Reading Home

I use this page to track the books that I have read this year. Above are links to subject specific reading lists. (The numbers seem messed up, please email me if you know why!)

2021

  1. Hidden History by Daniel J. Boorstin

    Rating: 9/10 Catagories: non-fiction, history Finished: 07/16

    I was first introduced to Boorstin through Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death", and since then Boorstin has become one of my favorite authors and thinkers. He is "conservative" writer in the sense that he understands and values established institutions without dogmatically craving novel interpretation. Boorstin's work more singularly gets to currents

    The following are a selection of my favorite essays from the collection, and some brief thoughts I had on them, or were provoked by them.

    Why a Theory Seems Needless

    Revolution Without Dogma

    The Rhetoric of Democracy

    A Nationally Advertised President

    The Amatuer Spirit and Its Enemies

    A Flood of Pseudo-Events

    From Traveler to Tourist

    Epilouge: The Republic of Technology and the Limits of Prophecy

  2. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

    Rating: 10/10 Catagories: fiction, science-fiction, space Finished: 07/12
  3. We Are What We Eat by Alice Waters

    Rating: 10/10 Catagories: non-fiction, food Finished: 07/09

    I recognized Waters' name from the famous cookbook "The Art of Simple Food"; a cookbook which I hold in high regard (and taught me how to make bread). You may also know Waters as the mentor to Samin Nosrat, author of the bestseller "Salt Fat Acid Heat". I am glad that I bought this book, because Waters articulates, through the language of cooking and food, many misgivings about our culture that I feel strongly.

    The subtitle is "A Slow Food Manifesto", and Waters delivers a rallying cry against what she terms "fast food culture". She contends that the proliferation of fast food in the United States and around the world, whether causual or a symptom, is intimately tied to our adoption of morally shallow values, a stressed and shorter life, and a general malaise about our conditions here. In seven chapters she lays out what she sees as the "values" of fast food culture, and the myriad ways in which those values manifest themselves in our daily lives. For example, a value of fast food culture is speed: food should be obtained quickly and eaten quickly. She says that this value begins to permeate the rest of our lives; we expect our deliveries to be next day, we expect to learn a foreign language in a week, we stop reading books because it takes too long, we are concerned when friends don't text back instantaneously. Waters outlines these values and their consequences deliberately, all through the lens of being better people, which is to say not politically.

    After the fast food values come seven values of "slow food" culture; which values what we eat, who we are, and our communities. She makes a case for embracing values which recognize the work that goes into our existence, to break away from being a cog in the advertising machine.

    It is refreshing to hear such a cogent point made outside of an academic-rationalist framework, and Waters is able to make her point all the more poignant through an observational tone, couched in the language of eating; something we do every day.

    This is a wonderful book. Its short and I reccomend that everyone read it.

  4. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

    Rating: 7/10 Catagories: non-fiction, religion Finished: 06/24

    The second book I've read now by C.S. Lewis. This book is a series of "letters" written by the demon Screwtape to his newphew Wormwood, who is tempting a human soul to hell. Through this lense Lewis explores Christian theology and uses sarcasm to inducate what proper Christian living is. I found this style of presentation less profound than his direct approach in "Mere Christianity", however I could see "The Screwtape Letters" being a better introduction to Christianity for someone who prefers reading novels to reading non-fiction and theology.

  5. The Sorrows of Love by School of Life

    Rating: 8/10 Catagories: non-fiction Finished: 06/23

    Most of this book I found to be a cogent articulation of my views on love and relationships. However there was a section which I found concerning and counter productive on keeping secrets from your partner.

    The authors maintain that one should keep some things from their partner. Examples given included kissing your co-worker or finding your partner's sibling more beautiful than them. They also suggest not brining up some things which you resent about your partner, so as not to hurt them.

    Beyond my personal experience of this strategy being counterproductive, let me elaborate from "first principles" why this is a doomed strategy. It helps to illustrate with an example: We (including the authors) recognize that if you kiss your co-worker that this is "bad" in the sense that you are not living up to your commitmant to your spouse. Therefore there is some problem in the relationship which led you to take this action. As something we recognize as bad, it should be clear that we wish not to repeat this behavior. However, if you take the cowards way out, and don't tell your partner; don't "hurt" your partner with this truth, than there is no way for either of you to address the underlying issue. You must talk about it, your partner will be mad, and they will resent you. But this is the first step in growing as people. You are flawed, as evidenced by your mistake that made your partner mad, and if you want to grow as a person, grow as a couple, you must tear down the illusions of stability to start building a stronger foundation. These storms are not impossible to weather with the right attitude, but one must be constantly evaluating where they are at.

    This section felt out of place in the book. The authors had talked previously about how dangerous it is to "protect" your partner from the world. A successful marriage is built on the idea that you are together, that you will face difficulties as one, that you must accept the fact that you will hurt your partner and they will hurt you. Love is not a painless institution. It seems hypocritical for them to follow this up by suggesting you hold secrets from one another. I can tell you from personal experience that this advice will not do you any favors.

    This is another one that I think everyone would benefit from reading. It is quite short, and keep in mind the aforementioned objections.

  6. On Confidence by School of Life

    Rating: 10/10 Catagories: non-fiction Finished: 06/22

    This book was profound. Everyone should read it. Quite short.

  7. The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: 8/10 Catagories: non-fiction Finished: 06/13

    Malcolm Gladwell's books have always read like his podcasts, even before he did podcasts. Perhaps because I have been listening to his podcasts I am more aware of this, but this book reads like one of his podcasts (which isn't a bad thing).

    Good story of the evolution of bombing stratagy during the second world war, culminating with Curtis LeMay's firebombing of Japan.

    I think that this book is a good jumping off point for further reading into World War II, especially the Pacific campaign.

    The book is a short read.

  8. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

    Rating: 9/10 Catagories: non-fiction, religion Finished: 06/05

    A perspective on Christianity from someone who was previously an atheist.

  9. Homage to Catalonia

    Rating: 9/10 Catagories: non-fiction, war, journalism Finished: 05/14

    I am a sucker for Orwell books.

  10. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy Finished: 05/06

    Aristotle is another book that I have trouble "rating", so I have assigned the Ethics a 7. Rating "classics" in any discipline is difficult; certianly these books should be read by everyone, so in some sense they should score perfectly. Yet on the other hand, Aristotle is difficult to read, belabours certain points, and has a style of rhetoric which doesn't necessarily hold true in the modern conception of argument. For example Aristotle repeatedly argues that things are true because our wise men tell us they are true (appeal to authority). As well as arguing for terrestrial morality based on the behavior of the gods.

    Now, in a few paragraphs I am unable to unpack the nuaunce of appeals to authority and appeals to the gods (for example, gods are instantiations of collective morality which validates them as as an argumentative point). Suffice to say that the Nicomachean Ethics do not read like contemporary philosophy, yet I still think that anyone interested in philosophy should read them.

    There are profound points Aristotle makes which remain applicable today, especially with regards to moderation, friendship, and willpower. It is always striking how similar (and different) to Aristotle's society our society is today. The problems of heart and mind that face me faced Aristotle and his contemporaries. In this regard, the book is timeless, and reiterates points on, for example, friendship which are echoed in contemporary self-help books.

    I couldn't help but come away from reading Aristotle with a deeper appreciation for philosophy in general. The currents which steer us today can be traced back to this great philosopher, and his powerful intellect is carried through the pages. From asking questions which we care about, to laying out an argument, Aristotle is a foundation for further philisophical exploration.

  11. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, media Finished: 04/23

    One of my all time favorite books. Everyone should read this. I need to read it more frequently than every two years.

  12. Science and Hypothesis by Henri Poincar\'e

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, mathematics, science Finished: 04/20
  13. Towards a New Architecture by Le Corbusier

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, architecture Finished: 04/05

    I haven't nailed down a formulaic approach to assigning number values to books, but I think I should start; I have no idea how to rate this book, so I gave it a seven.

    This book is Corbusier's manifesto against a generation of architects who were producing crap (my words, not his). Corbusier was a radical in more ways than one, and reading the manifestos of radicals is always an experience (*ahem* Marx). But (continuing the analogy with Marx) Corbusier was enormously influential in the architectural direction established in the early 20th century, and his aesthetic philosophy continues to have a profound impact on (good) architects of today; perhaps only implicitly.

    I found the book thoroughly though-provoking, and I think for this reason alone it is worth reading for anyone who is interested in architecture.

  14. Beyond Order by Jordan B. Peterson

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, self-help, philosophy Finished: 04/01

    The sequel to 'An Antidote to Chaos'. JBP synthesizes the work of Jung, Freud, Nietzsche, Goethe, and many others into a digestible book on living 'aligned' (my wording, not his).

    I recall that the previous book suffered a bit from the academician curse of language; this book was far less dense than I remember the first being.

    I found rules 6-10 the most valuable and well-written of the 12. I especially liked the discussion of art and museums from Rule 8 (Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible).

    Overall the same themes from An Antidote to Chaos occur here as well, and readers familiar with JBP will be unsurprised by much of what is contained in this book. I recommend his first book more broadly, but if you liked the first book I think that you will also find this book valuable; if for nothing else but a refresher on some important philosophical tenants.

  15. Mathematics for Human Flourishing by Francis Su

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics, philosophy Finished: 03/26

    Francis Su is a bit of a personal hero to me in a somewhat tangential way. I have never actually read much of his writings, but have always heard good things about him and respected the things he was doing. Now I feel confident in saying that I respect and admire Su.

    The book covers 13 aspects of human flourishing and how math is intimately involved in each. Rather than write a manifesto, Su has accomplished a comprehensive work of philosophy, and paradoxically a meta-pedagogy text without being instructional. The book establishes a framework for teaching and interacting with mathematics and mathematical ideas. I read the book through the lens of an educator, and I know that I am in part the intended audience, however I cannot speak to the book's impact for someone outside of math education.

