This section is tricky for me, because it can come across as the height of intellectual snobbery. These are books I’ve read, as if reading books could be a measure of someone’s worth. I hope it doesn’t come across that way, because honestly, I keep this list to just remind myself of what I have read as well as to force myself to engage with each book. That type of engagement helps me get something lasting from each reading.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Some of the descriptions in this book are pretty hilarious. Nothing has really happened and I already really like it. Now I’m much further into this book and still nothing has happened. Nonetheless, the descriptions are just great.

Inequality by Larry Temkin. Just finished this book. A thoughtful march through a host of issues relating to inequality.

Ethics of Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Not very far into this book. Right now the book is making some interesting but not too controversial points about how identity is created in a creative process that requires a social background.

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Interesting overview of our corn based food policy. The philosophy section in this book discussing whether we should eat animals, and if we should, how should we eat them, is pretty well written.

The Pea and the Sun by Leonard Wapner. This is a book about the Banach-Tarski paradox involving the creation of an object with the mass of the sun from an object with the mass of a pea. I’m not a mathematician by any means, but I found the easy to understand explanation and the history behind this paradox fascinating.

Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel. This is a collection of essay by Nagel about questions such as “is death bad?” and “is life absurd?”

What Do We Owe Each Other Thomas Scanlon. A full fledged defense of a type of rationalism in ethics. Then there is the part about his contractualism which doesn’t make much sense to me.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s latest novel about a boy and his father struggling to stay alive in a postapocalyptic world.

Epistemology and Cognition by Alvin Goldman. A defense of reliabilism in epistemology.

Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick. A classic. A historical based theory of justice discussing property and rights.

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr. I’ve always heard great things about this book. They are all true. This is a story of how one man’s obsession ruined his whole life.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. An introduction to meditation and some Buddhist principles. Turned out to be a little junky, but had some interesting points.

On Liberty by J.S. Mill. The main part of this book is about toleration. According to Mill, we should tolerate just about everything.

2010

I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. This book is an attempt to show how consciousness does not defy physical laws. Has some really interesting points, but Hofstadter comes off as pretty elitist in some places (he thinks the appreciation of fine classical music is one way to rank how conscious someone is).

Evil for Evil by K.J. Parker (a pseudonym). A fantasy book about a middle-ages era world in which an outlaw from a technologically advanced society sets in motion a plan to remake the world. My review is here.

Drive: The Story of My Life by Larry Bird. This is Bird’s autobiography which I read to learn about the competitive spirit. Review.

Ecology of Fear by Mike Davis. Unbelievably good history of L.A. Review.

Just and Unjust Wars. by Michael Walzer. This is an extended look at morality in war. It’s extremely influential and good in a lot of respects, but I got lost in some of the rhetoric and the organization of the book. Review.

The Soul of a New Machine. by Tracy Kidder. Journalist Tracy Kidder joins a frenetic rush to develop a new computer in the early 80s. He meets the tech people along the way and follows the project as it goes through several difficulties and ultimately meets success at the hands of its enigmatic manager, Tom West. Review.

Toy Wars. by G. Wayne Miller. This book is a snappy look at the growth of mega toys companies, with a spotlight on Hasbro and its rivalry with Mattel, and also, as the book often notes, G.I. Joe versus Barbie. All in all there are some interesting nuggets here, but its really just a fast survey piece. Review.

On Film by Stephen Mulhall. A really great look at some pop culture movie greats such as Terminator, Alien, Blade Runner, Minority Report etc. The idea here is that film is a way of doing philosophy and that it become self-conscious in the sense that it creates problems in the course of executing its art, and needs to reflect on its own existence. Review.

Downtown, Inc. by Bernard J. Frieden and Lynne B. Sagalyn. An excellent history of urban America and the large trends that shape it. The book starts with a history of urban projects from 1950s to the 70s and then weaves various case studies about malls built for downtown into a narrative about the growth of public/private partnerships and the not unambiguously good effect that the commercialization of the urban environment created. Review.

