20180624 – Himmelfarb, Gertrude – The Roads to Modernity
The main idea here is to identify and stress difference between 3 enlightenments that took place in approximately the same time: British, French, and American. The most attention is paid to the British, which was peaceful, often conducted by religious individuals as its key thinkers, and directed at the finding the best model of relationship between regular people and aristocracy, generally accepting the need and value of both groups for effective functioning of society. The French enlightenment was mainly developed by non-religious and often atheistic philosophers, was militant pretty much against everybody who would not submit to “General Will” as the philosophers and/or philosopher-king would define it, and eventually led to revolution and terror. Practical people – landowners, smugglers, lawyers, and businessmen led the American enlightenment and, unlike both European enlightenments, it was directed to protect interest and liberty of individuals regardless of their position because such liberty supported effective free market system in which all these practical people could thrive.
THE BRITISH ENLIGHTENMENT: THE SOCIOLOGY OF VIRTUE
- “SOCIAL AFFECTIONS AND RELIGIOUS DISPOSITIONS
This starts with an interesting note that British did not have philosophers, they had morals philosophers. Author discusses John Lock and his ideas about table rasa and rejection of this idea by Shaftesbury, who stressed religion and self-interest as driver of human actions. Generally British either Lock or Hobbes rejected Rousseau ideas of human inherent goodness. Another writer that author discusses is Mandeville and his “The Fable of the Bees”, which stressed vice at individual bee level that could be turned into Paradise for the whole mass. This was strongly rejected by British including all luminaries of British thought: Gibbon, Adam Smith, Hutcheson, and others. Author discusses exchange between Hutcheson and Hume about benevolence of innate faculty and then Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, which was better known than the “Wealth of Nations” at the time. Author also discusses British approach to morality and religious believes and stresses that they saw sources of morality outside of religion, while deeming it very important and rejecting atheism. Finally, author discusses the year 1776 when Hume died, Adam Smith published “Wealth”, and Gibbon published “Decline and Fall”, which author defines as not a work of moral philosopher, but of a moral historian.
- POLITICAL ECONOMY AND MORAL SENTIMENTS
This starts with Adam Smith and his work, describing them as inseparable entity with prevalence of moral philosophy over economics. The latter thinkers like Schumpeter found it difficult to separate, but for Adams it was nearly the same. Then she follows into details of Smith’s work demonstrating that he was first bringing ideas such as a nation that would include lower layers of population, rejected mercantilism and hindrance to prosperity, explained value of market defined wages as the engine of prosperity for everybody. She also discusses Marxism and its approach to alienation of labor and to education as directed at forming work force, rather than providing knowledge and helping to develop personality.
- EDMUND BURKE’S ENLIGHTENMENT
Burke was thinking in the same line as Adam Smith and as Smith was artificially divided between Smith of “Wealth of the Nations” and of “Moral Sentiments” , Burke was divided between laisses faire economist and traditionalist / conservative. In reality neither was in contradiction with self. Support for tradition and rejection of massive change as in French revolution is pretty much consistent with economic and even political freedom, while attempts to jump into the bright future usually lead to violence since in any society there are significant numbers of people who do not want change. Author also discusses in details Wilkes affair and corruption of parliament. Burke is probably the clearest case of demonstrating very different ways of French and British enlightenment.
- RADICAL DISSENTERS
This is about British dissidents who were more inclined to support French enlightenment and supremacy of reason over traditions: Richard Price, Priestly, Thomas Paine, and others. Author discusses in details Paine and his conflict with Burke about French revolution. At the same time these dissidents professed to be disciples of Adam Smith and actually were against big government. Paine even wrote against Babeuf in defense of private property. What does link them to latter leftists’ idea is fight for disestablishment of church. Another personality author discusses in detail is William Godwin and his writings about political justice and its influence on happiness. In this case it was indeed based on abolition of private property and idea of society based on morality developed by reason and science, rejecting private materialistic interests.
