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Books

This is a sortable table of books I have read; it is compiled from a CSV export of my Goodreads account to Markdown/HTML by a Haskell script I wrote. (The GoodReads interface is too fancy for its own good.)

Title Author Rating Year Read Review
Radiance: A Novel Carter Scholz ★★★★★ 2003 2014/02/20 (Quotes are extracted from my annotated ebook edition of Radiance; see also my list of other review & excerpts from them.)

Publisher summary:

Somewhere in California, in the 1990s, a nuclear weapons lab develops advanced technologies for its post-Cold War mission. Advanced as in not working yet. Mission as in continued funding. A scandal-plagued missile defense program presses forward, dragging physicist Philip Quine deep into the machinations of those who would use the lab for their own gain.


The Soviet Union has collapsed. But new enemies are sought, and new reasons found to continue the work that has legitimized the power of the Lab, its managers, and the politicians who fund them. Quine is thrust into the center of programs born at the intersection of paranoia, greed, and ambition, and torn by incommensurable demands. Deadlines slip and cost overruns mount. He is drawn into a maelstrom of policy meetings, classified documents, petty betrayals, interrupted conversations, missed meanings, unanswered voicemail, stolen data, and pornographic files. Amid all the noise and static of the late twentieth century made manifest in weapons and anti-weapons, human beings have set in motion a malign and inhuman reality, which now is beyond their control.


More than a critique of corrupt science and a permanent wartime economy, Radiance is a novel of lost ideals, broken aspirations, and human costs. In this vivid satire, relationships are just a question of who’s using whom. Failure is just another word for opportunity. “Spin” is a property not of atomic particles but of the news cycle. Nature is a blur beyond the windshield, where lives are spent on the road, on the phone, on the make, in fierce competition for financial, political, and intellectual resources. It is a world which language is used to evade, manipulate, and expedite. It is a world where everyone’s story is always open to revision and language is used for justifying everything from defense programs to divorce.


Years ago, I ran into a book review titled “‘Its awful and enticing radiance’: The Beauty and Terror of Carter Scholz’s Radiance by L. Timmel Duchamp; about a 2001 novel I had never heard of by an author I had never heard of, but it sounded interesting and I read the review until towards the end, it quote a key passage in Radiance:

A murmur of rain had started again. He lay there in the abyss of his thoughts as her breathing beside him steadied and deepened. Almost a voice stirred in him. It starts before Hanford, it almost said. It starts with Röntgen, with the piece of barium glowing in the path of invisible rays, striking out the fire that God had put there. It starts with his wife’s hand on the photographic plate, its transparence there, the ashen bones visible within the milky flesh. Who could imagine that this radiance at the heart of matter could be malign? That with its light came fire? (Yet from the first the ashen bones were there to see within the flesh.) It starts with Becquerel carrying the radium in his pocket that burned his skin, and darkened the unexposed film. It starts with Marie Curie poisoning herself in that pale uncanny glow. With Rutherford guessing at this new alchemy, guessing that matter, giving up its glow, transformed itself one element into another. With the miners at Joachimsthal, deep under the Erzgebirge, inhaling the dust of uranium and dying of “mountain sickness”. With women who by the thousands in watch factories tipped their brushes with that glow, touched it to their tongues before painting the dial face, women who only much later, when the watches’ glow had faded, sickened and died from that radiance taken into their bones. It begins with Ernest Lawrence rushing across the Berkeley campus, the idea of a proton accelerator uncontainable in his mind, calling out, I’m going to be famous! With Oppenheimer at Jornada del Muerte that morning of Trinity. With the scientists who had prised open the gates to that blazing realm past heaven or hell. What were they now at the Lab in all their thousands, but the colonial bureaucrats of that realm, the followers and functionaries, the clerks and commissars? Mere gatekeepers of that power. Or in its keeping. It goes of its own momentum beyond Hanford, to Trinity, to Hiroshima, to the prisoners, the cancer patients, the retarded children, the pregnant women injected or fed this goblin matter to see would it bring health or sickness, the soldiers huddled in trenches against the flash, bones visible in their arms through closed eyes, staring up at the roiling cloudrise, the sheepherders, the farms, the homes, the gardens downwind. And in his sleep the voice long stilled spoke once more. It starts with Sforza; in case of need I will make bombards, mortars, and firethrowing engines of beautiful and practical design. It starts with Archimedes focusing the sun’s rays upon the fleet at Syracuse, it starts with the first rock hurled by the first grasping hand. It starts where we start. It is mind, it is hunger, it is greed, it is defense, it is mischief, it is the devil, it is the god; it is life.


The force of the incantation struck me and a few years later, a copy finally appeared in my local library system. I requested it and devoured it in one or two sittings; Scholz’s favored punctuation-less style, using hyphens for voice transitions, annoyed me (but did not challenge me - I’d already read Stand On Zanzibar & Dos Passos’s U.S.A.). The swirl of references drenched the work in reality - Scholz seems to know everything about everything, from philosophy of science to the L5 Society to Wagner’s Parsifal, but the themes were grand and ones ‘modern literature’ so often fails to address and cedes to science fiction: the role of science in society, the tension between future gains and present losses, what is corruption, whether we live up to our own standards, the worth of truth…


You could only call it a satire if you didn’t realize how closely it all tracks to real events: it is a roman à clef of the Star Wars program, down to the nuclear tests which intrude onto 5 pages in the final section. (Scholz seems to have drawn heavily on Gregory Benford’s autobiographical essay “Old Legends”, included in the anthology the “Radiance” novella was first published in.)


The novel begins in media res, depicting a failed exorcism of the government labs, quickly turning to its protagonist, a good-natured but despairing and baffled Quine’s attempts to understand his predicament: in charge of designing a nuclear weapon where the data simply disagrees with the theory which is supposed to be right. The story unravels into one of deception and funding pressure, and Quine triumphs, unseating the culprit in it all, and realizing he doesn’t belong at the labs - “I belong inside!” he says, even as he is forced out in the turmoil of anti-nuclear protesters.


A hallmark of Radiance is the Gibsonian sense of alien entities and organisms clashing for life, at a level above individuals: the Labs has generated its own culture, with its own imperatives and loyalties and goals, fed by government money, but in this respect, we can say little better of the continual antagonist of the labs, the protesters, as it is its own alien entity, seeking funding for its protests (funding, Réti reminds us, comes from the enemy), subverting Lab members for information, pressuring characters like Lynn to serve it. And it doesn’t end there: the Pentagon lurks in the background, represented by Reese, quietly pushing along research into ever better nuclear weapons, and hinted at twice are foreign governments like North Korea, and beyond that? Here I borrow a term from Kevin Kelly and refer to the Technium: science and technology regarded as its own entity with its own drives and selection effects, including the proliferation of all forms of technology.


Section two turns to the unseated Highet: his ouster, and the epilogue of his story as he looks over the ruins of his life and seeks out a final resting place in a think-tank. The Biblical and Wagnerian overtones are strong in this section. Thinking of Parsifal‘s Grail quest, it’s hard not to remember that only one knight finds the Holy Grail in the end: the others all go astray or have sinned in various ways.


Section three completes the work. Just like Dune Messiah thoroughly subverted and undermined the simplistic narratives presented for the reader to swallow in Dune, part three shows the reader how Quine in his own turn is fully subverted by the environment, his sense of duty, and yes, his own belief in the desirability of progress. (“He goes right to the point and carries the reader / Into the midst of things, as if known already; / And if there’s material that he despairs of presenting / So as to shine for us, he leaves it out; / And he makes his whole poem one. What’s true, what’s invented, / Beginning, middle, and end, all fit together.”) The imagery and parallelism at times is not even subtle: for both Quine and Highet, Scholz arranges for them to at some point limp (just like Edward Teller) and have inflamed reddish faces - the implication could hardly be clearer if one of the characters had been named ’Faust’ and Lynn Hamlin renamed Margaret Hamlin.


And finally, having been ‘corrupted’ (but having succeeded in securing the future of the National Ignition Facility which runs to this day), Quine is dealt the final blow: the revelation of the leak of nuclear test data. The Technium strives toward openness and proliferation. Technology may be amoral but it has imperatives of its own. The book ends in Quine in despair and granted a moment of lucidity: seeing his entire life as a mixture of success and failure, as but a pawn of vast forces beyond his comprehension, beholding the presence of the ghostly Technium, far from exorcised.

…he stabbed the radio to silence as the dash blinked JAM and he accelerated into the next lane with the needle climbing past 80 past 90 when the CD player blinked PLAY and a falsetto whined, –gonna be just dirt in the ground –Damn it! Shut up…! banging the dash as his wheels trilled on the raised lane dividers and a horn snapped his head around to the panicked face of another drive too close as he yanked the wheel and the road slid on despite his foot wedged on the brake and the yank of the wheel back against a fishtailing swerve into a chorus of horns and gaping faces traveling sideways past him until the car came up hard against a curb and stopped. He was on the shoulder turned sideways. Through the passenger window he saw traffic rush toward him and pass behind him. Ahead of him, smoke rose from fields of stubble, and a flight of bird, scattered by some disturbance, wheeled, now black, now white, against the empty burning sky.

In the heart of that light, lucid and inevitable, all that was scattered cohered. Superbright and all its progeny stood plain before him in conception and in detail and in its component part and its deepest strategies and in its awful and enticing radiance. He saw the design and the making of that device complete, and of further devices without end, and he stood apart from them as if it mattered not at all whether the deviser was himself or whether they came into being sooner or later. Trembling he stared across the burning fields and whispered, –Stop. Stop. But the traffic rushed on.


The 3 sections form closed circle: a tight ball of historical forces, corruption, science, despair, progress, failure, and personal tragedies.


The reader expecting further satire will not be pleased by this section. They’ve missed the point: this isn’t a comedy, it’s a tragedy. And what would a tragedy be without there being a great gap between what we hoped a character might accomplish and what actually happens? The higher they can fly, the sadder a crash.

Coyote, First Angry, enemy of all law, wanderer, desert mind, outlaw, spoiler, loser, clown, glutton, lecher, thief, cheat, pragmatist, survivor, bricoleur, silver-tongued Taliesin, latterday Leonardo, usurper Sforza, adulterer Lancelot, tell, wily one, by any means, of the man with two hearts, of knowledge and desire safely hidden from each other. Did not Paracelsus command us to falsify and dissimulate so that ignorant men might not look upon our mysteries? Did not the noble da Vinci hide the meaning of his thought by the manner of his script? What man has not two masters, two minds, two hearts? Tell of the man so wounded in himself that he tore his second heart from him and cast it out, naming it the world, and swore to wound it as it had wounded him.


It’s not as simple as ‘good’ and ‘evil’. It’s not even as simple as ‘corruption’ vs ‘honesty’: look around. Progress is not inevitable. Athens declined. Florence declined. Countries fall. Knowledge can be lost (look at scurvy). Science is not a formalized process, but a spirit of honesty and inquiry, which can be aped and the wordless teaching lost (how can Japanese or Chinese researchers run hundred of experiments, apparently complying with all known standards, every single one of which concludes acupuncture works, when results elsewhere show dramatically lower success rates?). After WWII, many Americans saw the ruins of Germany and Japan, and took to heart a lesson: the darkness waits. Anti-vaxxers to our left, Creationists to our right. And that’s in America, still preeminent in science, still one of the wealthiest countries in the world - based on just that science & technology. Highet is not wrong - just one-sided.


(“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”)


Throughout the book, we know “the work goes on”. Another of Scholz’s references, this time to alchemy’s magnum opus, the philosopher’s stone, which grants moral purification, eternal life, and the transmutation of base elements into nobler ones. (Transmutation has been realized as radioactive decay, while modern medicine would astound Bacon, and it does not seem absurd that in the next few centuries mankind will cure aging.) The double aspect pops up again, of fraud and greatness: research as practical work but also as spiritual quest. Another double aspect: alchemists were notorious scam artists & mountebanks, tricking others (particularly secular lords and governments) into funding their researches based on tricks with gold - but Isaac Newton was an alchemist, Robert Boyle based modern chemistry in part on the knowledge painfully gleaned by centuries of alchemists, and the formation of modern states was due in part to gunpowder (Chinese alchemists), and Roger Bacon, who I cannot resist supplying an apt quote about:

“Once upon a time, there was a man who was convinced that he possessed a Great Idea. Indeed, as the man thought upon the Great Idea more and more, he realized that it was not just a great idea, but the most wonderful idea ever. The Great Idea would unravel the mysteries of the universe, supersede the authority of the corrupt and error-ridden Establishment, confer nigh-magical powers upon its wielders, feed the hungry, heal the sick, make the whole world a better place, etc. etc. etc.


The man was Francis Bacon, his Great Idea was the scientific method, and he was the only crackpot in all history to claim that level of benefit to humanity and turn out to be completely right.”


It starts with Bacon…


But the traffic rushes on. And the work goes on.
Urne Burial Thomas Browne ★★★★★ 2005 2012/07/14 I first heard of Browne in Borges - as so often - in the ending of “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” where the narrator is attempting to translate it into Spanish. Borges is always interested in translation (see for example his fantastic essay on translating the 1001 Nights) and I made a note to look up this work which presented such challenges for rendering into Spanish. (The actual edition I used was James Eason’s online edition.)

Urn Burial is hugely archaic, but also amazing. I am not sure where I have last seen any literary pyrotechnics to match Browne in English. David Foster Wallace sometimes approaches him, but beyond that I draw blanks. The book defies any simple summary as many passages are cryptic tangles and Browne says many things. So I will not try, and simply present some passages that struck me:

“He that lay in a golden Urne eminently above the Earth, was not likely to finde the quiet of these bones. Many of these Urnes were broke by a vulgar discoverer in hope of inclosed treasure. The ashes of Marcellus were lost above ground, upon the like account. Where profit hath prompted, no age hath wanted such miners. For which the most barbarous Expilators found the most civill Rhetorick. Gold once out of the earth is no more due unto it; What was unreasonably committed to the ground is reasonably resumed from it: Let Monuments and rich Fabricks, not Riches adorn mens ashes. The commerce of the living is not to be transferred unto the dead: It is not injustice to take that which none complains to lose, and no man is wronged where no man is possessor.”


