The history faculty book club was inspired by the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s article asking a dozen scholars which book published in the last 30 years most changed their minds. Today we highlight additional entries for JRC’s 4th Floor book list.
Dr. Ivancica Schrunk – Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée
I read this book in my senior year in high school in Croatian translation. I loved everything French at that time and French was my first “second” language. She wrote about her youth and education, about literature and reading. Those subjects were so relevant for me, coming of age and loving literature and reading. Above all, I learned the meaning and value of independence and intellectual curiosity.
Dr. Zsolt Nagy – Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy
So which fiction books left a formidable impression on me? Too many to mention, I am afraid. But if I must pick one, I would have to go with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. It is science-fiction from one of the grand masters of the genre. The story takes place in the future in a “galaxy far-far away” (sorry, as you know this was indeed taken from another masterpiece, but I could not help myself) where a group of mathematicians led by the brilliant Hari Sheldon design a revolutionary scientific approach of psychohistory that enables them to foresee large-scale future developments. Asimov builds an incredibly intricate universe and provides a narrative that is beset with complex questions about the nature and power of knowledge, the role of technology in human development, and the precarious balance between science and humanity. Later on when I “studied” Asimov, I learned that he was very much influenced by Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Somehow I was not surprised. I re-read the trilogy from time to time (one could say a bit too often) and I always find something new in which to marvel. Lately, however, since I am at the very beginning of a new research project that is concerned with networks and pattern of knowledge / information I started to think about the ways Asimov described the role of understanding past patterns and developments to predict the future. It might not be possible, for history does not always repeat itself, but as I read in this month’s Perspectives on History (“Wake-Up Call: Technologists’ Take on History is Coming to HBO” by Mark Ciotola) it does not stop the likes of Googles and Bill Gates from trying. I also learned from this piece that I am not the only historian who likes Asimov and, I am happy to report, that HBO is making a TV series based on the trilogy. According to the same article, Stanford University recently launched a new joint-major program where students earn proficient knowledge in computer science and history…perhaps there are Hari Sheldon’s amongst us already? Will this be the future of the field of history?