Good books about the brain changing itself, the Marmalade Files, the influence of Jewish people and how much wealth is enough.

In my humble view, the book of the month is one written about the human brain. Entitled The Brain That Changes Itself, and written by Norman Doidge, it was recommended to me by an old friend, John Herron, former Senator, Ambassador and Surgeon. Doidge says that most medical scientists have long held the belief that the brain is an intricate piece of machinery that cannot be changed — it can only be repaired in certain circumstances. He outlines the ground-breaking work of other scientists who have disproved this. They say that, when one part of the brain is damaged, another part of it can be trained to replace the defective area, even though it has a different function. Their findings, which they refer to as the plasticity of the brain, have vast implications for stroke victims and for those who are ageing. I reckon that this is compulsory reading.

Another great read is How Much is Enough, by Robert Skidelsky. It looks at wealth and tries to determine why people seek excessive wealth. Indeed, even when they achieve such excess, they still strive for more just because it is important for them to always have more than their peers. The economic theory of John Maynard Keynes was to create wealth for everyone in the belief that when people had ‘enough’, they would stop earning more wealth and spend their spare hours in recreation and relaxation. This utopian goal has never come to pass, and never will. Nevertheless, Skidelsky explores the issue in depth and has produced a book that will provoke considerable debate. It is not moral in tone. In fact, it is very pragmatic, but it leaves the reader to ponder some simple personal questions such as “how much money do I require to pay for my needs and aspirations, and what do I want from life when I achieve my financial goals, such as recognition, power and security?” The long-term sustainability of the planet will depend on how a majority of us can answer these questions with wisdom. It is good food for thought.

If you would like some entertaining reading while you sip your evening glass of red, I can highly recommend The Marmalade Files, which is co-authored by two well-known Australians, Steve Lewis, of The Australian, and Chris Uhlmann, of the ABC. It is a political thriller based in Canberra, and you will be able to pick who the characters are even though they all have different names and they change sex — eg, Gillard is male and Rudd female. The authors convey a wise grasp of what makes Canberra work and not work, and how corruption can be turned into an art form. I enjoyed it immensely and it reminded me of a conversation that I had with Jeffrey Archer at a function years ago. He said that he was not an author. He claimed to be a page turner, someone who always made the reader want to read one more page before going to sleep. Lewis and Uhlmann have achieved this.

In August, The Economist ran a 14-page feature article on Jewish people; it was highly informative. There are only 13 million of them in the world out of a population of seven billion, yet they wield an enormous influence in finance, politics and religion. This was shown by the way that they were able to win a majority vote in the United Nations to allow them to found their own nation in 1948, when common-sense indicated that they should not have been permitted to do so. The Palestinians had occupied the land for the previous 1,500 years, and were entitled to believe that it was theirs by right. You can be very sure that the few million Jews who live in USA will have an enormous influence on who wins the American Presidential Election later this year.

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