Reading – & Now: 2015

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A love affair with books


Secrecy, 2008, directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss"When things are secret, we don't have to be responsible. We can live our lives without taking on the responsibility of our country.

   "Democracy begins with this very simple idea: it's all of us, we're all responsible, we get the country we deserve, because we chose it.

   "A great nation's character is what makes it great, and our character was formed on the idea of a society devoted to the rule of law, and that is powerful. When you're afraid, it's hard to have character. Fear coursing through your veins makes it tough.

   "When you get down to it, courage is the ability to follow your principles even when you're scared to death."

– Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, from the film, Secrecy, 2008, directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss

Bernie Sanders, Outsider in the White House

Outsider in the White House by Bernie SandersOver these past months I've grown increasingly interested in Bernie Sanders. Eventually, "The Atlantic" reprinted a 1985 article by Russell Banks titled Bernie Sanders, the Socialist Mayor⩘ . By the time I finished that article, I was really interested.

Next I listened to an audiobook about Sanders by Jonathan Tasini, The Essential Bernie Sanders. I found the book a bit depressing because in it Sanders addresses head on all the big issues facing our country. The problems we confront are massive, and solving them will mean moving away from today's increasingly oligarchical governance back towards a true democracy. Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, whatever that means. To me, though, he simply sounds like someone who is committed to democracy to his core and who believes that our government should serve all our people, not just the oligarchs. The curious thing is that, while Sanders acknowledges all these overwhelming problems we face, he somehow remains optimistic and presents tangible solutions.

Next I visited the Bernie 2016⩘  campaign website where I came across his recently updated book, originally titled Outsider in the House, now audaciously updated to Outsider in the White House⩘ . When the book arrived, I groaned inwardly when I saw that it was a fairly dense 300+ pages. I had a hard time imagining plowing through a book that long about politics. For several days, I tried to ignore it as it sat on top of the pile of pending books that are on the corner of my desk. Then one day I picked it up and flipped to the first chapter, You Have to Begin Somewhere. the first words of that chapter are: "May 20, 1996. I'm tired." Then I put the book back down on my pile of books.

For some reason, those words stuck with me. Maybe it's because they hinted at a real human being telling a real story. Whatever the case, I picked the book back up the following evening and started reading. And then a funny thing happened: I couldn't put it down.

It's not the smoothest book I've ever read, but Bernie's authenticity comes through clearly. I don't know if he has a chance of winning this election, but if our country is to have a chance to realize its potential for all of us, we need leaders like Bernie. If nothing else, perhaps his candidacy will send a message to other politicians that there is an alternative to piggishly feeding at the trough of big money with their hind ends turned towards their constituents. And maybe, just maybe, we'll surprise ourselves and elect a president who really is for the people. Wouldn't that be refreshing!

In his words:

   Honest people have differences of opinion as to what they believe are the most important problems facing this country. Let me tell you straight out the way I see it. Here they are: the unfair distribution of wealth, the decline of decent-paying jobs, the erosion of our democracy, the unchecked power of the corporate media, the insufficiency of our health care system, the inadequacies of American education. Obviously, there are other enormously serious problems facing this nation, but these are the ones at the top of my list. In my view, if we could address these problems forthrightly, our nation would become the great society it has always had the promise of becoming.
   Why don't we just roll up our shirtsleeves and start addressing these concerns?

More >

Verso, Brooklyn, 2015

December 15, 2015: I just watched a great video (in six parts): Talking Shop with Bernie Sanders & Killer Mike⩘ . The two sat in Killer Mike's barbershop, The SWAG Shop in Atlanta, Georgia on November 23rd for a meeting of two sharp minds and two big hearts to discuss a wide-ranging set of topics of concern to both of them. Listening to their exchange is a totally worthwhile way to spend an hour.

Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin LiuTranslated by Ken Liu
Narrated by Luke Daniels

The controversy related to the voting for the Hugo Awards this year caught my attention, which is a good thing because it made me aware of Cixin Liu's fascinating book, the winner of the Hugo for best novel.

