FROM THE JOHNSTON LIBRARY: Observations of phenomena in the present open a new window into the past


Our ideas about the past are constantly changing. New evidence floats to the surface or is dug up after decades or eons. Observations of phenomena in the present open a new window into the past. From tales passed down, through speculative fiction, biography and history, to carefully researched social theory, there is a spectrum of different amounts of observation and imagination we can use in the quest for truth.

The Dutch historian Rutger Bregman was disturbed by the view many carried away from Golding's "Lord of the Flies," and set himself to find a factual account of boys left to their own devices. The story he wrestled to find, in the second chapter of his book "Humankind," is more optimistic.

It takes a kind of faith to believe you can understand more and to keep searching. Bregman discusses similar questions others have debated, such as whether World War II bombing raids broke people's spirits, or only galvanized powerful instincts to fight and to help one another.

A popular new nonfiction book is "The Dawn of Everything," by David Graeber and David Wengrow.  It's yet another take on the entire history of human existence, challenging old assumptions.

The authors, like Bregman, wonder about the classic, possibly oversimplified debate associated with Rousseau and Hobbes, regarding good and evil, and freedom and order. It may be yet another incomplete view, but the authors bring out new voices, and paint pictures of an ancient past that is vivid and inspiring.

Singers also tell their own truth.  In the music of the 1930s and 1940s you can hear the rumble of ideas that changed society decades later. The 50s continue that evolution or revolution, and are the topic for Tom Shaker and Lloyd Kaplan in their final installment of "Songs of the Decades," at the library this Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m.

Editor’s Note: Jon Anderson serves as the Marian J. Mohr Memorial Library Director. Watch for his column weekly in the Johnston Sun Rise.


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