- METHODISM: “A SOCIAL RELIGION”
This is about usually missed part of enlightenment because of its religious nature – Methodism. Author presents it as religion of working classes highly suitable for period of industrialization, even if it was not necessarily logically consistent. She discusses some personalities of this movement, especially Wesley, allocating lots of attention to how they were perceived by contemporary thinkers.
- “THE AGE OF BENEVOLENCE”
Here author defines British enlightenment as age of moral sentiments, sympathy, compassion, and overall benevolence. She discusses how it was presented in novels, real live via multitude of association and mutual help societies, philanthropy, and overall attempts to modify society in such way that nobody would be let out in the cold. It also meant to go against cruelty, even against cruelty to animals and popular blood sports. Author also brings here discussion of education for poor that was considered a tool to improve their lives. All this benevolence was changing quality of live in Britain, sometimes even supporting positive interaction between classes.
THE FRENCH ENLIGHTENMENT: THE IDEOLOGY OF REASON
This starts with reference to Tocqueville who contrasted French philosophers and British counterparts by noting that British were quite practical and constantly used ideas in government practice, while French had two separate domains one of which was busy with theory of society without practical application and another managed society without paying any attention to ideas. Obviously, America was much close to British attitude than to the French, with important difference that these were the same people who did theorizing and administration. That’s probably one reason why French Encyclopedia has only historians interested in it, while American Constitution, Federalist papers, important speeches, and such are still discussed nearly daily and often in the news.
REASON AND RELIGION
This is about French attempts to push out religion and substitute it with reason, which in practice demanded the same uncritical accepting whatever philosophers come up with. Author discusses personalities of the period: Diderot, Voltaire, Holbach, and others. Author also looks at articles about reason, religion, and other issues in Diderot’s Encyclopedia.
LIBERTY AND REASON
Here author discusses French enlightenment attitude to Liberty, which is interesting by its theoretical approach: demand for absolute liberty for them and orientation at “what ought to be” rather than “what is”. This was one of the reasons of negative reaction to Montesquieu’s “The Spirit of Laws”. The point was who could safeguard liberty and protect against despotism. Montesquieu thought it should be nobility, but majority of philosophers bet on philosopher–king.
ENLIGHTENED DESPOTISM AND THE GENERAL WILL
This is about the idea of enlightenment despot such as Frederick or Ekaterina managing people to prosperity and happiness. Author discusses how philosophers treated this idea: mainly supporting it, but with some uneasiness. Overall, they also included support for tolerance and were against slavery, for some reason assuming that enlightened despot would always do the same.
LE PEUPLE AND LA CANAILLE
This is about difference between 3 Enlightenments: British mainly cared about “condition of the people” and generally rejected idea of General will. Americans did not have that many poor to care of, had plenty of land and other resources so “people” could care about themselves quite nicely, and therefore did not worry that much about this staff. Author looks in details at Rousseau, Diderot, and others to demonstrate this variety of approaches.
ENLIGHTENMENT AND REVOLUTION
Generally, philosophers prefer to avoid revolutions and hoped for the change coming top down. However, their work created environment that actually allowed revolution to happen. Author uses Robespierre to demonstrate this influence.
THE AMERICAN ENLIGHTENMENT: THE POLITICS OF LIBERTY
If in Britain foreground of Enlightenment was public good – handling poverty and other issues of social policy, France – General will leading to achieving ideal, in America it was liberty – religious and political via self-governing.
REVOLUTION AND CONSTITUON
Here author dig deeper in this American exceptionalism with discussion of Federalist papers and overall American revolution and Constitution, all of which is still pretty much alive and under nearly daily discussion 240 years on.
LIBERTY AND VIRTUE
This is about relationship between social virtue and political liberty, which was kind of dividing issue between Federalists who were skeptical about virtue looking to separate powers and put ambition against ambition and Anti-federalists who believed that virtue generated by link of independent farmer to the land alone guarantee success. Here skepticism was directed against commerce and self-interest.