This near future science-fiction work puzzled me at first as it began unfolding with its initial dive into the chaos of the Cultural Revolution followed by a journey through some rather prosaic storylines. Then Liu began scattering some seeds of mystery and intrigue, and I found myself growing more invested in the story. Still, for much of the book I found myself wondering where in the heck the story was going, even as I grew more and more intrigued.

I found the eventual destination imaginative and surprising. I also enjoyed the color and character that Liu brought to this story. Bravo to the enthusiasts at the World Science Fiction Convention for recognizing a fresh (at least to Westerners … Cixin Liu is one of the most honored science fiction writers in China) and creative voice.

Tor Books, New York, 2014
Macmillian Audio, 2014


Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest and Death's End

The Dark Forest and Death's End by Cixin LiuTranslated by Joel Martinsen (The Dark Forest) and Ken Liu (Death's End)
Narrated by P.J. Ochlan

I've now listened to all three books in this trilogy, together titled Remembrance of Earth's Past.

Taken as a whole, this is a breathtaking saga, beginning with one individual's struggle and then expanding and expanding until it encompasses the whole earth, our solar system, and the entire universe.

Just as I felt with the first book, as the series progressed I kept finding myself wondering where in the heck the story was going, even as I grew more and more intrigued, right up to the last lines.

The concept of the Dark Forest that Cixin Liu presents in book two is something I had never thought of before, and it frankly left me feeling stunned. At the same time, some of his imaginings of our future thrilled me, and some of his descriptions—in all three books—are incredibly poetic.

I certainly found the third book unsettling; how could anyone living on Earth not? But it's also a story of great imagination and scope. In Cixin Liu's own words on⩘ : "I strove to write a purer science fictional novel, and wanted to go as far as possible with wild speculations." That's putting it mildly.

Fate was such an odd thing.

From an article in USA Today⩘ :

[Physicist Stephen Hawking] said one day we might receive a signal back from a planet like Gliese 832c [a recently discovered planet that is possibly habitable for humans].
   "We should be wary of answering back," he said. "Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus—that didn't turn out so well."
   According to Hawking, the discovery of intelligent life would be the greatest scientific discovery in history.
   "It would force us to change," he said. "We would have to give up the idea that we are unique and start acting with more compassion and humility."

2019 update:

For the record, I find abhorrent the author's comments in his 2019 New Yorker interview about the atrocities being committed by the Chinese Communist Party against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Tor Books, New York, 2015 and 2016
Macmillian Audio, 2015 and 2016

Michael Paterniti, Driving Mr. Albert
A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain

Driving Mr Albert by Michael PaternitiNarrated by Casey Jones

While I was reading and thoroughly enjoying the quirky road trips described in the Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner with Buddha novels, I was recalling another road trip, perhaps even quirkier as it's not a novel.

I decided to revisit Driving Mr. Albert, which I had last read 15 years ago when it first came out, only this time I decided to listen to it. It's every bit as strange a story as I had remembered, though it struck me as a bit sadder this time. Then I came to the description of Paterniti visiting Professor Kenji Sugimoto in Osaka, Japan, when Kenji …

rushes from the room and returns with a videotape, the BBC documentary made by Kevin Hull … about Kenji's journey to America to find Dr. Harvey and Einstein's brain. Kenji refers to it as "my movie." In it, he crisscrosses the country on a bizarre, month-long odyssey from the corridors of Princeton Hospital to a succession of humdrum midwestern towns, dogging anyone who might know anything about Einstein's brain until he finds Dr. Harvey in Lawrence, Kansas, an old man sleeping on a sofa bed in a cramped apartment. When Kenji requests a piece of Einstein's brain, Harvey takes a steak knife from a kitchen drawer, places his hand in a glass cookie jar full of brain, and fishes out a slab, plopping it on a wood cutting board, where he silently begins slicing.

I decided to pause the story and see if I could find this documentary, which is called Relics: Einstein's Brain. I found a somewhat blurry copy that had been recorded from Swedish television.