Punchlines. by Leon Rappaport. This is a book about ethnic humor. It starts with a psychological treatment of humor and then moves to a historical analysis and finally to a discussion of individual ethnic comics and role of ethnic humor in our society. Pretty cut and dry, and not very argumentatively sharp. Still, has some interesting insights and its a quick read.  Review.

The Ways of the Will by Leslie Farber. This book is a collection of essays from noted psychoanalyst Leslie Farber. His main point in these essays is that human freedom is more limited than we think (not trivially so, but just not unlimited) and that we are more psychologically healthy if we acknowledge this fact and leave things to chance sometimes. Review.

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. Good trashy (not that trashy) novel about the NSA and a race to unlock a new cipher. Very much like other Brown books, an academic is trying to escape from a professional gunman by hiding in catholic churchs and getting trapped in high places. Review

Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith. This is about the bodyline bowling style of the British national team when it toured Australia in 1932-33. The book is written in British english and so is really hard to understand. The event itself is interesting, but things are disorganized and so the narrative gets bogged down. Review.

Taking Humor Seriously by Jerry Palmer. Really interesting exploration of the cultural forms behind humor and some stabs at what humor, philosophically, means for human life. This post makes use of it.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. This is a brilliant piece of serious literature that explores issues of communication, beauty, and love within an unorthodox setting of a terrorist kidnapping. Though I can recognize the achievement that is this book, I didn’t personally like it very much because its too meditative and high-cultured. Review.

Julian Comstock by some guy Wilson. Bad book that does not earn it’s own review. Part of the problem was that I didn’t realize it was a book for high schoolers until I was almost done. That explained a lot.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Accessible and well written. This is the story of William Chester Minor an insane, nymphomaniacal murderer with a conscience. He was impelled by psychological forces to do evil, but never stopped striving to do good. He did not earn redemption (or did he), but tried to by working tirelessly on the Oxford English Dictionary and in the process became one of the greatest contributor to the modern incarnation of English spoken all over the world. Review.

The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt. This is not high art like Bel Canto, but it ain’t low either. It’s an absolutely compelling and well imagined sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk story all rolled into one. Submarines, airships, Atlantis, robots, sorcerers, megalomaniacs, and hive consciousnesses. Absolutely great. Review.

The Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt. Pretty good, but nearly as good as the Kingdom Beyond the Waves. Never got around to reviewing this one.

Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist. [1.18.11 ] This is a really bad fantasy book with a poorly imagined world and bad characters. I was utterly bored by the end of this and will not pick up the next book in the series. Review.

Scourge by Jonathan Tucker. [1.19.11] This is a pretty comprehensive yet light read about the history of smallpox. I think it does a pretty good job covering the soviet bioweapon program and the debates about whether to destroy the virus or not. I give it a solid rating. Review.

Ultimate Punishment by Scott Turow [1.23.11] I started off pretty high on this book, but it’s not that good. It’s nice for how contemplative and reflective it is, but it’s not an exhausting review of the arguments for and against the death penalty. Review.

The Escapement by K.J. Parker [1.24.11] This is the last of K.J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, and it shares some of the flaws of previous books as well as introducing some new ones because the ending is so bizarre. Still, a respectable book and one thing Parker is brilliant at is scenes involving a diplomatic back and forth between two intelligence characters trying to glean information from each other or threatening each other. Review.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace [1.27.11] I mainly focused on “Up, Simba,” “Big Red Son,” and “Consider the Lobster.” All were very good, though I think “Up, Simba” was by far one of the best. All of them contributed to me being more sober in my assessment of Wallace (and “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” is still my favorite), but all of them are excellent. I think their success comes primarily from their use argot and jargon that are employed by the subject he is covering. Reviews in text above by essay.

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker [2.4.11]. This book is about psychoanalysis in which the author tries to reformulate Freud. The argument is that human psychology does not owe itself to the expression of the libido and its repression, but rather the expression of the fear of death and its repression. The ending conclusion is that humankind will always need some sort of religion to believe in. Has some really interesting insights that I think are dead on, but mostly poorly argued and the scholarship I think is pretty weak. I may write more about it, but here are two (1, 2) posts.