RELIGION AND VIRTUE
Here author discusses a very interesting feature of American Exceptionalism: religion as source of virtue, which is not supported by government, but rather independent from it and allows for diverse development, providing for Americans to choose whatever they want and, as result, practically assuring higher level of religiosity than was and is typical for other countries.
RELIGION AND ENLIGHTENMENT
This is continuation of discussion of relations between religion and enlightenment in America with stress on mutual tolerance, acceptance, and even support that was leaving very little space for skeptical atheistic Enlightenment of European type.
THE DISADVANTAGED AND THE DISENFRANCHISED
The final part is about two groups, which while living in America had little to do with American Enlightenment and even overall ideological discussions: Indians and Slaves. Author reviews development of these two groups and their slow inclusion into American society, which always was and still remains difficult and problematic process.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting take at roots of contemporary world, which represents fruits of each enlightenment development over the 250 years.
The French enlightenment ideology that is still supported consciously or not by intelligentsia everywhere produced totalitarian states ruled by intelligentsia either highly credentialed or self-taught, but always convinced that they represent the General Will of people and it gives them right to kill, torture, and starve individuals of this people by millions.
Contemporary EU type systems based mainly on mix of French and British enlightenment when there is theoretical acceptance of rights of people, but it accompanied by practical reality when these rights easily subverted to “General will” that intelligentsia (with or without aristocracy) is expressing due to its members superior education, knowledge, and morals. Obviously rights notwithstanding, government violently suppresses all individuals and groups that do not agree and would not comply with this will.
Finally American Enlightenment produced contemporary America, which, despite strong influence of European ideas and even periodic capture of government power by individuals driven by these ideas, still remains the country in which individual enjoy first amendment allowing unrestricted free expression, freedom of movement, relatively free market based productive activities, and the second amendment that allow to have guns to protect all of these.
I actually think that technological development will eventually leave only ideas of individual liberty that grew from American enlightenment operational, because no other set of ideas would be capable providing meaningful live in the era of complete automation.
20180617 – Who can you trust
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate importance of trust in all relationships between people, especially in business, which is pretty much not possible without at least some measure of trust. This is based on analysis of the processes that lead to trust with multitude of examples, mainly from real live business. It is also intended to present author’s vision of the future development of trust that in her opinion would eventually substitute many existing mechanisms of supporting trust with some kind of blockchain based infrastructure that would bring it to much higher level than ever before.
Author starts the introduction with reminiscence of her wedding that happen to be on the day of crisis of 2008 so a few of her friends – big financial bosses left the event in emergency. She uses it to discuss various events when trust of people in institutions and leasers was undermined and states that it is very troubling symptom of massive change when trust shifts “from the monolithic to individualized”. Author refer as the cause of this massive change to new technology that made it possible to record events, conversations, videos, and communicate to the world for everybody without anybody’s control and approval, something that was not possible even a few years ago. Author defines the new reality as “distributed trust” and believes that it would bring huge changes to the society.
1 Trust Leaps
From eleventh century traders to Alibaba: how trust works to cross barriers, calm fears and revolutionize what’s possible.
This starts with the Chinese company Alibaba going public on Wall Street. She retells a bit of her experience in China as consultant and then goes into live story of Jack Ma, but more important into how he managed to build some trust in society that builds human interactions on distrust. She provides a pictorial presentation of her understanding of the role of trust:
- Losing Faith
Behind the devastating crisis in institutional trust-and why we’re now more likely phone a friend
Here author moves to the loss of trust in society that she believes had much stronger history of relationship based on trust – American society. She starts it with the story of Tuskegee experiment when black patients where used as subjects of medical research without their knowledge or agreement. Author believes that it resulted in irreparable damage to attitudes of this population to medical profession. The next case author reviews in this chapter is the story of Panama papers that undermined trust of people in many countries in their leaders. From here she goes into discussion of general decrease in trust for all institutions from very old like government, army, or marriage to very new like Facebook or Reddit.
