Book Bits | 31 August 2019

The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age
By Bina Venkataraman
Review via The New York Times
How might we mitigate losses caused by shortsightedness? Bina Venkataraman, a former climate adviser to the Obama administration, brings a storyteller’s eye to this question in her new book, “The Optimist’s Telescope.” She is also deeply informed about the relevant science.
The telescope in her title comes from the economist A.C. Pigou’s observation in 1920 that shortsightedness is rooted in our “faulty telescopic faculty.” As Venkataraman writes, “The future is an idea we have to conjure in our minds, not something that we perceive with our senses. What we want today, by contrast, we can often feel in our guts as a craving.”

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have
By Tatiana Schlossberg
Review via Publishers Weekly
In this straightforward, accessible look at the environmental impact of consumer habits, journalist Schlossberg examines how seemingly innocuous “everyday, run-of-the-mill” decisions substantially affect the wellbeing of the planet. She divides her discussion into four manageable parts devoted to, respectively, technology, food production, fashion, and fuel. Regarding the first, she observes that the extraction of the metals used to manufacture lithium ion batteries—“the invention that, more than almost any other… powers our phones, laptops, and electric cars”—often comes “at great environmental and human cost” in such countries as Argentina, Chile, and Congo. Meanwhile, the “biggest environmental problem created by agriculture,” according to Schlossberg, is due to corn. So much of this crop is grown, mostly for products such as alcohol, oil, animal feed, and sweeteners, that it wreaks havoc on biodiversity and native ecosystems.

Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need
By Bruce Hood
Review via The Guardian
There is no shortage of analysis and critique of consumerism, from Karl Marx on “commodity fetishism” and Thorstein Veblen on “conspicuous consumption” to James Walton’s Stuffocation (2015) and Frank Trentmann’s Empire of Things (2016). The developmental psychologist Bruce Hood, however, promises that Possessed “is the first book to explore how the psychology of ownership has shaped our species and continues to control us today”. This is a venial sin of advertising, but then the consumer book trade is competitive.

It’s Not You It’s the Workplace:
Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It

By Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris
Essay by authors via Fast Company
Women frequently say to us, “The women I work with are just plain nasty,” or “The senior women act like queen bees; they only care about protecting their positions.”
But there’s plenty of evidence that shows the “queen bee” syndrome is a myth. When we conducted research for our new book, It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias That Built It, we discovered that women’s often fraught relationships with the women they work with have nothing to do with women being predisposed to be antagonistic to or competitive with other women. To the contrary, we became convinced that women often find it difficult to achieve satisfying, positive same-gender workplace relationships because of the nature of those workplaces.