Top 30 Quotes on Technology by Famous Writers


When writers talk about science, science fiction, technology, the Internet, social media and gadgets, they may sound visionary, clever, insightful, funny and original. However, some of them may also sound clueless, conservative, ordinary or naive. The marked difference between writers and non-writers regarding the topic of technology – or any other, for that matter – is that the former group gets their ideas across much more clearly and precisely. They are great at language and style. Yet, most of them lack scientific training or knowledge. So should we expect anything deeper from their views? Please read the following quotes by famous writers on science, innovation and dystopias and decide which ones work for you.

1. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clark. Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible.(1973)

2. Anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in practice, no matter what the technical difficulties are, if it is desired greatly enough. Arthur C. ClarkeHazards of Prophecy: An Arresting Inquiry into the limits of the Possible: Failures of Nerve and Failures of Imagination. (1973)

Writer Arthur C. Clarke

3. It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atom bomb, and then puts its hands over its eye and says, ‘My God what have I done? Ursula K. Le Guin. The Stalin in Soul(1973).

4.Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute. J. G. BallardIn the Introduction to the French edition (1984) of Crash. (1974).

5. You know the formula m over naught equals infinity, m being any positive number? [m/0 = ∞]. Well, why not reduce the equation to a simpler form by multiplying both sides by naught? In which case you have m equals infinity times naught [m = ∞ × 0]. That is to say, a positive number is the product of zero and infinity. Doesn’t that demonstrate the creation of the Universe by an infinite power out of nothing? Doesn’t it? Aldous Huxley. Point Counter Point (1928).

6. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn. Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. (1953)

7. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change. H.G. Wells. The Time Machine. (1895)

8. The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better. George Orwell1984. (1949)

9. Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced. Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. (1931)

10. Freedom, like everything else, is relative. Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale. (1985)

Writer Margaret Atwood

11. Only people who are afraid of the water want to understand it. Other people jump in and get wet. Michael Crichton. Sphere. (1987)

12. It’s hard to kill a creature once it lets you see its consciousness. Carl Sagan.Contact. (1985)

13. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human. David MitchellCloud Atlas. (2004)

14. Nature’s creative power is far beyond man’s instinct of destruction. Jules VerneTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. (1870)

15. We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. Stanisław LemSolaris. (1961)

16. Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (1979)

17. I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s would still be open. Susan Beth Pfeffer. Life As We Knew It. (2006)

18. The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. Isaac Asimov.

19. Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole. William S. Burroughs. The Adding Machine – Selected Essays. (1985)

20. I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket. Ray Bradbury.

21. I don’t think humanity just replays history, but we are the same people our ancestors were, and our descendants are going to face a lot of the same situations we do. It’s instructive to imagine how they would react, with different technologies on different worlds. That’s why I write science fiction — even though the term ‘science fiction’ excites disdain in certain persons. Kage Baker

22. Change happens very slow and very sudden. Dorothy Bryant. The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You. (1976)

23. Language exists less to record the actual than to liberate the imagination.Anthony BurgessIn the introduction to The Best Stories of J.G. Ballard. (1978)

24. Do you ever wonder if–well, if there are people living on the third planet?’ ‘The third planet is incapable of supporting life,’ stated the husband patiently. ‘Our scientists have said there’s far too much oxygen in their atmosphere.” Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. (1950)

25. We need to re-create boundaries. When you carry a digital gadget that creates a virtual link to the office, you need to create a virtual boundary that didn’t exist before. Daniel Goleman

26. There’s a danger in the internet and social media. The notion that information is enough, that more and more information is enough, that you don’t have to think, you just have to get more information – gets very dangerous. Edward de Bono. In an interview for news.com.au. (2011)

27. Distracted from distraction by distraction. T.S. EliotFour Quartets. (1936)

28. First of all, I know it’s all people like you. And that’s what’s so scary. Individually you don’t know what you’re doing collectively. Dave EggersThe Circle. (2013)

29. The more time we spend interconnected via a myriad of devices, the less time we have left to develop true friendships in the real world. Alex MorrittImpromptu Scribe. (2014)

30. Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be! Arthur C. Clark. Electronic Tutors. (1980).

Do you know any other quotes on technology you would like to share with us? Please use the comments space below.

Jorge Sette

Euphoria (HBO): second season (review)


Now that Zendaya won a Best Actress Emmy for the role of the drug addict Rue in the successful HBO series Euphoria, I’m rewatching the second season. I want to check out her performance and decide if the show is as good as I thought it was when I first saw it.