“If the nearnesse of our last necessity, brought a nearer conformity unto it, there were a happinesse in hoary hairs, and no calamity in half senses. But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dying; When Avarice makes us the sport of death; When even David grew politickly cruell; and Solomon could hardly be said to be the wisest of men. But many are too early old, and before the date of age. Adversity stretcheth our dayes, misery makes Alcmenas nights, and time hath no wings unto it. But the most tedious being is that which can unwish it self, content to be nothing, or never to have been, which was beyond the male-content of Job, who cursed not the day of his life, but his Nativity; Content to have so farre been, as to have a title to future being; Although he had lived here but in an hidden state of life, and as it were an abortion.”


“Nature hath furnished one part of the Earth, and man another. The treasures of time lie high, in Urnes, Coynes, and Monuments, scarce below the roots of some vegetables. Time hath endlesse rarities, and shows of all varieties; which reveals old things in heaven, makes new discoveries in earth, and even earth it self a discovery. That great Antiquity America lay buried for a thousand years; and a large part of the earth is still in the Urne unto us.”


“Some bones make best Skeletons, some bodies quick and speediest ashes: Who would expect a quick flame from Hydropicall Heraclitus? The poysoned Souldier when his Belly brake, put out two pyres in Plutarch. But in the plague of Athens, one private pyre served two or three Intruders; and the Saracens burnt in large heaps, by the King of Castile, shewed how little Fuell sufficeth. Though the Funerall pyre of Patroclus took up an hundred foot, a peece of an old boat burnt Pompey; And if the burthen of Isaac were sufficient for an holocaust, a man may carry his owne pyre.”


“The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying.”


“To be content that times to come should only know there was such a man, not caring whether they knew more of him, was a frigid ambition in Cardan: disparaging his horoscopal inclination and judgement of himself, who cares to subsist like Hippocrates Patients, or Achilles horses in Homer, under naked nominations, without deserts and noble acts, which are the balsame of our memories, the Entelecchia and soul of our subsistences. To be namelesse in worthy deeds exceeds an infamous history. The Canaanitish woman lives more happily without a name, then Herodias with one. And who had not rather have been the good theef, then Pilate?
But the iniquity of oblivion blindely scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity. Who can but pity the founder of the Pyramids? Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it; Time hath spared the Epitaph of Adrians horse, confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equall durations; and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamenon, [without the favour of the everlasting Register:] Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, then any that stand remembred in the known account of time? without the favour of the everlasting Register the first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methuselahs long life had been his only Chronicle.”


“What Song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling Questions are not beyond all conjecture. What time the persons of these Ossuaries entred the famous Nations of the dead, and slept with Princes and Counsellours, might admit a wide resolution. But who were the proprietaries of these bones, or what bodies these ashes made up, were a question above Antiquarism. Not to be resolved by man, nor easily perhaps by spirits, except we consult the Provinciall Guardians, or tutellary Observators. Had they made as good provision for their names, as they have done for their Reliques, they had not so grosly erred in the art of perpetuation. But to subsist in bones, and be but Pyramidally extant, is a fallacy in duration. Vain ashes, which in the oblivion of names, persons, times, and sexes, have found unto themselves, a fruitlesse continuation, and only arise unto late posterity, as Emblemes of mortall vanities; Antidotes against pride, vain-glory, and madding vices. Pagan vain-glories which thought the world might last for ever, had encouragement for ambition, and finding no Atropos unto the immortality of their Names, were never dampt with the necessity of oblivion. Even old ambitions had the advantage of ours, in the attempts of their vain-glories, who acting early, and before the probable Meridian of time, have by this time found great accomplishment of their designes, whereby the ancient Heroes have already out-lasted their Monuments, and Mechanicall preservations. But in this latter Scene of time we cannot expect such Mummies unto our memories, when ambition may fear the Prophecy of Elias, and Charles the fifth can never hope to live within two Methusela’s of Hector.”
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War Graham Robb ★★★★★ 2007 2013/10/24 Discovery of France charts the transition of the region covered by modern France into the unified cultural/political/geographic entity of today. This is incredibly interesting because from our perspective, we have forgotten (if we ever knew) what went into the process of taking the thousands of villages and regions differing in all sorts of ways, and crushing them into the relatively homogeneous high-tech culture of today - unifying languages, political systems, forms of transportation, religion, and so on. A theme throughout is Scott’s legibility (Seeing Like A State); Robb gives all sorts of examples demonstrating local knowledge, specialized information, and resistance to outsiders.

Often people dramatically underestimate this. It’s easy to assume that the vast nation-states like China or America just sort of came into existence naturally, but this overlooks the amount of effort Chinese/American governments/organizations have put into unification, in aspects ranging from stamping out as many languages and other cultures as possible to simplifying existing languages (particularly striking in China) to enforcing standardized units & measures (encouraging cash crops is a good way) to standardized national educational curriculum inculcating patriotism and common beliefs. You may not think that they are ‘unified’, but they are far more unified than they used to be - contrast the original 13 American colonies to how large America is now, or look at historical maps of Han China with the current boundaries, and think about all the cultural, linguistic, political, and economic differences that used to exist, and how many of, say, the languages are now extinct. (To say nothing of the peoples… Tibet and the American Indians come to mind as examples unique only for the documentation and notice taken of their particular instance.) The process of homogenization and simplification happens in many large countries, for easily-understood reasons such as the convenience of the state. Besides Robb & Scott, some views of this process can be found in Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order for China. (You could also get a bit of the American process out of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States by looking at various incidents in the right way, but that’s too polemical & focused on other topics for me to really recommend.)

This may sound like a very grand theme, but Robb is able to give so many fascinating examples that one forgets the underlying demonstration and just basks in the knowledge of how the past is a very foreign country. (As I mention in my review of The Dark Enlightenment, a sense of distance and alienation is one of the things I prize most in historical works - while there is continuity, continuity is easy to find and it is beyond easy to portray the past as proceeding Whiggishly and comprehensibly into the present, obscuring all the ways in which we are profoundly alien from the past.)

Where do I start… The extraordinary fact that until the 20th century, French was only a plurality language in France? The stiltwalking shepherds? The horrifying bits about drunken dying babies being carted to Paris by the ‘angel-makers’? The packs of smuggler dogs who smuggled goods in and out of France for their human masters? (Or the dog-powered factories?) The forgotten persecution of the cagot caste? The Parisian who sold maggots to fisherman, which he raised in his closet on a pile of cat & dog roadkill collected from the streets? The wars between rival villages? The commuting peasants who thought nothing of a 50 mile walk? The strange twists of fate that lead regions to specialize in particular wares? The villages of cretins or families who regard a cretinous child as a gift from god? The mapping of the hidden communication networks that spread rumor at the speed of a horse? The corvée system of road-building, so inefficient at points that transporting the materials to build 1 more meter of a road could destroy more than 1 meter of that same road? All of this and much more is to be found in Robb’s dizzying tour of France, past and present, a tour I found as entertaining as educational.

I made per-chapter excerpts of parts I liked:

Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang ★★★★★ 2010 2012/12/12 What’s there to say about Chiang that all the others don’t say? He is the closest thing to a modern Jorge Luis Borges in melding high concepts with literature to create something better than either; in some respects, I’d rank his best short stories as better than Gene Wolfe’s. His writing is deceptively excellent: I would call him a writer’s writer, because the flat evenness of his prose may strike a reader as boring unless they have tried to write as clearly themselves and failed abysmally, at which point they begin to appreciate Chiang’s infallible choice of words and lucid prose which sinks into the mind without friction.

Stories of Your Life and Others is much superior to his novella Life Cycle of Software Objects, and contains pretty much all of his greatest short stories which I have read, except for his excellent “Exhalation”. I read most of them online, so when I had the chance to read a hardcopy of the full collection, I seized it.

1. “The Tower of Babylon”; amusing, and in describing the lives of the people living on the tower, moving in some respects. The final ending feels like an appropriate conclusion. If one had to criticize it, it would be that the Tower itself is completely unrealistic even in the Biblical cosmology of the story: as I said, the best Chiang stories unite literature and good ideas. I would rank this #5 of the 8 stories.
2. “Division by Zero”; not terribly impressive - over-wrought, and I feel I have read this story before and better. #7.
3. “Understand”; a classic in the niche genre of superintelligence, and IMO better than Vinge’s “Bookworm, Run!” and at least as good as Flowers for Algernon. Chiang, like every other author, confronts the limits of his writing ability in trying to write convincingly of a superintelligence who is by definition vastly smarter than he is (the same challenge laid down by Campbell to Vinge: “you can’t write this story, and neither can anyone else”), and so the start of the story is much stronger than the later passages. But the whole is still memorable. #4.
4. “Story of Your Life”; I had actually read this one before, and dismissed it as sentimental tripe with some weak physics or linguistic layering that I didn’t really understand. Fortunately, just a few weeks ago I happened to read some material on the Lagrangian interpretations of physics and combined with knowing in advance the ending, I was able to appreciate the story much better this time. I would rank this #3 of the 8 stories. #3.
5. “The Evolution of Human Science”; short, dubious. Not Chiang’s best work, on either dimension. #8.
6. “Seventy-Two Letters”; simply fantastic. The setting is wonderful, the problem great, the ideas even better, and the solution & meaning better still. #2.
7. “Hell Is the Absence of God”; as an atheist who keeps coming back to the Book of Job, this story came as a gut punch. The writing is Chiang at his most Chiang-y, the world interesting and provocative, and the ending simply unspeakable. But don’t take my word for it, ‘decide for yourself’, as the fallen angels say. #1.
8. “Liking What You See: A Documentary”; interesting ideas, but something about the dialogues and characters seem off. It just jars me. #6.
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World Liaquat Ahamed ★★★★★ 2009 2012/09/16 I enjoyed this tremendously for revealing a new world to me where I thought I already knew the lay of the land. Throughout were revelations to me - just how ruinous WWI was, how reparations kept echoing and damaging Germany, how exactly the hyperinflation started (it was only partly the Versailles payments but more the social programs?), how America aggravated the issue (the Coolidge quote and the American tourists certainly never appeared in my history textbooks…), how late the stock bubble was and the details of the endless succession of crises that rocked Europe. It’s also interesting to understand why Keynes had such a grip on economics until recently: he predicted repeatedly what would happen, and it’s hard not to sympathize a great deal with him.

As far as criticism goes, I can agree with some of the other reviewers: Ahamed sometimes goes overboard with the narration, and skimps on the details one might want. He provides no convenient graphical network of how factors affect each other in a gold economy, so one is left constantly being surprised by connections, and the rare graph is not very helpful - for example, he provides a time graph of the big economies’ rises and falls in growths, and remarks that their recoveries in the Great Depression… and nowhere on the graph marks for each country the year in which they left gold! Well, that graph wasn’t very informative or helpful - Tufte would not be pleased.

Applying it to modern times is a little harder, although the ironies are many (particularly the Germans being hardasses on debt now, when they seemed to understand not all debts could be paid after WWI… -_-). One thing that struck me was how the nationalist demonstrations & protests in Germany reminded me of what I hear in China these days - which has a somewhat similar per capita GDP as those nations and is in a similar period of industrial growth, and indeed, is the young turk of Germany to the old tired island-nation England of Japan, with South Korea as a nervous smaller neighbor (France?). And China is quite aggressive lately. Before WWI, it was rightly pointed out that such a war between such networked nations as France/Germany/England would lead to ruin; and right now, one could point out a similar thing with China/SK/Japan/USA. But nevertheless, before WWI, they thought they could have a short victorious war against an encircling enemy; does China think it can have a short victorious war against their encircling enemy, the USA-coordinate nations? I don’t think it does, but I do think people underestimate the risk of war in East Asia. (Of course it could never happen; just like WWI could never happen.)
The Notenki Memoirs: Studio Gainax & The Men Who Created Evangelion Yasuhiro Takeda ★★★★★ 2005 2009/01/01 For people interested in the history of the anime industry, Takeda fills in many gaps related to Gainax - it’s hard to think of any source which covers nearly so well DAICON III, DAICON IV, General Products, or throws in so many tidbits about surrounding people & Japanese SF fandom. It is an invaluable resource for any researcher, and I felt compelled to create an annotated e-book edition in order to elucidate various points and be able to link its claims with versions of stories by other people (for example, Okada’s extensive Animerica interview)

Those reading it solely for Evangelion material will probably be relatively disappointed: Takeda clearly finds NGE not very interesting, may have bad associations due to being targeted in the tax raids, and he was writing this in 2000 or so - too close to the events and still working at Gainax to really give a tell-all, and it’s not a terribly long or dense book in the first place. Nevertheless, NGE fans will still find many revelations here, like the origin of NGE production in the failure of the Aoki Uru film project (an origin simply not present in any Western sources before Notenki Memoirs was translated).

In general, Takeda is not interested in a ‘tell-all’; perhaps it’s due to fear, perhaps too many people involved are still alive and kicking, but he only covers the embarrassing things which are too well-known to omit, like the aforementioned tax raid or Okada’s ouster from Gainax.

I read it several times, and that was how I wound up transcribing my copy into a webpage which I could annotate with cross-references and interviews with other figures like Okada or Anno - I realized I could keep rereading it, or just do the job right the first time. It’s been a valuable resource for me ever since.
The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro ★★★★★ 2005 2012/07/21 Of Ishiguro’s novels, this is the most elegant, most restrained, and most English. The prose is so smooth that like Gene Wolfe’s, it becomes invisible, and you pass through it to the slow silent sorrow of the protagonist. Ishiguro makes the tragedy clear enough, shows us the heart of the story, but without ever being gauche.

In July 2012, I re-read it and for good measure, I watched the movie too. (The movie, IMO, was pretty good with excellent casting, if unfortunately often blunter than the novel and the ending especially so.)

What struck me this time through was the ending of the novel: the butler has come to realize that his life has been suboptimal and less joyful than it could have been because he shunned Miss Kenton and denied his emotions out of a misguided sense of professionalism. But instead of the typical Hollywood ending where he woos Miss Kenton or quits his job etc, he realizes that it really is too late: his and Miss Kenton’s day is almost over, and the important thing to do is make the most of ‘the remains of the day’, which for him is returning to his butlering job but being less rigid and more human.

It is, in other words, a beautiful tale of not honoring sunk costs or pursuing lost opportunities.
The Book of Lord Shang. a Classic of the Chinese School of Law. Shang Yang ★★★★★ 2011 2008/01/01 The Book of Lord Shang was very hard for me to read: there is something sublime about it, in the old sense of “terrifying” - the policies and reasoning laid out are a systematic crushing of anything that might oppose the State and its goals. It feels inhuman, mechanical, and all the more so when you know that these sort of policies were how the Qin crushed all their opposition - including those states espousing the other Hundred Schools of Thought like Mohism & Confucianism - and that the 20th century affords further examples of how these policies proved themselves in practice (unlike the former Schools).

