book I read by linguist John McWhorter, which I finished early this summer. In the last six months, I’ve become quite a big fan of his — having read his 2016 book on language evolution and his 2009 book on the lesser-known stories of the English language history, I seem to be working through his language books in reverse chronological order. (Read the Guardian’s review of this book here.)
The title of the book is, of course, a reference to the biblical story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel. Following the Great Flood, humans speaking a single language plan to build a tower that can reach heaven. God destroys it, sets humans into an array of languages and spreads them across the world to keep them from conspiring to do something like that ever again.
Find my notes from the book below.
Continue reading What we know from 150,000 years of human language
‘The Writing Life,‘ a 1989 collection of essays from novelist Annie Dillard, is one of the foundational contributions to the canon of teaching modern fiction writing.
A few months ago, I finally tore through the tidy, celebrated, delightful little book, commonly known as the friendly, fiction alternative to the 1920 grammarian guide from Strunk and White. (Interestingly a New York Times book review took a dim view of her collection, but it’s cherished today.)
Continue reading Do not save writing for later, more will come: ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard
One of my resolutions last year was to only read books by women and writers of color for a year. My goal was to both read more and to push myself outside of authors who look like me.
I fell out of the habit, so rather than clear a book a month, this lingered for 18 months, but the last 12 books I’ve read fulfilled the goal. This has resulted in a couple lasting points for me: a recognition of authors from underrepresented backgrounds and a new reading habit of more smartly using my library card (thanks for the process, SACMW!)
Below find my reading list.
Continue reading Here’s the reading list from my resolution to only read books from women and writers of color
Paypal cofounder, public intellectual and global tech entrepreneurship leader Peter Thiel is thoughtful in his perspective on economic growth. An interview with him was on our last Technical.ly podcast and an even longer conversation he had on a different podcast was even more enlightening.
Continue reading Every entrepreneur should be building a monopoly: Peter Thiel
There is an entire industry of creative productivity self-help resources. My friend Sean Blanda gave me ‘Manage Your Day-to-Day,’ one in a portfolio of books from 99U, an effort from Behance, the Adobe division where he works.
It was a quick and energizing read. Buy it for $8. As I like to do, I wanted to share a few of the directives I most acted on.
Continue reading Manage Your Day-To-Day: lessons from this 99U book on productivity
The fate of small, urban satellite cities and the role technology and entrepreneurship communities will have in their future is of interest to me. I recently wrote something about it for the Delaware state newspaper.
After this op-ed in the Wilmington News Journal about the innovation economy, Delaware entrepreneur leader Jon Brilliant encouraged me to write something in response. I did so here for Technical.ly Delaware and contributed a shorter version that was published in the News Journal here.
Today, any U.S. community preparing for the future is fostering a technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Delaware is too.
A recent News Journal op-ed on the matter didn’t take into account much of an organic, nascent community that is building toward a bigger impact. There are efforts in Newark, Lewes, Rehoboth and elsewhere, Wilmington, despite its challenges, already has the foundation of an innovation corridor. MORE
Read the rest here
Download an image of the paper version [PDF].
To promote his new book ‘Things a Little Bird Told Me,’ Twitter cofounder Biz Stone was at the Free Library of Philadelphia for a ticketed, breakfast event for which I interviewed him on stage for a half-hour before audience questions finished the morning.
My line of questions can be seen here. I tried to to steer the conversation away from what has already been said by Stone, a well-covered tech entrepreneur who is in the midst of a popular book tour, but we still hit upon some of what has already been covered: the designer by trade has focused on bringing the human touch to software.
That helps explain how decidedly simple Twitter is and how Stone’s new startup Jelly, a network-driven answer app, has stayed focused on getting social responses.
Continue reading I put people first, then technology: Biz Stone
The classic, National Book Award-winning 1977 historical narrative by David McCullough on the Panama Canal’s construction called the Path Between the Seas was perfect reading material leading into, during and after my 10-day trip to the Central American country.
In large scale projects, preparing to do the work is often more important than doing the work. That was likely the biggest lesson I drew from the book, which chronicled a failed attempt by a consortium of French government and business leaders to build a sea-level canal and then a painful but ultimately successful American attempt that used locks and came at the heels of advancements in understanding how to deal with yellow fever.
I also drastically underestimated the magnitude the Panama Canal represented as an engineering and public health campaign. My previous ignorance to this period of human history is embarrassing.
As I often do when I read a book of relevance to leadership and history, I share my notes here.
Continue reading The Path Between the Seas: how the Panama Canal was constructed
Individuality is a heavy load is among the largest themes of the 1976 Tom Robbins novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues that I recently finished.
Last year, I read and loved Robbins’ book ‘Still Life with Woodpecker,’ but I think I liked this even more.
Continue reading ‘Even Cowgirls Get the Blues’: My favorite passages from the 1976 Tom Robbins novel on individuality