The series is definitely not for the faint of heart. The story, set in the fictitious town of East Highland in California, is about a group of High School teenagers, most of them still living with their highly dysfunctional middle-class families.

Drugs, sex, and cell phones abound. These characters are portrayed in all their rawness, brutality, and emptiness by an extraordinary cast of young and mature actors.

The highlight of the second season is a play within the show (“Our Lives”), created and directed by one of the students, Lexi, who seems to act as the moral center of the story. The play – stunning in itself for us, the home audience – helps the characters sitting in the school theater see themselves as they really are, with all their flaws and inconsistencies (rather than the fake personas they try to create and project), therefore stirring strong emotions, and leading to a huge unscripted fight on the stage. “Art should be dangerous”, says an assistant to the devastated director to soothe her. But the show must go on.

Most of the relevant current themes are discussed in Euphoria, to some extent: friendship, loyalty, love, the opioid crisis, fluid sexuality, transsexualism, pedophilia, toxic masculinity, feminism, sexual orientation, the breakdown of the traditional family and its values, the difficulty to communicate real feelings or develop an authentic personality.

There’s a lot of physical and verbal violence too. Keeping in mind that the objective of ambitious shows is not only to entertain but also to discuss controversial issues and provoke change, Euphoria is a great show, if you can manage to watch the frequent uncomfortable scenes.

Have you had a chance to watch the show? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Jorge Sette

The War of the End of the World, by Vargas Llosa – Book Review


I read Euclides da Cunha’s The Backlands (Os Sertões), a brilliant journalistic account of the War of Canudos, a couple of years ago. The report is extremely well-written, precise, and exciting – to the extent that non-fictional pieces of writing can afford to be, even when they incorporate techniques more typically used in fiction. However, regular readers will agree that nothing can be more thrilling, more stimulating to the imagination, than great novels.

Therefore, even if you loved The Backlands, which I certainly did, don’t miss reading Peruvian writer Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, the novel based on the same event – a war waged between the official powers of the recently proclaimed Brazilian Republic and a gathering of some 30,000 jagunços (the name given to the impoverished and undernourished inhabitants of the backlands), who built a community, Canudos, in the northeast of Bahia at the end of the nineteenth century.

First of all, I was impressed by how much Llosa knows about Brazil. He must have undertaken extensive and in-depth research about this period of our history. As a consequence, he is quite familiar with the different groups of people who lived in the region, their customs and physical characteristics, the regional names they gave to the native vegetation and geographic locations of the backlands, an area of the interior of the northeast of Brazil punished by constant droughts, leading to poverty, scarcity of all kinds of resources and, as a result, illness, ignorance, and predisposition to all kinds of superstitions and fanaticism.

The War of Canudos is a very complex conflict, involving clashes between opposing political interests,  different economic classes, idiosyncratic religious views, and diverse cosmologies to sum it all up. It was a war between myths, in the broadest sense of the word. The military sent to the region claim they were defending the interests of the Brazilian Republic against heavily armed conservationists backed up by the English and local aristocrats who were trying to revert the country to a monarchy. Nevertheless, the jagunços who came in droves to put together and live in the community of Canudos were mostly Catholics who followed the somewhat peculiar doctrine of the charismatic religious guru Antônio Conselheiro, the Counselor. This religious leader had, with the mere strength of his words and personal example, the power to persuade the simple-minded people of the backlands to turn their violent and empty lives into something more peaceful and meaningful; he gave them loftier aspirations.

Antônio Conselheiro

The War of Canudos needs to be interpreted from different angles and perspectives. The lines separating right and wrong as far as the confronting ideologies went are not clear-cut. Lots of gray areas. The horror, however, made itself rather concrete and clear, through the brutality and violence that took place in those forgotten and distant dry lands of the interior of Brazil during the conflict. Llosa’s novel is not for the faint of heart, by the way. The explicit descriptions of shots, throat slashes, decapitations, stabbings, bombardments, disfigurement of faces, bayonet perforations, dismembering of body parts, causing corpses to accumulate in piles or lie strewn around, exposed to the voracity of famished vultures, dogs and rats, disputing the remains, are nauseating and shocking.

On the other hand, a strange beauty permeates the novel, when it shifts to the narration of the resilience, bravery, abnegation, cooperation, and empathy shown by the jagunços toward each other. It also emerges in the description of the cold star-studded skies at night that alternate with orange moonlit landscapes lacking in water and vegetation – only cacti, mandacarus, and shrubs could survive in such hostile climate – or, also, in the rare and quick passages portraying the sudden and brief storms that brought hope and happiness to the fighters.