    At the end of each chapter is a letter from Christopher Jackson, an inmate at a federal prison who is studying (quite successfully) to become a mathematician. Chris's (this is his preferred familiar) story is saddening and motivating, his passion for math comes through in the letters and it is heartbreaking to know how long he will remain incarcerated. It is heartening to know that someone can develop as deep a knowledge of mathematics as Chris has in such adverse circumstances. It also brings up the inhumanity of our "justice" system, but this is a digression for another day (and a digression I was thankful Su never focused on, since this is not a book about the criminal justice system).

    A goal for me reading this book was to attempt to make connections between philosophical principles regarding teaching and doing math, and the reality "on the ground" of teaching math, especially over Zoom. I am teaching a differential equations class this Summer, and have been confronted with the thorny issue of how to do this in a way that will benefit the students. Su's philosophy is attended by concrete (for philosophy) suggestions for implementing these principles in a classroom. It was helpful to read about things I already do to make conscious how these things benefit my students.

    Some suggestions I wrote down are

    1. To help decouple students from a grade oriented mindset, have them read "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids" by Carol Dweck
    2. Emphasize a growth mindset throughout the quarter. In this spirit be cognizant of when you are implicitly valuing intelligence for its own sake.
    3. pg. 132 "math is about comprehension, not computation". This is a good philosophy for a course; being able to churn out computations isn't valuable for you, the world, or the student.
    4. As teachers we have a responsibility to not ask "what's wrong with my students?", and instead ask "how may I serve my students and them flourish?"
    5. pg. 143 "Having a humble, sacrificial, encouraging character with a heart of service and a resolve to unleash creativity in others". I think that this is a succinct summary of how we should be striving as educators.
    6. Emphasize "active learning" by encouraging questions. From my own course feedback, students like when they feel like they are part of the course and part of the dialogue.
    7. Learn about the students and their lives. Learn their names, learn if they have personal struggles that make performance in the class difficult, etc. This is enormously valuable to both you and the student.
    8. Aim to create a learning community inside and outside of the classroom. Encourage working together to solve problems, have an open door and be helpful in office hours (this is hard over Zoom).

    I am glad I found this book, I think that if you are in mathematical education of any sort it is an important book for you to read. If you aren't in math education I think it is still an important book to read. If you're interested in math or math education you should pick this one up!

  16. Alphonse Mucha by Tomoko Sato

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, art Finished: 03/17

    My gradnmother introduced me to Mucha several years ago while I was living with her in the Bay Area, and I have been captivated by his art ever since.

    This book gives a brief timeline of his life, his philosophy, and how the two manifest in his art. Throughout are high quality printings of his art, and this book will serve as a phenomenal reference for my own artistic endeavors.

  17. Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, art, architecture Finished: 03/12

    A fantastic introduction to the philosophy and examination of architecture. Topics include uses of negative space, contrast, color, scale, rhythm, texture, light, and acoustics. The author manages to be philisophically poetic without waxing in a burdonsome manner. I thouroughly enjoyed reading this book.

    I read this book as part of my current art and architecture kick. Among other things it was a great example of how to write about beautiful things, a skill I would like to work on improving.

  18. The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menard

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, philosophy Finished: 03/07

    A history of the ideas and thinkers which coallesced into the American pragmatism movement. Well written, with an emphasis on the thinkers behind the ideas, and how their experiences shaped their conception of the world.

  19. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, self-help Finished: 03/04

  20. The Revolt of the Public by Martin Gurri

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, politics, philosophy Finished: 02/20

  21. The Poverty of Historicism by Karl Popper

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, philosophy Finished: 02/08

    Well written critique of "historicism", which I can best describe as the viewpoint that one can explain historical changes in society by overaching sociological theories (i.e. Marxism).

    The book was a bit advanced for my philisophical bona fides and about halfway through I began wishing I had been taking notes. This is definitely one I will read again.

    Popper is one of the easiest philosophers to read, he does not commit the sin, so common in philosophy, of using excessivly difficult language. His ideas are presented clearly and understandably.

  22. Jimmy the Kid by Donald E. Westlake

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: fiction, crime Finished: 02/01

    Another one of my favorite novels that I have ever read.

  23. The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, science, math, engineering, research Finished: 01/31

    An inspirational book that defies classification. I am not sure wether to put this on my philosophy shelf or my textbook shelf!

    There are some fairly technical chapters on signal processesing that, while useful, I didn't feel they fit the theme of the book.

    I think that anyone in a technical field should read this book! And I will certainly be coming back to it in the future.

  24. Tasting Whiskey by Lew Bryson

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, whiskey, whisky Finished: 01/26

    A must read for those interested in whiskey. I read this book several years ago and it was great going back and reading it again after all this time. The book contains all the information you might like to know about the varieties of whiskey and the work that goes into making them.

  25. Profiles in Power: Hitler by Ian Kershaw

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, history Finished: 01/12

    Content wise this book is fantastic. Kershaw's writing style is drawn out and convoluted at times; the book felt like it could have been about 1/3 shorter had the author been more concise with his writing. For example, Kershaw seems to be a fine of multiline appositive phrases, which I personally find confusing.

2020

  1. The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: fiction, crime Finished: 12/31 One of my favorite books of all time.
  2. The Western Intellectual Tradition by J. Bronowski and B. Mazlish

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, history Finished: 12/28
  3. A Sense of the Future by J. Bronowski

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, science Finished: 11/27

    A collection of essays by Bronowski covering topics in science, art, and ethics. Bronowski is a deep and original thinker who is exceptionally readable. I disagreed with several of his essays but found the majority to be profound and well-reasoned.

    I particularly like his ideas on the creative process in art and science, and I appreciate his view of science being closer to art than we tend to consider. His ideas about imagination were also stimulating.

  4. Get Real by Donald E. Westlake

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: fiction, humor, crime Finished: 10/24
  5. Godel's Proof by Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics Finished: 10/23
  6. Complications by Atul Gawande

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, medicine Finished: 09/22
  7. The Divide by Matt Taibbi

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, politics, journalism Finished: 09/13

    Apparently I am late to the party, Taibbi's book was a bestseller when it was released back in 2014. The book is either a comedy or a trajedy, depending on whether you are a elite graduate from an Ivy Leauge school, or a poor black American living anywhere in America. Taibbi outlines the egregious miscarrying of justice which is occuring in the United States today and systematically punishes citizens for the crime of being poor, while absolving the wealthy from any punishment.

    Taibbi's main purpose is to concretely illustrate the stark contrast between the non-persecution of the Wall Street bankers' obvious crimes and the voracious persecution of poor (mainly Black) Americans for crimes as inane as standing in front of thier own home.

    Additionally, the book is an indictement against the Obama era DOJ under Eric Holder, which so catagorically abdicated its obligation to the American citizen that it is incredible the Obama presidancy was able to leave the legacy that it did. The policy promlugated under Obama, through the DOJ, and defended by Obama himself, is embarrasing at best and criminal at worst. The effect of these policies was to encourage financial crimes on a massive scale simply because Holder and Obama managed to set the consequences at nil. It remains to be seen how these non-prosecutions will manifest themselves in the coming decades, but there are troubling signs that there is a second wave of CDO/subprime derivatives being marketed as far more valuable than they are in reality, which could easily lead to another collapse in the global economy.

    The recent energy surrounding the "Black Lives Matter" movement this year is a clear signal that the injustices revealed by Taibbi are still alive and well in the US some six years later, and that we as a society have a long ways to go before the Black community is treated with the same dignity afforded to a white Wall Street banker. I was unaware of the injustices carried out against members of our society, and Taibbi's measured journalistic exploration is far more convincing than any angry emotional argument seen on TV or soical media. It is clear that Taibbi is incensed by the stories which he is telling, but he has managed to remove emotional pleas from his narrative. He states the facts of the story, and the reader has no choice but to be disgusted. In my opinion this is the best form of journalism.

    I should make clear that I was a Taibbi fan before reading this book, but now I'm fully sold. This is an important book, and still relevant today in the midst of new conversations regarding the treatment of Black Americans. The book also raises philisophical questions about the purpose of law enforcement in the United States, and the role that justice serves in our country. Everyone should read this book.

  8. The Undiscoverd Self by C.G. Jung

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, psychology Finished: 09/07

    It is refreshing to read a "self-help" book from an era before self-help was a genre. It seems that philosophy served an important role in our lives, guiding us and orienting us in a confusing world. As Jung puts it, "our philosophy is no longer a way of life [...]; it has turned into an exclusively intellectual and academic affair". There is enormous value in learning from philisophical texts, and I consdier this particular book by Jung to be philisophical in nature.

    Several themes continually manifest themselves throughout, despite Jung touching on so many topics in such a short book. Jung

    A striking consequence of reading this book was realizing the unoriginality of Jordan Peterson's philosophy. Peterson makes no claim to be original and brings value as an educator of Jungian ideas, which is to say that my illusion of his originality was my own folly. Reading Jung sheds light on just how deep the Jungian ideas prevade Peterson's teachings, and I encourage anyone who is a fan of Peterson to read Jung and gain a deeper understanding of the foundational ideas which Peterson has expanded on.

  9. A Collection of Essays by George Orwell

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, writing Finished: 09/02

  10. Orwell on Truth by George Orwell (collected by Adam Hochschild)

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, truth Finished: 08/20

  11. The Seekers by Daniel J. Boorstin

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, philosophy Finished: 08/15

    Boorstin's third and final book in his tour de force Knowledge Series. The first book, "The Discoverers", chronicles scientific and geographic knowledge, explorations of the physical world. The second book, "The Creators", explores artistic knowledge through the great Western artists. The final book, "The Seekers", follows humanity's quest to understand our purpose through religion, philosophy, and science.