Ignoring the Swedish captions—fortunately Sugimoto's English is just understandable—I found myself plunging into a truly bizarre story. Even stranger than watching Harvey slicing a piece of Einstein's brain on a everyday cutting board from his kitchen was the next scene in the documentary, which showed Sugimoto at a karaoke bar in Kansas City dedicating the song he is to sing to Einstein's brain, his newly acquired slice of which he holds aloft for all the patrons of the bar to admire: "Thank you very much! I remember Kansas City forever!"

Relics: Einstein's Brain

This strange slice of real life reminds us that we do ourselves a favor by always keeping in mind that there truly isn't anything normal about this existence we find ourselves inhabiting.

Dial Press, New York, 2000
Audible Studios, 2013

Roland Merullo, Breakfast with Buddha

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland MerulloWonderfully narrated by Sean Runnette

I'm a lifelong lover of stories, a reader/listener whose explorations wander somewhat at random. The walls of my little home are lined with bookshelves, half full of books I've read and appreciated, and half full of books I'm looking forward to reading someday. My biggest requirement when I look for a mobile device is that it have enough memory to store lots of downloaded audiobooks, so that when I'm ready to begin a new one, I have a richly diverse selection to choose from. Currently, there are more than 30 books in my queue, all patiently waiting to be the just the right story at just the right time.

The other day, Breakfast with Buddha caught my eye. I don't even remember when or where I heard about the story and was intrigued enough to add it to my queue. I've enjoyed a few offbeat road trip stories over the years—Driving Mr. Albert⩘ , The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy⩘ , and Shadow of the Silk Road⩘  come to mind—so the possibility of another such story likely is what hooked my attention.

And what a wonderful journey it has been. In fact, as soon as I finished the road trip that takes place in this story, I dove right into the trip described in Lunch with Buddha, and am now deep into the third trip, Dinner with Buddha. I don't think I will ever get tired of listening to Sean Runnette bring to life the voice of Siberian monk Volya, the Rinpoche.

Are the teachings that Roland Merullo shares with us through the Rinpoche's "little lessons" authentic? I don't know. What I do know is this: I've been on my own meandering journey my entire life. Along the way, I've read the teachings of several teachers who inspire me, and I was lucky enough to meet one teacher in person. Some people claimed he was a buddha; others that he was a charlatan; all I know is that he touched me very deeply and made my life … more. One thing I think I've understood correctly is that with the right attitude, anyone or anything can be a teacher, even a tree or a rock … or, I suppose, everyone we meet along the way.

This collection of quirky road trip stories has brought smiles to my face, laughs to my belly, and a deeper acceptance of the painful and unavoidable pitfalls of life. Most importantly, I have felt invited to moments of spacious quietness. I now view the Rinpoche—a character in a novel made up by an author who says of himself, "My goal - reflected in many of my characters - is to transcend. I'm not there yet."—as one of the teachers in my life.

With great fondness I hear the Rinpoche saying in his voice brimming with robust enthusiasm, "I like wery much that pie with the cherries!" And also—thanks in part to the sensitive way Sean Runnette narrates this story—the almost songlike tap of the Zen stick: "Why so angry?"

Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, 2007
Tantor Audio, 2011

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesPowerfully narrated by the author

Addressed to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates has written an eloquent, impassioned, justifiably angry—yet at times also beautifully tender—expose of the horrific reality of the gangrene wound caused by the racial attitude of "Americans who think they are white"; specifically, the presumption of ownership of black bodies, originally directly through slavery, now indirectly through the presumption that police can attack, maim, and even kill black bodies without consequence.

I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you—but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable. When their own vulnerability becomes real—when the police decide that tactics intended for the ghetto should enjoy wider usage, when their armed society shoots down their children, when nature sends hurricanes against their cities—they are shocked in a way that those of us who were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be. And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.

Spiegel & Grau, New York, 2015
Random House Audio, 2015

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris StrugatskyNarrated by Robert Forster

I had little idea what to expect when I started listening to this book. I stumbled upon it when it was mentioned in the review of another book. The other book didn't tweak my attention, but this one hooked me.