The War of the End of the World is a hard book to read, with many different themes to take into consideration and reflect on. Although, at a more superficial level, it seems to be simply the fictionalized account of a real conflict that took place more than 100 years ago, the novel encapsulates relevant and current themes, especially for Brazil, a country whose stark economic inequality and cruelty toward the lower classes are still a sad reality.

Have you read any of the books mentioned in this article? Did you like them? Please leave your comments below.

Jorge Sette

Content Marketing: 12 Tips to Improve Your Business Blog


If you are in marketing, you certainly heard of or practice content marketing. This is the strategy of populating your blog, website and social media channels with written posts, video clips, audio clips, photos, games, infographics, etc. to attract your prospective customers, keep them coming back and start building a relationship with them. Of course, the idea is that this content is somehow related to your business.

You may think your business does not lend itself to this kind of promotion. Believe me: no matter how dry you may think your business is, there is always room to develop a content strategy for it. The efficacy of your marketing team should be measured by their ability to create such content and distribute it. In this day and age, it would be a huge mistake not to go this way. How do you expect to drive traffic to your website if you can’t offer useful information, entertainment, help or clarification about the products and services you sell?

In this blog post, we are focusing on one of the most effective kinds of content you could use on your website: blog posts. Having been an active blogger for the past 7 years, and seeing concrete results emerge from the strategy, I’ve selected 12 tips to help you improve your blog as a marketing tool:

1. Keep the blog on your website: for some kind of bloggers, there’s nothing wrong in using a public platform (such as WordPress or Tumblr) to host your blog. They have all the tools you need, and if you are prepared to pay for an upgrade, the possibilities of enhancement are unlimited. However, if you are a business, and already have a website – and especially if you sell directly through the Internet – why keep two separate sites, diverting your traffic or creating an intermediary step before your prospects reach you? Embed the blog in your main website. It will make it easier to turn prospects into leads, and convert them into buyers, if they are already there.

2. Write quality posts: blogs increase your page rank, allowing your company to appear higher in results lists of search engines. So it’s essential to avoid sloppiness. If you can’t write, hire competent writers. Everyone recognizes a good article when they read it. Have a strong and direct headline, able to capture the attention of the reader, and put a lot of effort into creating a compelling opening to your text. Grammar and spelling should be faultless. The language should be direct and simple. Paragraphs must be well ordered and clearly connected by linguistic cohesive devices. Break up long texts into smaller sections and use subheadings, lists, bullet points and italics as much as possible to guide the reader. Well written blogs, with quality articles, subject to careful Search Engine Optimization (SEO), increase your chances to do better in organic searches. Google specifically seeks to offer their clients the best possible experience in their search. The better your content, the more relevant your headlines and subheadings, the easier it will be for your business to be found on the Internet.

3. Choose an angle: many people write about the same topics. There’s nothing wrong about that. However, make sure your article is written with an original perspective. Make it personal. Base it on your own experience or the image your company wishes to project. Think brand alignment and positioning.

4. Write more frequently: quantity matters. Quality is essential, of course, but numbers also count. Therefore, the more blog posts or pages you have on your site, the bigger your visibility. Google loves freshness. Blogs which are systematically and frequently fed with new quality content gain points in their ever-changing page ranking algorithm.

5. Use images: make sure they are legal and attractive, maybe slightly controversial or funny (they must suit your positioning and brand voice. Do not steal images. Try free or paid photo libraries on the Internet, subscribe to Hubspot (they will reward you with dozens of images on certain topics as a gift now and then; or take your own pictures. Ask members of your staff to contribute their photos to an image bank everyone could draw upon at the company.

6. Write content that is fun, entertaining or inspiring: yet somehow related to your business: not all your posts need to be about your product or service. Use your blog as tool to attract prospects. Use soft sales tactics: get them to see or read something lighthearted or inspiring on your blog post occasionally. Of course, if you can subtly bridge the post to your service and product, even better.

7. Write content that helps educate your prospect: sometimes people will not even know they need a product like yours as they navigate the Web. You need to clearly show them the benefits of what you sell before they get interested. What is your product? What does it do? What problem does it solve? Why is it different? How can they use it? Where?

8. Write content to guide leads through the sales funnel: after you get the prospect’s attention, offer something else to get them even more interested: a free ebook for download, an infographics poster, a sample of your product, a visit from your rep to demonstrate the product. Do not ask them to fill in long forms to get the gift (their email address and opt-in allowing you to contact them should be enough to continue the conversation). Close the deal every step of the way. Closing doesn’t mean necessarily selling, but getting progressive commitments to the next steps along the sales funnel until you get the purchase.