    Boorstin describes, in 41 chapters, important "seekers" in the Western Cannon, following the more or less historical timeline from Moses and the Old Testament seeking of Isreal, all the way to the 20th century's Malraux and Bergson. Throughout, Boorstin emphasizes these thinkers' contributions, as well as connecting them to one another to show how the thoughts of one seeker are built on the shoulders of another.

    I found the selection to be well chosen, and I have vastly extended my philosophy reading list based on many of the famous men described in this book. I found Nietzsche conspicously absent, and would have liked to read Boorstin's perspective on Nietzshce's "God is dead" and how Nietzsche's conception of truth fits into the greater framework of thought on truth with thinkers shuch as William James.

    This is the shortest of the three books in the Knowledge Series, and equally readable and enlightening. I reccomend this book to anyone curious about the historical foundations of modern philosophy and thought, and I actually think everyone could benifit from reading the trilogy in it's entirety. Boorstin is a phenomenal author and deserves every one of his acolades (including a Pulitzer prize).

  12. Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, sociology, history Finished: 08/10

    The subtitle to this book is "The seductive lure of authoritarianism", and Applebaum sets out to explore why Western democracies seem to be going through an "authoritarianism" phase. She sets out to answer this question through an anecdotal exploration of her own friendships with prominent and powerful people who have given up their democratic bona fides in favor of an authoritarian outlook on the world.

    Applebaum, as always, is a phenomenal writer and her prose is magnificent. This is probably her shortest book to date; despite being a quick read, it is packed full of insights into democracy, authoritarianism, and the expectations that the citizenry has for it's government.

  13. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, sociology, police Finished: 07/25

    I must start by flaunting my Malcolm Gladwell bona fides: I have read every one of his books and listened to many if not all of his podcast episodes. Needless to say I am a fan.

    Talking to Strangers is written in Gladwell's familiar voice. Narrative, short sentences, well placed quotations, and quippy paragraph and sentence enders ("Amanda Knox was one of those mistakes.", "He's the dishonest person who acts honest."). (As a side note, this is not a new style for Gladwell, but it reads EXACTLY like his podcast. I was reading this book with his inflections playing out in my head!) The book, in following the Gladwellian tradition, spins a story about things we don't understand very well, pulling from social science research, interviews with military men, and conversations with historians. Fundamentally, Gladwell is aiming to show us that our assumptions that we understand the people around us are wrong, and how those wrong assumptions play out in our world.

    I think overall Gladwell succeeds. There are many points he makes which are thought provoking, chief among them that we (humans) suck at detecting liars, what implications does this have for law enforcement, judges, and everyday interactions. Gladwell does a good job illustrating his points using real world examples from the CIA, court cases, and empirical studies, and I always learn very interesting things reading Gladwell's books. He starts the book with the Sandra Bland case, and his conclusion comes back to this case and puts all the pieces together in a fantastic way. Despite disagreeing in some very specific places, I wholeheartedly get behind what is essentially a call for better policing through understanding the sociological pitfalls involved when talking to strangers.

    The sections on sexual assault evidently makes some readers uncomfortable; for example if you're not prepared to re-evaluate your feelings on Brock Turner and Jerry Sandusky then you may want to skip those chapters. However I actually think that if you're not prepared to re-evaluate those feelings then that is evidence that you probably should read those chapters and face yourself with things that will be difficult to hear (for example, maybe Brock Turner's punishment wasn't as egregiously light as we have been led to believe).

    Overall if you are a fan of Gladwell you will love this book. If you have never read a Gladwell book before I recommend digging deeper into his assertions before assimilating his world view into your own. Sometimes his reading of studies can be myopic and misleading.

  14. The French Revolution by William Doyle

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, France, French revolution Finished: 07/21
  15. SPQR by Mary Beard

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, Rome Finished: 07/18
  16. On Truth and Untruth by Friedrich Nietzsche

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy Finished: 06/30
  17. On Disobedience by Erich Fromm

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy, socialism Finished: 06/25

    Fromm's essays on disobedience are relevant today and quite powerful, and I would give these essays a 9/10. However the collection is finished by a description of Fromm's "Humanistic Socialism", which falls short for many reasons, primarily that it could never be implemented, and is difficult to strive for.

    Fromm prompted me to consider an interesting problem, namely the ethics surrounding following laws. We are raised to believe that we should be good citizens and follow the laws, but in the case that these laws are not ethical or

  18. Hate INC. by Matt Taibbi

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, journalism, politics Finished: 06/24

    A stunning indictment of the media institution, written in Taibbi's familiar scathing tone. Taibbi's central claim is that the current incentives of the media, combined with turning a blind eye to journalistic ethics, has rendered the contemporary media establishment a sham. Taibbi is an insider, he wrote a book called "Insane Clown President", and reveals shocking insights into how the media has utterly dropped the ball in the last four years.

    Once you get over Taibbi's choppy paragraphs, the book is an easy read and the tone is forceful throughout. The book is decidedly non-partisan; after spending a chapter ripping apart the Bush administration for WMD, he proceeds to rip into establishment Democrats for pushing lies regarding Russiagate. I think this book is enormously important, especially as our country plunges into turmoil caused by a pandemic and racial tensions; we as citizens must recognize that media is not a panacea, and should be treated with the same skepticism as utterances from our Executive. I think all responsible adults who participate in our democracy should read this book cover to cover, and internalize its message. The press has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that they cannot be trusted as an authoritative source of current events.

  19. Out of Mao's Shadow by Phillip P. Pan

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, China, communism Finished: 06/21

    Pan weaves an impressive narrative by following the lives of Chinese people struggling under the authoritarianism of the one party system. Through this citizen focused approach, Pan addresses the horrors of the Great Leap forward, the Cultural Revolution, the fallout from the Tienanmen square massacre, the subjugation to further poverty of the proletariat during the move to capitalism, and the suppression of free thought by the party sanctioned propaganda department.

    What is amazing about China over the past 70 years is it's adherence to the Orwellian state described in '1984'; either Orwell saw the end state of communism uncannily precisely, or the founders of one party rule used '1984' not as a warning but as a guidebook. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has struggled in it's efforts to control history, largely because their citizens were there and remember. Efforts to re-write the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution and the Tienanmen Square Massacre leave the Chinese people in a disturbing state of dissonance. Through fear and fist, the CCP is banking on those who remember these events aging out before the stories are recorded for all to see.

    China should be a shining beacon to the West that free thought is an effective check on authoritarianism. When an 'official narrative' is imposed on a population, we lose the ability to check corruption. China subverted rule of law by reinforcing to party officials that they didn't need to follow the established law, which ballooned into unmitigated corruption. China illustrates the need to punish all criminals, regardless of their political standing. We are already seeing this start in the upper echelons of Washington, where we have quasi-legalized bribery through lobbying, which goes unchecked by the judiciary system.

    The irony of any Marxist revolution is that the power vacuum is eventually filled by the same hierarchical structures which were torn down by the revolutionaries. Eric Hoffer in "The True Believer" discusses this phenomenon whereby the bourgeois is replaced by the proletariat, who fill the power vacuum to become the 'new bourgeois'. There is a certain inevitability of societal hierarchies which any Marxist oriented governmental system fails to account for.

    This book is important, and more important now than ever. China shows the West where our current foibles lead us, and we should be scared. The President is pushing an 'official narrative', as are the media and corporate institutions. The difficulty lies in the fact that there can only be one 'official narrative', and unless diffused, the situation will come to a head. The left is explicitly calling for a revolution, and it appears that our entrenched media and political classes are all aboard.

    Revolution is a blunt and bloody way to change. The efforts to 'burn it down' rarely end well. Marxist doctrine ignores the emergent nature of hierarchy in society, and is remarkably callous towards large swaths of a population; which is why Marxist revolutions tend to be the most horrific in terms of lost human capital. It is undeniable that Marxist ideology has proven to be the most lethal idea of the 20th century, vastly eclipsing Nazism in terms of lives lost.

    The United States was founded around the idea that hierarchies are emergent, and humans are susceptible to toxic ideas. Our government is an elaborate set of checks and balances imposed to prevent mob rule, prevent ideological proliferation, and to prevent tyranny. Yet over the past 100 years, we have slowly eroded these protections, and enshrined in the Executive branch far more power than the founders ever intended. My hope is that there is an effective strategy to pull back from the brink without resorting to a revolution, which would almost certainly lead to civil war. My main worry is that neither side respects our founding values, and we will lose the most liberalizing enlightenment government ever created.

  20. Collapse by Jared Diamond

    Rating: 2/10 Categories: non-fiction, society Finished: 06/14

    Nowhere near as good as Guns Germs and Steel.

    This book could have been condensed from 500+ pages to about 120. Diamond goes into excruciating detail about the collapse of various societies, far more detail than is necessary for him to make his points. His personal anecdotes are frequent and pointless.

    Overall, I think the main message of this book can be gleaned by skimming the final chapter: Societies have a tendency to collapse due to factors such as over exploiting resources, conflict with others, and conflict among themselves. Changes are slow, and societies often don't realize what is going on until its too late. There is hope because we might be able to stop the current unraveling of our globalized society before its too late.

    You can skip this one.

  21. Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, psychology Finished: 06/14
  22. The Present Age by Soren Kierkergaard

    Rating: 4/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy Finished: 06/09

    I am not sufficiently lettered to appreciate this work, which I can only assume is far more profound than I gleaned.

    The writing is sufficiently obtuse to make it difficult to understand what Kierkergaard is trying to say. I would like to revisit this book at a later point and give it more time to really try to parse out his points.

