Book Bits: 5 Books New This Week

● Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots
James Suzman
Review via The New Yorker
In “Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots” (Penguin Press), the South African anthropologist James Suzman, a specialist on the Khoisan peoples, disputes the economic definition of “work.” One culture’s work is another’s leisure; one people’s needs are, to another people, mere wants. Suzman proposes, instead, to define “work” as “purposefully expending energy or effort on a task to achieve a goal or end,” a definition so committed to its universality as to risk becoming meaningless. He insists that the key word here is “purposeful”: to act purposefully is to understand cause and effect. Among the traits that distinguish Homo sapiens from other primates, Suzman argues, is this capacity, which—because of humans’ harnessing of, for instance, fire—makes possible a different relationship to provisioning.

 

● Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World
Simon Winchester
Summary via publisher (HarperCollins)
Land—whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city—is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing—and have done—with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world’s land—and why does it matter?

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