9. Write content to solve your customers problems: use your blog as a troubleshooter. Transfer part of the work done by your customer service to the blog. Tutorials are a great help. You can use blog space to embed short how-to videos, slide presentations, or offer ebooks/white papers for download to help answer questions and have the clients take full advantage of the product after they purchase it.

10. Use social media sharing buttons to allow readers to share your content: people love to curate content. When they see something they like on the Internet, they immediately think of saving that for future reference or sharing it with their own audience. Make sure you make that sharing process direct and easy for them. They will be promoting your stuff to people you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.

11. Elicit the readers participation: unlike the days of Mad Men, the popular TV show, marketing nowadays is a two-way road. Customers wish to comment and talk to you about your product on the internet. Allow them to do so on your blog, so you can keep a closer eye on what is being said and take fast corrective measures if necessary. Invite them to a dialogue, build a community around your blog, by allowing them to post their comments and rate your post. Learn how to be cool: don’t let the compliments go to your head, but also don’t feel thrown off when you get criticisms.

12. Pomote your blog: use as many social media channels as you can to place links to your main content. These are the social media channels I find more useful to drive traffic to my blogs, ordered from the most effective to the least: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Adwords (paid ads),Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook (Meta). You need to try many others and start measuring to find how they work for you.

The payoff of creating and keeping a popular blog is huge. People will start thinking of you as an authority on the topics you usually write about. You will become a thought leader, to use the current buzzword for this kind of reputation. Your audience will grow through word of mouth and higher positions in search engine page results. As a consequence, you’ll slowly become a reference for the kind of service or product you offer. This is likely to have a direct impact on your bottom line.

Jorge Sette

5 Classic Movie Dads


Here are some of the most popular dads in classic movies. Celebrate the upcoming Father’s Day – Sunday, Aug 8, in Brazil – watching any of them with your old man. Some of them are available on Netflix. Maybe there’s still time to purchase a DVD too.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1964): The Open-Minded Dad 

One of the most beloved movie dads of all time, Gregory Peck plays the widowed lawyer Atticus Finch, who goes up against an entire town in Alabama in the 1930s to defend a young black man accused of raping the daughter of a drunken bigot. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical account of the late author Harper Lee’s childhood. The story is seen through the naïve eyes of Atticus’ adoring, tomboyish daughter Scout, who leads a happy life, playing in the bucolic countryside in the company of her older brother Jem and a younger, precocious boy called Dill, who, most likely, represents her lifelong friend Truman Capote. Scout learns, by observing her dad’s impeccable behaviour, to respect and promote diversity in all its forms.

The Godfather (1972): The Mob Dad

This seminal mob movie from the early seventies reinvented the gangster genre by showing the Mafia from the perspective of family life. The portrait of a close and loving relationship between a father (Marlon Brando) and his sons, depicted against the backdrop of a violent war among mob families in New York, has both shocked and mesmerized audiences for almost 50 years now. The unexpected rise to leadership of the least likely of Don Corleone’s sons, the college educated and sensitive Michael (Al Pacino), who, on assuming the role of the head of the family, surpasses his father in coldness, decisiveness and cruelty, still has the power to galvanize audiences.

Jaws (1975): The Superhero Dad 

Based on Peter Benchley’s bestselling book, Jaws was the first of the so-called blockbusters, earning an estimated $407 million at the box office. Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) will be forever remembered as the worried dad who, not only grows overprotective of his two young boys, but becomes the surrogate father of the whole beach town of Amity. Brody sets out to kill the great white shark that haunts the summer resort, in a Moby Dick–style expedition. The repetitive chords of the iconic John Williams’ music score and the line you’re gonna need a bigger boat, uttered by Brody after his first glimpse of the huge shark, have been a part of pop culture since the movie’s release.

Back to the Future (1985): The Goofy Dad 

A strong premise, great acting across the board, lots of action and humor, plus a a wonderful soundtrack, combine to make Back to the Future a landmark 80s movie. The focus here is on Marty McFly (the ultra charismatic Michael J. Fox), but the majority of the story revolves around his efforts to duck his mother’s romantic advances, while trying to create the necessary conditions for her to meet his shy father so that they can fall in love and marry, resulting in the existence of the family in the present.

Confusing? Not really, Marty is accidentally sent back to 1955 (from 1985) in a time machine made from a car, a 1982 DeLorean DMC-12, by his friend, the mad scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Marty attempts to put some order into his future parents’ chaotic lives.

