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Media Diet

What I tend to consume regularly

This is not an endorsement of all views expressed by these people or in those places.

Books that I liked

2020

  • Strangers Drowning (MacFarquhar): This book resonated a lot with me. Her observations of “extreme do-gooders” were often poignant and beautifully put into words. This quote will stay for me a long time: “For do-gooders, it is always wartime.”
  • The Enigma of Reason (Mercier, Sperber): They make a detailed case for their argumentative theory of reason. It posits that humans learned to reason to persuade others rather than find the truth. I found this account intuitively compelling even before picking up the book. It only strengthened my conviction that this particular evolutionary account is at least a substantial part of the story. I found it to be more meticulously argued than most other popular books on similar topics.
  • Reinventing Organizations (Laloux): The general approach for how to set up an organization resonated a lot with me and I will seriously consider adopting a few of the practices described, which I cannot say for many other books on organizational matters.
  • An Everyone Culture (Kegan, Lahey): I have recently become interested in what makes for great organizational cultures. Often, books on this topic are vague and not principled at all. This book is a rare exception.
  • Expert Political Judgment (Tetlock): This is Tetlock’s review of his work on what makes good political judgment spanning over 15 years of scholarship. It is technically dense but still informative. It is incredibly nuanced, rigorous, and balanced. The key upshots: humans have a hard time outperforming even simple algorithms, expertise has quickly diminishing returns for improving judgment, and “foxes” are better forecasters than “hedgehogs.”
  • RenĂ© Girard’s Mimetic Theory (Palaver): Accessible introduction to the thought of RenĂ© Girard. I found this book really though-provoking, even when disagreeing with core parts of it.
  • The Goodness Paradox (Wrangham): I’m confused by why this book is not more widely recognized. In my opinion, it makes a substantial contribution to a better understanding of human evolution.
  • How to win friends and influence people (Carnegie): A classic for a reason. Robust advice on how to become better with people.

2019

  • Dealers of Lightning (Hiltzik): Interesting account of the inner workings of Xerox PARC, the lab that developed the first recognizable modern personal computer and early networking technology.
  • Skunk Works (Rich): Interesting account of the inner workings of Skunk Works, the special projects division of Lockheed which developed the first stealth aircraft.
  • The Idea Factory and the Great Age of American Innovation (Gertner): Interesting account of the inner workings of Bell Labs, the research arm of AT&T that helped usher in the information age.
  • The Dream Machine (Waldrop): Rich history of the development of personal computing and the Internet.
  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Rhodes): Rich history account of the development of nuclear weapons.
  • All Out War (Shipman): Interesting look behind the scenes of contemporary high-level politics.
  • The Power Broker (Caro): Fascinating case study of power in public institutions.
  • Bureaucracy (Wilson): Provides very useful models for understanding the behavior of government agencies.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Feynman): Funny autobiography of a curious character indeed.
  • Tribe (Junger): Very interesting and relevant perspective of human psychology and meaning-making that’s probably underappreciated.
  • Destined for War (Allison): Very sober but still frightening analysis of the looming rivalry between the US and China.

2018

  • Inadequate Equilibria (Yudkowsky): Valuable perspective on when to trust your own judgment and when to defer to that of others.
  • Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite (Kurzban): Some useful perspectives on human behavior through the lens of evolutionary psychology.
  • The Elephant in the Brain (Simler, Hanson): Thought-provoking application of signalling theory to humans.
  • How to Change Your Mind (Pollan): Interesting historical and personal account of psychedelics.
  • Feeling Good (Burns): Accessible and applicable intro to cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Hillbilly Elegy (Vance): Eye-opening perspective on working class life in the US.
  • Flight (Kraft): Exhilarating first-person account of the early days of NASA.

Earlier

  • The Problems of Philosophy (Russell): Short and intense tour de force through some of the main problems of theoretical philosophy.
  • Practical Ethics (Singer): Great and accessible case for utilitarianism.
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains (Kidder): Inspiring account of the public health work of Paul Farmer.
  • Straw Dogs (Gray): Provides an interesting counter perspective to dominant progress narratives.
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Yudkowsky): Great Harry Potter fanfiction that explores a scenario in which Harry uses the scientific method to understand how magic works. (This description does not do the book justice.)
  • Verbrechen, Schuld, Strafe (von Schirach): Extremely well written short stories by a German defense attorney based on real cases.
  • The Robot’s Rebellion (Stanovich): Taking the interesting perspective of humans as the vehicles built by genes.
  • Superintelligence (Bostrom): Good account of the potential risks from transformative artificial intelligence.
  • Superforecasting (Tetlock, Gardner): Explores the science of making predictions of one-off events.
  • The Moral Animal (Wright): Well written but somewhat dated intro to evolutionary psychology.