Jan 13, 2016

Longform read Q4 2015

In addition to the books I read last quarter, I also read a lot of longform. Here's a selection of pieces I enjoyed:

  1. Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union is Wrong (a) by Leon Aron
    Almost all contemporaneous experts failed to predict the (non-violent, morally principled) collapse of the USSR. The collapse should really be more surprising, but because it happened we're inclined to treat it as quite ordinary.

  2. Blowing the Whistle on the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department (a) by Alexander Coward
    Beloved mathematics adjunct at UC Berkeley is penalized for being an excellent teacher (admittedly a one-sided account).

  3. How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps (a) by Aaron Bleyaert
    Good advice.

  4. The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield (a) by Daniel Engber

  5. A History of Transhumanist Thought (a) by Nick Bostrom
    Quick history of the modern transhumanist movement written by one of its founders.

  6. What Developmental Milestones Are You Missing? (a)
    by Scott Alexander

  7. The Doomsday Invention (a) by Raffi Khatchadourian
    New Yorker profile on Bostrom.

  8. The Value of a Life (a) by Buck Shlegeris
    Attempt to figure out the "buyer's price" of human life. I found the derivation section opaque, a sign that I haven't absorbed the approach fully (and am thus unable to assess its validity), but I appreciated the attempt.

  9. Who By Very Slow Decay (a) by Scott Alexander
    Fairly horrifying perspective on dying in the US health system.

  10. I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup (a) by Scott Alexander

  11. Before the Startup (a) by Paul Graham
    Some advice on the "do I want to start a startup?" question that reduced my angst: consider all the things you can do before a startup that are more difficult after starting one.

  12. Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity (a) by Marc Andreessen

  13. Anthropic Shadow by Cirkovic, Sandberg, and Bostrom
    Discussion of anthropic bias. My (admittedly lacking) summary: the fact that we are here observing bears on our probability estimates of existential risks. Some of the evidence we see is biased towards lower extinction probabilities, because if an extinction event of sufficient magnitude (e.g. earth-splitting magnitude) had occurred, there wouldn't be any observers left to take note of it.

  14. An unreasonably large number of New Yorker think pieces on Trump

  15. Frank Sinatra Has a Cold (a) by Gay Talese
    Fun profile of Sinatra, whom I knew very little about going in.

  16. Sharpening the Fermi Paradox by Armstrong and Sandberg
    Cashing out the feasibility of intergalactic colonization, then noticing that if intergalactic travel is as feasible as it appears, then the Fermi paradox becomes more problematic.

  17. Prediction Markets (a) by gwern
    I've been getting more into prediction-making lately (reading Superforecasting, setting up a PredictionBook account, making predictions of which contenders will become GiveWell top charities).

  18. Year's End (a) by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Short story about a father, son, and the father's new wife and daughters who just migrated from India.

  19. What Money Can Buy (a) by Larissa Macfarquhar
    Macfarquhar profile on Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. Opens with a very beautiful, very Macfarquharian intro paragraph.

(a) = archived version of the page, hosted by the Internet Archive. A new thing I'm trying with an eye towards building Long Content (a).
[rereads: 1, edits: typo fixes, added the endnote about archived content]