Wall Street (1987): The Sensible Dad

The movie begins with Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) looking to climb the Wall Street ladder. His father, Carl (Martin Sheen), is a head mechanic at Bluestar Airlines, and reveals the results of an investigation into a plane crash. By using this inside information to presell the airliner’s stock before it crashes, Bud becomes the protégé of Wall Street wolf Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Bud climbs to the top quickly, accumulating money, power, and women. Eventually, he becomes a heavy drug user. Luckily, his father is there for him to cushion his fall.

Can you add any other famous Dads from movies you have enjoyed to this post? Go ahead and use the comments section below.

Jorge Sette

Highlights from the book Machado de Assis: A Literary Life, by K. David Jackson


In his in-depth work, K. David Jackson, Professor of Portuguese at Yale University, focuses on the oeuvre of Machado de Assis, rather than on more personal aspects of his life. If, on the one hand, you wish you’d get to know more about the man behind some of the greatest works of the Latin American literary canon, Jackson’s choice is understandable. Machado was a very private person, who led a rather uneventful and quiet life, totally devoted to his artistic objective: the construction of a philosophical and fictional world.

This detailed work by K. David Jackson isn’t, therefore, your typical biography, but a fascinating study of Machado’s output, illuminating unsuspected aspects of his fiction and acquainting the reader with hidden facets of his creative process.

Here are some of the most engaging points made in the book:

1. Biographical landmarks: Machado de Assis, known as the Wizard of Cosme Velho (the neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where he lived), was the co-founder and first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (1897). His most famous works are the Carioca Quintet (a set of five novels published from 1881 to 1908: The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas; Quincas Borba; Dom Casmurro; Esau and Jacob; Counselor Aires’ Memoirs). He died in 1908 at the age of 69. His image was used on a Brazilian banknote in 1988, and he was the featured author at the International Literary Festival Party of Paraty (FLIP) in 2008, to celebrate the centenary of his death.

Brazilian academy of Letters

2. His importance: According to Jackson, Machado’s writings ought to be placed alongside the works of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Hardy, Melville, Stendhal, and Flaubert.

3. Innovation: Having started off as a romantic writer and progressively become associated with the Realist artistic movement in Brazil, Machado is said to have anticipated the modernist narrative features found in Proust, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Camus, Mann, and Borges.

4. Features: Machado’s work is hybrid and cannibalistic (intertextual). Through extensive reading, he assimilated and digested an incredible amount of information on Western culture as a whole (arts, music, philosophy, and literature), and based on these sources produced a very original body of work, using the social context of the city of the Rio de Janeiro during the Empire as a means to discuss and represent, mainly through parody and satire, universal truths and human dilemmas.

5. His most important works (such as The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas and Dom Casmurro) feature unreliable character-narrators, whose hallucinations dreams and obsessions are said to anticipate Freud’s psychoanalytic theories.

6. Theater and opera: These are among the main influences in the construction of the fictional space of Machado de Assis. Rio de Janeiro hosted a great number of European theater and opera companies in the 19th century, which allowed Machado to be exposed to a lot of comedic operas (opera buffa) and plays, which are not only frequently referenced in his fiction, but are also woven into the fabric of his works.

7. Shakespeare’s Othello: the classic story of the Moor who kills his wife Desdemona out of jealousy is reflected in the feelings – if not the actions – of important protagonists of Machado’s fiction. Othello is, for example, one of the main inspirations of Bento Santiago, the character-narrator of Dom Casmurro, whose insecurity and obsessions prompt him to write his memoirs as a way of persuading himself and the readers that his wife, Capitu, had an affair with his best friend Escobar, bearing an illegitimate son, Ezequiel.

Desdemona and Othello, Théodore Chassériau, 1847.

8. Social Darwinism and Positivism – dominating scientific theories at the time – were strongly criticized and ridiculed by Machado, especially through the fictitious philosophy of HUMANITAS, summarized by the motto To the Victor, the Potatoes, created by the mentally unstable character Quincas Borba, who first appeared in The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. He later made a comeback in the novel Quincas Borba (although, in typically oblique Machadian fashion, he’s not the protagonist of the book).

9. Main themes: Machado’s work is a profound depiction of Rio de Janeiro society during the Empire. This microcosm, however, is used by the author only as a familiar context for the highlighting of universal themes, such as legitimacy, chastity, honesty, hypocrisy, adultery and cruelty, which receive a modernist treatment in his hands.

If you haven’t had the chance to read Machado de Assis yet, K. David Jackson’s book will surely whet your appetite. For those, like me, who have read and reread Machado on a regular basis, Jacksons’ work was a surprising and welcome source of new interpretations of the familiar novels and short stories the Brazilian author is most famous for.

