Sunday, April 12, 2009

What I've Been Reading

1) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. I was unmoved by this one--too much philosophical self-introspection and not enough twists. Don't try to be Kurt Vonnegut unless you're Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, even he probably should tone it down a little.

2) SYNC by Steven Strotgatz. Rambling but interesting look at how systems with updating rules for individuals only can lead to synchrony in the whole population, with applications to real life phenomena such as REM sleep. I didn't care for most of the explanations via analogy, but that is a pet peeve of mine. See my detailed notes here.

3) Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis. A sometimes uncomfortably hilarious first-person romp through the i-bank Solomon Brothers in the late 1980s. Some of the stuff he touches on in the book (surreal incentive schemes, corporate groupthink, etc.) is still hugely relevant today. Definitely recommended.

4) The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley. Sets out to describe the views on mortality and the actual deaths of 200+ philosophers throughout history. Great premise, but it fails to deliver for two reasons. One, although the longer biographies (ie, Locke, Hume, Socrates) were interesting, most of them were too short for sufficient nuance. Two, the earlier philosopher's deaths are mostly speculative, so until the 1800s or so that angle was uneffective.

5) The Adapted Mind by Cosmides and Tooby. This is widely considered to be a must-read for those who want to study in depth evolutionary psychology. It is separated into articles written by prominent members of the field on their topic of expertise. Although some of these were at first blush uninteresting (such as environmental aesthetics or pregnancy sickness), what each article teaches you to do is to reason evolutionarily. If you want a big picture summary, see my notes here and here.

6) The Way I Am by Marshall Mathers. Lots of good tidbits here on where Eminem gets his passion from and how he comes up with ideas. It does lose points for those relatively long sections devoted to his children, because honestly who cares. But overall a short, relaxing read with some cool pictures.