Recent Books — Dragon Factory, Salvation of a Saint, North Water, Weapons of Math Destruction

  • The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry. Would have been a good graphic novel — evil albino twins, gene-engineered monsters (scorpion-dogs!), Nazis, a plot to end the world. Just a so-so book.
  • Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino. Agatha Christie style story, fun, I would happily read more of these.
  • The North Water by Ian McGuire. Baffin Island always sounded cool as a kid. This book puts the kibosh on that, it is a murderous place. Good tale.
  • Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. When the author sticks to anecdotes and data, and allows the reader to form their own opinions, this book works. But the author spends too much time telling the reader how to think, versus leading the reader.

Recent Books — Collapse of an Empire, Ten Thousand Doors, Obstacle Is the Way

  • Collapse of an Empire by Yegor Gaidar. Good look at the unraveling of the USSR, it’s inherent fragility, and the human costs of the unraveling. Recommended by my Russian friends.
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex Harrow. Love stories wrapped up in a tale of many worlds. More touching than expected.
  • The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Might have been more meaningful earlier in life. At my advanced age, you’ve probably learned most of these lessons.

Recent Books — The Blizzard, White Supremacy, One Billion Americans

  • The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin. A book about a terrible storm written by a Russian author? I expected some serious gloom, but this story was trippy and strange. Memorable but weird.
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. A challenging book, but I certainly need to be challenged on these issues. Very worth the time.
  • One Billion Americans by Matthew Yglesias. An interesting premise and some very good ideas. Needs a more thorough and detailed discussion and analysis but thought-provoking.

Recent Books — Kent State, Eternal Life, Native Star, The Snakehead

  • Kent State by Derf Backderf. The Kent State shootings stand tall in my memory, but I don’t think I ever knew all the details of the events. This is an excellent telling of the story. Calling out the National Guard is almost never a good idea.
  • Eternal Life by Dara Horn. Explores that the idea that a very long life renders meaningless most life events.
  • The Native Star by M. K. Hobson. Fun adventure thru an 1800s America where magic is a normal thing. Perhaps not very differentiated ground but a fun tale nevertheless. Makes me want to read more in the series.
  • The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe. Inside the illegal immigration trade for a period of the 90s. A rough trade, amazing what people will go through for a chance to better their lives and their family’s lives.

Recents Books — American Sickness, Origin of Wealth

  • An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal. An anecdote-driven walk through the dysfunctional health care industry. Some enraging anecdotes, and some useful how-to’s at the end. Would have liked even more data but overall a very useful read.
  • The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker. An excellent book, re-establishing the basis of economics and wealth from first principles, overturning a lot of the traditional economics I learned once upon a time. Very satisfying to see economics built up as emergent behaviors from the actions of individuals, and to see the incorporation of uncertainty, imperfect information, and iteration. Not a complete story but excellent.

Recent Books — Three Body Problem, Dune, Escape Room

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. This didn’t really float my boat, I suspect the difficulty of translating from Chinese is significant, it is not just the straight translation but all the cultural references that are hard to carry over.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert. Read ~45 years ago (BTW: I am old), upcoming movie motivated me to reread (Chalamet was born for this role). The book is still good but not perfect. Herbert’s imagined world is fascinating. He rushes thru the story — in today’s world, “Dune” alone would expand into 7 books à la Game of Thrones. Some very topical themes. The last scene is just goofy and off, let’s hope that gets a better treatment in the movie. But overall still a very interesting book.
  • The Escape Room by Megan Goldin. Eh. Too much deus ex machina.
  • The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis. Fun tale of alternate history with clockwork robots. Very different set of guiding principles than Asimov’s.

Recent Books — Caste, Pew, Team of Vipers

  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Pretty damning. If you still somehow believe that America is the perfect embodiment of the “shining city upon a hill”, this book will but that notion to bed. We have a lot of work to do.
  • Pew by Catherine Lacey. I really liked the tone of this book, and the ambiguity of the ending has a certain appeal, but I think I would have preferred a bit more resolution.
  • Team of Vipers by Cliff Sims. Ugh. Why did I buy this. Another Trump insider claiming “yes he is horrible, but I did my best to rein him in, and now I can tell you the truth in a salacious book that you can buy”. A venal coward. Sorry I gave him a dime.

Recent A/V recommendations — Euphoria, Folklore, Ted Lasso

Expanding beyond books!

  • Euphoria is an explosive series. High school like I never experienced, kids struggling with big issues, and I was rooting for them all and blown away by them all. I never expected to like a high school drama, but this is an intense and deep show.
  • Ted Lasso is funny and touching. Jason Sudeikis plays a lovable, optimistic, vulnerable role that is very endearing.
  • Folklore by Taylor Swift. I am not generally a huge Taylor fan but this has been the soundtrack of our summer. I love the stripped down presentation.