- Strangely Familiar
From sushi to self-driving cars-some surprising lessons in persuading people to trust new ideas.
Here author discusses how trust is build by using the story of French company BlaBlaCar, which is kind of Uber for long distance travelers. She introduces the idea of trust stack demonstrated in this picture:
It followes by a number of examples from Airbnb to Vaccination and self-driving cars of how it had happened in the real live. From here she moves to interesting interpretation of “Wisdom of Crowds” via idea of social proof. She describes an iteresting experiment of loking at the sky on busy street: individuals get no respect, small group – 5 people ignite 4 times more interest interest, and, finally, large group 15 people made 45% of passerbies to join. Author also discusses What in it for me (WIIFME) as nethod of trust building.
- Where Does the Buck Stop?
When trust crashes in the self-managed digital world, who is accountable?
This starts with the story of Uber driver who become mass killer of his passengers. Author raises question of Uber’s responsibility for lack of checks and then moves to discussing changes of relative reliability of trust in small village, then brand name company when it became centralized, and then to Internet where it become decentralized once again and where companies search for a new form of building trust between people for which they become intermediaries. These new forms generally include reporting of people who participate in exchange on each other performance. As example author discusses Airbnb, Facebook, News, and experiment with mass manipulation of emotions. Author puts her understanding of trust hierarchy in the graph:
- But She Looked the Part
A cautionary, tale about deceptive appearances, and the technology that could unmask fakers and frauds
Here author retells story from her childhood when her nanny, who turned out to be a criminal well versed in obtaining trust from unsuspecting people. From here she moves to appearance of trustworthiness and experiments when psychologists try identifying how it works and applications of this research by companies such as baby sitter services provider. The last part of the chapter is about Internet’s ability to provide anonymity and correspondingly increase opportunity for cheating.
- Reputation is Everything, Even in the Dark
What drug dealers on the darknet can teach us about great customer service
This is about dark net and value of reputation for everybody and especially for all kinds of criminals who literally live or die by reputation. The inference here is that reputation is precursor for trust or distrust and as such is important in proportion to value and risks of transactions.
- Rated: Would Your Life Get a Good Trust Score?
When dystopian sci-fi turns into a reality and every little move you make is ranked, who wins and who loses?
This is about Chinese moving to create “Social Credit System” – something clearly dystopian from Western point of view, but in actuality nothing more than an attempt to bring old fashioned totalitarian vigilance and control to the new technological basis. Interestingly enough it is modelled on American Credit score system only instead of tracing financial behavior it would trace general and political behavior of population.
- In Bots We Trust
But should we… and how do we make them ethical?
This is basically about believes in technology and specifically in robots and AI. Here is graphic presentation of the issue:
The chapter retells a charming story of the Chatbot Tay that was supposed to represent a young girl. It crashes spectacularly when the bot quickly learned from humans to spit out all king of nasty staff.
- Blockchain Part I: The Digital Gold Rush
From fei to bitcoin, the long road to setting money free. What win it mean for the City?
This chapter starts with the story of island Yap where money represented by huge stones making them absolutely symbolic when all transactions are conducted using human witnesses and their memory, so they could be considered based purely on trust. After that author goes into brief history of contemporary monetary systems and explains blockchain and distributed ledger:
Author also discusses bitcoin and its technology as the first digital currency not controlled by any government.
- Blockchain Part II: The Truth Machine
The golden promises of the blockchain: overhyped or the trustworthy key to our digital future?
The final chapter is about hacking of digital currencies and various problems that occur at intersection of computers and human trust.