Jorge Sette

The Gene: An Intimate History – 10 Key Lessons from the Book


It’s exciting to have complex scientific concepts explained in everyday language, in a way that makes you acknowledge the relevance of the topic and understand how it affects your life. There is a line of great books that do that. In general, they belong to a genre called ‘popular science’ books.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukherjee – a cancer physician and researcher as well as a stem cell biologist and cancer geneticist – goes way beyond that narrow genre definition, though. With the objective of discussing “the birth, growth and the future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas” in science (the gene), the author explores historical facts and tells personal anecdotes about the main people involved in the narrated events, and bravely includes information about his own Indian family history – with its many cases of mental illnesses – to illustrate points and, ultimately, to justify his interest in the subject.

Containing a great number of literary and movie references, and using language that becomes poetic and evocative at times, the author does not hesitate to apply clarifying metaphors to help us understand processes and results. The Gene, therefore, must be categorized as a hybrid text, with strands of history, science, biographical data and literature tightly interwoven in a fascinating whole, in which issues of heredity, illness, normalcy, family and identity are discussed.

In this post, we list and summarize 10 key lessons we have learned. Of course, we will be simplifying and reducing much of the fascinating content you will find in the book.

1. Darwin and Mendel: The science of genetics started off in the middle of the 19th century, with the development of Darwin’s theory of the origin and evolution of species (based on the idea of mutations, natural selection and the survival of the fittest) and the first heredity experiments carried out by Gregor Mendel in his pea garden in the backyard of the Augustinian abbey where he lived. Mendel discovered that heredity was handed down through discreet units, which were much later – in 1909 – called genes.

2. Eugenics: In 1869, Francis Galton coins the term “eugenics,” in his book Heredity Genius. Eugenics misused new genetic discoveries, helping create distorted and evil racial hygiene government policies, which enabled the setup of special asylums and the submission of mentally ‘feeble’ women to sterilization by force in the 1920s in the US, and the promotion of Nazi ideas about the purification and preservation of the Aryans as a superior race during the 1930s and 40s, with the extermination of millions of human beings.

3. The gene: If the atom is the basic unit of the matter and provides an organizing principle for physics, genes represent a similar unit in biology and provide similar organizing functions. Genes are parts or stretches of chromosomes – “long, filamentous structures buried within cells.” Human cells contain forty-six chromosomes: 23 inherited from one of parent and 23 from the other. They provide recipes (instructions for processes: basically the making of different kinds of proteins) and regulate all the work done by our cells. They are located in the nucleus of the cell.

4. Chromosomes: Chromosomes are made up of a special molecule called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), composed of sugar, phosphate and four kinds of bases (guanine, thymine, adenine and cytosine). The DNA structure – discovered by Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin in 1953 – consists of a double helix format with two strands linked by the bases.

5. RNA (ribonucleic acid): RNA is another molecule, similar to the DNA in structure, but with a single strand. It copies stretches of code from the DNA and serves as a messenger, carrying instructions from the genes located in the nucleus to the cytoplasm – the liquid part of the cell outside the nucleus – where proteins will be assembled according to the RNA code. Proteins compose most of the structures of our tissues, signal the initiation of processes and accelerate chemical reactions in our bodies. They rule.

6. Diseases associated with genes: From 1978 to 1988 a series of disease-linked genes were mapped. There are basically two kinds of gene-related diseases: monogenetic (involving one gene, such as cystic fibrosisand Huntington’s disease) and polygenetic (involving the coordination of a number of genes – most diseases, including cancer and schizophrenia, belong in this category). Besides, the effect genes have on the development of diseases is influenced by the level of penetrance. This means that different gene-related diseases are more likely to express themselves than others. The environment also plays an important role, working as a trigger to some of the diseases.

7. The ‘gay gene’: As of 1993 scientists started wondering if homosexuality could be directly linked to a gene. While there is evidence that there is a strong correlation between sexual orientation and the presence of a gene or a group of genes located in a certain region of the X chromosome, no one knows for sure how the process of formation of sexual identity is carried out. There may be other regulators scattered across other parts of the genome (see definition below); there’s no doubt that powerful environmental inputs or triggers are also at play here.

8. Race: Genetic studies disprove the mythical concept of race. Studies show that there is more variation within a “race” (85% to 90% percent of the level of total diversity of the human genome) than between the so-called “races” (only 7%).

