So it was that I snagged the three in the photo above.
The one on the far right, "Everything Bad is Good for You", by Steven Johnson, is the only one of the three I've read so far. His premise is that - contrary to expection -there are certain aspects of popular culture that are actually causing a marked and measurable increase in intelligence among the general population. He calls it the Sleeper Curve. To make his point he focuses primarily on video games - the elaborate kind, such as Sim City, and Grand Auto Theft - and television shows - the "multi-threaded" plot kind, such as The Sopranos and 24. He argues that the brainpower needed to understand their complexities is far greater, and of a different sort, than what was needed to play PacMan, or watch the formulaic I Love Lucy, or Leave it to Beaver. It's an easy and convincing read.
I was surprised I hadn't heard of Johnson before, but then I realized that I HAD in fact known about him. I had read rave reviews of his 2006 book about the terrifying 1854 London cholera epidemic, The Ghost Map, and had meant to read it. Now it's on my library reserve list. And there's a new book coming out in December - about JB Priestley and the discovery of oxygen.
Johnson, a champion of urbanism, wrote a provocative series of essays on this topic called Urban Planet in the NYT, also in 2006. Well worth a click.
The eight of us at this meet-up mentioned over forty books. Most of these I won't ever read (mysteries, for example, are not for me). But I'm pleased that Steven Johnson is on my radar now.