It’s no wonder that there are so many negative reviews on the other copies here at Goodreads: you might as well ask your normal liberal Western to drink rat poison as read The Book of Lord Shang & try to fairly evaluate it. Even if they’ve read their share of Chinese classics & philosophy, they wouldn’t want to understand it, just like modern readers don’t want to understand the Unabomber’s philosophy.

(The version I read was an ebook version of Duyvlord.)
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution Francis Fukuyama ★★★★★ 2011 2012/01/01 It is, overall, an excellent book and one of the better ones on grand history I’ve read†… but Fukuyama does not have a very transparent prose style, and makes no concessions to those who don’t have a good grasp on global history and especially those who don’t know their Chinese history well (eg. if you can’t put the Qing, Han, Qin, and Shang dynasty in order, you aren’t going to enjoy at all the large amounts of material he rightfully devotes to Chinese politics). And it’s seriously big, no kidding. This is no fluffy Guns, Germs, and Steel walk through the park!

† for example, I found some sections very useful for structuring my thinking on the evolution of ethics and regard for ancestors.
The Histories Herodotus ★★★★★ 2003 Decided to finally read Herodotus after I read Gene Wolfe’s historical fantasy novel Solder of Arete which draws heavily on him, and then when I had to track down a quote on LessWrong.com to the exact Herodotus passage. Overall, far more interesting than I had expected. Surprisingly funny or interesting anecdotes. There is a superfusion of gods and oracles, which was curious - the oracles truly were treacherous! The Persian kings come off as remarkably capricious and destructive, even the good ones. And Herodotus has a strange capacity to skeptically reason well & sensibly and then be completely superstitious in the next passage. Having read about these ancient events many times, I found half the value was just seeing a thorough account from a single Greek’s perspective.
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined Steven Pinker ★★★★★ 2011 This was really really good, as in, maybe the best book I’ve read that year. Time and again, I was shocked to find subjects treated of keen interest to me, or which read like Pinker had taken some of my essays but done them way better (on terrorism, on the expanding circle, etc.); even so, I was surprised to learn new things (resource problems don’t correlate well with violence?).

I initially thought I might excerpt some parts of it for an essay or article, but as the quotes kept piling up, I realized that it was hopeless. Reading reviews or discussions of it is not enough; Pinker just covers too much and rebuts too many possible criticisms. It’s very long, as a result, but absorbing.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet David Mitchell ★★★★★ 2010 Finally got around to reading it. It was surprisingly unliterary and unpostmodern for Mitchell, but in exchange, he nailed the historical details and gave us an adventure which subverted many of the usual tropes - the raid on the nunnery was just a trap, the hero doesn’t get the girl, his chief heroism was standing there to be shot at, and the man who takes down the big baddie is someone we thought to be entirely in the baddie’s pocket. The supernatural aspects are implied to be genuine, but it’s never resolved, which I am grateful for. It would ruin the feel.
The Collapse of Complex Societies Joseph A. Tainter ★★★★★ 1990 Very good: much better than Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and much more convincing than Spengler or Toynbee.
It was also deeply disturbing - the Ik amazed me in chapter 1, and the statistics in chapter 4 were extremely dismal and tie in far too well to Cowen’s The Great Stagnation and Murray’s Human Accomplishment. There are a great many datapoints suggesting that diminishing marginal returns to modern tech/science began sometime in the late 1800s/early 1900s…
Star Maker Olaf Stapledon ★★★★★ 1999 Star Maker is one of the very few SF books that I’d place up there with Blindsight and a few others in depicting truly alien aliens; and he doesn’t do it once but repeatedly throughout the book. It’s really impressive how Stapledon just casually scatters around handfuls of jewels that lesser authors might belabor singly throughout an entire book.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Barbara Demick ★★★★★ 2009 Highly recommended. Probably the second best book I’ve read about North Korea, after B.R. Myer’s The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.
Schismatrix Plus Bruce Sterling ★★★★★ 1996 2010/11/13 Quite remarkable. One of the best solar system colonization universes with a baroque and cyberpunk-inflected computer/biology split.
Legend of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni #1) 07th Expansion ★★★★★ 2007 2013/07/01 For my full review, see http://www.gwern.net/Book%20reviews#umineko-no-naku-koro-ni
The Sign of the Seahorse Graeme Base ★★★★★ 1998 1999/01/01
Banquet of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni #3) 07th Expansion ★★★★★ 2008 2013/08/01
100 Suns Michael Light ★★★★★ 2003
The Collected Songs Of Cold Mountain Han-shan ★★★★★ 1983
Raptor Red Robert T. Bakker ★★★★★ 1996
The Jewish War Josephus ★★★★★ 1981
Cicero’s Treatise on the Nature of the Gods C.D. Yonge ★★★★★ 2010
Codex Seraphinianus Luigi Serafini ★★★★★ 1981
The Best of Little Nemo in Slumberland Richard Marschall ★★★★★ 1997
Code: Version 2.0 Lawrence Lessig ★★★★★ 2006
The Complete Winnie the Pooh A.A. Milne ★★★★★ 1992
Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 6, Military Technology: Missiles and Sieges Joseph Needham ★★★★★ 1995
The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade Alfred W. McCoy ★★★★★ 2003
A Presocratics Reader Patricia Curd ★★★★★ 1996
Unforgotten Dreams: Poems by the Zen Monk Shotetsu Steven D. Carter ★★★★★ 1996
The Secret History of Star Wars Michael Kaminski ★★★★★ 2008
The Golden Age (Golden Age #1) John C. Wright ★★★★★ 2003
The Napoleon of Notting Hill G.K. Chesterton ★★★★★ 2008
The Dhammapada Gautama Buddha ★★★★★ 1995
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 1997
The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy Scott Boorman ★★★★★ 1971
The Westing Game Ellen Raskin ★★★★★ 2004
Matilda Roald Dahl ★★★★★ 1998
Strega Nona Tomie dePaola ★★★★★ 1975
The Velveteen Rabbit Margery Williams ★★★★★ 1990
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1) Roald Dahl ★★★★★ 2005
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle ★★★★★ 1992
The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter ★★★★★ 2002
The Book of Imaginary Beings Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 2006
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Tom Stoppard ★★★★★ 1994
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones Paul Reps ★★★★★ 1971
The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering Frederick P. Brooks Jr. ★★★★★ 1995
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler E.L. Konigsburg ★★★★★ 2003
The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death Daniel Pinkwater ★★★★★ 1983
Compact Oxford English Dictionary (Third Edition Revised) Oxford University Press ★★★★★ 2008
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Bill Watterson ★★★★★ 2005
Ring (Xeelee Sequence, #4) Stephen Baxter ★★★★★ 2001
Principles of Forecasting: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners Jon Scott Armstrong ★★★★★ 2002
Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (Signet Classics) John Milton ★★★★★ 1968
The Poetic Edda Anonymous ★★★★★ 1986
The Ring of the Nibelung Richard Wagner ★★★★★ 1977 2006/01/01
Travelers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese as Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries Donald Keene ★★★★★ 1999
Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo Henry D. Smith II ★★★★★ 2004
Ficciones Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 1994
Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior Geoffrey Miller ★★★★★ 2009
Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed James C. Scott ★★★★★ 1998
Is There Anything Good about Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men Roy F. Baumeister ★★★★★ 2010
Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson ★★★★★ 2001
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Extraordinary Voyages, #6) Jules Verne ★★★★★ 2002
Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth, #1) Terry Goodkind ★★★★★ 2003
What Is Life? with Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches Erwin Schrödinger ★★★★★ 1992
Invisible Cities Italo Calvino ★★★★★ 1978
Mark Lombardi: Global Networks Mark Lombardi ★★★★★ 2003
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength Roy F. Baumeister ★★★★★ 2011
The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith Cordwainer Smith ★★★★★ 1993
Gormenghast (Gormenghast, #2) Mervyn Peake ★★★★★ 1998
Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 Charles Murray ★★★★★ 2004
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation Unknown ★★★★★ 2001
Little, Big John Crowley ★★★★★ 2006
A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World Gregory Clark ★★★★★ 2007
The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography Aleister Crowley ★★★★★ 1989
A Colder War Charles Stross ★★★★★ 2005
Against the Day Thomas Pynchon ★★★★★ 2006
Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon ★★★★★ 2006
James and the Giant Peach Roald Dahl ★★★★★ 2002
Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World’s Cultures Tyler Cowen ★★★★★ 2004
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Julian Jaynes ★★★★★ 2000
Rationality and the Reflective Mind Keith E. Stanovich ★★★★★ 2011
number9dream David Mitchell ★★★★★ 2003
The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? David Brin ★★★★★ 1999
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius ★★★★★ 2000
City of Golden Shadow (Otherland, #1) Tad Williams ★★★★★ 1998
The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester ★★★★★ 1996
A Canticle for Leibowitz (St. Leibowitz, #1) Walter M. Miller Jr. ★★★★★ 2006
Armor John Steakley ★★★★★ 1984
The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1) Stephen King ★★★★★ 2003
Watchmen Alan Moore ★★★★★ 2005
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art Scott McCloud ★★★★★ 1994
Understand Ted Chiang ★★★★★ 2006
Hell is the Absence of God Ted Chiang ★★★★★ 2002
Strategy B.H. Liddell Hart ★★★★★ 1991
The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire Edward N. Luttwak ★★★★★ 2009
Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility: The Ideas Behind The World’s Slowest Computer Stewart Brand ★★★★★ 2000
Alice in Wonderland (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #1) Lewis Carroll ★★★★★ 2004
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #2) Lewis Carroll ★★★★★ 1993
Snow Crash Neal Stephenson ★★★★★ 2000
1984 George Orwell ★★★★★ 1950
Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary Joseph Conrad ★★★★★ 2003
Meditations Marcus Aurelius ★★★★★ 2006
Dreamtigers Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 1985
Selected Non-Fictions Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 2000
The Library of Babel Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 2000
Collected Fictions Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★★ 1999
Accelerando Charles Stross ★★★★★ 2006
Dune Messiah (Dune Chronicles, #2) Frank Herbert ★★★★★ 1987
The Leopard Giuseppe di Lampedusa ★★★★★ 2007
The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #2) Dan Simmons ★★★★★ 1991
Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1) Dan Simmons ★★★★★ 1990
Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet, #1) Orson Scott Card ★★★★★ 1994
Foucault’s Pendulum Umberto Eco ★★★★★ 2007
Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Philip E. Tetlock ★★★★★ 2006
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3) C.S. Lewis ★★★★★ 2006
The Cyberiad Stanisław Lem ★★★★★ 2002
The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury ★★★★★ 1984
Catch-22 Joseph Heller ★★★★★ 2004 2014/05/27
Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1) Frank Herbert ★★★★★ 2006
The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins ★★★★★ 2006
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time Michael Shermer ★★★★★ 2002
Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics Gary L. Drescher ★★★★★ 2006
The Player of Games (Culture, #2) Iain M. Banks ★★★★★ 1997
A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1) Vernor Vinge ★★★★★ 2010
The Devil Is Dead R.A. Lafferty ★★★★★ 1999
Dangerous Visions Harlan Ellison ★★★★★ 2002
Fourth Mansions R.A. Lafferty ★★★★★ 1969
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions Edwin A. Abbott ★★★★★ 1992
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass Lewis Carroll ★★★★★ 2000
A Study in Emerald Neil Gaiman ★★★★★ 2007
The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 2 Neil Gaiman ★★★★★ 2007
The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 Neil Gaiman ★★★★★ 2006
The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (The Sandman, #11) Neil Gaiman ★★★★★ 2000
The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman #1) Neil Gaiman ★★★★★ 1998
Nightside: The Long Sun Gene Wolfe ★★★★★ 1993
The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe ★★★★★ 1998
Latro in the Mist Gene Wolfe ★★★★★ 2003
Sword and Citadel (The Book of the New Sun, #3-4) Gene Wolfe ★★★★★ 1994
The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1) Gene Wolfe ★★★★★ 1984
Shadow and Claw (The Book of the New Sun, #1-2) Gene Wolfe ★★★★★ 1994
Great Mambo Chicken And The Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over The Edge Ed Regis ★★★★★ 1991
Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language Douglas R. Hofstadter ★★★★★ 1998
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Douglas R. Hofstadter ★★★★★ 1999
True Names: and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier Vernor Vinge ★★★★★ 2001
Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) Harold Abelson ★★★★★ 1996
The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary Eric S. Raymond ★★★★★ 2001
In the Beginning…Was the Command Line Neal Stephenson ★★★★★ 1999
The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier Bruce Sterling ★★★★★ 1993
Blindsight Peter Watts ★★★★★ 2006
Toast Charles Stross ★★★★★ 2005
Permutation City Greg Egan ★★★★★ 1995
Kiln People David Brin ★★★★★ 2002
The Demolished Man Alfred Bester ★★★★★ 1999
Stand on Zanzibar John Brunner ★★★★★ 1999
A Deepness in the Sky (Zones of Thought, #2) Vernor Vinge ★★★★★ 2000
The Gap Into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die (Gap, #5) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★★ 1996
Ender’s Game, Volume 1: Battle School (Ender’s Saga) Christopher Yost ★★★★★ 2009
The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1) J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★★★ 2003
The Iron Dragon’s Daughter Michael Swanwick ★★★★ 2012 2014/06/02 I read it based on Anatoly Vorobey‘s review:

“This is fantasy for adults: complex flawed characters, a world rich in detail, multitude of characters who live and do things for their own sake rather than to advance a plot point or help the hero. Utter disregard for conventions and cliches of the genre. A hero who is an anti-Mary Sue. Endless inventiveness of the author. To my taste, this novel is what books like The Kingkiller Chronicles promise, but then utterly fail to deliver. But if you’re a fan of Rothfuss, try Swanwick anyway, and you might get a fuller and richer taste of what you like.”


I liked it a lot after I got through the initial section in the factory, which was over-the-top Dickensian enough to make me wonder if it was worthwhile. But it got better, and began unfurling into a mad Victorian/fantasy cross, heavy on the social oppression & economic exploitation, reminiscent of China Miéville’s bourgeois imperialist New Crobuzon. The plot breaks down into a few discrete chunks of the protagonist Jane’s life, which while highlighting the ruthless nature of life in a universe where the gods are real (the homecoming queen being sacrificed may be horrifying, but the consequences of not sacrificing are even more dire, as one memorable nihilist character makes clear; and our own society does not hesitate to sacrifice lives for its own ends, as with, say, coal-burning power plants) also highlight her cowardice and selfishness in betraying her friends instead of… what? We’re not too clear, as the world begins melting and things get weird in an Invisibles or Dick-style turn towards radical ontological uncertainty. (The dragon, incidentally, appears in far less of the novel than one would expect from the title.)

