This is the big one.
Last year, I set out to read at least 22 books, and gave my self a list. Things went better than planned: in addition to 19 of the 22 books from the list, I found time I attribute this to one thing and one thing only: waking up one hour before anyone else in the house. After all, who needs sleep? for 13 more.
In no particular order:
- The Scout Mindset (Julia Galef) The links mostly go to my reviews, as brief as they may be. If I haven’t written about some of these — and I am only now finding out I have skipped quite a few — the link is to the book’s Amazon page. So it goes…
- How to Live (Derek Sivers)
- Understanding Nonlinear Dynamics (Daniel Kaplan and Leon Glass)
- Light (M. John Harrison), which I haven’t written about, maybe because it was a re-read of a book that fascinated me way back when I was in medical school, or maybe because Harrison’s dense prose made me so numb I couldn’t write anything for days. Regardless, it is a masterpiece of science fiction.
- Safe Haven (Mark Spitznagel)
- Pieces of the Action (Vannevar Bush)
- The Demon-Haunted World (Carl Sagan)
- Where Good Ideas Come From (Steven Johnson)
- Calculated Risks (Gerd Gigerenzer)
- Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World (Yaneer Bar-Yam), which is another one without a quick review, though again I can’t remember why. Bar-Yam is now more known for his zero Covid activism, which is unfortunate because it may turn away people from his general work on complex systems and the importance of scale.
- The Morning Star (Karl Ove Knausgaard), but I know full well why I didn’t write about it — it was because I didn’t like it and, even worse, I recommended it to a friend before reading the whole thing on the strength of the setup. Turns out setup is all it was. Shame.
- Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)
- The Fifth Risk (Michael Lewis)
- Checkpoint Charlie (Ian MacGregor)
- Checkmate in Berlin (Giles Milton) which I ended up liking more than the unfocused Checkpoint Charlie, though what the message is other than be careful of temporary solutions because they may last longer than you think, or want I am not quite sure.
- The Complacent Class (Tyler Cowen)
- Craft Coffee: A Manual (Jessica Easto)
- Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization (Donald W. Braben) is another one that didn’t sit with me as well as I thought it would, mainly because it turned into the author’s explanation and justification for what the research institue he was running did. Old man explains himself can be a good genre — see Pieces of the Action, above — but this one didn’t quite cut it.
- Adventures of a Computational Explorer (Stephen Wolfram) confirmed that Wolfram is a lovable blowhard.
- A World Without Email (Cal Newport)
- Twilight of Democracy (Anne Applebaum)
- Bullshit Jobs (David Graeber)
- Gödel, Escher, Bach (Douglas R. Hofstadter) was the best book I read this year. I didn’t write about it because I wanted to keep it for myself but I guess that now the secret is out.
- Building a Second Brain (Tiago Forte) had the opposite effect of the intended: I realized that the PKM genre is mostly BS and that people with the best “systems” — if you can call them that — don’t write about their workflows but rather about the things around and because of which those workflows were created in the first place. Ryan Holiday comes to mind, but really it is better to find the people in your field whose work you admire and see what they are doing, not what some PKM guru is saying you should do.
- Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom (Katherine Eban)
- Fooled by Randomness (Nassim N. Taleb)
- How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness (Russel D. Roberts) Denser than the title and the cover would suggest, and with some good messages.
- Nova Swing (M. John Harrison) because I am a gluton for punishment (but seriously: this is the lighter and more readable sequel to Harrison’s Light)
- Wild Problems (Russel D. Roberts)
- The Courage to Be (Paul Tillich) which left enough of an impression that I dedicated a whole podcast episode about it, though in Serbian. What I really thought about non-Serbian speakers shall never know.
- Coddling of the American Mind (Greg Lukianoff and Jonatha Haidt) was merele OK, as it considered the general decay of intellectual life as phenomenon isolated to American universities. Haidt, one of the authors, recently wrote a brilliant essay correcting this mistake.
- Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis), which I didn’t understand. I should probably read it again and with more care. A project for another year…
Dishonorable mention goes to Ministry for the Future, the only book I started this year without finishing because it read as an underbaked piece of propaganda. The only other book in recent memory which suffered the same fate was the loud, the insufferable, the too smart for its own good Catch 22, to give you an idea of my literary proclivities. They just weren’t for me.