9. The genome: The genome is the collection of all genes (with annotations, footnotes, and references) found in a species. In human beings, it amounts to three billion base-pairs, divided up into 21,000 to 23,000 genes (differentiated parts or stretches of the whole genome). In the year 2000, a draft sequence of The Human Genome Project, an international initiative to map and sequence the entire human genome, was announced.

10. The future: In the past years or so, we have developed new technologies which allow us to manipulate, re-engineer and edit genomes. We are at the stage where scientists are able to alter the human genome permanently, but we still don’t know all the moral, ethical, and physical implications of that. One of the objectives of this book is to bring more people into this interesting discussion. For the first time in history we will be creating a new species of humanoids. It’s, therefore, essential that all kinds of voices in the global community express their concerns, present their cases, and share their perspectives before we go down this road, as the process may be irreversible.

Siddartha Mukherjee’s previous book – The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Guardian First Book Award.

Jorge Sette.

Hemingway’s Views on Writing


In his book Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry W. Phillips does a wonderful job of collecting the great author’s thoughts on the field of writing. Phillips draws from various sources including personal letters, books, novels, essays, commissioned articles, and interviews. Sectioning our post in the same way Phillips did with his book, let’s try to summarize some of Hemingway’s most interesting ideas on the topic.

What Writing Is and Does

• Good books are all alike in the sense that they feel true. Communicating genuine experiences to the reader is essential. It’s the writer’s job to convey to the reader feelings, sensations, and even the weather, as he narrates the experience he’s writing about.

• Literature is, after all, poetry written in prose and it should read like that.

• Good books may be reread as many times as the reader wishes: they never lose their mystery, there’s always something new to learn.

The Qualities of a Writer

• Writers need the talent of a Kipling and the discipline of a Flaubert. They also must be intelligent, honest, and disinterested.

• Writers must be able to detect anything that doesn’t sound genuine in their texts. Their minds need to work as radars to avoid artificiality.

• To write novels, writers need to have an inbuilt sense of justice and injustice. Otherwise, they had better be doing something else.

• Writers need to be fast learners. Knowledge of the world is an essential tool for this job.

The Pain and Pleasure of Writing

• You write for two people basically: for yourself (and you need to make it perfect) and for the person you love, so they can read it and share the experience.

• Hemingway says he never suffered when he wrote. He felt empty and horrible when he was not writing. This is the opposite experience of many other writers, as you probably know.

• Writing is a difficult and challenging process, yet, so rewarding. It’s a disease some people are born with.

• Sometimes a writer will need to reread something good he has written in the past to convince himself he can still do it, and then, will continue writing.

• Writing is an obsession. Maybe a vice.

• There are no rules to writing: it may come easily sometimes, and at other times it can seem almost impossible.

The Old Man and the Sea

What to Write About

• Don’t write about your personal tragedies: nobody really cares about them. But you can use your hurt feelings to convey truth in what you are writing.

• A man has to have suffered a lot to write a really funny book.

• Writers should stick to what they know profoundly.

• Readers expect the writer to repeat the same story every time they pick up one of their new books. Don’t do that: the new book is not going to be as popular at the last.

• War is a good subject. Experiencing war can teach writers a lot. Some are jealous because, never having taken part in a war, they can’t write about it firsthand. Other good topics are love, money, avarice, and murder.

Advice to Writers

• At the beginning of your text, write one true sentence. The rest will stem from that.

• Write about what you really feel, not what you are supposed to feel. Only real emotions count.

• Remember the details of the experience that inspires you in order to pass on to the reader real feelings and sensations. Readers should relive your excitement.

• Listen carefully and actively when you talk to people, so you can understand their perspective and use it in your writing. Learn to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

• Hone your observational skills.

• To be truthful, you can’t put only what is beautiful in a novel. You need to add the ugly and the bad.

• Distrust adjectives.

• Write like Cézanne painted: Start with all the tricks and then get rid of all the artifice and bare the truth.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Working Habits

• As you are writing, stop when it’s going well. So the next day you feel energized about the task and pick it up knowing where you are going.

• When you are not writing, don’t think about it, try not to worry about your novel; do something physical or read other books. Let your subconscious work on it.

• Every time you start writing, reread everything you have written so far. When it begins to take too long to cover all the written passages, reread only the last few chapters.

• After writing a novel, give it a couple of months before you start rewriting it. Let it cool off. So it looks and feels fresh in your mind when you go back to it.

• Hemingway needed to be left completely alone to focus on his writing. He said writing, at its best, is a lonely life.

Characters

• Hemingway refused to write about living people. He didn’t wish to hurt anyone. Unless he deliberately wanted to.