This may sound tedious, but Swanwick really does throw all sorts of fascinating little twists in along the way that keep one reading: malls where time literally stops so you can shop to your heart’s content; factories with ’time clocks’ that age one if one doesn’t clock out; live gargoyles, with all the food requirements flying stone entails; a man who shrinks in his wife’s regard for being a coward until he’s the size of a homunculus & is trapped in a jar begging for death; markets in entertaining slaves among the eloi upper-class elves; magical engineers who are castrated to ensure they do not damage the magics they work with; academics who assault the castles of the gods in the quest for knowledge, and get burned; universities with purges that are literally decimating… Still, it’s a happy ending, I think. Swanwick puts it amusingly in a page of explanations:

I gave her T as a reward for making it through to the end of the novel he’s the one worldly thing she wants - and, quite to my surprise, the Goddess threw in K as well. What happens next? Does Jane marry T and keep K as best friend? Does K steal T from her? Do they all fall into bed together? This one I really don’t know because the real reward I gave Jane for making it to the end of the book was freedom. I ran across Carol Emshwiller just after she finished writing Ledoyt and she said she was in mourning, that all these people she had lived with for years were suddenly gone and it felt as if they’d all died. “Doesn’t it feel that way to you, too, when you finish a novel?” she asked. I thought about it. “No,” I decided. “It feels like all these characters who have suffered under my persecuting hand have been set free. I imagine them running joyfully in all directions, as hard and fast as they can, so that I can never catch them and put them in another book again.”


Anyway, going over some of the parts of it which amused me while I was reading… You know your fantasy is grim and imaginative when astrology is due to educational corruption:

“Hello? I was sent here for remedial?” The pale man looked up. He nodded wanly. Unhastily, without emphasis, he picked up a book, opened it, paged forward a leaf, and then back one. “There are three stars in the heavens,” he said, “moving about Jupiter, erratic sidereal bodies which establish a lesser zodiacal process for that wanderer in its mighty twelve-year progression about the sun.”…“Excuse me,” she said hesitantly, “but what effect do these minor planets have on our behavior and fortunes? I mean, you know, astrological influence?” He looked at her. “None.”“None at all?” “No.” “But if the planets affect our fortunes—” She stumbled to a stop at the dispassionately scornful look on the pale man’s face, the slow way he shook his head. “Surely you’ll agree that the planets order and control our destinies?” “They do not.” “Not at all?” “No.” “Then what does? Control our destinies, I mean.” “The only external forces that have any influence on us are those we can see every day: the smile, the frown, the fist, the brick wall. What you call ‘destiny’ is merely a semantic fallacy, the attribution of purpose to blind causality. Insofar as any of us are compelled to resist the flow of random events, we are driven solely by internal drives and forces.” Jane seized on this last. “Then what you’re saying is that our fate lies within us, right?” He shook his head. “If so, it must be extremely small and impossibly distant. I would not suggest you put any reliance in such an insignificant entity.”’…She waited, but he did not elaborate. “In introductory astrology they told us that each person has a tutelary star and that each star has its own mineral, color, and musical tone, and a plant as well that is a specific for the disease that is caused by that star’s occultation.” “All untrue. The stars do not concern themselves in the least with us. Our total extinction would mean nothing to them.” “But why?” Jane cried. “If it’s not true, why would they teach it to us?”A dry fingertip tapped the page not impatiently but pedagogically. “All courses require textbooks, charts, and teaching aids. By the time the information codified as astrology was discredited and became obsolete, it had a constituency. Certain…personages benefit from the supply contracts.”


Nihilist the plot may seem to be, but it’s leavened with some sharp satire; for example, bureaucracy in the factory:

At last, late in the day, the inspector general arrived. A wave of dread preceded the elf-lord through the plant. Not a kobold or korrigan, not a spunky, pillywiggin, nor lowliest dunter but knew the inspector general was coming. The air shivered in anticipation of his arrival. A glimmering light went just before him, causing all heads to turn, all work to stop, the instant before he turned a corner or entered a shop. He appeared in the doorway. Tall and majestic he was in an Italian suit and tufted silk tie. He wore a white hard hat. His face was square-jawed and handsome in a more than human way, and his hair and teeth were perfect. Two high-ranking Tylwyth Teg accompanied him, clipboards in hand, and a vulture-headed cost analyst from Accounting trailed in his wake.


School:

After Grunt had called attendance, he cleared his throat. “The Three B’s,” he said. “The Three B’s are your guide to scholastic excellence. The Three B’s are your gold key to the doorway of the future. Now—all together—what are they?” “Be-lieve,” the class mumbled. “Be-have. Be Silent.” “What was that last?” He cupped a hand to his ear. “Be Silent!” “I caaaaaan’t heeeeear you.” “BE SILENT!” “Good.”


It was only when she went to empty out her locker that Jane realized how overgrown it had become. Orchids and jungle vines filled most of the space within and a hummingbird fled into the corridor when she banged open the door.


Consumerism:

It was a scorcher outside, but the mall was kept so cool that Jane was sorry she hadn’t brought a sweater. The place was jammed with fugitives from the heat. They were recreational rather than serious shoppers, most of them. Their hands were empty and their eyes were clear.


College roommate strife:

“The dissection manual?” Monkey asked airily. “I ate it.” “You what?” “I ate it. Why else would I want it? I was hungry and I ate it.” “But I need it for class.”“Then you shouldn’t have given it to me.” Monkey’s beady eyes glittered strangely, maliciously, in her round face. “Really, Jane, you can be so dim at times.” With a sudden standing backflip she disappeared through the doorway. Jane’s hands clenched. But really it was no more than she had learned to expect. Roommates were forever eating your books, having anxiety attacks, adopting rats and carnivorous slimes which they then expected you to feed, getting drunk and throwing up on your best dress, moving into the closet and refusing to come out for months on end, threatening suicide the night before Finals, leaving piles of rotting leaves in the middle of the floor, entertaining boyfriends in your bed because it was made and theirs not, evolving into large bloodsucking insects. Monkey was actually good of her kind. Well, she could always pick up a new manual.


Monkey snatched the pencil from her hand and snapped it in two. Jane closed her eyes and traced the sigil of Baphomet with her inner vision. When she was calm again, she slid open a drawer.“All right.” There was a pair of latex gloves within. “I wasn’t going to do this.” She pulled them on. “But you don’t exactly give me much choice, do you?” Credit where credit is due, Monkey didn’t back down. There was a touch of the trickster in her heritage, and the trickster gene was a dominant. She licked her lips nervously as Jane pretended to lift an invisible box from the drawer. “You don’t scare me.” “Good.” Jane swung a hinged lid back and reached within. “It works best if you don’t believe.” She removed an equally imaginary scalpel and held it up between thumb and forefinger, admiringly turning it one way and the other. “What are you going to do with that?” Jane smiled. “This!” She slammed her fist into Monkey’s stomach.


Academia:

“I have been going over your laboratory reports, Miss Alderberry.” Dr. Nemesis put an arm through hers, and walked her toward the front. “They are, if I may confide in you, disappointing, most disappointing in a student of your potential.” “I’ve been having trouble with the sophic—”…“You must surely realize why I am concerned for you.” “Well…” Jane didn’t really, but that double glare bored into her, waiting for an intelligent response. “I’m here on a merit scholarship, so I suppose—” “No!” Dr. Nemesis stamped her foot impatiently. As if in response the elevator door slid open. She steered Jane outside. They were on an office level now. The walls were decorated with large unframed oils of umbrellas and sides of beef. The runners on the hall floors smelled new. “I am not talking about mere money, but about your very survival! This is a Teind year, surely you must know that.” Jane nodded, meaning no. “The department heads are even now assembling the list of those ten percent of the students who are… expendable. Your name, Miss Alderberry, is going to be on that list unless you straighten up and fly right.” She glared at her: weakly, sternly.

…“What set me straight was one particular incident. My adviser, none other than the wizard Bongay himself mind you, had obtained grant money from the Horned Man Foundation to create a divinatory engine in the form of a brazen head. This was, you will understand, very early in the history of cybernetics. It was all done with vacuum tubes then…Then he saw how the head glowed and how the solder ran in little rivulets from the seams in its neck and with it the gold and silver of its circuitry. Then did the wizard Bongay himself scream, in such fury that I fled for fear of his wrath.” She laughed. “He lost tenure over that incident, and his life as well. That happened near the end of the fiscal year, and the University had been relying on that grant money. Everybody involved with that fiasco was executed by order of the Bursar.” “How did you survive?”
“They needed somebody to write the final report.”


The University library opened its doors at midnight and closed at dawn. The rationale given for such extraordinary hours was that they discouraged dilettantes and idlers from wasting the library’s facilities.


Even for the School of Grammarie, which was widely held to have pushed the concept of liberal arts to an extreme, Professor Tarapple was grotesque. A burnt and crisped cinder of a creature was he, blackened and small, his limbs charred sticks, his torso rendered, reduced, and carbonized. His mouth hung open and his step was slow and painful. He seemed a catalog of the infirmities of age. He felt for the microphone. His hand closed about it with a soft boom, then retreated. The charred sockets of his eyes rose toward the ceiling. Jane realized that he was blind….Professor Tarapple groped for a laser pointer, leaving sooty handprints on the lectern top. He directed the pointer toward the slide with motions as jerky and unconvincing as a rod puppet’s. The red dot of light jiggled off to the side of the screen. “This is—” The head wobbled. “This is—is Spiral Castle itself.” Nobody so much as breathed. “No one but I myself has ever delved so deep into the Goddess’s mysteries. The Ocean above which it is suspended is Time itself, and so far as could be determined with our limited instrumentation extends to infinity in all directions. Next slide.”…Jane was having a hard time following the lecture. The harsh white image of Spiral Castle was like a magnesium flare. It swelled and dwindled in her vision, as if softly breathing. Her eyes pulsed, aching when she tried to follow the logic of its involutions. She had to look away…“Toadswivers! Curly-mounted bobtail jades! Codheaded pigfuck bastards!” With a start, Jane came to herself. Throughout the auditorium, the audience members were rousing themselves. A Teggish professor directly before Jane’s seat straightened with a lurch and a snort. A gnome to her left passed a hand over his mushroom-spotted pate. Professor Tarapple had abandoned his lecture in a rage. He was berating his audience. “Only one being—one! me!—has ever delved so far into the Goddess’s secrets and returned to talk of them. By cannon-fire, holy water, and bells, listen to me! I risked more than life and sanity to bring you these photographs. I—I—I was once young and tall and handsome. I had friends who died in this expedition and will never be reborn. We were caught and punished and punished again. I alone escaped. Look at me! See the price that I paid! So many times I have tried to tell you! Why do you never listen?” He was weeping now. “Woe!” he cried. “Alas for those who seek after Truth, for such is the Goddess’s most hoarded treasure. Ah, she is cruel and unfathomable, and bitter, bitter is her vengeance.” The lights came gently up. The applause was thunderous.


One of the parts towards the end which particularly reminded me of The Invisibles:

“One time, passing through the Carolinas somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 A.M., Jerry and I picked up a white Lotus with two blonds in it. We honked and waved. They gave us the finger and put the pedal to the metal. I did the same, of course, but even with dual carbs it was no contest. We had a muscle car but they had a sex machine. They made us eat their dust….Ten-fifteen miles down the road we saw the Lotus in a Roy Rogers lot. We pulled in for some take-out burgers. There they were. We struck up a conversation. When we left, Jerry-D went with the driver of the Lotus. Her friend went with me…Anyway, there I was, a blond in pink hot pants rubbing up against me. I had my foot to the floor, her tongue in my ear, and her hand down my pants. I pushed up her halter top and squeezed her breasts. The air shimmered with the immanence of revelation. Little Richard was singing ‘Tutti-Frutti’ on the radio and it somehow seemed significant that what I was hearing had been electromagnetically encoded, transmitted as modulated radiation, reconstructed by the radio as sound, and only reinterpreted as music somewhere within the dark reaches of my head. I felt then that the world was an illusion - and a rather shabby one at that, an image projected upon the thinnest of membranes, and that were I to push at it just right, I could step out of the world entirely. I unbuttoned her shorts. She wriggled a little to help. I slid my hand under her panties. I was thinking that everything was information when I found myself clutching an erect penis. I whipped my head around. The blond was grinning wildly into my face. My hand involuntarily tightened about her cock. Her hand tightened about mine. They might have been the same hand. We might have been one person twinned. The car was up to about 100 mph. I wasn’t even looking where we were going. I didn’t care.
It was in that instant that I achieved enlightenment.”


And finally, the gargoyle passage. It’s too long to quote, but I’ve posted it at http://pastebin.com/raw.php?i=HDrLMfQj
Existence David Brin ★★★★ 2012 2012/12/01 Existence is best-seen as a rewrite of Earth, and Earth was a sprawling futurological serious novel which was trying to both world-build by including countless perspectives and quotes and discussions and terms but also put them into context to build a overarching thesis. Similar to Tad William’s Otherland (the fantastic first book City of Golden Shadow, not the horrible sequels), Dos Passos’s USA, or particularly Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar (to which Brin alludes, actually, in having a alien say “what an imagination I’ve got.”)

The overriding theme is, of course, the Great Silence. Brin’s solution, characteristically for a guy who wants to be the ultimate moderate and more moderate than thou, is to take up every solution: the Great Silence is due to more efficient physical transportation and memetic viruses and Berserkers and Lurkers and panspermia and ecological collapse and nuclear war and… This is a little impressive to behold, and overall, I did enjoy reading the book. Brin has had a few new ideas since Earth like the smart-mob.

