Flushed: how the plumber saved civilization
By W. Hodding Carter '84
W. Hodding Carter gets down and dirty in this exploration of the most important underground institution in history: plumbing. Tracing this often underappreciated amenity from the Indus Valley in 3000 BCE to his own modern-day high-tech Japanese Toto toilet, Carter illustrates that "a clean, modern water supply, working toilets, and environmentally safe sewage systems are what divide the successful from the unsuccessful."
Carter's subterranean voyage is flush with fascinating tidbits. Did you know that the tenth-century Welsh had a Minister of Urine? Or that the first recorded piped water supply to London began flowing in 1237? Or that two billion people in the world today live without toilets?
In the process of unearthing these facts, Carter tours a London sewage system that dates back to 1859, learns about Boston Harbor's rebirth via sewage treatment plant in the 1990s, proffers scatological stories from experienced plumbers, and travels to India, where plumbing is still a rarity. The result is a surprisingly entertaining and broad-reaching overview that does indeed plumb the depths, and span the breadth, of human ingenuity.
How history made the mind: the cultural origins of objective thinking
By David Martel Johnson '61
What is the mind? How is it related to the brain? Is reason a genetic endowment or a cultural construct?
David Martel Johnson, who teaches philosophy at York University in Toronto, Canada, takes on these questions and more in How History Made the Mind, proposing that the "Greek Revolution of Thought" around the time of Homer (between 1100 and 750 BCE) comprised an important tack in the direction of human rationality; in fact, that "there was no such thing as reason, strictly understood, or the special sort of mind that reason makes possible, until after approximately 1000 BCE."
Johnson compellingly examines the way the ancient Greeks constructed human interior life: not, as some scholars have proposed, as a singular system, but as a hodgepodge of "types" of soul. The change came when certain Greek thinkers began to make a distinction between nomos (law) and physis (nature), resulting in the transition from mythological to rational thinking, and leading directly to the modern mind. In tracing this development, Johnson hopes to show that "the mind is just another, more or less ordinary, culturally determined invention."
Since writing How History Made the Mind, Johnson has coedited a book, with Christina Erneling, that continues the exploration of whether physiological or cultural factors are more important in explaining the human mind, titled Mind as a Scientific Object: Between Brain and Culture.
ChiRunning: a revolutionary approach to effortless, injury-free running
ChiWalking: the five mindful steps for lifelong health and energy
By Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer '82
ChiRunning, the Dreyers' 2004 book, scored the authors a kind of cult status in the distance running world. Combining techniques drawn from yoga, Pilates, and, most importantly, the traditional Chinese strengthening exercise t'ai chi, ChiRunning offered methods to help runners become aware of their posture, how they breathe, where they hold their tension, even mental motivators.
Now the Dreyers have followed up with ChiWalking, which applies the same techniques to a less niche sport. Everyone has to walk; surprisingly, everyone does not know how to do so efficiently. Part of the answer lies in managing one's chi, or flow of energy. The Dreyers offer a "menu" of fitness walks that focus on different mind-body connections: a walk that will relax you when you're stressed out, a walk that will focus you when you're feeling spacy, and so on.
"Almost everyone I know has a body," they write, "and yet most of the time we move through life without being aware of how we treat it." ChiWalking hopes to change that.
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