Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I've been reading

1. Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler of Meta Modern. Although written over 20 years ago, this was one of the most hopeful books I've read all year. If mankind can harvest the asteroids for resources, design replicators that extend life, and using light sails to travel across the universe, what exactly are our limits? It's an old book but well worth the time if you ever find yourself pessimistic about the future of mankind.

2. Notes from Underground by F. Dostoevsky. Very sad book about a sad man. The protagonist provides a good counter-example of how not to approach the world but at times it is painfully awkward. I'd skip this one.

3. Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Overall I was underwhelmed, and the fact that there were discussion questions at the end of the novel didn't help. The critical mass reading this book is outrageous. 2500 reviews on Amazon? It is truly boom or bust in the world of fiction.

4. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman. More than a thesis this is simply a different way of looking at the world. The first 100 pages or so is filled with definitions but once he has an infrastructure he applies it in a number of non-intuitive ways.

5. The Road, Outer Dark, and All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. Of the three Outer Dark was my favorite and All the Pretty Horses was my least favorite, probably because there was too much mushiness in the latter and none at all in the former. The character's attitudes are generally awesome though; we could all use more Cormac McCarthy in our lives.

6. How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. Filled with more nuggets that I knew what to do with, I ended up having to seriously limit myself to only a few observations per chapter so that things wouldn't get out of hand. If you're interested you can check out my detailed notes here.

7. Creative Destruction by Tyler Cowen. A book that is clearly the result of a lot of thinking outside the box. His chief thesis is that although globalization does lower the overall diversity worldwide as societies mix into the global melting pot, it also increases the diversity available for individuals in those societies. Recommended.

8. Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. The common criticism of this book is that it reads more like a long blog post than a coherent narrative, and unfortunately it is in large part correct. It's not entirely lost cause, as there are at least a few awesome paragraphs that justify the short, leisurely read. But if you are a big Marginal Revolution fan and simply need to get more Tyler, I would read Creative Destruction over this.


My new year's resolution last year was to read 50 books in 2008 and I accomplished it. I'm not sure how much I will retain in the long run, but of course in the long run we are all cryogenically frozen.