But for the bad:

This jumping makes the book something like a huge primer on the Great Silence/Fermi’s Question, yes, but also for something of a mess of a book. The book is huge, but a good deal of the bulk is fat and self-indulgent:

1. the dolphin sub-plot is rehashed Uplift material, which only very charitably has any relevance to anything else in the book (I thought that we would at least see them towards the end on spaceships as a token nod toward justifying the time spent on them, but no!)
2. More germane subplots feel incomplete; the autistic kids, “cobblies” and the “Basque Chimera” form one such oddly underjustified subplot - is this a thing, now, lauding crippled autistic kids as secret savant heroes? I don’t know which narrative is more denigrating of the human suffering involved, the standard one or this one. (Autism spectrum may be useful in some areas, but only a little is necessary and even the high-functioning often fail: I read in the New York Times the other day that that famous tech firm which uses autistic workers has a 5/6 rejection rate of applicants just from the start. One must sift a lot of sand.)
3. much material is borrowed from his previous nonfiction or fiction; allusions to The Postman are well and good, but when I could predict the resolution of the Senator Strong mystery from the instant we were told it was an addiction… This also means that I can track how many authorial mouthpieces there are in the novel, and it’s pretty much all of them. Even people you think are wrong like Hamish are just acting as conduits for Brin’s own beliefs. This leads to the severe problem, in a repeated first contact novel, that none of the aliens were remotely alien, and the humans all seemed pretty similar to each other too. It made me wish for Stanislaw Lem, or at least Watts’s Blindsight.

Brin also has a very weird attitude towards what he calls extropianism but most people these days just call transhumanism. For example, the bogus anti-caloric restriction argument Hamish gives; it is bogus because (a) none of those monks or monasteries are following nutritionally balanced diets, indeed, usually for religious reasons they’re following highly unbalanced diets if they’re not like the Taoists possibly actively poisoning themselves with mercury, and (b) the records do claim countless instances of extreme longevity, which of course we don’t believe because record-keeping was terrible - which means the evidence is so worthless and biased and corrupt that we can’t use it to claim the opposite either! I’ve told Brin this like twice before, not that he cared. But by the time the story is set, the caloric restriction question will be settled: the primate studies will be finished, the human CRers will be dead, and the underlying biochemistry (or lack thereof) will have been elucidated. Suppose he’s wrong? He probably doesn’t care, he’s dead-set against it anyway! I was a little awe-struck when he has his mouthpiece badmouth cryonics, after saying it worked and there had been revivals? WTF?

WTF indeed. This attitude could be called schizophrenic. Throughout the novel, Brin seems to struggle with the fundamental problem posed by Vinge: how does he keep the story human given his belief in progress and his basic acceptance of the Strong AI thesis? He never comes up with a good answers, but blatantly hand-waves them away: an emulated rat brain goes critical and escapes into the Internet? Well, uh - nothing happens because I say so (wow, ain’t it strange)! There are even more AIs pervading the world, controlling countless key functions? Well, uh - nothing happens because I insinuate something about parents and children and them being grateful! (wow, ain’t it strange - ever see a grateful river, spider, tow-truck, computer…? Humans can barely be grateful, ever.) Humanity is a few decades away from a general nanofactory assembler in his story and thousands of crystal probes come to visit? Well, uh - the crystal probes are completely inactive and don’t carry nanofactories or anything despite it being a mindbogglingly great & evolutionarily fit idea and perfectly doable for them, because I say so and it lets me write adventure arcs with primates fighting over & chucking around glowing rocks! (wow, ain’t it strange) He’ll mock the extropians in the first part for believing in cryonics or uploads or AIs even though their most-criticized belief, cryonics, has been vindicated 100% in his story even beyond their hopes, their expectations of uploads are equally justified by events towards the end - non-destructive uploading, even! We’d settle for destructive uploads at this point… and so on and so forth. Well, uh - they’re right but they’re wrong, don’t you see! (wow, ain’t it strange)
Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World James D. Miller ★★★★ 2012 2013/04/25 You could see Miller’s Singularity Rising as an attempt to swim against the book current of Ray Kurzweil and present some of the other visions of the Singularity: specifically, the Intelligence Explosion school as exemplified by Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson. It then mixes in a bunch of material on intelligence & genetics, so we might identify an additional subschool: that of Steve Hsu on embryo selection for increasing human intelligence.

Miller succeeds in giving a wide overview of quite a few topics, from Hanson’s ‘crack of a future dawn’ em scenario to the Great Filter to comparative advantage & the advantages of trade as it applies (and doesn’t apply) to AIs to the intelligence orthogonality thesis (that intelligence does not imply benevolence) to the logic of arms race and its particularly unpleasant applicability to AI development. And then he tosses in the mentioned intelligence & genetics material, which I was a little surprised to learn from - I had read many of his citations (and actually host a few of the online copies of the papers on my personal site, gwern.net), but he still threw in some ones that were new to me.

On a purely factual basis, I have relatively little to fault Miller for. He makes a risible claim about 1700s French life expectancies not hitting the 50s (true only if you include infant mortality, otherwise hitting 50s was perfectly routine - even in the worst tabulations, generally if you made it to 20 on average you would reach the 50s; see 0, 1, 2, 3, 4) but he is far from the first to make that mistake; he brings up dual n-back more than once, but he avoids making too many or overreaching claims on behalf of dual n-back such as the increasingly questionable effect on intelligence (see my meta-analysis); he seems to criticize people for not taking seriously the method of castration for life extension but doesn’t mention the issues with the data and the likelihood that the method would not work post-puberty (ie. for everyone who is able to morally consent to such a procedure). Otherwise…

Otherwise Miller’s sins are simply that the writing is merely OK and while he does a reasonable job of, as Hanson puts it in his own review of Singularity Rising, “explaining common positions and intuitions behind common arguments”, he barely defends them or clearly justifies them. While I and many others involved in the area dislike Ray Kurzweil’s theories and arguments and books as being superficial, right for the wrong reason, overly optimistic etc, they do at least do their job of convincing people (and then hopefully they can adopt more nuanced or different views); but though I agree with a large fraction of it, it’s hard to believe that anyone could read Miller’s book and come out genuinely convinced of pretty much anything in it (as opposed to reactions like “that’s interesting” or “maybe”). For example, he does a nice question-answer sequence against the kneejerk bad-philosophy reactions to cryonics, but one could easily bite all the bullets and simply question the incredibly sketchy case he makes (yes, it’s great that wood frogs do cryonics all the time, but we’re not frogs). He asks that anyone who signs up for cryonics email him about what convinced them - I immediately thought, “50% odds that no one has done so yet”. (After writing this review, I asked Miller about this and he said no one had yet.)

And aside from as comprehensive a layman discussion of the issues involved in AI economics and technological unemployment as I’ve ever seen, I can’t really name any original contribution this book makes.

I can’t say I’m really glad I read it, but then I can’t say I really regret reading it (I got a number of IQ-related citations, a discussion of neo-Luddism, and info on the more esoteric possibilities of embryo selection). This is because I already know almost everything in the book and have read many of the citations already, so I am not the target audience; it’s good if you want an overview of non-Kurzweilian Singularity ideas and you don’t want to read through scores of webpages and papers, and more or less unique in conveying them all in a compact single place - so in acknowledgment of this, I bump my rating up to 4 stars (though for me it was more like 3).

Excerpts:

- intro-ch3
- ch4-5
- ch9
- ch10-12
- ch13
- ch14-15
- ch16
Quantum Computing since Democritus Scott Aaronson ★★★★ 2013 2013/06/17 Aaronson’s book is based off his online lecture notes which I hadn’t read before though I’ve read his blog for years. I was really excited when the book was announced, since I hoped for expanded better version of his incredibly interesting paper/monograph “Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity” (abstract: “…In particular, I argue that computational complexity theory - the field that studies the resources (such as time, space, and randomness) needed to solve computational problems - leads to new perspectives on the nature of mathematical knowledge, the strong AI debate, computationalism, the problem of logical omniscience, Hume’s problem of induction, Goodman’s grue riddle, the foundations of quantum mechanics, economic rationality, closed timelike curves, and several other topics of philosophical interest. I end by discussing aspects of complexity theory itself that could benefit from philosophical analysis.”), and see also his more recent “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine”.

The book turns out to be excellent, but not the 5-star universally-compelling, suitable for the layman & professional alike, complete coverage of all that is interesting about computational complexity and quantum I was hoping for. I’d say probably that one could get 80% of the value from reading “Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity”, and even more if one is not particularly interested in computational complexity or quantum computing for their own sakes.

Pros:

- best book I’ve ever read on computational complexity
- repeatedly throws out fascinating observations
- learned a lot of new things even after years reading Aaronson’s blog - PAC learning, Blum’s speedup theorem, Tarski’s decision algorithm
- humor better than expected

Cons:

- some key arguments are sketched out briefly or badly (eg. I don’t know how anyone would understand Aaronson’s version of Cantor’s diagonal proof, compared to longer better-illustrated versions like Hofstadter’s in Gödel, Escher, Bach)
- the complex-probability version of quantum mechanics didn’t seem much more transparent to me than other versions; maybe if I had a physics degree? (Not that I really understood the ‘Quantish’ universe in Drescher’s equally excellent book Good and Real, either.)
- overuse of complexity zoo abbreviations
- no discernible connection to Democritus or the Democritus quote
- some later chapters highly technical and specialized and uninteresting (eg. the size of quantum states), not always meaningfully connected
- Aaronson randomly inserts bizarre and sloppy anti-Bayesian digs - like at the end of his chapter on anthropics, he seems to think it refutes the ‘religion’ of Bayesianism. Dude, WTF? No one understands or agrees on anyone in anthropics, that’s the whole point of half the field, and you want to use anthropics as an argument against Bayesianism‽ You want to disprove the eminently successful and practical by the useless and bizarre? If ever there was a moment that the saying ‘one man’s modus tollens is another man’s modus ponens’ was appropriate…

I made excerpts of the book as I read it:

- Preface
- chapters 1-3
- 4-5
- 9-11
- 15-16
- 22
The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom James Burnham ★★★★ 1988 2012/10/05 The best part of the book for me was that section which is already available online, “Dante: Politics as Wish” - Burnham’s convincing examination of Dante’s little-known book on divine-right-monarchical politics as intellectually dishonest & servile justification of treason.

Less convincing is his idolization of Machiavelli† as a transparent writer who meant exactly what he said and had no ulterior motives or proximate politics underlurking his writings; this claim would come as quite a shock to any Straussians in the room, and also doesn’t explain why some of his advice to The Prince was terrible advice or why he didn’t ever try to spread it about (Dietz mentions these details as he makes the case in her 1986 paper “Trapping The Prince: Machiavelli and the Politics of Deception” that the Republican Machiavelli was dispensing deliberately bad and insane advice given the context) which rather makes one wonder what Burnham is going on about when he talks about Italy being told by Machiavelli to reunify to form a viable nation-state but refusing to.

† which actually surprised me: I had expected from the title that Burnham would go with some sort of Noble Lie theory in which Machiavellians ‘manufacture consent’ and defend republics or democracies from the illiberal masses

Similarly, his analyses of all politics or social movements as elite class warfare or expressions of the Iron Law of Oligarchy are interesting and I think to a large extent accepted these days (eg. the field of public choice), but his actual uses of the idea seem fairly inept. He is good enough to make a number of specific predictions… pretty much all of which are wrong.

For example, he predicts that post-WWII that the military would expand massively and form a real faction as opposed to a little ‘puddle’ (right) and that officers would enter the governing elites and change the composition of the ruling classes (wrong; Eisenhower was elected president, but there is no visible change in composition - few presidents or candidates have benefited from service, and contenders like Colin Powell or Wesley Clark have either not run or sunk like a stone. Congress remains a province of lawyers, and no one gets wealthy in the military until they take the revolving door), and further that his loosely defined Bonapartism is inevitable although I do not recognize Clinton, Bush, or Obama as being very Bonaparte-like figures.

On pg259-260, he presents a doozy of “scientific statements about social matters”:

…Thus we now may know, with considerably probability, that: if the state absorbs under centralized control all major social forces, then political liberty will disappear; if, after this war, Europe is again divided into a considerable number of independent sovereign states, then a new war will begin in Europe within a comparatively short time; if the present plan of military strategy (i.e., submarine attrition warfare, and “island-hopping”) continues unchanged in the East, then Japan will not be definitely crushed for many, many years, and perhaps never; if the present Administration plans to remain in office after 1944, then it will have to curtail political liberty further; and so on.


These statements were published in 1943, well after such events as the Battle of Midway (June 1942).

About the best I can say is that charitably, the counterfactual precondition for one may not have been true (if we assume ‘Administration’ refers to FDR, and not his Vice President, Truman, who succeeded FDR on his premature death and then was re-elected with no visible brownshirts stuffing pollboxes). The rest are simply embarrassing. The science of politics must indeed have been young… (Or perhaps there’s some other common thread to the political criticism that opens and closes the book. Always a problem with authors discussing deception.)
The Black Company (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #1) Glen Cook ★★★★ 1992 2013/06/08 I read the trilogy in basically one sitting after reading the interesting opening to The Black Company on Tor.

I enjoyed the first book a great deal: it’s in a fairly stock medieval setting, but it handles the dark fantasy well and the plot quickly curdles into something more complex than expected as we gain entree via Croaker to the plotting of the Taken and the Lady, clever gambits & strategies, all ending in the resolution of all plots, defeat of the Dominator, and incidentally, the discrediting of the stock fantasy trope of a Joan-of-Arc-style messiah who will lead their forces to victory over the evil oppressor. It’s also interesting wondering what Croaker is concealing from us, what his sins are: he tells us, the readers of his Annals, that he has concealed a great deal and softened other parts.

The downsides are few since it’s a quick read: we see entirely too much of the Company’s wizards (how many times do we need to be told that Silent is silent? or that One-Eye has just one eye? or that Goblin gets the better of One-Eye?), and it doesn’t do a good job putting any real doubt into our minds about whether the Lady is the least of evils in the North, since she countenances quite a bit and the rebels’ sins seem like the usual sort of thing which happens in war and then the wild dogs are put down during peacetime.

Book 2, Shadows Linger, was in some respects even better than The Black Company. While almost all the Taken are gone and so the scope for plotting has diminished considerably, instead we get a cozy intense little drama set in Juniper, of plotting & murder & corruption with the black castle in the background rewarding & driving it all with its tempting silver as it works towards its own little doomsday (you might call it a collective action problem!). Shed’s plot thread is considerably more compelling than Croaker’s this time, as we watch him give in to weakness, folly, and bad luck time and again, each time helping the castle grow a little closer to completion and finally triggering an epic battle destroying the entire town and shattering the Black Company. (The focus on the locals also has the benefit of not over-exposing the Company wizards and letting us see them from an ‘outsider’ perspective to restore their sheen of interest.) While admittedly the black castle is more than a little contrived (the Dominator foresaw his defeat and this was the only countermeasure? the castle took 700 years to mature? he didn’t foresee the Juniper death cult before entrusting his last best hope of resurrection to it?), the plot overall still works well, and the creatures of the castle start to give an impression of why allying with the Lady might be a good idea.

