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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Aug 18, 2006

Responding to Christopher D. Sessums:

1. A Book that Changed Your Life

I would have to say that the single most important book I have read was a textbook by Eleanor Maclean called Between the Lines. It was written for an Atlantic Canadian audience, though I read it while in Edmonton when I first started working for the student newspaper. What was significant about the work was that it was my first introduction to informal reasoning and logical fallacies. Many of the examples came from the media and showed how the newspaper coverage was skewed to misrepresent arguments or to favour a certain position.

I would have to include in this category the tandem of Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, and David Hume, an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (even though I have much more affinity with the Hume of the Treatise than of the Enquiry). The debate back and forth between deductive knowledge of the world and philosophical scepticism let me through an enquiry that led, ultimately, to my own views on knowledge and learning.

Arthur C. Clark's A Fall of Moondust and John Christopher's The White Mountains were my introduction to science fiction (and I have subsequently read more in that genre than any other).

2. A Book You've Read More Than Once

I don't often read books more than once; usually this is reserved for science fiction, which I skip through with no real attempt to remember.

The most recent book I reread in that fashion was John Varley's Steel Beach, a story of angst and meaninglessness on a Mars colony after the alien destruction of Earth and occupation of the solar system, told from the point of view of a journalist from the News Nipple.

3. A Book You'd Take onto a Desert Island

I would most likely opt for Encyclopedia Britannica. I am very practical. The question always assumes we would be on the island for a very long time. This selection represents an enormous amount of reading, is really useful, would allow me to browse about randomly, and which could be reread constantly before the contents are fully mastered.

I read World Book over a number of years and consumed various editions of the World Almanac in much the same fashion, though these would now be too simple for desert island reading. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy would have been a candidate but is now too familiar to me for much rereading.

If I couldn't have the encyclopedia then I would opt for the Oxford English Dictionary, for much the same reasons. Other candidates would be the Canadian Rubber Company (CRC) Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, the Advanced Larousse French-English English-French dictionary, and others.

4. A Book That Made You Laugh

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. No contest, really.

5. A Book That Made You Cry

Books don't make me cry. Well, maybe Hughes and Cresswell's Advanced Modal Logic, because it was so badly written and was a required course text.

6. A Book You Wish Had Been Written

Again, I am pretty practical. And, as with any 'wish' question, the first choice has to be:

How to Get Three More Wishes

Once I have the wishes, I would then ask for books on how to live forever if I want to, how to read minds, how to fly, how to ensure world peace and harmony, feed the poor, learning the meaning of life, you know, all the usual.

If I am restricted to books that might actually be written, I think Jesus: An Autobiography would be interesting (I would have said Caesar, but he did that).

7. A Book You Wish Had Never Been Written


8. A Book You're Currently Reading

I am currently reading Frommer's South Africa, Introducing Derrida, 301 Spanish Verbs, You Can Be Happy No Matter What, The Importance of What We Care About

9. A Book You've Been Meaning To Read

Hm. Nothing really springs to mind. Perhaps some Ernest Hemmingway. Or Mickey Spillane, of whom I've read none.

10. Now Tag Five People You Want to Hear From

I don't tag. I will allow my five, therefore, to be self-nominating.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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