After revisiting the Tail End, I realized that there’s only one way to keep me honest about how I’m spending my limited reading time: transparency. So I’m going to start keeping a public list of what I’m reading. As an added benefit, every time I stumble across something good I can let you all know.
With that background, here’s last month’s list:
- Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens. Meh. Already covered last week.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by (obviously) Alex Haley and Malcom X. Holy smokes this is an amazing book. Malcolm is born into poverty and oppression, does the Lindy Hop, becomes a criminal, goes to prison, joins the Nation of Islam, becomes a militant civil rights leader, chills with Muhammad Ali, expands his horizons on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and dies a more compassionate and understanding person. Surprising amounts of text devoted to hair care and the Lindy Hop. Highly recommended.
- Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Probably the best book about sword-fighting lesbian space necromancers trapped in a haunted house that I’ve read all year. Funny as balls, and the humor really complements the genre aspects. Also, the appendix where self-deprecating try-hard Muir explains what she was doing with each of the character’s names is perfect. Highly recommended if you go in for this sort of thing.
- Wittgenstein’s Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidinow. So Ludwig Wittgenstein met Karl Popper exactly once, at a nerd meeting in Cambridge. They had a 10-minute exchange about the nature of philosophy. Bertrand Russell got huffy. Wittgenstein might have threatened Popper with a hot poker, and Popper might have delivered a mic drop that made Wittgenstein storm out of the room. Or maybe not? Getting to the bottom of this takes us through the Bloomsbury Set, World War I, the Vienna Circle, logical positivism, Popper’s falsification principle, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Philosophical Investigations, the Anschluss, some high-level negotiations with the Nazis, World War II, and the postwar Cambridge philosophy scene. It also confirms that Wittgenstein and Popper were assholes on a geo-historical level. God, I wish I’d written this book.
- Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. The Winklevii redeemed! Hoodie knocked down from his boosterseat! And that’s just in the first few chapters. In a sequel to Social Network/Accidental Millionaires that the world didn’t know it wanted, Mezrich chronicles the Winklevii’s post-Facebook ascent to become the world’s first bitcoin billionaires. Not a bad story, but, I would have appreciated more time spent on bitcoin and less on the billionaires. For example, I would love to see the exact positions of the pro- and anti-BTC crowd laid out on some basic questions like volatility (how can you use this stuff as a currency when it might rise or drop 50% in value in a few weeks? The first documented commercial bitcoin purchase was 2 Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin in 2010–that’s about ~$290 million at the moment) and regulatory risk? And while I understand the impulse, I have to push back on Mezrich’s suggestion that the Winklevii weren’t in the right place at the right time for both Facebook and bitcoin by accident. The right place and right time were, respectively, Harvard at the turn of the century and Ibiza in the late aughts. The Winklevii were literally in both places by accident: The accident of having been born ultrawealthy to a pair of superstar parents–including a dad who was a fintech genius–and rowing their way through Greenwich private school, Harvard, and Oxford. Do they get credit for spotting good ideas and acting on them? Absolutely. But they had a massive edge as centimillionaires raised in the most privileged environment in human history. Put it this way: If I gave you $500 million plus the best economics education imaginable plus all the networking benefits that entailed, could you make two outstanding six-figure investments over the course of your career? More concretely, if you decided to just swing for the fences because you were already rich and connected and could sustain a loooong series of six-figure losses, could you go 2-for-5,000? Yes. Could you do it by accident? Of course. So maybe let’s hold off on the hagiography.
- Terry Jones’ Barbarians by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira. Fun in parts but episodic and disjointed.
- I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi. Much better than the cheesedick title would suggest. Sound personal-finance advice delivered in an engaging voice.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport. Okay, not great. Part 1 of the book, making the affirmative case for deep work, doesn’t really seem that groundbreaking. Part 2, outlining strategies, has its moments. I liked the section on draining the shallows, especially the bits about fixed-schedule productivity and email dark arts. The section on quitting social media was good, too, but Newport does a better job with the topic in Digital Minimalism.
I’ve also done some reading from the St. John’s syllabus, in pursuit of my solo master’s program (yes, I know that’s not how it works):
- Lycurgus and Solon from Plutarch’s Lives. The great Spartan and Athenian lawgivers had some ideas. I’ve said it before but I love books that are so old they feel fresh.
- Genesis Chapters 1-30. Starts strong but bogs down and gets repetitive. Still worth it if only to catch the references in approximately every piece of Western literature ever written. I’m trying to make it through all 50 chapters per my assigned reading but ugh.
- Romans. Oh. That explains a lot.