Book 3, The White Rose, sees it all fall apart. We’re plopped on the Plain of Fear at the heart of the renewed rebellion, which is OK enough, and we start learning what happened with Bomanz to release the Lady & the Ten which is even better. But the rebellion is a tawdry little affair, and the plot unengaging. Raven’s foolishness is difficult to credit. The White Rose’s power is almost too powerful. Parts don’t seem to hang together (how do Tracker & Toadkiller Dog arrive with Raven’s letter if they are only released by his interference?). The final alliance is too easily accomplished. The new Taken are only names. The finale is a succession of deus ex machinas - Father Tree’s offspring on top of the silver spike on top of the true effect of naming (if all it takes to destroy someone’s powers is to name them, why did this never happen before, and why were we told that true names merely allowed penetrating a magician’s spells and defenses?) On top of that, the finale is almost anti-climactic: they dismantle the defenses and neutralize the Dominator using the Rose, and bury him more thoroughly. Oh. Well, OK… The book isn’t so much bad, as disappointing since it features none of the intricacy of the previous books, is almost oddly streamlined and ‘easy’, and takes some easy way outs. I had come to expect more from Cook.
Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao’s Great Famine Yang Jisheng ★★★★ 2012 2013/08/08 The statistics and anecdotes are fairly horrifying, and the sheer profusion drills in how widespread the famine was. But for me, the most fascinating part of Tombstone was how the vast Chinese government hierarchy rippled policies and misinformation up and down it - how the local cadres tried to bow to the demands they were hearing from higher up, how the higher ups took the falsified statistics and claims often at face value, and how the highest officials in Beijing seem almost childishly helpless as they stagger between skepticism of reports given them and unthinking acceptance of positive results. Mao particularly comes to mind in his constant swerving between “left deviationism” and “right deviationism” as he tries to get communal kitchens to work and takes at face value the harvest figures and “sputniks” (even as in other incidents, he scoffs at a local official, telling him flat out that such yields were simply impossible), as he is flattered by under-officials; despite his information problems, he astonishingly repeatedly engages in tactics of announcing liberal discussion and then brutally punishing anyone who was foolish enough to do aught but flatter Mao and his policies. Indeed, as Jisheng says, officials were placed into a situation of ‘slaves to those above, tyrants to those below’ (or however his phrase went).

With such perverse incentives, it’s no surprise that we run into such perfectly Hayekian examples as ‘deep plowing’ or ‘sputniks’ or ‘close planting’ or the failure of communes to realize any gains of scale (and did realize diseconomies, like the example of how communes needed lumber to fire their large ovens/stoves rather than the little bits of grass individual households could use).

What is surprising is how effective the Chinese government was in maintaining control despite these severe systemic problems. How could so many millions starve to death, and no province rise up in rebellion? How could the revolts be so small scale, when the abuses were so bad and the death tolls large fractions of entire local populations? How did emigration not overwhelm any checks set up? It’s easy to agree that Sen is basically right: Mao’s famine could not have happened in any country with remotely democratic institutions like India, because the pressure would simply have overwhelmed any coercion the feeble government could orchestrate. But there’s also a flip side here: Mao remarks with surprise ‘how good’ the Chinese people were, that he could summon millions and disperse them with a wave of his hand, and another high official says similarly that it is only the goodness of the people which prevented the Army from being called in. Jisheng is at pains to show that the Communist propaganda worked and the people were not uniformly cynical about the regime like the Russians at the end of the USSR were: many officials sacrificed their careers or lives for their people, high officials are routinely shocked when they return to their home villages, and throughout we see people who are in all seriousness convinced that all the faults stem from local or midlevel officials and if only they can get word to the Emperor in Beijing all will be made well. This naive faith, which initially strikes one as pathetic & moronic & lacking any critical thinking makes me wonder if it could also be related to how China seems to have vastly outperformed India in the past decades, since it switched to sane economic policies; if the Chinese people’s faith and hard work could lead to such utter disaster when applied to futile policies, does it yield equally unusual results when finally applied correctly?
The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy Adam Tooze ★★★★ 2007 2014/05/07 A fascinating account of the economic transformation of Germany under the Nazis, the repression & distortion of the German economy, the strategic confusion & ignorance of their best options revealed by shifting armament priorities (such as the underemphasis on tanks & overemphasis on surface ships), the difficulties imposed by exchange rates, how often Germany teetered on the brink of disaster, and how Hitler’s constant focus on the danger of the American juggernaut guided his grand strategy; Nazi Germany’s militarization based on debt induced competing arms races / instability an the country quickly (and only temporarily) became the deadliest shark in the European waters, which had to desperately keep swimming forward & taking insane gambles if it was not to choke to death on its own accumulated wastes & bad decisions, in the hopes that it could eat all its enemies before they woke up & ate it, and while the shark got a reprieve in Austria and then the freak victory in France, it eventually hit a wall in Russia and died after thrashing around for a while.

Tooze’s account of WWII explains many otherwise baffling points for me, such as the focus on futuristic weapons or why Nazi Germany sought an alliance with Japan even at the cost of declaring war on the USA & striking FDR’s shackles, why it invaded the USSR with less than an ultimate effort, and the economic consequences of its conquests (predictable to anyone who’s read Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies). Particularly surprising is Tooze’s description of how impoverished Germany was in comparison to rival countries (despite the gleaming technology and Blitzkrieg we associate with Nazi Germany, and the industrial conglomerates like IG Farben with Imperial Germany, most of Germany was still rural & unproductive, and the country abjectly dependent on imports to maintain its agriculture; Tooze includes a very telling anecdote: Ford Motors, when considering a plant in Germany, found that to give its blue-collar American workers their accustomed lifestyle would require expenses 4x that of normal blue-collar German workers; and horses will feature repeatedly throughout). Tooze also does a good job delineating how the Holocaust both exacerbated and helped with the severe labor & resource problems Nazi Germany began facing, and covers how it was a logical outcome of earlier policies: emigration failed because the German balance of payments did not allow for the Jews to leave with anything like their actual wealth, and unsurprisingly many Jews were not so fearful as to emigrate penniless, and starvation in camps was not far from the earlier Wehrmacht plan to make the conquest of the Ukraine pay by simply starving to death 30 million Slavs to free up food harvests. Indeed, given all the constraints and necessary imports in the 1930s and 1940s, one really has to wonder how contemporary Germany can be so wealthy and whether it really is due to labor reforms or thanks to the Euro…

One flaw is that Tooze freely goes from macro to micro, from the overall economy to very small subindustries or benchmarks, and it’s easy to get lost. And while the book covers the international finance in enough detail to understand it (and things like why Schacht was the ‘dark wizard of international finance’), I don’t think he does as good a job as Lords of Finance, which should probably be read before Wages of Destruction so one understands the international gold standard, and the French and British actions in the inter-war period.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Mary Roach ★★★★ 2010 2013/06/29 Hilarious, eye for details, incessant curiosity, good at tracking down bogus stories and rumors. Roach comes up with all the best quotes and stories, seems to have talked to everyone and done everything. And her running commentary is also hilarious - she’s almost as funny as she thinks she is. I laughed many times reading the book.

This is definitely more “mind candy” than educational as it jumps from food to sex to hygiene to acceleration issues to psychology without any overview or unifying ideas or concepts, although I did learn a fair bit anyway from the scattershot approach. (One chapter was a revelation for me in explaining why early science fiction often postulated space driving people insane). If there is any big picture to Packing for Mars, it’s that outer space is really hard for humans to survive in and everyone & everything has to be studied in microscopic detail for anyone to go there and come back alive. Reading all the checks and modifications and details, one is boggled that we made it to the Moon, much less we be musing a Mars mission.

(It makes for a pretty compelling argument that humans just don’t belong in space and that if we put half as much effort/time/money into automated exploration, we would know far more about the universe than we do - apparently, the ISS has cost us $150 billion‽ Roach is aware that this is the impression she gives in her conclusion where she criticizes ‘simulations’, but honestly, I didn’t find it a very compelling defense of the enormous difficulties & costs of shooting up some monkeys to walk around Mars compared to just sending probes.)

I compiled some excerpts from most of the chapters:

- chapters 1-2
- 3
- 4-5
- 6-7
- 8
- 9
- 10
- 11
- 12
- 13
- 14-15
- endnotes
Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe George B. Dyson ★★★★ 2012 2012/09/06 Mixed feelings. On the one hand, Dyson digs up all sorts of quotable lines and anecdotes and biographical details, many genuinely new to me. I enjoyed those greatly. For these I give it 4 stars. On the other hand…

He is obsessed with Von Neumann’s IAS/MANIAC, to the detriment of the rest of the book. The pre-WWII history is OK but signally fails to explain things like the Hilbert program, Goedel or Turing’s actual halting theorem. Someone who read this expecting to understand ‘Turing’s cathedral’ would be vastly better served reading a book like Hofstadter’s Goedel, Escher, Bach (as old as it is). Instead, countless pages are taken up with detailed technical information that is simultaneously in depth and also poorly explained. I repeatedly got the feeling that Dyson is indulging in that common temptation, allocating material based on how much effort it took to find, not what would inform the reader - he went through a lot of work documenting MANIAC and the rest of us must enjoy (suffer) the fruits of it. I felt that if I didn’t already know a great deal of this material, I would be completely lost inside the book; I wonder how much other people could get out of it.

The repeated analogies to search engines and modern computing come off very poorly (search engines are analogue? Oookkaayyy….); much could have been said about how modern chip architectures and cloud computing designs are not very Von Neumannian now, so here again I wonder if it’s a forced attempt to show contemporary relevance or perhaps just influence from his Google visit.

Other parts make one question how much Dyson understands: he links Goedelian/Turing incompleteness to computer viruses and concludes with grand ’90s-esque visions (pace Kevin Kelly’s old Out of Control book) of viruses spreading out through the Internet and beating on the walls of clean computers - but viruses aren’t really a problem these days, nothing like they used to be, and the situation seems apt to only improve! Like spam, the solutions are not perfect and require a great deal of manpower & cleverness, but they are working and currently seem likely to steadily improve; this wouldn’t be a surprise to him if he had really appreciated that Goedelian/Turing-incompleteness implies that there are large decidable subsets of programs and we can build our systems out of those. (Every programmer who uses a language with a decent type system is doing something a naive understanding of incompleteness says is impossible: he’s executing nontrivial predicates over his program.)

For those reasons and others, this will never get 5 stars from me, and if there were a 3.5 stars, I’d go with that.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 2013 2014/06/28 A Gaiman novella of ~54236 words. It uses the device of a frame story around a flashback which is the meat of the novella. The frame story is a sad divorced English artist returning to where he grew up for a funeral, and recollecting the circumstances. This aspect is dry, mannered, and reminscent of Mitchell’s Black Swan Green or Kazuo Ishiguro. The flashback is vintage Gaiman, with a plot predictable by anyone’s who’s read his young adult works (particularly Coraline): an ordinary person meets uncanny folk, gets inadvertently involved in deep matters, goes through hell, defeats the enemy, and survives more mature for it. The narrator is wry, with many acute observations (indeed, why do so many people destroy pea by overcooking them when they’re tasty on their own?), and the antagonist is exceedingly cruel & clever in seducing & turning the protagonist’s family against him. It’s a quick read of perhaps 2 hours, and is not especially complex: the work is almost entirely set at the protagonist’s home or the Hempstock farm, and shows its origins as a short story.

What makes this more than Gaiman going back to the well of mythos he has drawn from so many times before (oh look, another triune of mysterious powerful women! oh look, the fairy tale motif of the one forbidden action & of course the character does it) is the frame story’s tone of sadness and loss and wasted opportunity which otherwise shows up rarely in Gaiman’s fiction - it’s comparable to the death of the Sandman. By the end, the protagonist is pitiable: it was his fault, time and again, and ultimately the sacrifice was for him, and what has he done with his life? Little enough. As the shadows warn him, “There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questing after something you cannot have, something you cannot even properly imagine, the lack of which will spoil your sleep and your day and your life, until you close your eyes for the final time, until your loved ones give you poison and sell you to anatomy, and even then you will die with a hole inside you, and you will wail and curse at a life ill-lived.” At the end, the best the trinity can say for him is that he’s growing a new heart. Not that he’ll remember even that faint progress report.

It’s an interesting combo, and helps excuse some of the lamer bits. (Talk of electrons is jarringly out of place in a Gaiman work, and some aspects are too explicit about fantasy elements better left for the reader to wonder about.)
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives Steven Levy ★★★★ 2011 2013/03/24 I learned a great deal from this book about Google, which put some of my own experiences with Google products in context. Levy has information, anecdotes, quotes, and interviews which no one else does, which, like the recent Steve Jobs biography, makes his book indispensable for anyone interested in the topic regardless of the book’s other merits.

To continue the Jobs analogy, I think Levy is more independent of his subject and more willing to criticize it and poke holes in their narratives - he covers the criticisms I expected, doesn’t drop any particularly glaring issues, and more than once undermines their narratives with contrasting quotes & observations. In particular, Page repeatedly comes off as a narcissistic paranoid asshole, possibly due to his father’s death, who cannot empathize with others or understand their points of views (a trait perhaps endemic of Googlers, to judge by the Buzz fiasco).

But to compensate for all the great info and explanations (more than once I thought to myself, ‘ah, so that is what happened!’), there are downsides to the book. The principle one being:

Levy’s writing/presentation is extremely journalistic and dumbed down. I’m not sure whether Levy simply doesn’t understand programming & computers very well despite his long career covering the tech industry, or if he deliberately treats technical topics simplistically. (A description of JavaScript prefixes it with the undefined buzzword ‘dynamic’, although dynamic runtime typing is far from the most important aspect of JS; someone writing an early web spider is described as having a break through when they realize they can make it multithreaded, while I’m sitting back and thinking “there is no way that even in ~1995, any programmer, upon noticing that their web spider was not crawling as many URLs as he needs, would not instantly reach for multiprocessing/multithreading”.) Similar simplisticness applied to the legal discussions as well (you won’t come away with a real understanding of all the legal issues at play in the Google Books contretemps), and the economic ones fared much the same (I was glad Levy covered the auction innovations at Google, but couldn’t he explain why second-price auctions are so elegant and effective?).
Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Richard Carrier ★★★★ 2012 2012/10/31 Overall, it’s an interesting book which I regard as basically correct and a fruitful approach for future research, and Richard Carrier is a good guy whose work should be supported.