This author starts with reference to Stiglitz: “Trust more than money moves world around” and then talks about microloans, which are eventually based on trust. Then she moves to conclude the narrative with discussion of distributer trust based on digital technology as the wave of the future.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the discussion of trust really important and I think that it had to be of key interest for everybody who thinks about current and future conditions of society. I personally believe that trust is bases on mental habits developed by every person since practically beginning of their lives. Depending on how much person’s trust was justified or misused such mental habits solidify and by adulthood become basis of all interactions with people. The deviation into either side makes people suffer either from becoming victims of cheating or from losing some great opportunities because of lack of trust in others. I believe that expansion of data collection systems from e-mail history, to body cameras for police, to video recording of meetings and other interaction greatly increases human ability to verify and consequently greatly increases area of interactions when this ability could decrease risks of loss due to cheating or misrepresentation. Obviously the technology of blockchain, understood simply as simultaneous and contemporary record of an event in multiple instances too loosely connected making the later correction impossible, will help a lot to assure validity of such records. From economic and even human side it would mean decrease in cost of transactions and reliability of transaction records resulting in prosperity both materially and psychologically.
20180610 – Strategy of Victory
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that contrary to general opinion George Washington, as military leader, was not a mediocrity, but genius who managed to win the war in which he had to fight the combined forces of the most powerful empire and local loyalists with poor mix of with untrained volunteers and militia that typically was not capable for serious fight. He managed to do it by using Fabius’ strategy of avoiding battles and draining enemy resources and will until settlement becomes more attractive then continuation of the struggle. Moreover it required not only military but also political genius necessary to mediate tensions between Congress that consistently undersupplied resources, officers and men that were cheated of their promised compensation and at the end of war were on the brink of military coup, and other generals who were intriguing to undermine him.
Here author states the objective of this book as attempt to demonstrate military genius of Washington. It is somewhat unusual statement because the generally accepted view is that Washington was at best a mediocre general, lost more battles than he won, and achieved victory in the war mainly via logistical sophistication that allowed him to keep his army in the field until combination of British exhaustion with the war and massive help of French assured this victory. Author’s claim, however, is that there was more to that and that Washington actually proved to be a military genius by demonstrating capability to change strategy in the middle of the war and succeeded in this turn.
Chapter 1 THE FIRST STROKE
This starts with the analysis of the first encounter of the war in April of 1775 when British troop failed to disarm Lexington militia and lost significant number of their troops in process. Author makes point that it was not result of spontaneous enthusiasm and heroism, but rather well prepared logistical and tactical operation conducted by well-trained militia that was qualitatively better than other Americans militias that for years failed to match this initial achievement.
Chapter 2 PROPAGANDA MEETS REAIJTY IN 1776
Here author analyses role of successful political propaganda campaign that followed Lexington that increased numbers of American militias, simultaneously decreasing their quality. The next American victory in June 1775 at Banker Hill in author’s opinion created false narrative that greatly hurt American cause for many years afterword. Author calls it Bunker Hillism and characterize it as conducting military operation with objective to capture well situated and fortified position and then expecting enemy to repeat British mistake at Bunker Hill of attacking such position headlong. The chapter narrates details of American defeats during second half of 1776 in New York in elsewhere as result of this tactic, that British were able easily overcome by maneuvering and going around fortified position, cutting them off and periodically forcing Americans into pitched battles, in which poorly trained, undisciplined, and often incompetently led militia could not possibly match professional British and Hessian troops.
Chapter 3 THE YEAR OF THE HANGMAN
This is about 1777, which started with remnants of Washington’s army achieving military small, but psychologically huge success at Trenton. After that it was a string of defeats that eventually forced Washington to change strategy to model it on Roman general Fabius’ strategy against Hannibal – avoid direct confrontation and just try to stay in the field long enough for enemy to give up. Author also trying to make case that British commander Howe did not really wanted to military defeat Americans, but tried rather to force them into settlement.
Chapter 4 THE PERILS OF FABIUS
Here author describes political perils that come with the strategy of avoiding fight: Congress political rambling and competitor General Gates getting more traction in his political maneuvering. Eventually Washington was able to avoid replacement and moved to Valley Forge where despite all the problems with supplies and winter he was able to conduct more or less effective training of the army.