In retrospect, I can pay the Strugatsky brothers one of my highest compliments: their story continually surprised me, even the afterward, in which Boris Strugatsky writes about the struggles they had trying to get the book published in the 1970s Soviet Union, a fight that took them eight years.

The story is about the aftermath of a brief and limited visit to Earth by some kind of aliens. Most science fiction stories create realities in which human beings play a central role in the unfolding story of the contact with aliens, but what if the visitors basically didn't even notice us? After the visit, no one left behind knows much of anything. No one alive saw the visitors, no one knows why they visited, no one knows if they'll be back. All they are left to ponder is the detritus of the aliens' visit.

One character expresses it this way: "Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras … A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about … Scattered rags, burntout bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp … and, of course, there are the remains of the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone's handkerchief, someone's penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow …"

The remainder of the quite entertaining story follows the humans who are trying to make sense of the exotic detritus, especially one gnarly and rebellious young guy who makes illicit trips into the landing zone to bring out "swag." He does this despite the fact that the authorities will imprison or kill him if they catch him coming out of the zone, and in the face of the extreme and difficult-to-comprehend dangers that are present in the zone.

I'm amazed that it took me this long to stumble across this book … and I'm also really glad that it took so long: it's fun to read a science fiction story with such fresh ideas after a lifetime of exploring the genre.

It's also a good time to have read a story like this for another reason. Tomorrow, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto after traveling about 3 billion miles over the past 9+ years.

What does 3 billion miles even mean? I came across a map of the distances between the planets of our solar system⩘  that was created to the scale of 1 pixel = 1 moon (our moon). Apparently, Josh Worth⩘  created the map last year for his then 5-year-old daughter in order to help her understand the vastness of space.

Even on a map of this tiny scale, the distances are mind boggling and literally left me with my fingers tingling and butterflies in my stomach. After starting at our sun, which is about the size of a tennis ball on my screen, I had to scroll through hundreds of screens at a speed that was many times the speed of light—he has a mode that shows the speed of light, and it's a slug's pace; it would take hours at that pace to scroll through the entire map—before I finally reached Pluto. Whoa!

Fortunately, Josh intersperses the vast empty blackness between the planets with occasional comments, sometimes funny, other times profound. Some examples:

It's easy to disregard nothingness because there's no thought available to encapsulate it. There's no metaphor that fits because, by definition, once the nothingness becomes tangible, it ceases to exist.

Emptiness is actually everywhere. It's something like 99.9999999999999999999958% of the known universe.

If so much of the universe is made up of emptiness, what does that mean to people like us, living on a tiny speck in the middle of all of it?

With so much emptiness, aren't stars, planets, and people just glitches in an otherwise elegant and uniform nothingness, like pieces of lint on a black sweater?

You might say that so much emptiness makes the tiny bits of matter that much more meaningful—simply by the fact that, against all odds, they aren't empty. If you're drowning in the middle of the ocean, a floating piece of driftwood is a pretty big deal.

The fact that you're here, in the midst of all this nothing, is pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.

View of Pluto on a map of our solar system created to a scale of 1 pixel = our moon by Josh Worth

At the edge of the map, out just past Pluto, after all that scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through hundreds of screens of mostly nothing, he says, "Might as well stop now. We'll need to scroll through 6,771 more maps like this before we see anything else." (Not screensmaps!)

NASA countdown clock for the New Horizon flyby of PlutoWhat a staggering thought to reflect upon. And another: What a monumental accomplishment it is that the people at NASA were able to fling a tiny spacecraft 3 billion miles and, in such a vast emptiness, manage to get so close to something as infinitesimally small as Pluto. As I write this, that moment is just 20 hours, 28 minutes, and 50 seconds away. Wow! (And they got there within 72 seconds of when they predicted they would … how's that for punctuality?!)

A day later: After I finished writing this review, I found myself thinking about some of the scenes in Roadside Picnic from the fresh perspective of better understanding their significance. I decided to download the book to read one of the passages I was thinking about—while I love listening to books, I still find that the experience of actually reading the words often brings more clarity. Then I read the opening page … and again was caught up in the unfolding story.