On the other hand, so far it’s not quite as awesome as I was hoping it’d be when I was writing an essay on identifying the author of the Death Note movie script with Bayesian reasoning recently - I think Luke Muehlhauser was right in his LessWrong review that Carrier does his case a disservice by trying to expound Bayesian ideas in a New Testament context where, half the point of Bayesian ideas is to point out how useless the evidence is! That’s… not a good way to either demonstrate Bayes is good in history nor to convince people of his overarching claims like ‘all correct historical inference is Bayesian inference’.

The way to introduce a new paradigm is to start with its successes, where Bayesian methods led to a correct prediction or retrodiction of an issue where decisive evidence surfaced while before the issue was settled, conventional methods were confused, wrong, or underconfident; and then argue that its practical success combined with your philosophical arguments about Bayesian reasoning being the only correct reasoning is a convincing synthesis, maybe then work out verdicts/predictions/retrodictions on a non-controversial area so the experts can see how they like the conclusions, and only then extend it to highly controversial and difficult (scarce or low-quality evidence) material.

I understand how he would come to write it that way since that’s what he was paid to do and Biblical material has become his specialty but I can still regret that the outcome wasn’t as good as it could’ve been.
Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes Ella Cheever Thayer ★★★★ 1879 2013/08/02 I read this on the strength of Clive Thompson’s review Wired Love: A tale of catfishing, OK Cupid, and sexting … from 1880; I downloaded & read the Google Books version.

Thompson summarizes it:

…Nattie is at work one day when a telegraph operator in another city, who calls himself “C”, begins chatting her up. They engage in a virtual courtship, things get funny and romantic, until suddenly things take a most puzzling and mysterious turn.


It’s all quite nuttily modern. Wired Love anticipates everything we live with in today’s online, Iphoned courtship: Assessing whether someone you’ve met online is what they say they are; the misunderstandings of tone and substance that come from communicating in rapid-fire, conversational bursts of text; or even the fact that you might not really be sure of the gender/nationality/species of the person you’re flirting with.


And also teens mooning over their cellphones!

“…and what with that and the telephone and that dreadful phonograph that bottles up all one says and disgorges at inconvenient times, we will soon be able to do everything by electricity; who knows but some genius will invent something for the especial use of lovers? something, for instance, to carry in their pockets, so when they are far away from each other, and pine for a sound of ‘that beloved voice’, they will have only to take up this electrical apparatus, and be happy. Ah! blissful lovers of the future!”


As promised, this was a very amusing Victorian novel, an easy read (perhaps a night’s worth), and the telegraphs were fascinatingly Internet-chat-like.
The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field Jacques Hadamard ★★★★ 1954 2014/01/20 I took a gander at this for its possible relevance to an essay of mine on mathematical error - Hadamard’s book is one of the classics in the area of mathematical discovery, mentioned along with Poincaré’s lecture.

With due allowance for style and age, Hadamard ably describes and defends the basic model of ‘work, incubation, illumination, verification’, with reference to his own discoveries, his many famous acquaintances, Poincaré’s lecture, and a very interesting survey of mathematicians. In fact, it’s a little depressing that we don’t seem to have gone much beyond that in the half-century since this was published back in 1945 or so. While at least we no longer need his defense of the unconscious as a meaningful part of cognition, much of the rest is depressingly familiar - for example, his acute observations on mental imagery & people who solely think in words, and mention of Francis Galton’s survey (little-known outside of psychology), could be usefully read by many who commit the typical mind fallacy.

If Hadamard comes to no hard and fast conclusions, but merely raises many interesting points and criticizes a number of theories, we can hardly hold that against him, as we can do little better and so it becomes our failing, not his.

(I read the Internet Archive scan.)
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Erik Larson ★★★★ 2003 2013/07/25 Two books in one: a relatively uninteresting psychopathic serial killer (I agree with Larson, anyone who’s read Cleckley will instantly see Holmes as a psychopath), and the other a very interesting portrait of a completely forgotten societal phenomenon - world fairs & expositions. They used to be so important, major matters of national prestige, key mechanisms in the spread of art (especially Japanese art, at the Paris one) and technology, and yet, they are completely forgotten; I hadn’t even heard of them until they came up in Men in Black because some leftover buildings got used in the movie. But as Larson tells the story, we learn that they were mega-events to which all celebrities attended, and a good fraction of the entire American population would attend; they were the originals of which Disney’s Epcot is the palest imitation, they were the reason we have the Eiffel Tower and the Ferris wheel and so many other things. This story is the fascinating story, and it’s almost a pity that Larson periodically interrupts the tale of the Chicago one to tell us more about Holmes, rather than giving us real photos and more stories from the fair (photos like those in Appelbaum’s The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record): after all we are told about the Court of Honor, it’s sad to be given only a tiny glimpse of it, and it’s really a pity we read only a few ‘con stories’, as it were, from the event itself. But so it goes.
The Mask of Sanity Hervey M. Cleckley ★★★★ 2003 2012/12/21 Cleckley scatters through this book constant fascinating anecdotes and remarks, some so outrageous or remarkable that one would assume he made them up if he were writing on some other topic.

Cleckley’s moralizing and occasional very old-fashioned comments are occasionally as interesting, and reading him in 2012, one feels very strongly just how distant (in a social mores sense) we are from him in the 1940s and earlier - when he writes of ‘miscegenation’ (I wonder how many teenagers now could tell you what ‘sexual miscegenation’ is), when he defends homosexuals as possibly not insane but sometimes even decent people, or when he speaks in horror of female psychopaths not guarding their virginity, or in a half-page fulminating against the hippies, or when he speculates that a healthy male adult might - after several years stranded on a desert island - enjoy masturbation (no, really?).

Sadly, Cleckley is not nearly as dated as one would hope after reading something like 200 pages detailing the endless wake of destruction, fraud, violence, deception, manipulation, and criminality: his basic conclusion that there are no effective treatments for psychopathy, and all previous attempts have been expensive failures, seems to remain true. Indeed, some attempts at treatment have backfired and resulted in even more crime being committed by subjects.
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don’t Nate Silver ★★★★ 2012 2012/11/19 An excellent popular (easy to read) overview of a variety of statistical topics, with a good focus on not fooling yourself with overfitting. Some of the technical aspects are a little weak (the Hume discussion comes to mind), but what do you expect, Silver’s a busy guy.

Excerpts:

- Introduction
- 1
- 2
- 3
- 4
- 5
- 6
- 7
- 8
- 10
- 11
- 12
- 13
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened Allie Brosh ★★★★ 2013 2014/02/20 tl;dr: the webcomic is great, go read it.

I’ve been a devoted reader of Hyperbole and a Half for many years now, even through the long depression drought: Brosh is witty, ironic, self-aware, hilarious, and though her comics seem crudely drawn, they still perfectly convey the inner emotions of events, illustrate the prose, and (along with XKCD) give hope to us all that we may one day become world-class comic artists though we still draw like we’re in kindergarten.

Summary: I like her stuff. 5 stars.

I was curious how the book version would go, since I had already read all of the online ones (of course). I picked up the e-book, reader it in FBreader on my laptop, and… I’m not really impressed. These comic essays were written for scrolling web browsers, and it shows in the awkwardness of the pagination and book display form. I’m glad the book exists so she can make the money she deserves and for all the people who simply won’t read a web comic but will read a book, but at least for me, the original is best. (The extra content isn’t really enough to change my opinion.) Book: 4 stars.
Declare Tim Powers ★★★★ 2002 2013/02/14 I enjoyed this greatly: Declare is a hybrid of a Le Carré espionage novel (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in particular) and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (in the meticulous pattern-seeking and warping of historical events and literature), with a bouncing action plot which appositely quotes from Fitzgerald-Khayyam, Spenser, Shakespeare and Swinburne especially to grant it greater depth than it might seem to merit. Even when you think it’s done on Mt Ararat (and Powers has in a final flourish explained Philby dying shortly before the Berlin Wall), the plot isn’t entirely over and there are multiple more deceptions and operations to go. And to top it all off, Powers takes an afterword to “show his work” and reveal how Cold War history was “freakier than fiction” (in TvTropes terms), but it’s hard to blame him for not being really pleased with some of the genuine incidents he works in. (The exploding car with Philby wearing a fox cape and escaping with a minor injury while everyone else died? Real. I was shocked.)
Chased by the Light: A 90-Day Journey-Revisited After the Storm Jim Brandenburg ★★★★ 2001 2007/01/01 I read this after reading Kevin Kelly’s review in Cool Tools, where he wrote

Take one, and only one, exposure per day. No second exposure, no second chance. A single arrow per day, and a bull’s eye each time. That’s zen. For amateurs and professionals alike this requires relying on the Force. Particularly since many of his subjects are wild birds and stealthy wolves. The ninety images stand strong, each on their own, but the complete symphony is one of the most impressive acts of mindfulness I’ve seen.


After finishing looking through it, I could not disagree too much. It is one of the best photo books I have seen. The subject matter is much less profound and terrifying than 100 Suns, but the general quality is higher. More than once I found myself wondering if Brandenburg was lying - these photos are too good and catch too many moments perfectly, surely he couldn’t’ve possibly really taken only 1 photograph a day and these were them, surely he sometimes took hundreds and is covering them up? But so it seems.
The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy Sharon Bertsch McGrayne ★★★★ 2011 Light history of Bayesian statistics & related topics. I enjoyed the book a lot; McGrayne has a good eye for the amusing details, and she conveys at least some of the intuition (although some graphs or examples would have helped the reader - I liked the flipping coin illustrations in Dasivia 2006 Bayesian Data Analysis). It’s also remarkably synoptic: I was repeatedly surprised by names popping up in the chronology, like BUGS, Bretthorst, Fisher’s smoking papers, Diaconis, the actuarial use of Bayes etc, and I have a better impression of Laplace and Good’s many contributions. The math was very light, which undermines the value of much of it since unless one is already an expert one doesn’t know how much the author is falsifying (for the best reasons), and means that some connections are missed (like empirical Bayes being a forerunner of hierarchical modeling, which aren’t well-explained themselves).
The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan Robert Kanigel ★★★★ 1992 2013/08/12 A long account of a short life. I knew only the bare outlines of Ramanujan’s story, but I think this does an excellent job in fleshing the famous anecdotes out; for example, I hadn’t realized how long he had twisted in the wind before his famous letter to Hardy, nor that he had spent a full year and more in India in a position before finally being brought to Cambridge. While Kanigel goes overboard in his novelistic scene-setting and psychologizing, one cannot say he does not try to set the scene for one and go beyond a bare recitations of events to the actual feel and texture of life in various places or of various persons; particularly noteworthy is his attempts to explain at least a little of the actual math which made Ramanujan worth a biography, beyond his romantic story, and here I think Kanigel does a really good job for the layman.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years David Graeber ★★★★ 2011 2011/09/24 Mixed feelings: many interesting little tidbits and quotes, but overall I get the feel of a vast thesis made up of confirmation bias and unreliable evidence like etymologies; some parts are flabbergastingly wrong, like his brief description of Apple Computer’s founding. (He apparently routinely makes factual mistakes; Brad DeLong apparently identified 50 in chapter 12 just to make that point.)

And while he’s very cynical about things he’s against, he exhibits a strange lack of cynicism about his in-groups (like the idle poor, or China - accusing the US of manipulating the rates!) Emphasizing the rather ideological bent of the book is his very thin skin as exhibited in response to online criticism like on Crooked Timber.
Red Plenty Francis Spufford ★★★★ 2010 2012/06/02 Comparable to Dos Passos’s USA or Schulz’s Radiance, if that helps. Depicts how Russia fell into the middle-income trap and stagnated, and illuminates the early growth of Russia’s industrialization and why Khrushchev thought Russia could bury the US (not in dirt, but manufactured goods). Elegiac, enlightening, sympathetic.

Further reading:

- In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You, Cosma Shalizi (discussion)
- “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle”, Paul Krugman
The End of History and the Last Man Francis Fukuyama ★★★★ 2006 2004/01/01 I’ve bumped this to 4 stars as, thinking back on the ~decade since I read this, Fukuyama is still right and yet no one seems to get this.

People, look at the Arab Spring. Did it yield any caliphates, say? Anarchistic self-governing communes? Self-governing city-states? Hanseatic Leagues? Or look at official rhetoric in places like China. Look at the gradual and continuing expansion of capitalism and democracy as the defaults for every country. Look at the discrediting of Putin’s Russian cronyism approach, or at the Muslim world’s shift away from marginal Salafist groups like al-Qaeda.

Fukuyama was right. There are no credible alternatives to the capitalist liberal democracy paradigm.
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements Eric Hoffer ★★★★ 2010 Many of his points and observations ring true, but Hoffer is fond of using only a few isolated examples to prove his points, and of affirming paradoxes; but the problem with each is that they are not as reliable as they may seem, and the general detachment from statistics and economics and demographics undermines my confidence in any of his claims. He cites Tocqueville approvingly on the lack of coherence of the narrative of the French Revolution with the observed facts that the French had never had it better than before the Revolution - but how can I then have any confidence in any of his narratives?
Dreams of Steel (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #5) Glen Cook ★★★★ 1990 2013/06/12 A major improvement over the previous two books and equal to the original The Black Company & Shadows Linger: we turn to the Lady’s perspective as she fights her way back from a debacle in the invasion of the Shadowlands, builds up an army, and imposes her own manipulative rule and empire-building tactics, heavily leavened by plotting by all parties. Pluses included no more Taken popping up, we saw very little of Goblin or One-eye, and soap-operatic twist at the end aside, the overall plot has built up nicely.
On China Henry Kissinger ★★★★ 2011 2012/01/31 Kissinger may be a duplicitous murderous bastard, but he’s an excellent analyst and while his ancient history is only so-so as far as I can tell from my other reading (eg. Needham), his takes on modern Chinese history is very interesting, and I learned a number of things I did not know before (I was shocked to learn that the Soviets at one point seriously considered pre-emptively attacking China’s nuclear program and had reached out to the USA to ask whether the USA would be very upset about it?).
The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires Tim Wu ★★★★ 2010 2010/01/01 His Cycle is a convincing paradigm. I already knew a lot of it from Lawrence Lessig and related copyright books & writings, but Tim Wu puts the history together nicely, and renders the 2000s a little clearer (not that I really needed to be told that Apple/Jobs are a clear incarnation of the empire-building trend; this was obvious even when Neal Stephenson pointed it out many years ago in “In The Beginning Was The Commandline…” )
The Circus of Dr. Lao Charles G. Finney ★★★★ 2002 2011/10/20 The book comes up often in Wolfe discussions of An Evil Guest, I noticed there was a copy on library.nu, so…

Short, but fairly funny; ending wasn’t quite as expected, but the dramatis personae and especially the section of questions listing contradictions/mistakes/obscurities made up for my lingering dissatisfaction. Don’t think it was directly useful for interpreting Wolfe’s An Evil Guest, but the dramatis personae is a clear inspiration for Wolfe’s own character lists.
The Kindly Ones Jonathan Littell ★★★★ 2009 Very long, not a little tedious (although in places the detail reaches tour de forces, like the early discussion of German war on the Eastern front). Desensitized by the end. Not sure how to take it, but disagree with the protagonist - I don’t understand his constant depravity and murdering, and I don’t agree I would do much the same thing in his position. One or two murders, maybe, but even killing his best friend Thomas who time and again saved Aue’s ass?
The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution Bernard Bailyn ★★★★ 1992 2011/01/01 Bailyn was more or less as Moldbug described, and the quotes from the pamphlets fairly convincing. That said, I would have liked a lot more of those quotes about conspiracies and the origins of the plans to enslave the colonies for private profit, and much less paraphrase & political theorizing.
Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman James Gleick ★★★★ 1993 2014/04/08 A solid biography, though I don’t have anything in particular to say about it. It throws in all the classic anecdotes and quotes you expect, doesn’t try to whitewash Feynman and includes some critical examination, does make an effort to explain all the physics which earned Feynman his prestige, etc. It’s a well-regarded widely-read biography which I have nothing to say against.
Friendship is Optimal iceman ★★★★ 2012 It’s an excellent dystopia which makes you feel that it’s hell - but also better than our reality.