  23. The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, ideology, philosophy Finished: 05/23

    The first book in the "Resistance Library" by Harper Perennial is a classic by the moral philosopher Eric Hoffer. He establishes his theory of the true believer and how mass movements come manifest themselves. Written in the middle of the 20th century, there is emphasis on the mass movements led by Hitler and Stalin.

    While reading this book I couldn't help but compare Hoffer's prognostications with contemporary mass movements. Namely Trumpism and Anti-Trumpism.

    So much space has been devoted to identifying the mass movement aspects of Trumpism and the rise of Donald Trump, and I think even the alarmists largely have this correct; he is a figurehead for a movement consisting of discontented people who have a blind devotion to an illogical (in the technical sense of not adhering to first order logic) doctrine. Even without reading this book I think that this is plain to see and largely acknowledged. However reading this book certainly helps to crystallize and give context to the rise of Trump in the United States.

    I am more concerned with the fact that there is another mass movement which gets far less attention, the Anti-Trumpists. Certainly I grant that Trumpism is more "dangerous" at least superficially, but there are many Anti-Trumpists who have an air of superiority of which they are undeserving.

    Paradoxically, I think that a subset of Americans worship a demagogue who doesn't exist; the Anti-Trump. The Anti-Trump is a specter who represents the opposite of Donald Trump. Despite not existing, the Anti-Trump seemingly acts for many as the leader of the mass movement which I call "Anti-Trumpism". This movement checks off many of the boxes required for a mass movement, and its adherents have a similarly blind faith in the Anti-Trump that Trumpist's have with Trump. The doctrine is simple and illogical (again in the technical sense); Trump can do no good, and must be removed from office for progress to be made (incidentally, it should be noted that the Senate Republicans adopted a similar "Anti-Obama" viewpoint during Obama's second term).

    I would be curious to find explorations of movements with figureheads who do not exist; in some sense perhaps Catholicism fills this role, however I would argue that the Pope fills the role of a figurehead while God and Jesus are artifacts of the faith rather than leaders. The specters of Anti-Trumpism and Anti-Obamaism seem as powerful as their Trumism and Obamasim duals.

    Overall I think everyone should read this book. It is short, and at times technical, but it is worth the small effort.Adhering blindly to a faith is easy, and we tend to follow the path of least resistance. I think that this book can help open your eyes to the ways in which you follow blindly a mass movement. A healthy democracy requires a certain degree of self-awareness, and I think that reading this book helps build that self-awareness.

    Lest this book be seen solely as a scathing rebuke of Trump; recognize that if that is your take away, you are likely worshiping blindly at the feet of the Anti-Trump. And as Hoffer points out, there really isn't a difference between the two.

  24. The Code by Margaret O'Mara

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, technology, silicon valley Finished: 04/14

    This book is a history of Silicon Valley, from its rise beginning after WWII to now.

    Historians write books to tell a story, and the author has an enormous amount of control over how that story is told. Most historians have a central thread or common principle guiding their exposition. O'Mara's book was more or less a disjointed thread of ideas meandering through the history of the Valley. To the extent that there was a binding narrative it was that sexism and racism abound in the hiring practices of the Valley companies. I don't have a problem with writing a heavily agendaded history book (I don't think it will be a successful book, but I digress), and I do think that there are issues with the culture in Silicon Valley that need to be addressed. However, O'Mara tries to sneak her agenda in without the reader noticing, and it becomes so blatantly apparent that it becomes irritating.

    She has picked the stories of several random women who lived in the Valley during its rise, and tells their stories. Again, I have no problem with this, but it was narrativly jarring to have the story of the meteoric rise of Steve Jobs interrupted by a chapter long digression about a women who was a programmer during the same time who had few female colleagues.

    I think O'Mara was split between writing two different histories, couldn't decide, and ended up writing a mediocre mishmash. I think based on her (poorly hidden) agenda she should have followed Howard Zinn and written a "People's History of Silicon Valley", spending far more effort illustrating how Silicon Valley was built on the backs of minorities and women who got no credit while greedy white men took the money and credit. I think that this is a valuable history to write, and the perspective is not at all baseless. I feel like this is where her heart was, but she tried to write an economic history instead. I feel like O'Mara could have written a good "History" book, or a good "People's History", but she chose to mediate between the two and fell flat.

    From a stylistic perspective I have several gripes as well. Her use of informal language feels forced, at times she writes like a historian, but interspersed are sentences that sound like they were written by a teenager in a text message. Another stylist complaint I have is the frequent reference to names (of people, places, and companies) and events with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with them. I have worked in Silicon Valley, and consider myself at least somewhat knowledgeable about Valley lore. There were several times were O'Mara referenced something I had no context for, with no subsequent follow up. For example Elon Musk is mentioned, but in context the reader has to already know who Elon Musk is! This book cannot stand the test of time with writing like this.

    Another section that was out of place was a not so subtle targeted jab at Peter Thiel, for seemingly no reason than to align the author against him. It was distracting and had zero relevance to the story she was telling.

    Overall the book WAS interesting, and I filled in some gaps in my Silicon Valley knowledge, but I don't think this book will be "the" history of Silicon Valley.

  25. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: fiction Finished: 03/20 A heartwarming story about a grumpy man. Great read. Recommend.
  26. The Creators by Daniel J. Boorstin

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, art, history Finished: 02/29
  27. French Gastronomy by Jean-Robert Pitte

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, food, geography, history Finished: 01/11

    This book is an interesting look at the history of gastronomy in France. There were three main reasons it didn't resonate with me. 1: I am not French. This book was originally written in French and is translated to English. There is an assumption that the reader is familiar with French geography and cultural history. This is a fair assumption, and it makes me appreciate the implicit assumptions made by American authors about my level of inherent knowledge. This mainly made me want to read more about France and French history. 2: This book is academic in nature, I think. I couldn't quite tell who the intended audience for this book is. 3: Meandering. There was quite a bit of meandering, and it was often difficult to tell what the author was trying to say.

  28. The Romans by R.H. Barrow

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, Europe, Rome Finished: 01/02

    This book is a classic and it is my understanding that it is still recommended as an introductory book on the subject of Rome. It is a bit more academic in tone than many non-fiction books, aimed at a university level. My father used this book as a textbook when he was in college. The writing style can be a bit difficult at times due to the time when the book was written.

    Overall this book is a good jumping off point for further study. It gives a good characterization of the three periods of Roman history and highlights the character of the Roman people.

2019

  1. Lamb by Christopher Moore

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: fiction, humor, religion Finished: 12/14

    The story of Jesus between birth and his time preaching the gospel in Israel. Classic Christopher Moore humor and littered with biblical references. Well researched with many inside jokes. Overall I enjoyed it but find the "Bloodsucking Fiends" series more to my liking.

  2. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, silicon valley Finished: 12/01

    The stunning story of a Silicon valley healthcare startup which spent years misleading investors, clients, doctors, and patients.

  3. Chaos by James Gleick

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics, physics, science Finished: 11/27
  4. The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus by Dr. Hannah Fry and Dr. Thomas Oleron Evans

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics, humor Finished: 11/11

    Fun book that I have been wanting to read for a while. Very quick read, but certainly entertaining. The book goes through some humerus applications of mathematics to Christmastime.

  5. An Empire of Wealth by James Steele Gordan

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, economics, United States, history Finished: 10/15

  6. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, sociology, memoir Finished: 09/26

    This book had been on my reading list for a while and I am glad that I finally read it. This book has earned an outpouring of positive press, and it is well-deserved.

  7. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, communication Finished: 09/23

    This book is a classic and everyone should read it. Every time that I read it I feel like I should be reading it more frequently.

    Carnegie has many wonderful insights into managing people in your life, whether in your work, personal, or familial spheres. well written and helpful. I am always reminded after reading this book how much more I have to work on in interpersonal communication.

  8. The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, productivity Finished: 09/17

    Not sure this one counts as self-help, but it is certainly self improvement. This is a really cool little book which outlines strategies for improving your memory. It is pretty incredible how much you can memorize in a short period of time, and I am excited to continue implementing these strategies in my day to day life.

    I recommend this book to everyone, it is very neat and only stands to enrich your life.

  9. The Secrets for Getting Things Done by Vincent Harris

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, productivity, self-help Finished: 09/14

    The self-help marathon returns with this quick read.

    This book is a collection of tips put together by the author and intended to increase daily productivity in your career and family. I appreciated many of the suggestions, and I think they are all good tips. Harris writes in an easygoing and approachable style, and doesn't make any grandiose claims about results. Among other things, he recommends eating a healthier diet to avoid midday crashes and to improve lifelong health, tracking your habits and how you spend your time, and being assertive about saying no and only allowing people as much time as you have.

    This book fits into the theme that I have been trying to adhere to of: be responsible for yourself (your time, money, ect.), be deliberate in your actions (spending money, choosing tasks to do), always look at the bright side of things (read positive intent into the world), and consistently plan for future personal growth while acknowledging your past successes.

    Vincent Harris and Jordan Peterson would likely get along. While Peterson is very explicit about the importance of personal responsibility, Harris is much more subtle, and this book definitely has personal responsibility as an undercurrent

  10. Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, psychology, self-help Finished:09/11

    More psychology than self-help, this book is choc full of interesting psychological and anecdotal information about willpower and self control.

  11. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez

    Rating: 8.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, money, self-help Finished:09/07

    This book seeks to help readers reorient their relationship with money so that their lives no longer revolve solely around working for a living. The book presents nine "steps" for readers to take on the road to "financial independence", i.e. living off of a passive income.

