As with so many other things in the year of the plague, it was not a good year for reading. I read only 19 books in 2020, down from 50-53 in 2019, 45 the year in 2018, and 50 in 2017. There were three main factors:
- When teaching went online, I stopped commuting 90 minutes a day, which I used to listen to audible.
- I started using more of my (limited) free time to read papers for New Things Under the Sun.
- I think the pandemic frazzled me a bit. It was hard to stick with long books. I started and stopped a lot more books than usual.
Regardless, here’s my take on this year’s reading, separated into conceptual non-fiction and narratives.
- Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein: A great overview of the systemic problems bedeviling American politics. Warning: understanding will not make you feel better about the situation.
- Fully Grown by Dietrich Vollrath: An important rebuttal to the rising consensus that we are living amid a great stagnation of technological innovation. I wrote much more about this book here.
- The Great Reversal by Thomas Philippon: A good summary of the evidence that the problem of market power in the USA is on the rise.
- Why Not Socialism by G.A. Cohen: Argues that socialism, as a method of allocating resources in society, is desirable; though we may lack the social technology to make it work in a desirable fashion at present.
- The People’s Republic of Wal-Mart by Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski: A good complement to Why Not Socialism, this is all about whether we, in fact, already have the social technology to implement a desirable form of socialism. Good food for thought, but I’m skeptical we can do any better (at present) than robust welfare state capitalism.
- Digital Renaissance by Joel Waldfogel: A nice companion to Fully Grown, in that it contains an argument that the nature of cultural production may have changed, but probably for the better on the whole.
- Big Business by Tyler Cowen: The case that worries about market power in the USA are overblown. I didn’t think it grappled nearly enough with counterfactuals.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin: “Nobody goes hungry while another eats.” My second read of this. Also fits in well with “Why Not Socialism” and “People’s Republic of Wal-Mart.”
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien: Another re-read. Always wonderful.
- A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge: Another re-read. My all time favorite sci-fi book.
- The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien: Another re-read.
- Slade House by David Mitchell: Fantastic horror story ambience.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: It’s really long; some parts I would probably skim if I re-read, but other parts made me cry.
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: This book keeps going up in my estimation. I think this is my third time reading this?
- Silas Marner by George Eliot: A great short Christmas tale.
- Exhalation by Ted Chiang: Much of this was fantastic, but I didn’t care for the long central story on the lives of digital objects.
- Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: Great to be in this world, but at the end you’re kind of left thinking “what actually happened?”
- A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazney: Super fun Halloween pastiche that I will probably revisit again.
- SevenEves by Neal Stephenson: Memorably grim, but the last third didn’t work great for me.