Chapter 5 GENERAL DOUBLE TROUBLE
The general Double Trouble was General Lee who was formally more experienced than Washington and, despite being POW for a while, intrigued against Washington and promoted idea of cheap army / militia. While Lee did cause a lot of trouble and continuously demonstrated insubordination, these troubles were resolved in the battle at Monmouth where Lee absolutely failed.
Chapter 6 A SURPLUS OF DISAPPOINTMENTS
This chapter going into details of initial failed cooperation with French fleet and then into money matters when paper money became nearly worthless and material condition of troop and officers greatly deteriorated. It also reviews British attempt to move war to South in hope to get Tories of Florida and especially South Caroline more involved into fighting Americans. They failed mainly because Southern Carolina colonels refused to provide material support. It also describes French failed attempt to take Savannah. However, the most interesting part probably Clinton’s victory at Charleston where the number of militia found in hiding after surrender was 3 times the number of troops actually fighting.
Chapter 7 LEXINGTON REPEATED–WITH AN ARMY TO LOOK THE ENEMY IN THE FACE
This is about British attempt to finish Washington’s army in the June 1780 with landing operation in Elizabethtown. By this time continental army was in pretty bad shape due to shortages of everything including food to such extent that they even had mutinies such as Connecticut Continental brigade. Nevertheless, the landing operation after initial British success stalled with British and German troops constantly harassed by militia and attacked by Washington’s regulars. Author makes an important point that a lot of problems were caused by British generals’ competition and intriguing against each other.
Chapter 8 ENTER THE OUTRAGED CONQUEROR OF CARLESTON
This chapter is about continuation of this battle, which developed into battle of Springfield when British were forced to retreat, but were not completely defeated, leaving many on American side deeply disappointed.
Chapter 9 HOW MUCH LONGER CAN FABIUS LAST?
This is about the next stage of the war when British moved further into South Carolina. Initially it was another defeat of Americans under command of general Gates who once again violated Washington’s rules of using militia. This chapter also briefly discusses Benedict Arnold’s treason, but from an interesting angle: it probably caused Congress appreciate Washington quite a bit more than before. At the end if Arnold left the cause, what would have happened if Washington did the same?
Chapter 10 A PLAN SO DARING EVEN DANIEL MORGAN FEARED THE WORST
This chapter goes in details of event in Carolinas backcountry where Americans under Green and Morgan succeeded with not small help from British arrogance and stupidity that pushed locals into American camp. It narrates about maneuvering in this area between Americans and the best British tactical commander Banastre Tarleton that eventually led to one of the most tactically interesting battles when Morgan intentionally put his troops in position where it would be obvious that give up fighting and run as militia did quite regularly would not be a viable option if one wants to stay alive.
Chapter 11 DOWNRIGHT FIGHTING
This chapter is detailed narrative of battle at Cowpens when thanks to Morgan’s masterful use of combination of militia, infantry, and cavalry British were defeated with quite serious consequences for the war overall.
Chapter 12 FIGHT, GET BEAT, RISE AND FIGHT AGAIN
The next stage of war was Cornwallis movement to South through North Carolina and another battle at Guilford Court House, which Americans under command of Nathaniel Green kind of lost, but were able orderly retreat. In process inflicting serious casualties on Cornwallis. After that Green moved to South Carolina, but Cornwallis decided that he had enough of Deep South and moved up North to Virginia in hope eliminate Washington’s Northern Army.