Recent Books — Disappearing Earth, Mr. Penumbra, James Lee Burke, The Spinoza Problem

  • Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. I have read 0 books set in Kamchatka, an interesting look into the lives of isolated and distressed women on the peninsula.
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Just OK. Fun precept but characters were less than 2 dimensional.
  • House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke. Haven’t ever read a Burke. Western with archetype characters and a lot of action. Fun but probably not meaningful.
  • The Spinoza Problem by Irvin Yalom. Huh I knew nothing of Spinoza sadly, this was a very interesting fictionalized introduction to him and his thinking.

Recent Books — Night Boat to Tangier, Story, Scalzi, Shakedown, Stendhal

  • Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. Another great novel by Barry, two men’s lives explored over the course of an evening, great characters and dialog.
  • Story by Robert McKee. I have no intention of ever writing a screenplay, but this book is highly useful for anyone who needs to communicate ideas — really forces you to think about your story and how to structure it.
  • The Last Emperox by John Scalzi. The first book in this series was interesting, and this closing was satisfying but not particularly memorable.
  • Shakedown by Steven Malanga. There may be some good points in here, but the author doesn’t really help himself get his point out. One, he doesn’t really articulate what his goals are besides railing at unions and the new left. I know he hates union influence in education but I don’t really know what he wants to do about education. Two, he brings out a lot of data in anecdotal form, but never gives the overall context. I don’t know how upset to be about a certain number unless I understand overall spending, what a successful budget looks like, some success examples, etc. Three, he loves to use pejorative words like like “corpulent” and “porcine” and “lavish” and “stratospheric” in place of data, and that is just off-putting — as if he knows he can’t make his case rationally, so he is trying to inflame instead. And anyone who uses these words to describe teacher compensation seems a little disconnected from reality — I don’t know a lot of teachers celebrating their outrageous economic good fortune.
  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal. Time travel! Reading a book written in 1830 gives you a little view back into that world. Some archaic wording but human nature hasn’t changed, and the book structure seems almost modern.

Recent Books — The Price of Time, Transitions, DODO, Dark Money

  • The Price of Time by TIm Tigner. What a crappy suspense story. Poor characters, poor plot, just bad. I don’t know why I stuck with it, I am embarrassed.
  • Transitions by William Bridges. Much to think about in this book. I have certainly not been thoughtful about the transitions in my life and it is near time to start thinking about the remaining transitions ahead of me.
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neil Stephenson and Nicole Galland. Fun time travel historical novel. A trifle long.
  • Dark Money by Jane Mayer. Good book but it will be hard to finish. I knew that the Koch’s and their ilk were amoral self-interested traitorous manipulative bas%#@ds but this really brings it home, it is hard to read. It is A-OK to have different views on issues in our society, but the way they have used their money to corrupt the system is sickening.

Books I have recently rediscovered — Gould, Hesse, Chernow, Hofstadter, Burroughs, and more

I’m looking over a bookshelf that I haven’t looked at in a while and there are some books I really fondly remember there. (And also a lot of books I have no memory of.) I am reflecting on how I really want to spend my time reading — I want to read more of these impactful books, and probably read fewer of the ones that are basically junk food.

Some of the great titles that caught my eye:

  • The Sparrow by Mary Doris Russell. What a great book exploring morals and culture and misunderstanding.
  • The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March. I am not deep into poetry but this is nothing but fun. I’ve read this several times.
  • The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. Probably needs some updating but an unvarnished look at one aspect of the British empire.
  • The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. Everything by Gould is excellent, this may be among the most important.
  • The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield. A fascinating and literary history tale. The title alone makes this book 100x more interesting than most history books.
  • Titan by Ron Chernow. Learned so much about the growth of Standard Oil, and all the good and bad along the way.
  • On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. Powers has written some powerfully entertaining stories, and never got the renown he deserved.
  • Godël, Escher, Bach by Douglas R Hofstadter. I’d recommend this to everyone. Definitely a desert island read. UPDATE: a reader suggests this one has not aged well, I may crack it open again.
  • The Education of a Speculator by Victor Niederhoffer. Gets mixed reviews but I think that is because people expect to learn investment secrets in here, which is not what this book is about. It is more about the human side of his life.
  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Whether you are a Christian or not, this is incredibly insightful and engaging. I’ve read many times.
  • A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I am sure this has aged horribly and I should probably be embarrassed about this one. But as a kid, this was a great rollicking adventure.
  • The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. This hit me hard when I first read it, very introspective look at finding meaning and place in life.

I’d love to hear about books others have rediscovered…

Recent Books — Upheaval, Lamb, Radical Markets

  • Upheaval by Jared Diamond. Not as breakthrough as his earlier work, but an engaging look at crises and how nations react to them. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Finland because I was so ignorant of Finnish history.
  • Lamb by Christopher Moore. An irreverent modern gospel, fun to read and still very true to the story and meaning of Christ. Will not be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it.
  • Radical Markets by Eric Posner and E. Glen Weyl. It promises radical ideas to improve the functioning of our markets and society. The first chapter was a little slow. In the second chapter they introduce their ideas for voting, and then offhandedly state that they have patented all this and have software you can buy. And I realize “Damn, this is a whitepaper for their business, and I paid for it.” Didn’t finish.

