Jul 07, 2018

Books read Q2 2018

Books I finished or dropped in the second quarter of 2018:

1. Stoner by John Williams
Man I wish more novels were like this. Beautiful prose about an English professor's mundane life.

2. Lying by Sam Harris
Essay about lying and why you should never do it. Pretty compelling.

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jeremy Leggatt translation)
Counterpoint to Two Arms and a Head – maybe life after paralysis is worth living after all...

4. Inadequate Equilibria by Eliezer Yudkowsky
Very good. Argues that non-expert observers can often spot problems in a field, but generally can't do anything about the problems they identify. I was convinced.

5. [didn't finish] The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I thought this would be good airplane reading, and I enjoyed the first few chapters, but the story didn't suck me in (maybe because it's too wholeheartedly adventuresome, not enough existential dread). So instead I ended up hauling the unread tome around Europe.

6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Michael Henry Heim translation, I think)
High existential dread quotient, so I got sucked right in. Also some of the story is from the point of view of a dog, which I really liked.

7. Daisy Miller by Henry James
Enjoyable, though it doesn't paint Victorian gentleman in an admirable light.

8. René Girard's Mimetic Theory by Wolfgang Palaver (Gabriel Borrud translation)
Good intro to Girard, which I'll summarize as "guy had an interesting idea which he proceeded to explain everything with." Palaver is a committed Girardian so his treatment is very thorough; I probably would have gotten the same value from reading half the book.

9. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Lots of fun. Less of a payoff than Cryptonomicon, but faster paced.

10. Jung: A Very Short Introduction by Anthony Stevens
I didn't know very much about Jung – this was a good place to start, especially because he was a very scattered writer.

11. [didn't finish] Nagarjuniana by Christian Lindtner
Flipped through this in the Tassajara library. Early academic study of Nagarjuna – it's a fascinating clash of cultures (what does this classically trained academic make of that ancient Buddhist reformer?), but not accessible. Great title though.

12. [didn't finish] Less by Marc Lesser
Zen business advice. Pretty fluffy.

13. Money Sex War Karma by David Loy
Essays on socially engaged Buddhism. A surprisingly good introduction to the Dharma, though his views about what social problems are most important aren't aging very well.

14. [didn't finish] The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington
Romance novel with highbrow aspirations. Sorta fun, a welcome relief after hours of struggle with Eastern philosophical tracts.

15. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Short stories from the Spokane Indian reservation (American Indian? Native American? Alexie uses "Indian" so I'll follow him here). Very good, very sad.

16. [didn't finish] Verses from the Center by Nagarjuna (Stephen Batchelor translation)
Loose translation of the Mulamadhyamakakarika by Batchelor. I didn't finish before leaving Tassajara; probably will return to it at some point.

17. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (audiobook)
Book-length account of Theranos by the reporter who broke the story. Really good; instructive on the difference between competence & authority. Select quotes.

18. The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg (audiobook)
Thorough treatment of the US-Soviet nuclear dynamic & why it's still a problem. I alternated between "very sad about nukes" and "totally amazed that everything is still unburnt." Also useful for knocking me out of the AI safety headspace and into the nuclear security headspace for a while. Select quotes: 1, 2, 3

19. Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos Papadimitriou
Lovely graphic novel about Bertrand Russell.

20. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Pollan does psychedelics. I liked his interleaving of neuroscience, history, and personal experience (sorta similar to My Age of Anxiety in that regard, but better).