Chapter 13 FROM MUTINY AND DESPAIR TO IMPROBABLE VICTORY
This chapter is about deteriorating condition of continental army exhausted by multiyear war, devastated by currency inflation that deprive them of practically any meaningful material compensation, and slowly losing any motivation to continue fighting. This situation caused increasing tension and even mutinies in some cases. In addition, Benedict Arnold, in command of some 2000 British troops by this time, raided Virginia forcing Jefferson to run away from his home. Simultaneously France also got tired of the war and start planning peace conference in Vienna with clear intention to abandon Americans to their fate. However, the new and probably the last opportunity presented itself when Cornwallis moved to Yorktown, French fleet moved in to join forces with Washington, and Green wreak havoc on British troops in South. The outcome of all this was defeat and surrender of Cornwallis just when American Revolution was seemingly at its last legs.
Chapter 14 VICTORY’S UNEXPECTED CHALLENGE
This is a bit about peace negotiations when Franklin and Adams had to find way to establish America as an independent state without giving in either to France or to Britain. But it is more about seldom discussed internal American affairs of the period, specifically question of compensation for veterans of revolutionary war when Congress unwillingness to meet obligation put country on the brink of military coup. All this was complicated by British troops remaining in America.
Chapter 15 GEORGE WASHINGTON’S TEARS
This chapter is continuation of the narrative of American veteran’s standoff with Congress, which could end pretty badly if not George Washington. Unlike practically all military leaders before and after him, he did not move to the head of upset military and become dictator, but rather used all his influence to prevent such development that practically makes him the greatest political actor in history. The story here is about specific and famous episode when Washington shed tears at the farewell meeting with officers.
Chapter 16 MAJOR GENERAL ANTHONY WAYNE TO THE RESCUE
The final chapter is about later period when Congress’ neglect of military led to St. Clair’s defeat at the hands of Indian alliance, which jeopardized American Western expansion. This even led to revival of American military, the job that Washington assigned to Antony Wayne who did it and in process created foundation for future American professional military.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I see value of this book in providing much more details than it is usually done on strategically complex decisions of Washington that changed Bunker Hill approach to conduct of the war to Fabius approach. From tactical point of view it is interesting how Washington, Morgan, Green, and others developed methodology of using interplay between training professional army and poorly trained militia to achieve good enough outcome in several battles that convinced British to forfeit hope for clean victory. I also found it very interesting and generally poorly understood psychological genius of Washington who managed to prevent military takeover of the country with the following lawlessness and disarray that was plentifully demonstrated later on in the history of Latin America. In short the more one learns about American history the more one can see intellectual and moral superiority of some founding fathers (all warts included) over the most of people who were in power in USA for 2.5 centuries afterword.
20180603 – In Pursuit of Memory
The main idea of this book is to make everybody aware about impact of Alzheimer disease, present current state of research and different branches of this research, and, most of all, convince readers to support increase in funding for this research.
Preface: ‘A Peculiar Disease’
Author starts with reference to his personal encounter with Alzheimer disease observing its progress in his grandfather and how it led to author’s involvement with it as researcher. Author presents this book as history of disease, its past, present status, and future resolution that is becoming more and more important with increase of older population.
PART I: Origins
- The Psychiatrist with a Microscope
This is a narrative of the disease discovery when doctor Alzheimer started investigating brains of people who died from it. It also about live of the doctor and what led to this investigation.
- Understanding an Epidemic
This chapter is about long period of somewhat confusion between character of this as disease vs. normal process of old age dementia. At one point it even was considered that age 55 is top age limit for disease. Eventually development of microbiology left no place for controversy, clearly demonstrating that there no biological difference in process of disease that would be linked to age only.
- A Medicine for Memory
Here author goes more into details of how normal brain works and how disease impacts these processes. It follows by discussion of promising, but eventually failed hope to treat the disease with acetylcholine. Then author narrates the story of tacrine – another promising treatment that produced several approved drugs, which seems to provide some improvement, but are far from complete treatment.
PART II: Research
Here author describes a couple of real live cases of Alzheimer caused deterioration of mental abilities.
- The Alzheimer’s Gene
In this chapter author looks at some cases of genetically defined early Alzheimer onset that happens to people in their 50s and even 30s. The mutation is now well-defined and could be tested. The problem is whether people want or do not want to know what is coming.