    This is the first book in my "pre-graduate school self-help tour" and I quite liked it. I think that the steps that are outlined will help me to manage my spending and build a financial safety net. I also liked that the book isn't as "cultish" as many self-help books. Additionally the authors aren't promising anything radical, their thesis is, more or less, "you can change your relationship with money and it is likely that you can live on less than you do right now." This is no "get rich quick book".

  12. Now by Richard Muller

    Rating: 8.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, physics, philosophy Finished:09/01

    This is a good book. Muller is an established experimental physicist and does a good job of explaining the various phenomenon which contribute to our understanding of time. He is against the string theorists argument that it is so beautiful that it must be true, and argues that a physical theory must not only be testable, but actually make predictions which are confirmed (String theory has made zero predictions which have been confirmed, and many which have been shown false). He discusses the limitations of science and the latter part of the book is a philosophical discussion revolving around humanity's place in the universe. Overall the philosophizing was insightful and I think a strong argument for the limitations of scientific reductionism.

    I would recommend to people who enjoy general public physics books and anyone interested in the philosophy of science.

  13. The Essence of Chaos by Edward N. Lorenz

    Rating: 7.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, math, meteorology Finished:08/29

    Edward Lorentz is widely credited as being responsible for the study of chaos taking off. His famous "Lorentz attractor" (what he calls the butterfly) sparked a global frenzy of chaos studies, one which he was completely unprepared for.

    This is a good read and I appreciate the perspective on chaos from such an esteemed scientist. He is humble about his contributions throughout, and does a good job of explaining the "essence" of chaos.

  14. The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, history Finished: 08/25

    Boorstin chronicles the history of discovery, of mankind learning about the world and themselves. Boorstin's choice of topics are great and he asks overlooked questions. Along the way we learn about the discovery of time, history, statistics, and the discovery that the world was bigger than we thought and the discovery of the new world. Throughout, Boorstin emphasizes the context in which these discoveries were made, and highlights the courage needed to explore the world in a time before we knew what the world looked like.

    I found the sections on time and history particularly interesting, since I had never considered that prior to some way of measuring time, humanity was at the mercy of the sun. It was also interesting to learn about the evolution of history; for much of European history, Europeans were not concerned much with the past. It took radical thinking to begin to explore the past in a capacity which went beyond the bible.

    Boorstin is an incredible writer, and throughout the entire book remains engaging and eloquent. This book is a fantastic read and I recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their view of the world. Every chapter contains insightful discussion of interesting "discoveries" and the world in which those discoveries were made.

  15. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, sociology, psychology Finished: 07/27

    Pinker shows that the modern age is the most peaceful time in the history of humanity. This book stands as a beacon of rationality in a constant barrage of 'bleeding' news. This book is incredibly well written, keeping with Pinker's standard of exceptionality.

    I think that everyone should read this book, however due to the length I recognize that this is unrealistic. Barring a full read, I hope everyone at least reads a synopsis online. If you have the time, it is an important book that really should be read in its entirety.

  16. Mastering Mathematics by Richard Smith

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics, school Finished: 07/26

    Very quick read. Has some helpful tips for doing well in mathematics classes, mostly common sense stuff. It is helpful to read about all the stuff that you know you should be doing but aren't. I think that reading this book will motivate ANYONE (math, non-math, grad, undergrad) to do better in their coursework.

    I recommend this to anyone who wants to improve their grades in school and has two hours to spare. I also HIGHLY recommend this book to students coming to college math courses (specifically lower division ones like algebra and calculus) who feel like they are not cut out for math courses. You are, and you should read this book!

  17. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, journalism Finished: 07/09

    Sebastian Junger never ceases to impress, and this book is no different. His writing is unrivaled in this genre: simple, elegant, and emotional. I have little interest in fishing yet this book had me on the edge of my seat. Junger does a great job of engaging the reader, and presents the material in the best possible way.

    I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story, which happens to be true. Junger manages to hold the reader's attention like a novel while remaining true to the events that took place.

    I think that for what this book is, it is perfect.

  18. Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, food, agriculture Finished: 07/04

    Interesting book written before Omnivore's Dilemma. The book outlines four foods which have 'domesticated us' through the exploitation of a human desire (sweetness, beauty, intoxication, control). Pollan writes poetically about each, and my biggest complaint about the book is that he could have edited it down quite a bit.

  19. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, economics, sociology Finished: 06/24 A fun book with many counter intuitive explorations of economics applied to odd questions. The authors have a witty style and engaging writing. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a lighthearted and well written read.
  20. Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright

    Rating: 4/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, political science Finished: 06/21

    I will review chapters 1-14 separately from 15, 16, and 17 after which it will be clear why I wanted to set the book down and why I am glad I did not.

    Chapters 1-14: 1/10 I dislike both the content and the style of the first fourteen chapters. These chapters present a historical overview of word leaders who Albright feels have historically or are currently eroding small "d" democracy (western ideals of freedom, ect).

    Albright begins the book by setting the tone that this will be a case for why Donald Trump is a fascist. I think that this was a mistake, probably commit ed after the other chapters were already written, when Trump was elected. Later in the book it becomes more clear what her intentions are, but the first chapter presents a thesis that is not supported by any of the remaining chapters. She proceeds to give brief, simplistic, and slightly misleading accounts of historical "fascists" rising to power, with strong implications that Trump is doing these same things. However, the implications are stretches at best, and to avoid ruining her credibility, she forces the reader to make the connections, rather than making them herself. This leads to a weird feeling of not being entirely sure what her purpose is.

    Additionally, she makes several false claims which erode her credibility as a historical author. The most notable is the Mussolini ran on a platform in which he promised to "drain the swamp". This is true, but Albright is of course implying that Trump is employing Mussolini's fascist strategies in the United States. In fact, Mussolini was talking about literal swamps, which were breeding grounds for mosquito's carrying malaria. Politifact has rated Albright's statement half-true for obvious reasons, and as a former Secretary of State who is a supposed authority on this subject, she should know better. She also quotes without reference contested labor statistics to make a point.

    Next is her writing style, which is much worse in the first chapters, but doesn't improve much later on. The book reads like a high-school history assignment written hastily with thesaurus in hand. Examples of ill-placed and fancy sounding words abound, and Albright liberally misuses the semi-colon, in ways that would make an English teacher wince. Albright would benefit from reading any style-guide, and the publisher (Harper) would benefit from hiring better editors. Other offenses include inconsistent numbering (1997 vs. Nineteen ninety-seven) and poorly worded sentences. The writing style was distracting and reading the first part of this book was an uphill battle.

    Chapters 15, 16, and 17: 6/10 These chapters are better. There is a fair critique of Trump as a president, and points out areas where Trump is advancing the interests of the United States, and areas where his rhetoric could be damaging. I appreciate her speculative nature, and unlike many pundits her criticisms are neither exaggerated or undeserved. Next are three 'nightmares': Far right fascism in the United States, far left fascism in the United States, and the rise of a centrist fascist leader in response to increasing terrorism in the United States. All three scenarios are plausible, and she presents them in an effective manner. She closes with a list of questions that we should ask about political figureheads as a litmus test of the autocratic tendencies; questions that we should ask to ensure that democracy remains the dominant political philosophy and freedom prevails.

    Albright is clearly left of center politically, but fair to the right, a trait that I respect and think adds weight to her words. She acknowledges that the Trump election is a symptom of a much bigger problem, rather than castigating Trump voters as "deplorable". Overall, she is a truer patriot than many on the right, and cares deeply about freedom, whether that freedom comes from the right or the left.

    I give this book a weighted average score of 1.9/10, generously rounded up to a 4 because I think the last few chapters are fairly good. Overall, read the last three chapters and skip the rest. Albright could have done with publishing the last three chapters as op eds and done away with the rest.

  21. Gulag by Anne Applebaum

    Rating: 9.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, soviet, Russia Finished: 06/19
  22. Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner

    Rating: 8.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, United States Finished: 06/01
  23. Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, history, WWII Finished: 05/18

    My review.

  24. Birth of a Theorem by Cedric Villani

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, memoir, mathematics Finished: 05/13

    Cedric Villani is a character. His eccentricities come to light in this book and make for sometimes surprising reading. Villani wears a three piece suit with cravat and spider broach... every single day. He is clearly quite brilliant, with a nonlinear train of thinking characteristic of mathematicians.

    Birth of a Theorem reads like a diary, with interspersed blurbs on pieces of math or profiles of famous mathematicians. I appreciated the background on these mathematicians because it gives a good contextualization for working mathematicians who are leading mathematical research today.

    The book goes into great detail about some esoteric aspects of PDE theory, and it feels like the book is intended for mathematicians rather than the general public. Villani does not hesitate to include jargon and (non-trivial) equations. Overall, I would only recommend for mathematicians.

  25. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, medicine Finished: 05/04

    Atul Gawande addresses medicine's shortcomings in dealing with patients in the end of their life. We resign the elderly to nursing homes which force the ends of their lives to be miserable and depressing. We put terminal patients through increasingly harrowing treatments despite knowing that the outcome will be the same.

    Atul Gawande says that medicine and doctors should focus on what the patients want for the end of their life, what their fears are, and how to allow them the best possible end. He advocates shifting away from the all guns blazing approach that medicine currently has to one of palliative care and hospice, focusing on the patients and their families rather than the illnesses.

    The book is heavy, with no shortage of heart-wrenching end of life stories. I think this book is hugely important though for influencing the way we view mortality, and our expectations for how the end of our lives should go. Modern medicine cannot stave off the inevitable, and often times modern medicine significantly decreases quality of life for little, and sometimes reduced, extra time in this world. I think this book has something to offer everyone and I couldn't recommend it more highly

  26. The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, education Finished: 04/23

    E. D. Hirsch presents several arguments critical of the current education system in America, mainly lamenting the lack of a structured curriculum, and our inability to effectively teach children to read.