Recent Books — Clockwork Dynasty, Radical Uncertainty, Good Economics for Hard Times

  • The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson. Fun story about automatons who have been hiding within human society for eons, and their struggle to understand their own morality and purpose. I’m not sure it is a 4.5 star read but I was entertained.
  • Radical Uncertainty by John Kay and Mervyn King. A little academic but I still loved it. Our mania for models and planning is all for naught in a world swept by health care crises, climate crises, social crises, financial crises. We need to continually focus on what is going on underneath the numbers, and invest in resiliency to make it through the shifts and shocks. Good read.
  • Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Bannerjee and Esther Duflo. Interesting discussions but not as foundational as Radical Uncertainty.

Recent Books — no thank you, Sunburst and Luminary, World of Tomorrow, Algorithms to Live By

  • wow, no thank you. by Samantha Irby. The title is exactly the reaction I had, couldn’t finish. Just didn’t relate to anything in here, I may not be the target audience. It does have a cute bunny on the cover.
  • Sunburst and Luminary by Don Eyles. Fascinating story inside the Apollo program, great depth on the software and compute environment. Most people will find this book a little too in the software weeds but I enjoyed it.
  • The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews. Great story of three brothers in New York in the years before WWII, all working their schemes. Great characters.
  • Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. I wanted to like this book but it felt soulless. Ultimately I gave up, it didn’t seem to teach me anything I wanted to learn about human relations.

Recent Books — Least I Can Believe, Wicked + Divine, Super Forecasting

Cleaning up the bookshelf during the pandemic — a little eclectic.

  • What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian by Martin Thielen. I was raised Presbyterian but it didn’t really take. I still tho got a lot of value out of this book, particularly the first half which debunks some of the worst behaviours of some “Christians”. Recommended for believers and non-believers both.
  • The Wicked + The Divine by Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson, Cowles. I try a graphic novel every so often and this got good reviews. Didn’t really catch my attention, jumped in midstream to the characters and I didn’t ever bond to any of them.
  • Super Forecasting by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner. Great book about forecasting and leadership. The basic rules resonate across so many fields — be tangible; measure performance; iterate. Really nice work.

Recent Books — Planet of Adventure, Econometrics, History of the World in 100 Objects

Cleaning up the bookshelves while we are shut in…

  • Planet of Adventure by Jack Vance. If you like Burrough’s Mars books, then you will like this. I read the Burroughs books when I was very young, and they have not held up well, but I loved them as a kid. And I kind of love this tho again has not aged well.
  • Introduction to Econometrics by James H. Stock, Mark W. Watson. On my shelves for 16 years, not sure why. An average intro to regression analysis.
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor. Much better than I anticipated, a very readable and visual walk thru the entire span of human history.

Recent Books — Range, Lost in Math, Laurus

  • Range by David Epstein. Strong argument that creativity, invention, excellence are driven by breadth of knowledge, not depth. Important to read, learn, use tools outside your focus area.
  • Lost in Math by Sabine Hossenfelder.  Great book about biases in modern physics.  I am no physicist but the lessons apply to every other field.  
  • Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin.  A sprawling tale of the life of a man searching for redemption in middle ages Russia.  Something in here for everyone.

Recent Books — Narconomics, Brown Dog, Recursion, Himself

  • Narconomics by Tom Wainwright. They may be criminals, but they have all the same economics and behaviours of commercial enterprises. Good insight into why attempting to eradicate narcotics at the source is such a waste of time.
  • Brown Dog by Jim Harrison.  Great character, great writing.  How has this never been turned in a tv series?  Fargo-style stories in the Upper Peninsula.
  • Recursion by Blake Crouch.  Nice time-travel romp, well reviewed.  I am not sure it quite lives up to the reviews but still a solid tale.
  • Himself by Jess Kidd.  An orphan returns to his home town to uncover the truth around his parents, with a healthy assist from townspeople and ghosts.

Recent Books — Silent Patient, Underground Airlines, Quicksand, Klosterman

  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.  A woman murders her husband and is found insane, and a therapist digs in to get the truth.  Very twisty and fun.
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.  A suspense story set in a world where the Civil War never happened and slavery continues to this day.  Tough topic, disturbing at times, good tale.
  • Quicksand by Malin Perrson Giolito. Well reviewed but I couldn’t make it through, might be due to a weak translation.
  • But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman.  Very thoughtful discussion of our conventional wisdom about culture, science, and other topics.  We are certainly wrong about many things we believe — how are we probably wrong, where is truth likely to be found, and does it matter?