The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt [2.6.11]. This is the first book I read on an iphone, with the kindle app. Pretty good, but still not nearly as good as the Kingdom Beyond the Waves. This book, in short, is about time-traveling eugenics-practicing cannibals who invade earth with a death star. Review.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert Redick. [2.18.11] This is a deep and well done fantasy novel about a group of conspirators on a massive (somewhat magical) ship. The plot revolves around Pazel Pathkendle who is a racial outcast from those around him. Nonetheless, he must work with a variety of other races and characters to prevent the release of an evil war criminal who wants to start war again. The conspiracy gets a little too twisted to be kept track of, in the world of the characters (who knows what when) but the dialogue is smart and there is an ongoing point about multiculturalism through Pazel’s magical  power to learn new languages instantly and so to understand people.

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin [2.25.11]. This book is really good. Its about what we can learn from animal behavior and psychology. Basically, animals are probably conscious, can feel pain, and speak languages. In facts, its hard to say how we’re “different” than them in an absolute sense. In fact, we probably learned most of our distinctive cultural traits from animals. Don’t read the middle chapters of this book, they aren’t very interesting I don’t think. Review.

The second Person Perspective by Stephen Darwall [4.15.11]. This is very deep attempt to reconstruct Kant’s ethical system using the notion of second personal reasons for action that cannot be reduced to first or third personal reasons. A great book that I think is definitely on to something, but rather than put all my money on the second personal, I want to try to develop a pluralistic account that attributes moral action to responding to all types of reasons (1st, 2nd and 3rd) at one go.

The Secrets of Power Negotiation by Roger Dawson [7.25.11] This is a book that I thought would be superficial and self-helpy, and it kind of was, but there is some real bits of analysis in here and its presented with stories and simple illustrations, making the whole thinking pretty intuitive and a quick read. I learned quite a bit thought I think he’s wrong in some places about the best strategy. One thing that I really like though is that he has a pretty moral approach to negotiation in that he almost exclusively discusses “win win” tactics.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. [6.25.11] I’ve written about this book a bunch in my blog. It’s a very good book, but its incredibly long and I think the ending doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Altogether though, there are tons of lessons here — the one that stuck with me is the notion of addicts not being able to trust themselves and what that does to you over a period of time. AA is a religious experience, I’m pretty convinced. Eschaton is also pretty money.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan [9.23.11] This is a pretty awesome sci fi book about a future in which people are essentially immortal and can have their consciousness transferred to new “sleeves” (read, bodies). Of course there are messy details, and sleeves are expensive. Hurting other people is no longer just damage, or battery, but “organic damage,” and it’s nearly impossible to actually kill anyone for good (people have backups of themselves stored at secure facilities). The book manages to pull off some halfway interesting commentary about the world we inhabit by making every concept we encounter in day to day life encoded in technology. A seductive woman isn’t just seductive: in this novel, she has augmented pheromones and her skin is programmed to give off an addictive and sexually arousing drug.

Sight Unseen by Melvyn Goodale and David Milner. [10.9.11] Amazing book about how action reveals the world to us in a  special way. We have two visual systems, and only one is for action, the other is for representation. My review for this one is pretty substantive, and it’s here.

The Wikipedia Revolution. Pretty good short history of wikipedia. The philosopher on the project left and that’s when things took off. Shows you what philosophers are good for.

Intellectual Property by John Palfrey. Recommended to me due to the start up I was working for at this time. Not revolutionary I wouldn’t say, but there are some good examples of people doing interesting things in here. Crowd sourcing innovation for one thing.

Neutronium Alchemist, and Reality Dysfunction by Peter Hamilton [2.5.12] Really long books about dead spirits coming back to inhabit (steal] human bodies. Has some light horror elements i would say, but most of the book revolves around some good philosophical musings regarding the afterlife. Has a very strange feel to it that I can’t pinpoint. Sci fi elements are present, but its really a kind of an epic space-zombie opera. Al Capone comes back from the dead an recreates the mob on an interstellar scale, and there’s a devil worshipper who comes to earth to bring never ending sorrow to the human race. These are the first two books in the series and I haven’t gotten the third book yet. What does that say? I’m not sure.