    Recent research has shown us that reading skill is largely dependent on a general knowledge base, and Hirsch argues that rather than spending 250 minutes a day on 'critical reading skills', we should instead focus on building a framework of general knowledge which will help children to understand the things they are reading. Hirsch cites research showing that this approach leads to higher reading scores in later grades as children accumulate a vast amount of general knowledge.

    Hirsch address American schools's lack of a coherent curriculum, which he says leads to inconsistency in teaching across grades. An example he gives is that many American children read Charlotte's Web three years in a row in the early grades. He proposes more concrete standards being imposed, and forming more rigorous state and federal curriculum standards to replace the vacuous standards that we currently have.

    Hirsch also addresses the discrepancy in education achievement between middle and upper classes children and their lower class peers. Because upper and middle class children (in general) have parents who share general knowledge with their children, and speak in more descriptive language, upper and middle class children have a distant advantage when it comes to reading. Hirsch suggests modeling the classroom after the middle class home, which he argues will bring the lower class students up to speed with their more fortunate peers.

    Hirsch is a bit more measured (shall we say realistic) than someone like Gatto, and echos some of Postman's sentiments. Although if memory serves me, Postman has been critical of Hirsch's 'general knowledge' approach.

    Those interested in American education should pick this one up. Hirsch offers great insights and the book is quite short.

  27. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

    Rating: 5/10 Categories: non-fiction Finished: 04/20

    This book is way too long. Alan Weisman is very good at describing things. Too good. The book is basically 300 pages of vividly described events, to the point of obscuring the actual things that Weisman is trying to convey. The book is a collection of essays on what will happen to various human creations should all of humanity disappear overnight, leaving all other creatures and structures intact. Weisman addresses what will become of cities, statues, forests, oceans, and much more.

    The nail in the coffin for me was when Weisman proposed a solution to our effects on the planet is to implement a one child policy to reduce our population. Anyone who seriously considers this an option for the future is ignorant of the moral and ethical implications of such a policy, fully played out in China, where female children were regularly killed or abandoned. This pessimism about the world is an underlying theme throughout the book, and a pessimism which I do not hold. Weisman clearly has a certain degree of distain towards the human race, a distain that is not entirely unwarranted. However I think that his extreme pessimism is unwarranted. Humanity has collectively overcome major hurdles, and the present climactic and environmental changes are just another hurdle on our track.

    Overall, this is one that you can skip.

  28. The Shepard's Life by James Rebanks

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, perspectives Finished: 04/07

    This book is a little too long.

    The first half is very good, Rebanks shows how the modern world doesn't value human history, and how landscapes become more about the land and less about the holistic landscape; farmers, culture, community, animals, and history. This section forces the reader to evaluate a different perspective of what life can be, and the book is targeted at the intellectual type who would miss the forest for the trees. The implications for policy are implicit too, that we should consider how our decisions and move towards heavy industry strip us of something special that makes us human, and our larger national and global connections to the planet, each other, and the things that keep us alive. Implicit is that modern culture has forgotten where it came from, and ignores things like where food comes from, and not for the better.

    The second half, while interesting, is largely farming stories. These give context to the author's life, but lack the profundity of the first half of the book. The author writes in a very specific style (which he is doing deliberately in the style of one of his childhood favorites), but this style can and does get old for a while.

    Another thing that I found interesting is the motivations of the author to continue farming despite it costing, rather than making, his family money. He takes on a second 'educated person' job to support the farm. It is an interesting view of why there is more to the world than capitalistic domination. The book gives insight into why celebrating traditional cultures is still valuable, and how the modern way of living is trampling on thousands of years of our history.

    I think that the first half offers a wonderful perspective on considering the lives of people who are different, very different, from you, but the second half could be skipped and the reader will be none the worse off.

  29. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, politics, psychology Finished: 03/30

    Haidt explores the psychological foundations of morality and how those influence our political discourse. Central to his argument is that we have (in general) six moral taste receptors which represent six different moral triggers. He argues that both liberal and conservative viewpoints are necessary to a successful country, but that conservative morality is rooted in all six moral tastes, while liberal morality is based on just two.

    He argues that this is fundamentally why liberals and conservatives are divided on so many things; that they do not have a good understanding of the other's moral framework. Liberals are concerned with care above almost all else, while conservatives are concerned with collective morality and freedom from oppression.

    Haidt suggests that everyone should seek to understand the morality of those you disagree with, because very few people are evil, and productive discourse requires that we treat everyone as good faith actors.

    The book is extraordinarily well written and I recommend this book to everyone.

  30. Cracking the GRE Mathematics Subject Test by Princeton Review

    Rating: 8.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, math, textbook Finished: 03/27 This is the necessary study guide for the GRE mathematics subject test, which should be studied for aggressively. This book is not a replacement for textbooks on the subjects covered. Rather, it serves as a bird's eye view of all the topics covered by the GRE and helps identify areas which you need to refresh your knowledge on. The practice problems are good, although they aren't multiple choice. The practice tests are quite good. This book is not the only thing you shoud use to study, but it is certainly a necessity.
  31. Zero by Charles Seife

    Rating: 4.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, math, physics Finished: 03/20 Meh. The chapter near the end on physics was pretty good. Seems like an over-fetishization of zero. The writing repeats words in a way that is not pleasant or necessary.
  32. Habeas Data by Cyrus Farivar

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, privacy, surveillance Finished: 03/16

    This book does a good job summarizing the history and current state of affairs with regards to the court system's treatment of privacy in the United States. A somewhat esoteric book, if you are looking to scare people with the Snowden revelations, I would recommend Data and Goliath instead. This is a nice follow up book for people who are interested in learning more.

  33. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, science, history Finished: 02/26

    Bryson gives a short history of our time on earth, touching many disciplines of science. Among the topics are physics, chemistry, geology, and paleontology.

    The book is a bit too long, and drags on a fair amount. About halfway through it turned into a bit of a slog. Maybe this is because I am familiar with many topics in the history of science. I did learn some interesting new things, and Bryson does a good job highlighting the eccentricities of some of the scientists.

    More than anything, the book made me realize how much of scientific 'fact' is merely conjecture based on small amounts of evidence. Paleontology especially seems to allow its body of 'fact' to contain wild speculation. In reality we know very little in many fields that are considered 'science'. Natural sciences especially do not follow the scientific method, and it seems a wonder that they fall under the same umbrella as physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

    This would be a good read for someone interested in the history of natural 'sciences', or someone who wants to understand why discoveries in the natural sciences seem to change so frequently.

  34. The End of Education by Neil Postman

    Rating: 9.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, education, dogma Finished: 02/20

    Our education system lacks purpose. People are educated, but to what end. Certainly upon graduating students will be capable of securing a high paying job and ammassing a large amount of material possession, but can we say that they have been educated? Is churning out economic worker bees the true purpose of school?

    Postman says no, and claims that American Public Schools have only false gods to which they serve. He argues in favor of a revaluation of why we educate with the goal of finding a reason for students to go to school that has the end goal of them being 'educated'. Among the false gods which Postman feels schools serve are the god of economic utility, the god of multiculturalism

    He suggests four alternatives and points out that these are but a few of the possible gods our schools can serve. The goal is to find a way for our students to get an education and become productive members of society.

    Of course, Postman's argument hinges on his conception of what it means to be education and the assumption that the reader does not think the current state of affairs in schools is moving in the right direction. He freely admits as much and does not write with any intention of swaying those who think education is already good.

    A quarter of a century later this book reads as describing today. This was true of 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' as well, and my understanding is that the same is true of much of Postman's work. In particular Postman talks about multiculturalism, which refers to the school's rejection of traditional western values and media and replacement by the values and media of other cultures. Postman thinks we should explore other cultures, in fact he encourages the practice, but worries about two things with regards to multiculturalism.

    The first is that he is saw the start of a trend towards educating groups celebrating only 'their' accomplishments. He says that this leads to group isolation and an ignorance of other cultures, with an inevitable buildup of racial and intergroup tensions. This trend has only continued to the sentencesaccessible modern day situation, where the eschewal of 'patriarchal white media' has led to rising racial tensions not only in the United States but in Europe as well. Ironically, in the pursuit of 'equality', the agenda pushed by multiculturalists seems to do just the opposite, creating an environment where racial minorities detest whites, and whites do not learn about the struggles of minorities as to have any basis of understanding of their situation.

    Among other things, Postman touches on the dangers of cultural relativism,

    Postman is one of the only thinkers I have read who writes in a way that seems accessible to the general public. His writing is superb, and his arguments are cogent and easy to follow.
  35. The Feynman Lectures on Physics Volume I: Mainly Mechanics, Radiation, and Heat by Richard Feynman, Robert Leighton, and Matthew Sands

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, textbooks, physics Finished: 02/18

    Good survey of mechanics, thermodynamics, and several other topics. Well written and informative. Some sections include dated material, but for the topics contained in this volume, not much has changed in the past century.

    I was pleased to find a section on introductory Fourier analysis. The sections on waves and the wave equation are good self contained reference resources.

    I think that reading these books is a rite of passage for physicists and applied mathematicians.

  36. The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, writing Finished: 01/31

    Thinking about graduate school has revealed the need to work on my writing. Writing clearly and elegantly is important for communicating scientific discoveries to the scientific community. Many scientific papers are unapologetically opaque, leaving the reader stranded looking for the core arguments.

    Steven Pinker would like to help. Pinker brings together psychology and linguistics to help support his view on good writing. There is a chapter dedicated to the tree structure of language and how to use that structure to make your sentences sound better.

