Books I finished in the third quarter of 2015:
- Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Vignettes from Sedaris' family life. Darkly comic and enjoyable.
- Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham
Essays from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham about programming, good design, and how to create beautiful things. I really liked this and found it inspiring.
- The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Idealistic young American starts mucking about in French colonial Vietnam. Disillusioned older Englishman views him with cynicism and latent admiration. A love triangle, bit of political terrorism, and noir-style murder investigation all ensue.
- Marx: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer
Peter Singer wrote a Very Short Intro on Marx?! Weird. Actually Singer spent some serious time on Marx and Hegel, writing a book about each of them. This intro was good; I came off it with a better grasp of Marx's thought and how it differed from the crazy Marxist-idea-implementers that followed.
I didn't ready too much on paper this quarter. I did, however, try out audiobooks, having been nudged by Nick Beckstead's post about them. I've listened to two audiobooks in full so far, and am halfway through a third. I find the content to be higher quality than a lot of podcast content, which is the thing audiobooks replace in my life. I'm pretty sure I retain quite a bit less from an audiobook than from actual close reading on paper, but it seems like a good medium for lightly written books and books on topics I'm only moderately interested in.
Audiobooks I listened to this quarter:
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
An alternate history where the Axis wins World War II and Japan and Germany immediately plunge into a cold war. Set in 1960s America, which has been divided into the Pacific States (West Coast, Japanese control), the Rocky Mountain States (Middle America, autonomous buffer state?), and the United States (East Coast, Reich control). I love this premise, and found the book pretty entertaining, though at times tiring (too much I Ching). I was turned onto the book by this Amazon Originals pilot, which I really hope takes off.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz is a badass. Also, it is incredibly entertaining to listen to a deep-voiced honky narrate the gangsta rap lyrics that Horowitz prefaced each chapter with.
And to compensate for the sorry number of books, here are the longform articles I most enjoyed this quarter:
- What Is Code? by Paul Ford
Fantastic walkthrough intro to programming concepts from the perspective of a know-nothing mid-level executive at a typical American corporate entity.
- The Absurd by Thomas Nagel
What's the point? Well, we just don't get to know.
- GiveWell Shallow Investigation of Nuclear Weapons Policy by Nick Beckstead
Are nukes still a problem in the post-cold-war era? Yes. Can we do something about it? Probably yes.
- Stop the Robot Apocalypse by Amia Srinivasan
In-depth book review of Doing Good Better. Impressive both for its detailed understanding of a lot of Effective Altruist stances, and for its well-put phrasings of many common critiques of EA.
- How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis by Alison Gopnik
This really makes me want to read Hume.
- The Bourne Aesthetic by Mike Hoye
Nice little essay about how our zeitgeist is shifting away from the James Bond way of doing things (classy, expensive, institutional) towards the Jason Bourne way of doing things (rough, makeshift, practical), which shifts into a polemic against Apple's design principles that I thoroughly enjoyed.
- In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell
Essay on why work for the sake of work, or work considered a virtue, is a bad way to go. I found this really refreshing; the favorite thing I've read by Russell so far (his autobiography is just boring).
First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.
[rereads:1, edits: phrasing tweaks]
Though I work at GiveWell, views expressed in this post are my own.