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Posted September 18, 2017:

What’s Tony Reading?

I seem often to be reading 3 to 5 books at the same time. The sign of a scattered mind. But I thought I’d mention a couple of the current menu.

I’m loving the wonderful, “A Gentleman In Moscow,” by Amor Towles. The Count Rostov is sentenced by the newly ascendent Bolsheviks to live out his life in exile in the Metropol hotel in Moscow. He is an elegant and gracious man living in a time that favors neither. Instead of growing bitter from the losses and humiliations, the Count finds a complex world and surprising relationships within the confines of the hotel, a world in itself.

We live today in a world that is inelegant in so many ways. “Crude” might be the more accurate word. Towles reminds us that true elegance is not a matter of money, but of decency, learning and character.

A very different type of book is “The New Machine Age” by two MIT profs. My book group is taking on the theme of the digital technological revolution and its social and ethical consequences and conundrums. Big data, robotics, artificial intelligence, gene splicing. It’s not exactly my cup-of-tea, but it seems important to be learning and thinking about it.

Much of the conversation about such matters tends to run in one of two directions: utopian or dystopian. The utopians see a wondrous new world of productivity and possibility. But more today conjur the dystopian. The things crazies can do. The big data companies that know everything about us and whose power is unchecked. The artificial intelligence that will replace or turn on us. I tend to be skeptical of either view, at least at their extremes, but both certainly have a grain or more of truth. The possibilities are amazing and the dangers are staggering.

Then I have checked out a book of Wendell Berry’s poems. I’ll conclude with his lovely little poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake at night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in the beauty of the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”  

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