- The Science Behind the Headlines
This is about relatively new approach to the understanding of disease with stress on formation of beta-amyloid plague in brain, which occurs continuously. The supporters of this theory are known as Baptist (from beta). They were successful in confirming this idea by using mouse, injecting them with human DNA, and artificially developing Alzheimer. The second half of chapter is about alternative suspect – APOE gene variations, positing that plague formation is not the cause, but just a symptom. These variations are actually linked to kind of local diabetes that impede energy supply to brain cells, causing their deterioration. The third part of chapter is about another group – Tautists who named for “tubulin associated unit”, which is protein that forms Alzheimer tangles in the brain. Author discusses which of these theories has higher probably to be correct, but it is still an open question.
- The Second Brain
This is about glia part of the brain that until recently was considered just filler, but now is demonstrated to be an important part of the processes necessary for brain functioning. Author describes his own research with microglia. The functioning of microglia in Alzheimer disease was similar to immune system, so the attempt was made to develop a vaccine. It demonstrated some positive results in testing, but far from being significant enough for practical use.
- Swedish Brain Power
This is about Swedish researcher who works on biomarker that would help predict Alzheimer long before it actually developed in the brain of individual. So far, they achieved 3 years before symptoms and 90% accuracy, but with very small number of objects. The final point in the chapter is that knowledge of approaching disease could prompt people to change live style to help prevent it.
PART III: Prevention
- Stress; 10. Diet; 11. Exercise; 12. Brain Training; 13. Sleep;
This part is about usual staff that considered healthy and prevents all known diseases, Alzheimer included. Interesting note about exercise – after normal amount there is no evidence of increased benefits. It also relates to cognitive training that helps to maintain mental ability in old age, but useless for younger than 50.
PART IV: Experimentation
This is about different directions of experimentation that may bring some new ways to handle the disease.
This is about experiments in molecular biology with DNA and embryonic stem cells in attempt to regenerate aging cells of human bodies. Some success was achieved in turning adult cells into stem cells – called iPS cells. In short, it provides hope that eventually neurons could be regenerated and transplanted into the brain to compensate for loses due to disease.
- Young Blood
This is about attempts to use biological materials from young people to rejuvenate old. So far, no scientifically valid results were achieved in this area.
- Seeds of Dementia
This is about mad cow and other brain diseases, some of them infectious. The point here is that even if they all are different, they still could help understanding brain functions and malfunctions.
- Looking but Not Seeing
This is about some special forms of Alzheimer when disease impacts only parts of the brain, while mechanism of disease seems to be the same -such as visual Alzheimer (PCA).
- Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
This is about unexpected discovery of drag approved for skin cancer somehow had positive impact on Alzheimer patients. It also about an interesting connection – cancer patients had less occurrences of Alzheimer and vice versa. The chapter is discussion experimentation with various compounds impacting RNA with very positive results in mouse. This also prompted expansion of research on impact of different unrelated drags and substances in hope that something could work.
PART V: Discovery
This part is about what could be brought to bear in this struggle from different parts of the world.
- To the Ends of the Earth; 20. Insights from India; 21. Clues from Colombia
These chapters review: the DNA project from Island where they collect it from total population in hope to utilize it in finding all kinds of correlations, massive memory studies from India, people with genetic mutation that could have relevance from Columbia.
- Alzheimer’s Legacy
The final chapter discusses current status of disease expansion due to aging of population and as usual trying to justify more government funding its research.
MY TAKE ON IT:
To me it is quite obvious that Alzheimer is an awful disease and that its elimination requires massive effort in research and medical testing. I think that the more or less valid combination of genetic predisposition and cumulative impact of lifestyle will be identified causing this disease and in the near future some combination of measures in both areas will be developed to fix the problem. The importance of solution for this problem would grow exponentially, so amount of resources directed at supporting research in this area is practically guarantied to grow.