Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism Philosophical Writings of Peirce Post-Truth Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World Origins of Totalitarianism
Post-Truth A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720 A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy Origins of Totalitarianism Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720
Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism Post-Truth Philosophical Writings of Peirce The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth Philosophical Writings of Peirce A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720 The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World Origins of Totalitarianism The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

Neal Stephenson's Reading List: 11 Books about Reason, Fallibilism, and Truth

Neal Stephenson's Reading List: 11 Books about Reason, Fallibilism, and Truth

By Bookshop.org
The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

Jonathan Rauch

$27.99 $26.03

I became aware of Peirce’s writings through “The Constitution of Knowledge,” a new (June 2021) book by Jonathan Rauch in which he calmly articulates the problem our civilization currently faces in what Peirce would call "the fixation of belief,” i.e. how people decide what is and isn’t true--what does and doesn’t constitute knowledge. Peirce, as Rauch explains, founded the doctrine of fallibilism: a disarmingly simple idea that simply means "your beliefs might be wrong and so you need a systematic way of figuring out what is and isn’t so.” Obvious as that might seem, we need a lot more of it today.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

Anne Applebaum

$26.00 $24.18

A few months ago, I had the honor of helping to launch Rauch’s book with a virtual discussion organized by the Brookings Institution. Also participating was Anne Applebaum, author of the 2020 book “Twilight of Democracy: the Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism,” which begins by telling the story of the rise of populist authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and then applies those lessons to what has been going on in the UK and the US.

Philosophical Writings of Peirce

Philosophical Writings of Peirce

Charles S. Peirce

$15.95 $14.83

Charles Sanders Peirce’s work on fallibilism can be found in “Philosophical Writings of Peirce,” edited by Justus Buchler, a Dover book first published in 1940 but still easily obtainable. His Victorian style may be heavy reading in some parts, but most of the relevant bits are contained in “The Fixation of Belief” which is the first chapter.

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

David Deutsch

$22.00 $20.46

Fallibilism is also explored in David Deutsch’s “The Beginning of Infinity” (2011) which is a profound book, written by one of the leading physicists of our age, about the transformative power of explanations. I cannot do this amazing work full justice here but it has to do with the almost unlimited power of the creation of new knowledge by systematic application of reason.

Origins of Totalitarianism

Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt

$24.99 $23.24

No list of books on this general theme would be complete without Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” written in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the early part of the book she focuses on anti-semitism through the lens of the Dreyfus Affair, a debate whose incredible ability to polarize French society is clearly echoed in today’s intractable disagreements about everything from Brexit to vaccination. Later she moves on to cover imperialism, slavery, and other topics of continued relevance.

Post-Truth

Post-Truth

Lee McIntyre

$16.95 $15.76

“Post-Truth” by Lee McIntyre and “A Lot of People are Saying: the New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy” by Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum are both recent books, slim and to the point, written in response to recent events, and thus drawing a lot of their rhetorical force from things we’ve all been more or less dumbfounded witnesses to during the Trump era. Both are excellent books.

A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

Nancy L. Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead

$14.95 $13.90

As the title makes clear, “A Lot of People are Saying” focuses on conspiracy theories and their systematic use to undermine democracy. As such, it focuses more on what the right wing has been up to, while “Post-Truth” – much like Rauch’s “Constitution of Knowledge” -- pays roughly equal attention to what has been happening on the left and the right.

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

Peter Pomerantsev

$18.99 $17.66

Peter Pomerantsev’s “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia” is a very different style of book: a journalistic account, written largely in the first person, telling stories about what happens to a country in which post-truth completely takes over.

A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720

A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720

Barbara J. Shapiro

$70.74

All of that might seem fairly depressing and so I’ll end by recommending “A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720” by Barbara J. Shapiro. This book explains how the very notion of facts—which was fuzzily defined, if it was defined at all, before the time period mentioned in the title—emerged from legal procedures during the period we know as the Scientific Revolution and transformed not only science but finance, the writing of history, and other disciplines. I like to think that if we figured out how to agree on facts once, we might be able to do it again.