• Use what you know as well as other people’s experiences to write fiction, but don’t make them recognizable. Invent it.

• Let people be people, don’t turn them into symbols.

A Farewell to Arms

Knowing what to leave out

• Hemingway compares writing to an iceberg: only the tip shows, but the underwater part is the knowledge the author has about what he’s writing, and it matters.

Obscenity

• Avoid slang (except if it’s needed in dialogue).

• Only use profanity that has existed for 1000 years. It may go out of fashion fast.

• Don’t use profanity merely for its shock value. Make sure it’s really necessary.

Titles

• It takes time to find a good title.

• A great number of good titles comes from the Bible, but they have all been taken.

Other Writers

• Other writers can teach you a lot.

• A selection of books every writer should read: War and Peace and Anna Karenina  (Tolstoy); Madame Bovary (Flaubert);  Buddenbrooks  (Thomas Mann); Dubliners (Joyce); Tom Jones (Fielding); The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky); Huckleberry Finn  (Mark Twain); The Turn of the Screw (Henry James)…

• Authors should write what has not been written before or try to beat dead men (which means: write better than former writers on a certain subject).

• Hemingway thought War and Peace was the best book ever written, but that it would have been even better had Turgenieff written it.

Politics

• Do not follow the political fashions of your time. They are temporary and will wear off soon.

• There is no left and right in writing: only good and bad writing.

• Patriotism does not make good writing either.

• Don’t write about social classes you don’t belong to or don’t know deeply about.

• Writing about politics may get you a good job in government but it won’t make you a great author.

The Sun Also Rises

The Writer’s Life

• Writing is more exciting than the money you make from it.

• When writers make a lot of money, they get used to an expensive lifestyle and have to carry on making money to sustain it. That’s when they compromise.

• Good writers don’t keep their eyes on the market.

• Publicity, admiration, adulation or being fashionable aren’t worth it.

• Writers should be judged on the merit of their writing and not on their personal lives.

• Critics have no right to invade the writer’s personal life and expose it.

• Critics will find hidden symbols and metaphors in a text when they are simply what they are.

Please let us know your opinion about this post.

Jorge Sette

Leadership and other life lessons you can glean from the Netflix series The Crown


The very well-produced Netflix show The Crown has been generating a lot of controversy all over the world. It seems there’s a great divide: British people and the royal family themselves hate it, as they wish it were more faithful to reality and less disrespectful to their beloved monarchy. Commoners around the globe, on the other hand, love the exceptionally good writing, the dazzling performances and thrilling storylines. They watch it as a soap opera – as they should.

What nobody seems to be taking into consideration are the important lessons viewers can extract from the show. That’s what I’m here for: To assist you. Read below the main takeaways, which will help you become a more successful and happier human being:

Don’t try to emulate your opponent even if you admire and envy her: be authentic. Spread as much jam and butter on your toast as you want, while your beautifully slim rival, sitting across from you, sips tea, dreaming she could be bathing in a chocolate tub. You will win their respect eventually.

Keep quiet and do nothing in most situations: They will sort themselves out eventually.

Don’t give in to your children. No displays of love and affection, which will only weaken them. Discipline is what they need most. Let them be bullied and brutalised at school to prove they are real men.

Love your pets more than your family and friends.

On the other hand, if animals are not pets, just go out dressed as a peasant and shoot them ruthlessly.

Complain, complain, complain about the constraints imposed upon you, as much as you want…but never try to live a freer and more fulfilling life: The privileges and pleasures of the royalty prove unsurpassable.

All problems can be solved by heavy drinking and chain smoking, or by huge doses of extramarital sex.

Pretend you are the only person on Earth that has direct contact with God – whatever your religion. People will believe you if you don’t waver.

Power has a lot to do with accents. Especially in English. Open your mouth minimally to enunciate your vowels. Let people struggle to understand what you are trying to say.

Use the word Indeed as often as possible. It will impress most commoners.

Keep a bell next to you at all times and ring it often, even if you don’t have any servants to summon.

Don’t get a real education, it will not do you any good. Learn about manners, rites, some French travel phrases, and all about the Constitution. More than that will be useless.

Lie, lie, lie.

Never touch a book. Spend your free time in long walks in muddy terrain and cold weather, drinking tea or hugging your dogs.

Go back on your promises without hesitation if it servers your agenda.

If you are having domestic problems (like your wild son went missing), go bombard some faraway country – such as Argentina – to relax a bit.

I strongly recommend you watch the show. It is already a classic.

Please post your comments below.

Jorge Sette.