2018: My Year in Books

Between the new baby, new house, and new job, I didn’t read as much this year as last year. I made it through 45 books. Of those, 8 were plays by Shakespeare. If I ever read all of his works, I’ll make a post about them. But here’s a rough ranking of the remaining 37, with a sentence on each.

Caveat: I liked all of these. I abandon books I don’t like.

Conceptual Non-Fiction

  1. The Second World Wars by Victor David Hansen: Wonderfully organized opus on World War II as a contest of national productive and organizational capacity.
  2. The Book of Why by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie: Correlation can imply causation, (when you combine data with models).
  3. The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber: Reason as a social influence tool that, as a bonus, helps you figure out how the world works.
  4. Old Masters and Young Geniuses by David Galenson: Aesthetic innovation comes from either evolutionary processes (tinker and evaluate) or reason (plan and execute).
  5. The Son Also Rises by Gregory Clark: Social status is really sticky across generations.
  6. The Measure of Reality by Alfred W. Crosby: Between 1250 and 1600 in Europe, numbers and measurement colonized new domains, potentially setting up our current paradigm of continuous technological progress.
  7. On Writing by Stephen King: Moving story of King’s own entry into the writing life, and his intuitive story-first method of writing (he’s an evolutionary creator).
  8. The Great Leveler by Walter Schiedel: Final two sentences sums it up; “All of us who prize greater economic equality would do well to remember that, with the rarest of exceptions, it was only ever brought forth in sorrow. Be careful what you wish for.”
  9. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Dorn: Very useful, but I need to read it again correctly.
  10. Radical Markets by E. Glen Weyl and Eric Posner: A feast of ideas to wrestle with. (related post)
  11. Cognitive Gadgets by Cecilia Heyes: Pushing cultural evolution even farther; the ways we think and learn are themselves cultural products.
  12. Surfaces and Essences by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander: I wasn’t a fan of the presentation, but it’s an impressive feast of ideas to wrestle with. (short review)
  13. The Allure of Battle by Cathal J. Nolan: Using the history of (mostly) Western war to argue warmakers endlessly underestimate the cost and duration of their wars (a good companion to my #1 pick). (related post)
  14. Capitalism without Capital by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake: Goes a long way towards explaining several contemporary economic puzzles.
  15. Misbehavin’ by Richard Thaler: How to shift a paradigm.
  16. The Disruption Dilemma by Joshua Gans: It’s more complicated than Christensen claims.
  17. Free Innovation by Eric Von Hippel: Neat little book on innovation outside the market system (also, it practices what it preaches).
  18. Improbable Destinies by Jonathan B. Losos: Evolution happens faster than you think.
  19. Zero to One by Peter Thiel: Efficiently communicates a lot of original ideas.
  20. The Hungry Brain by Stephan Guyenet: Good overview of the brain and will convince you that dieting is complicated.
  21. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: More like “The Lea(r)n Startup.”
  22. Theory and Reality by Peter Godfrey-Smith: Very good overview of the basics of philosophy of science.
  23. True Stories and Other Essay by Francis Spufford: Probably for Spufford fans only (I count myself one).

Fiction and Narrative Non-Fiction

  1. Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard: A left turn in the seasons quartet that completely recontextualizes Autumn and Winter.
  2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin: A masterpiece of worldbuilding, exploring how an anarchist society would work.
  3. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: Who knew Earth could be so inhospitable to its children?
  4. Winter by Karl Ove Knausgaard: See the world new again.
  5. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: The impossibility of shrugging off society’s constraints and retaining its gifts (a reread).
  6. Educated by Tara Westover: A stew of ideas – gaslighting, abuse, cultural immigration, the limits of familial reconciliation, and the founding of religions.
  7. Pet Sematary by Steven King: A heatseeking missile to the heart of this new parent.
  8. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison: Exploring grief and prejudice in a geologically active fantasy world.
  9. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: Riveting account of Theranos’ rise and fall.
  10. Golden Hill by Francis Spufford: The pre-revolutionary war New York is a wonderful setting.
  11. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks: Explores similar terrain as the Dispossessed.
  12. White Darkness by David Grann: The strange siren call of the Antarctic.
  13. The Everything Store by Brad Stone: Solid story of the rise of Amazon.
  14. Louis Riel by Chester Brown: Nuanced story of a complicated revolutionary.

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