    The book is, unsurprisingly, well-written. It is the kind of book that should probably be picked up every once in a while for a re-read. Most of the technical justifications went over my head, but I came away with a good feeling about my own "writer's ear". I also found many examples of places where I myself have made writing mistakes. I think that my writing will improve as a consequence of reading this book, and urge anyone interested in writing to read this book.

  37. The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker

    Rating: 9.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, animals, cats, journalism Finished: 01/21

    There are more cats than people in the United States, and one third of American households are home to a feline friend. This is despite domestic cats being considered an invasive species by the Australian government, despite research showing that they are inept rat hunters, and despite carrying a parasite called Toxoplasmosis that is known to cause birth defects in newborns. Abagail Tucker sets out to explain why house cats have thrived in spite of these impropriates.

    Cat puns abound, with prose both lively and engaging. Tucker, a self proclaimed cat enthusiast, does not shy away from the controversy surrounding these animals. She succeeds in getting to the heart of why the domestic cat has come to occupy such a special place in our society, despite objectively being a terrible pet. Along the way, we learn many thought provoking theories about cats, presented by experts in feline related fields. Cat's eyes are binocular and forward facing, and alongside owls, cats are the most human-looking animal. Their facial architecture is particularly similar to the human infant, and looking at cats causes the same neurochemicals to be released that looking at a child does.

    Tucker succeeds in answering her own question; why have cats taken over the world? The book is easy to read, engaging, and informative. I would recommend this book to anyone with even any interest in cats, and for cat owners this is a must read.

  38. A Mathematician's Apology by G.H. Hardy

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics Finished: 01/19 A classic for mathematicians. Hardy outlines his conception of mathematics being 'useless' and an art of discovery. He also notes the differences between pure and applied mathematicians. There are a few things I disagree with, including the idea that mathematics that are relevant to our world are less beautiful than the mathematics of the pure mathematician. I think that the constraints placed on us by our universe provide fertile ground for discovery and creativity.
  39. Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, animals, cats Finished: 01/18 This book is a guide for soon to be or current cat owners. The book outlines how and WHY cats behave the way they do, and how to make your cat's life as good as possible. Of note is how to keep your cat from scratching furniture and how to read your cat's body language in various situations. The book is slightly repetitive, but in a way that reinforces important concepts. The book is well written and the style is perfect for the intended audience. I would recommend this book to anyone who has, or is interested in getting, a cat.
  40. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, science, medicine Finished: 01/12 This book was an illuminating and terrifying account of sleep. In addition to outline all the positive effects of sleep, walker delves into the (often grave) consequences of a lack of sleep. He has many statistics to illustrate his point, and a lack of sleep raises the likelihood of cancer, car accidents, dementia, a weak immune system, lack of creativity, low IQ, developmental issues, emotional instability, and ADHD. Often these detrimental effects are shockingly reduced by getting good sleep. Some takeaways are that sleep debt cannot ever be repaid, a lack of sleep will affect every aspect of life, and since children have a different biological rhythm, expecting them to go to school early is absurd. The book would have scored higher if it were better written. Close to every other sentence is a metaphor illustrating the point of the previous sentence. This candor becomes annoying very quickly. The author also makes claims in an offhand manner, which serves to undercut their purpose. Overall the exposition was clunky, and this book could have been significantly slimmed down. There is also a lack of cohesive formality, in some places the book reads like an informal chat while in others it reads as a scientific exposition. I would recommend this book to people who don't think they need to sleep, although I would caution them that they do not need to read very carefully as most of the sentences can be skimmed or skipped.
  41. Essentialism by Greg McKeown

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, self-help Finished: 01/06 A guide for people who are stressed and overwhelmed. Essentialism is a mindset that can be applied to almost anything, and focuses on what is most important. "Less but better" is the essentialist's creed. This book is well written and easy to follow. The book is definitely written for a business crowd, and filled with business anecdotes. The lessons and advice are easy to apply to non-business aspects of your life. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is realizing that a company or person you worked for was a non-essentialist, and that is why the relationship or employment did not go well. I recommend this book to anyone who feels that their life is a chaotic mess and they never have any time for themselves, or feel controlled by their work.
  42. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

    Rating: 9.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, food, journalism Finished: 01/03 A sort of "sequel" to the Omnivore's Dilemma which outlines Pollan's thoughts on eating healthy. His advice can be summarized as "avoid the Western Diet". This is sensible advice, and this book helped show the various ways to make such a goal achievable. This book contains a lot of good information and seems like one I should re-read every once in a while. Overall a great book, as well written as his others. I would recommend this book to anyone that eats food (read: everyone).

2018

  1. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, food, journalism
  2. The Joy of x by Steven Strogatz

    Rating: 5.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics This book tries to give the reader a short tour of mathematics from basic concepts through Cantor's denumerability proof. Unfortunately, the book misses its mark. The book is a little to simplistic for someone who has completed upper division math courses, but too complicated for someone who hasn't. The chapters follow a trend of very shallow introduction, with an exposition of grandiose results. However the important steps in between are often overlooked, which leads to a confusing exposition.
  3. Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, education
  4. The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin

    Rating: 9.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, America
  5. How to Solve It by G. Polya

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction, mathematics, problem-solving

    This book should be required reading for everyone, not just students of math and science; a strong statement, but I am a mathematician. Good problem solving techniques are pervasively applicable in every aspect of life and with the rise of the internet and cellphones, problem solving ability is severely lacking. The book doesn't actually say much that will be particularly surprising, especially to someone with a mathematics background; most of the heuristic techniques have already been implicitly taught and subconsciously executed. What makes this book useful is that it outlines these heuristics explicitly, and allows the reader to consciously identify the problem solving strategies they are already using. Bringing the problem solving process into the conscious mind is vastly helpful, and even before finishing this book I noticed an improvement in my problem solving abilities.

    This is not a "book" in the traditional sense, but rather a combination example guidebook and dictionary; the closest thing that that compares is a literary style guide. The book has two distinct parts, an exposition of a conversation between student and teacher, followed by a dictionary of heuristic problem solving techniques. The first part is straightforward, and can be read like an ordinary book. The second part, the dictionary, reads a bit like a... dictionary. The author has alphabetized the heuristics and provides a comprehensive explanation for each, ranging from a few sentences to a few pages. This part of the book is a bit tedious to read, since the various heuristics reference one another, and their is no clear progression of ideas linking them.

    On the one hand, I understand that the goal of this book is to be some sort of quasi-reference text while retaining some semblance of being a "guidebook", but on the other hand, I do not know if I agree with the author's decision to present the material as a dictionary, especially because it doesn't feel like the kind of thing I will pull out and read one entry from at a time. The book feels like something that should be re-read in its entirety somewhat periodically rather than a book I will pull out when I am stuck on a particularly difficult problem. With that being said, my one sentence summary: EVERYONE should read this book.

  6. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, science, Feynman A collection of works by Feynman, some new, some old. In particular, there are more pieces by Feynman himself, rather than stories. The book has several pieces on Feynman's perspective towards science in general, including how it relates to religion, how to be a good scientist, and why people do science. This book does not cover Feynman's antics like "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman", and focuses much more on his perspective on the world. Overall I would recommend for people who are interested in books about science as a field, and good motivations for scientists.
  7. The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray

    Rating: 5/10 Categories: non-fiction, science, politics

    This book is not great. It drags on, and on, and on. I think that the book is far less controversial than many make it out to be, but I wouldn't recommend reading it.

  8. The Big Short by Michael Lewis

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, financial This book (now a movie) follows three money mangers through their prediction of the 2008 collapse of the financial markets and their bets on subprime mortgages. Lewis explains the root causes of the collapse and the reasons that these things were able to happen. The book is not about policy or the government reaction, but about the stories of the people who went in short on the subprime mortgage market. If I understood more about derivative trading and the bond market I think that I would be better equipped to explain the crisis to someone else, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
  9. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, self-help, philosophy Jordan Peterson's acclaimed and controversial book outlines Dr. Peterson's philosophy of living life, and contains many nuggets of wisdom for the reader. Humorous and at times curt, Peterson does not shy away from telling readers how he sees it; telling them that their lives are not as great as they pretend they are. While summarizing a several hundred page book isn't easy, I would say that the main themes are personal responsibility and honesty. Honesty goes both ways, in addition to being honest with the world, we need to be honest with ourselves. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to find more meaning in their life, and in general to anyone intent on improving their life. I think that the wisdom on these pages is applicable to most anyone. I will be re- reading this book sometime in the future.
  10. Animal Farm by George Orwell

    Rating:10/10 Categories: fiction, literature Animal Farm tells the tale of a group of farm animals who seize the means of production on their farm from the humans who were running it previously. The book is a commentary on communism, and specifically Stalin's Russia. The book is steeped in metaphor and literary allusion, and evokes powerful emotion about communism. Through the context of animals, Orwell is able to dissociate our preconceptions about human based communism and distill down to the fundamental moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding communism; as well as poignantly capturing the emotions of the working class in a communist system. Orwell also explores the nature of truth, albeit in less depth than he does in 1984. He succinctly captures the ephemeral nature of truth, and reinforces the notion that "who controls the present controls the past". This book is the best criticism of communism, and should be a must read for every citizen of the world. "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" - George Orwell, Animal Farm
  11. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

    Rating:7.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, history This book answers the question of how the world came to be dominated by Western Europeans. The book is comprehensive, approachable and well written, and some of the explanations given are quite illuminating. Anyone interested in what has historically shaped the rise of culture across the globe should read this book.
  12. Craft Coffee by Jessica Easto

    Rating:9/10 Categories: hobbies, how-to Comprehensive book for getting started brewing coffee at home. The book details all aspects of coffee brewing, and includes a section on various brewing methods that can be done at home. This book was very helpful for me in getting my cups of coffee to taste better, and will serve as an essential reference guide in the future.
  13. what if? by Randall Munroe

