Neal Stephenson recommends 6 books on information manipulation

neil stevenson new novel, Termination shock, focuses on a looming climate catastrophe. But the influential science fiction author has also focused on another growing concern: information manipulation. Below, he recommends six books on the topic.

The Philosophical Writings of Peirce Edited by Justus Buchler (1940).

The Victorian style of American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce can be a heavy read, but writing it in 1877, Peirce somehow epitomized the peculiar symmetrical right/left hostility toward free speech that plagued the public sphere some 150 years later. Most of the relevant parts appear in the “Establishing Belief” article, which focuses on the different ways people believe things. Buy it here.

Jonathan Rauch’s Constitution of Knowledge (2021).

I found Peirce’s writings through this last book, where Rauch calmly illustrates the problem our civilization faces with separating truth from falsehood. Peirce, Rauch explains, established the infallibility doctrine: the very simple idea that none of us can be sure of the correctness of our beliefs, which is why we need a process to agree on what is true. Buy it here.

Twilight Democracy Film by Anne Applebaum (2020).

Applebaum explores the rise of populist authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and applies lessons to what is happening in the United Kingdom and the United States. This is a useful guide to the rulebook used by bad actors who seek to undermine and bring down democracies. Buy it here.

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch (2011).

This in-depth book, by one of the leading physicists of our time, also deals with non-error. But it is primarily about the transformative power of interpretations and the nearly unlimited power to create new knowledge through the systematic application of reason. Buy it here.

So Many People Say by Russell Muir Head and Nancy L. Rosenblum (2019).

This book focuses on conspiracy theories and their systematic use to undermine democracy. As such, it’s very much about what the oath has been up to, and things we’ve all been witness to during the Trump era. Buy it here.

Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre (2018).

Paying equal attention to what is happening with the left and the right, this excellent book is minimal, and generates its rhetorical power by addressing recent events. Narrating how postmodern thinking spread from left to right leads to a final chapter on how to fight the forces of post-truth. Buy it here.

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