The Name of the Wind. Cool fantasy book recommend to me by a friend. I liked it, but there are apparently like a bunch more books. Epic, sprawling stories…yawn.

Ready Player One  [3.5.12] Medium-trashy sci-fi book about a virtual reality world that pays homage to every cultish 80s video game and sci genre. Think Dungeons and dragons meets Van Halen and cyberdorkdom. Pretty good though. I blazed through this one.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. [3.15.12] Really thought this was going to be awesome, but its not that good. It turns out to be a lot of interviews with kids about what they think counts as alive (do robots count as alive?) and what they think social media and connectivity is doing to them. My main problem is that I don’t think does a good job of developing a large point on the subject and really developing it. I think she has some philosophical misunderstandings about consciousness also.

Solitude by Anthony Storr [4.30.12]. Pretty good book about being alone and how that effects creativity and the formation of the self. There are some going quotes about why being alone is necessary to form a strong and self-sustaining ego or self-consciousness. Thoreau doesn’t get mentioned in here, which is really strange and Emerson also gets no mention. The book is heavily psychoanalytical, which is a strike against it. Every once in a while Storr will make some really wild psychological guesses about why people are the way they are, and don’t expect much empirical data, because there isn’t much. Really good section (ch. 6) about the history of individualism. There’s also some good quotes from Admiral Richard Byrd’s book about being in Antarctica called Alone. I would think someone who liked this book should go there next. Review.

Moral Dimensions by T.M. Scanlon [5.12.12]. Good book about whether intentions, or the reasons for which we perform actions can directly impact their moral permissibility. He concludes no, and also discusses blame and host of other things too.

What Money Can’t Buy by Michael J. Sandel [5.17.12] I liked this book, mainly because it was so filled with really interesting examples of commodification. I don’t think there is that strong of a definitive argument here. It’s more a caution about how our world is increasingly losing the vocabulary to talk about sensitive moral issues. All we know how to do is to talk about the market and it’s effects. Review.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. This is a gritty cyberpunk story (though more “futurepunk” than specifically cyber). It’s a lot like neuromancer by William Gibson but I think much better. The same sort of disorienting waltz through a bizarrely organized society is all here. My review.

Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Bonk by Mary Roach, Prehistory of Home by Jerry D. Moore, and the Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. [July 2012]

Morality of Freedom by Joseph Raz [July 2012]  Really deep book about a range of topics. The stuff about incommensurability I found to be much more interesting than the philosophy of law chapters.

Fatal Purity  [Dec. 2012] by Ruth Scurr. Fairly short accessible look at the life of Robespierre, the French revolutionary. A true lunatic. I think he deserved to be guillotined just for being so damn boring. All he would do every day is go to various assemblies and complain about things. What a whiner.

Man’s Search For Meaning [Jan 2013] by Victor Frankl. Victor explains how even in a concentration camp, there is value in surmounting suffering and attempting to be moral. He says a lot of things that I totally agree with. For instance, he quotes Dostoevsky saying that the worst thing is for a person to not deserve his suffering. To not measure up to his own suffering. An inspiring tale.

The Hidden Dimension [Jan 2013] by Edward T. Hall. Sounded so good from the description of my friend. Turned out to be pretty mediocre. The vision science he is working with is outdated and he says some really stereotypical things about other cultures as well as “Negroes.” His comments are not disparaging — his book is ostensibly about ways to help lower class blacks — but his thinking really shows the influence of early 70s social theory. It’s weird. He’s really interested in averting an overpopulation catastrophe which never really came in America.

At Home With the Marquis De Sade [March 2013] by Francine Du Plessix Gray. Simple biography of the Marquis De Sade. Good historica research and a close knowledge of Sade’s corpus of writings and letters. Sade, probably like all people is a complex character, but the contrats and similarities with Robespierre are hard for me to resist. I mean, at root, the guy was just an insane egocentric child, living in a world of adults. He also liked dildos and really weird sex. But after being imprisoned for most of his life, he lost the desire for sex and started caring only about food and money.

 

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