It's a relatively short book, so I read most of it over the course of yesterday evening, then finished it this morning. I enjoyed it again, but in a fresh way. When I first listened to the story, I appreciated it for the way it surprised me. As I subsequently read the story, now knowing where it was leading, I more deeply appreciated its nuances.

When I finished the book, I realized I had gained a deeper appreciation for what I now think is the single most important idea in the book: "let no one be forgotten!" At a time when big money has once again prevailed at the cost of grinding common people into the dust under the false banner of "austerity," the goal of letting no one be forgotten may seem quaint, but I think it is a worthy one, especially when set next to the appalling greed that is so prevalent today.

Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 2012
Penguin Random House Audio, 2012,⩘ 

Michael Lewis, Flash Boys
A Wall Street Revolt

Flash Boys by Michael LewisVery well narrated by Dylan Baker

In this page-turner, Lewis tells, with clarity and refreshing bluntness, an astonishing story.

It's no surprise to read, once again, that the financial markets are rigged against the common investor. What was surprising was to learn how they are rigged in this case, a way that caught even many sophisticated investors and large hedge fund managers unawares. The culprit is the manipulation of high-speed trading (algorithmic trading done in milli- and micro-seconds) designed to take advantage of access. Complicit in this—in my opinion, unfair—advantage are most of the stock exchanges, including many of the largest and most well known, who reap huge sums of profit by selling this advantage to predators.

If you hold any doubt that we live in a culture of unabashed greed, this story will crush it. But it also offers a glimmer of an upside by telling the story about a very interesting group of characters who have stepped into this gloomy space devoid of integrity to shine a light. Led by Brad Katsuyama, the IEX⩘  team has created a new Alternative Trading System that is—GASP!—fair, or as The Verge recently put it, that "doesn't screw people over." Isn't it amazing that fairness, is the innovative concept?

I sure hope that the IEX team really is what it seems to be. And if it is, I sure hope they succeed.

"'Every bank ranked itself number one. It's an entire industry that over glorifies data, because data is so easy to game, and true data is so hard to obtain,' said Brad."

Related article: "Meet the man building a stock exchange that doesn't screw people over⩘ " by Ben Popper, The Verge, July 2, 2015

W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014
Audiobook: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014

Neal Stephenson, SEVENEVES

seveneves by Neal StephensonNarrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, Will Damron

Epic. Stephenson is a genius.

I only wish it hadn't finished so soon.

The glider technology and the experience of gliding described in Part Three is technological poetry of the highest form, leaving me tingling with a desire for experiencing flight in that way.

In my opinion, the very best storytelling performers provide an experience in which they disappear and only the story's characters remain. Will Damon achieves this exquisitely in Part Three.

HarperCollins, New York, 2015, 880 pages
Audiobook: Brilliance Audio, 2015, 31 hours and 55 minutes

Clarissa Peterson, Learning Responsive Web Design

Learning Responsive Web Design by Clarissa PetersonI've been adding content to my website for more than 15 years now, but I hadn't had time to do much in the way of organization and redesign for several years, as I was so busy with work and other core aspects of my life. Eventually, my website became like the Winchester Mystery House, with additions tacked on somewhat haphazardly, resulting in a disjointed and confusing architecture.

Moving beyond the worst time thief, work, coincided with seeing announcements by Google and Bing that they are now boosting mobile-friendly websites in mobile search results. I had always coded my site for desktop, and getting good search results for a site like mine is fairly irrelevant; still, I took this announcement as an opportunity to see what I could learn about the evolving reality of online access.

For a couple weeks I just mucked around. I definitely was able to refresh the design and organization of my site as well as to significantly clean up the underlying HTML and CSS, and I did manage to earn the "mobile-friendly" designation for my site in search results, but my solution, which I had gleaned from a variety of online articles, was rather hackey.

A friend pointed out some of the problems that my site still had, so I decided I needed to get some real advice and turned to O'Reilly. Peterson's book proved to be just the magic wand I needed. She taught me to reset my approach: to begin with the content, then design for mobile, and finally work my way up to larger display devices like tablets and desktop monitors.

