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Chain Reactions

August 8, 2007

One of my favorite things to do when I was a teenager walking down the street with some friends would be to suddenly push the person next to me so that they would collide against the person next to them on the other side, etc…while yelling “Chain Reaction!!!!”

Some books are sometimes so full of good quotations and good references that I end up discovering several other books worth reading. This happened to me recently with Brave Companions by David McCullough. And now it’s happening again with Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter . One person quoted in Caplan’s book is Arthur Koestler which lead me to check out his contribution to The God That Failed, a book of testimonials from some prominent ex-communists in the fifties. It also got me to talk about it with my father who lived through that period. Of course my dad knew all about Koestler and the other people who contributed to the book. He also recommended Koestler’s book Darkness at Noon , which is now on my reading list. It turns out that Koestler had proposed the word “holonic”, which adds another candidate for the Language of the Future post: “holonic order”.

The conversation with my dad turned to all the people who traveled to the USSR in those years and then he mentioned an early French traveler named Custine who in the early 1800’s had traveled to Russia and had made some eerily accurate predictions about the future of that nation. Around the same time, Alexis de Tocqueville was traveling around the USA and was making eerily accurate predictions about they way “democracies choose bad policies”. What was it about nineteenth century French aristocrats that made them so smart? My dad is like that, he has read an enormous quantity of books in his life (can’t read anymore now due to blindness), and somehow talking about Koestler must have unearthed from his memory the Marquis de Custine and his book Letters from Russia, all stuff that I had never heard him talk about before. Anyways, now I have yet another book on my reading list. But here is the curious thing: while reading the Wikipedia page linked above for de Custine what do I find in the Notes and References? A link to Bryan Caplan’s great Museum of Communism! Coincidence?

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