    Rating:10/10 Categories: science, humor Munroes answers some absurd yet thought provoking questions in great mathematical detail. The book is hilarious, and tackles such questions as "How high would you have to drop a steak from to cook it". Great read.
  14. Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

    Rating:8.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, science
  15. The Shadow World by Andrew Feinstein

    Rating:6.5/10 Categories: non-fiction, journalism This book explores the operations of the global arms trade, the rampant corruption, and the governmental lack of oversight and enforcement. The book paints a sobering picture of conflicts throughout the world in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, from WWI to the Arab Spring. Feinstein explores in depth the corruption surrounding arms trading with Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libera, Sierra Leone and more. He investigates the corruption in the companies at the top, the international agents proliferating the trade, and the damage caused - especially in Africa - by the ballooning and unfettered industry.
  16. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

    Rating:6/10 Categories: non-fiction, gonzo Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney go on a drug fueled 'journalism' trip to the city of Las Vegas, where their antics almost put them in jail multiple times. The book is entertaining, but the glorification of egregious behavior is slightly off-putting.
  17. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: non-fiction, epistemology
  18. Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction, philosophy
  19. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

    Rating: 10/10 Categories: fiction, philosophy
  20. Fire by Sebastian Junger

    Rating: 7/10 Categories: non-fiction Stories about firefighters and stories from the Kosovo and Cyprus conflicts in Europe. A combination of fire reporting, war reporting and a few other pieces scattered in.
  21. A Mathematician's Survival Guide by Steven G. Krantz

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction
  22. What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard P. Feynman

    Rating: 9/10 Categories: non-fiction
  23. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: non-fiction, psychology
  24. The Scientific American Book of the Brain by Various Authors

    Rating: 6/10 Categories: non-fiction, science, technical, neurobiology
  25. 1984 by George Orwell

    Rating: 8/10 Categories: fiction, future
  26. Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

    Rating: 8.5/10, Categories: non-fiction, computer-science, philosophy, science

    Nick Bostrom has delivered a fantastic analysis of the risks and dangers of humanity's development of superintelligence. Bostrom has a mature and well thought out delivery of the key points regarding the concern of our trajectorial journey towards superintelligence. Bostrom avoids both fear-mongering and blanketed speculation, instead focusing on a well organized and pragmatic analysis based on the current state of the art artificial intelligence and philosophical research. The allegory to the unfinished tale of the sparrows, included at the front of the book, is potent and even more powerful after reading the book.

    The book starts with the history of the field of artificial intelligence, before diving into the somewhat speculative task of elucidating humanity's possible paths towards obtaining superintelligent capabilities. Next, he explores the dynamics of the so called "intelligence explosion", and how such an explosion could lead an AI towards obtaining a "decisive strategic advantage". He then outlines the potential "superpowers" that a superintelligent agent would possess, and the possible driving factors behind their decision making.

    Bostrom proceeds to address the dangers of superintelligence, and what kinds of things could (and likely would) go wrong should humanity succeed in creating a superintelligent artificial intelligence. He follows this by addressing the tools we have at our disposal to confront the problems associated with making sure that a superintelligent AI will not take over the world and exterminate humanity as a means to its incessant pursuit of some literally defined goal.

    He takes a brief departure to discuss the broad classes of possible superintelligences, and to explore the possibility of multiple superintelligent agents becoming active at the same time (the so called multipolar scenario).

    Next, Bostrom returns to the topic of prescribing value to superintelligent agents, and making sure that a superintelligent agent would have humanity's best interest as its primary objective.

    He finishes with an overview of the unintuitive nature of rapid and slow research and development, and a subtle call to action that humanity needs to start taking seriously the threat posed by superintelligence, and that we develop the necessary safety infrastructure prior to an intelligence explosion.

    Throughout, Bostrom makes explicitly clear his desire to avoid anthropomorphisising artificial intelligence, which is an important and often overlook component of talking maturely about superintelligence. I think that this point may be one of the most important points touched on in the book, as the popular media and culture has adopted a sort of attitude towards superintelligence as it has towards a zombie epidemic, an attitude of fear combined with the confidence that such an existential threat cannot and will not occur. Bostrom argues fervently that superintelligence is not only achievable, but possibly achievable in our lifetime, and that we are woefully unprepared for such an existential threat to occur.

    The only downside to this book is its approachability. Bostrom has an incredible vocabulary, and the book is densely packed with information, which can be daunting to many readers, especially those that do not have the time or patience to look up words and decipher the meaning of some of the "philosospeak". For this reason, I recommend this book to anyone who feels comfortable feeling challenged by a book, and is interested in the mature coverage of artificial intelligence.

    I would say that this book should be required reading for anyone in the field of artificial intelligence, and possibly even computer science. The dangers discussed in this book should be in the back of the mind of every serious AI researcher.

  27. A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger

    Rating: 9.5/10, Categories: non-fiction, crime

    Another great book by Sebastian Junger! The book follows the case of a woman from Belmont (a small suburb of Boston) who was raped and murdered in Junger's childhood neighborhood when he was an infant. The murder took place at a time when the Boston police department was in a frenzy looking for the so called "Boston Strangler", a serial killer who had committed many similar murders in the greater Boston area.

    The police arrest an African American man, Roy Smith, who was cleaning the victim's house that afternoon, and sentence him to prison for the murder. Mr. Smith maintains that he is innocent, even during sentencing, and is convicted by a jury of the murder.

    However the murder is not so cut and dry, and a few years later, a local workman (who was working at Junger's childhood home), confesses to almost all of the Boston Strangler murders. He is also convicted, although his testimony seems dubious, before being stabbed and killed in Prison.

    The book ends in a sort of limbo, with no satisfying conclusion, as many such stories end. Roy Smith died in prison, so the only people who know the actual events that transpired on that day in Belmont are deceased.

    After the book was published, DNA evidence was released that indeed confirmed that Al DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler.

    The book is incredibly well written in a concise and matter of fact style that is characteristic of a piece by Junger. He allows the reader to deduce that Roy Smith may be innocent, and that Al DeSalvo is the Boston Strangler early on, leading the reader to be in suspense for most of the first half of the book. Junger's concise delivery and pragmatically presented accounts of events made for an enjoyable read, and as always, Junger writes in an approachable and friendly manner. The tangential material serves only to enhance the core story, and includes many useful but potentially irrelevant details that highlight the situation the police would have been faced with investigating this crime.

    The book reads a bit like a mystery book, however it diverges from this theme by presenting a somewhat omnipotent narration and concluding in ambiguity. Junger has done a fantastic job of highlighting the pitfalls inherent in our judicial system, and elucidating the fact that we cannot know things for certain.

    Overall a fantastic read and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys true crime non-fiction.

  28. The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and Davis Thomas

    Rating: 9/10, Categories: computer-science, technical

    Hunt and Thomas deliver a wonderful technical book which outlines 70 principles practiced by so called "Pragmatic Programmers". The book steps through each principle, and the principles are collected together in "chapters" by their relevance to one another.

  29. The Code Book by Simon Singh

    Rating: 5/10, Categories: non-fiction, cryptography

  30. My Mind is Open by Bruce Schechter

    Rating: 8/10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  31. The Poincare Conjecture by Donal O'Shea

    Rating: 6/10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  32. Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  33. Flatland by Edwin Abbott

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  34. The Millennium Problems by Keith Devlin

    Rating: 9/10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics, technical

  35. QED by Richard Feynman

    Rating: 8/10, Categories: non-fiction, physics, technical
  36. The Trouble With Physics by Lee Smolin

    Rating: 7.5/10, Categories: non-fiction, physics

  37. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

    Rating: 5.5/10, Categories: non-fiction, physics

  38. War by Sebastian Junger

    Rating: 9.5/10, Categories: non-fiction, sociology

  39. Tribe by Sebastian Junger

    Rating: 9.5/10, Categories: non-fiction, sociology

  40. Bite Me by Christopher Moore

    Rating: 9/10, Categories: fiction, drama

  41. Debugging the Development Environment by Steve Maguire

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, computer-science, technical

  42. The Mythical Man Month by Fredrick P. Brooks Jr.

    Rating: 9/10, Categories: non-fiction, computer-science, technical

  43. Unknown Quantity by John Derbyshire

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  44. The Mathematical Universe by William Dunham

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  45. You Suck by Christopher Moore

    Rating: 9.5/10, Categories: fiction, drama

2017

  1. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

    Rating: 10/10, Categories: fiction, drama

    Christopher Moore delivers a side-splitting romantic, vampire comedy that follows a young writer (Tom Flood) who moves to San Fransisco and begins a relationship with a vampriss (Jody). The book follows the hilarious mis-adventures that the couple gets into.

  2. Artemis by Andy Weir

    Rating: /10, Categories: fiction, sci-fi

  3. Fermat's Enigma by Simon Singh

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  4. Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  5. Surely You're Joking Mr.Feynman by Richard Feynman

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  6. Journey Through Genius by William Dunham

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, mathematics

  7. Hedgehogging by Barton Biggs

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, finance

  8. Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  9. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  10. The Unix Programming Environment by Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, technical, computer-science

  11. Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  12. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  13. What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  14. Tasting Whiskey by Lew Bryson

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, food

  15. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  16. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, self-help

  17. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  18. On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, intelligence

  19. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  20. Imperial Germany and the Great War by Roger P. Chickering

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, history

  21. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  22. The Only Game in Town by Mohamed El-Erian

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, politics, finance

  23. The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing by Jason Kelly

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, technical, finance

  24. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction

  25. Writing Solid Code by Steve MaGuire

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, technical, computer-science

  26. Code by Charles Petzold

    Rating: /10, Categories: non-fiction, technical, computer-science