Though fairly extensive, my site remains pretty simple. Still, I'm happy that it now reflects who I have evolved to be, and that it works reasonably well on a range of screens, from small mobile devices to large desktop monitors. I'm quite happy with the results that this book made possible for me to accomplish.

O'Reilly Media, Sebastopol, 2014

Darryl Cunningham, The Age of Selfishness
Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis

The Age of Selfishness by Darryl CunninghamI'm pretty sure this isn't the first graphic novel I've read, though I'm having a hard time remembering another one [ah, wait, there was Too Much Coffee Man's Guide for the Perplexed by Shannon Wheeler, which I thoroughly enjoyed!], but I stumbled across this new book of British artist Darryl Cunningham's on BoingBoing⩘  this morning, was intrigued, read a few pages, got hooked, bought it, downloaded it, and read it over the course of the day: part one over breakfast, two over lunch, and three over dinner.

It's a strong, eye opening read. I have a better understanding of Ayn Rand, her enormous influence on Alan Greenspan (as well as on many Libertarian-leaning conservative politicians), the causes of the financial crisis we've been living through, the bitter political divide between conservatives and liberals that we're currently experiencing, and the dangers of extremism of either leaning.

I can pay this book one of my highest compliments: after reading it I understand the world around me a bit better. And while things seem really fucked up right now, Cunningham finishes on a note of optimism:

It's a mistake to think that the current political circumstances are set in stone. Many times in the past, citizen movements, composed of people from all levels of society, have brought about major change. Without these campaigns there would be no child labor laws, no universal public education, no environmental protection laws, and no women's suffrage. In the U.S. Southern states, racial segregation would never have been abolished, slavery would have continued. These social movements faced seemingly impossible odds. They existed in a time when it must have looked as if nothing could possibly change, such were the vested interests ranged against them. Yet they succeeded anyway.

Abrams, New York, 2015

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

ow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles YuNarrated by James Yaegashi

Yu pulled off a fun trick with this story: making something impossible seem amusingly ordinary, with a time machine that's a bit like a Toyota Corolla: boring and a bit cramped, but it gets you there.

His musings on the angst of living in a science fictional universe are entertaining. It's going to be fun to see where his exceptional mind takes us in future books … that I suppose he has already written.

Recorded Books, Prince Frederick, 2011

Kip Thorne, The Science of Interstellar

The Science of Interstellar by Kip ThorneI understood only a fraction of this book, but it was a fun romp, one of those reads that helps me to sense how much more there is to this amusement park we're visiting.

And now with this glimpse of understanding in my back pocket, I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie as soon as it's available to download.

Hmmm, I wonder if there's a way to morph my living room into a tesseract so I can download the film before it was released? Where are those bulk beings when you need them?!

W. W. Norton & Co, New York, 2014

Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide

No Place to hide by Glenn GreenwaldNarrated by L. J. Ganser

I've been thinking a lot about the stories I recently finished listening to in No Place to Hide, as well as in The Shadow Factories by James Bamford, both of which have affected me deeply. What have we wrought through our often conflicting desires for domination and security? What have we lost?

   …the desire for privacy is shared by all of us as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgmental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.

   Perhaps the most famous formulation of what privacy means and why it is so universally and supremely desired was offered by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the 1928 case Olmstead v. U.S.: "The right to be left alone [is] the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people." The value of privacy, he wrote, "is much broader in scope" than mere civic freedoms. It is, he said, fundamental:

   The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. The conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone.

   Even before Brandeis was appointed to the Court, he was an ardent proponent of the importance of privacy. Together with lawyer Samuel Warren, he wrote the seminal 1890 Harvard Law Review article "The Right to Privacy," arguing that robbing someone of their privacy was a crime of a deeply different nature than the theft of a material belonging. "The principle which protects personal writings and all other personal productions, not against theft and physical appropriation, but against publication in any form, is in reality not the principle of private property, but that of an inviolate personality."

Audible Studios, 2014

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