But as great as the premise is, and as chilling (or thrilling?) as the results are, on reflection I’m not quite sure I can give this a rare 5-stars (as I did initially): the prose is a little too journeyman-like, the characters a little too undifferentiated.
Steve Jobs Walter Isaacson ★★★★ 2011 2011/10/24 Long but good biography; in some respects, too cheerleading of Jobs (balanced by Isaacson not truckling too much and being willing to cover the ugly parts of Jobs’s life). But overall, a good detailed bio. I do not admire Jobs - perhaps if he were less neurotic or chewed through people less, but I respect him: he was a real mensch.
Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey, #1) Jasper Fforde ★★★★ 2009 2013/03/29 Post-apocalyptic Flatland meets Hunger Games via Paranoia - that is, an insane bureaucratic totalitarian Victorian nightmare mediated by color perception whose protagonists rebel against the order of things instituted after some doomsday. I enjoyed it a lot.
I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy Lori Andrews ★★★★ 2012 Remarkably thoroughly researched, with endless references and anecdotes, which is an achievement indeed for a topic as ephemeral and changing as social media. (I didn’t think too much of its critical analysis or conclusions, but the rest more than made up for it.)
World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability Amy Chua ★★★★ 2004 That was actually pretty good (better than one might guess from reading the discussions of her later tiger-mother book), many interesting observations. Her paradigm seems pretty generally applicable outside the First World. I took extensive notes.
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives David Eagleman ★★★★ 2009 40 very short stories in the tradition of Borges, Calvino, and Stanislaw Lem (in ascending order). Overall, pretty good, although naturally the quality level varies considerably and the parables that spoke to me will not speak to others.
The Black Cloud Fred Hoyle ★★★★ 1998 2010/12/01 Good frame story, good science, good possibilities - the black cloud is still a novel proposal and interesting to think about in a panspermia context. Mind candy. (And short enough it doesn’t wear out its welcome.)
Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage Kathryn Edin ★★★★ 2007 2011/11/13 Incredibly sobering, explains a lot about inner-city illegitimacy, and the best thing I’ve read about the topic and why women would do something which from far away seems like a completely terrible idea.
Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences Richard Lynn ★★★★ 2012 2012/08/14 Very wonky, of course, but still many interesting correlation; I excerpted parts I found interesting to a Google+ post.
Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery Imre Lakatos ★★★★ 1976 2011/12/28 Surprisingly interesting, like Wittgenstein if he wrote in a human fashion, and longer than one would think possible given how straightforward the problem initially appears.
Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture Takashi Murakami ★★★★ 2005 2011/11/24 Main use for this book: encyclopedia entries, Murakami’s long essay, the dialogue with Okada - rest is completely impenetrable, featuring fine gobbledegook.
Snuff (Discworld, #39) Terry Pratchett ★★★★ 2011 2011/11/17 Curiously, this is the least funny but probably best Discworld book I’ve read so far. Vimes has grown a great deal since we first met him.
Birds Aristophanes ★★★★ 1998 I was mildly surprised by how much funnier than expected it was. One doesn’t expect such ancient contemporary humor to translate well.
Manna Marshall Brain ★★★★ 2003 2008/01/01
Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology David Graeber ★★★★ 2004 2014/06/18
The Quantum Thief Hannu Rajaniemi ★★★★ 2010
The Autumn of the Patriarch Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez ★★★★ 2006 2014/04/28
Requiem of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru #7) 07th Expansion ★★★★ 2010 2013/09/01
End of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru #5) 07th Expansion ★★★★ 2009 2013/08/01
Alliance of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni #4) 07th Expansion ★★★★ 2008 2013/08/01
Turn of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni #2) 07th Expansion ★★★★ 2007 2013/07/01
Rogue Male Geoffrey Household ★★★★ 2002 2014/04/02
The Making of Prince of Persia Jordan Mechner ★★★★ 2011 2012/04/11
Shadows Linger (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #2) Glen Cook ★★★★ 1990 2013/06/08
The Old Regime and the French Revolution Alexis de Tocqueville ★★★★ 1955
The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China Mike O’Connor ★★★★ 1998
Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness, and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier Suelette Dreyfus ★★★★ 1997
George’s Marvellous Medicine Roald Dahl ★★★★ 2003
Fantastic Mr. Fox Roald Dahl ★★★★ 2002
Four Past Midnight Stephen King ★★★★ 1991
The Paranoid Style in American Politics Richard Hofstadter ★★★★ 2012
Global Price Fixing: Our Customers Are the Enemy John M. Connor ★★★★ 2001
Demian Hermann Hesse ★★★★ 1996
Three Worlds Collide Eliezer Yudkowsky ★★★★ 2009
Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Julian Higgins ★★★★ 2008
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament Bart D. Ehrman ★★★★ 1996 2012/11/14
The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 Nina Tannenwald ★★★★ 2008
Beyond Good and Evil Friedrich Nietzsche ★★★★ 2003
Walden Henry David Thoreau ★★★★ 2004
Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive Bruce Schneier ★★★★ 2012 2012/10/22
Moral Basis of a Backward Society Edward C. Banfield ★★★★ 1967
When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God T.M. Luhrmann ★★★★ 2012 2012/10/04
Good & Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding Tyler Cowen ★★★★ 2006
The Unincorporated Man Dani Kollin ★★★★ 2009
Fallout: Equestria kkat ★★★★ 2011 2012/08/26
The White-Luck Warrior R. Scott Bakker ★★★★ 2011
The Darkness That Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing, #1) R. Scott Bakker ★★★★ 2005
City of Glass (The New York Trilogy, #1) Paul Auster ★★★★ 1987
De Profundis Oscar Wilde ★★★★ 2011 2012/08/13
Five Children and It (Five Children, #1) E. Nesbit ★★★★ 1996
War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War John W. Dower ★★★★ 1987
The UNIX Hater’s Handbook: The Best of UNIX-Haters On-line Mailing Reveals Why UNIX Must Die! Simson Garfinkel ★★★★ 1994
Reason & Persuasion: Three Dialogues By Plato John Holbo ★★★★ 2009
When Prophecy Fails: a Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World Leon Festinger ★★★★ 1964 2012/10/27
Collected Poems of Robert Frost Robert Frost ★★★★ 1930 2012/07/26
Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown ★★★★ 2007
The Lorax Dr. Seuss ★★★★ 1998
Copper Kazu Kibuishi ★★★★ 2010
A Study of History, Vol 1: Introduction; The Geneses of Civilizations (A Study of History, #1) Arnold Joseph Toynbee ★★★★ 1934
The Decline of the West Oswald Spengler ★★★★ 1991
Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery Martin Gardner ★★★★ 1995
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Avi ★★★★ 1992
Red Ranger Came Calling Berkeley Breathed ★★★★ 1997
The Anatomy of Revolution Crane Brinton ★★★★ 1965
The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary Ambrose Bierce ★★★★ 2002
The Epic of Gilgamesh Anonymous ★★★★ 2006
Wild Magic (Immortals, #1) Tamora Pierce ★★★★ 2005
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (The Authorized Doubleday/Doran Edition) T.E. Lawrence ★★★★ 1991
Psychological Warfare (WWII Era Reprint) Paul M.A. Linebarger ★★★★ 2010
A Journey To The Tea Countries Of China Robert Fortune ★★★★ 2005
The Iron Dream Norman Spinrad ★★★★ 1986
The Rise & Decline of The Medici Bank, 1397-1494 Raymond de Roover ★★★★ 1966
Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction To The Thought Of The Brethren Of Purity, Ikhwān Al Ṣafāʾ Ian Richard Netton ★★★★ 1982
The Autobiography of a Criminal Henry Tufts ★★★★ 1993
Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader Peter Wright ★★★★ 2003
Krazy and Ignatz, 1939-1940: A Brick Stuffed With Moom-bins George Herriman ★★★★ 2007
Krazy and Ignatz, 1929-1930: A Mice, a Brick, a Lovely Night George Herriman ★★★★ 2003
Krazy and Ignatz, 1931-1932: A Kat Alilt With Song George Herriman ★★★★ 2004
Krazy and Ignatz, 1933-1934: Necromancy by the Blue Bean Bush George Herriman ★★★★ 2005
Krazy and Ignatz, 1937-1938: Shifting Sands Dusts Its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty George Herriman ★★★★ 2006
Krazy and Ignatz, 1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent, and Amiable Brick George Herriman ★★★★ 2011
ANSI Common Lisp Paul Graham ★★★★ 1996
Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1) Kim Stanley Robinson ★★★★ 2003
The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques Martin F. Krafft ★★★★ 2005
The Mysterious Stranger Mark Twain ★★★★ 1916
The Grand Inquisitor Fyodor Dostoyevsky ★★★★ 1880
The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame ★★★★ 2005
Wizard’s Bane (Wiz, #1) Rick Cook ★★★★ 1989
Inferno (The Divine Comedy, #1) Dante Alighieri ★★★★ 2003
Complete Tales of Uncle Remus Joel Chandler Harris ★★★★ 1955
The World Without Us Alan Weisman ★★★★ 2007
Ethics Aristotle ★★★★ 2005
Neptune Crossing (The Chaos Chronicles, #1) Jeffrey A. Carver ★★★★ 1995
Bush at War Bob Woodward ★★★★ 2003
Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy René Descartes ★★★★ 1999
On Liberty John Stuart Mill ★★★★ 1985
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Charlie Bucket, #2) Roald Dahl ★★★★ 2005
The Story of Doctor Dolittle (Doctor Dolittle, #1) Hugh Lofting ★★★★ 2005
Splendors of Meiji: Treasures of Imperial Japan: Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection Joe Earle ★★★★ 1999
Scythian Gold Ellen Reeder ★★★★ 1999
The Sufi Path Of Knowledge: Ibn Al ʻarabi’s Metaphysics Of Imagination William C. Chittick ★★★★ 0
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber ★★★★ 2003
Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement John U. Ogbu ★★★★ 2003
IQ and the Wealth of Nations Richard Lynn ★★★★ 2002
The Double Axe, and Other Poems Including Eleven Suppressed Poems Robinson Jeffers ★★★★ 1986
Shadows of the New Sun Peter Wright ★★★★ 2006
Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History James Carroll ★★★★ 2002
On Thermonuclear War Herman Kahn ★★★★ 2007
A Journal of the Plague Year Daniel Defoe ★★★★ 2003
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen Tadeusz Borowski ★★★★ 1992
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Omar Khayyam ★★★★ 2005
Terror and Liberalism Paul Berman ★★★★ 2004
The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment A.J. Jacobs ★★★★ 2009
The New Hacker’s Dictionary Eric S. Raymond ★★★★ 1996
The Art of Unix Programming Eric S. Raymond ★★★★ 2003
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel Taylor Coleridge ★★★★ 1970
The King in Yellow Robert W. Chambers ★★★★ 2007
The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand James Elroy Flecker ★★★★ 2004
Nine Princes in Amber (Amber Chronicles, #1) Roger Zelazny ★★★★ 1972
Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings Kenji Tokitsu ★★★★ 2006
Psychology of Intelligence Analysis Richard J. Heuer Jr. ★★★★ 2006 2012/07/21
The Questions Of King Milinda - Part I Thomas William Rhys Davids ★★★★ 2011
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch (Encyclopedia Brown, #2) Donald J. Sobol ★★★★ 2000
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown, #1) Donald J. Sobol ★★★★ 1985
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny Robert Wright ★★★★ 2001
The World, the Flesh & the Devil;: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul J.D. Bernal ★★★★ 1969
Say Cheese and Die! (Goosebumps, #4) R.L. Stine ★★★★ 2003
Night of the Living Dummy (Goosebumps, #7) R.L. Stine ★★★★ 2003
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture David Kushner ★★★★ 2004
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science Alan Sokal ★★★★ 1999
The Red Castle H.C. Bailey ★★★★ 0
Stuart Little E.B. White ★★★★ 2005
The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer William Irwin ★★★★ 2001
Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland William Ian Miller ★★★★ 1997
The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia René Grousset ★★★★ 1970
The Man in the Iron Mask (The D’Artagnan Romances, #3) Alexandre Dumas ★★★★ 2003
Japanese Court Poetry Robert Brower ★★★★ 1988
The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History David Hackett Fischer ★★★★ 1999
Once and Forever Kenji Miyazawa ★★★★ 1998
War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race Edwin Black ★★★★ 2004
The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 Jonathan Clements ★★★★ 2001
Monkey: The Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en ★★★★ 1994
Indian Philosophy: An Introduction To Hindu And Buddhist Thought Richard King ★★★★ 1999
Philosophy of Mind Jaegwon Kim ★★★★ 2005
The Legacy of Parmenides: Eleatic Monism and Later Presocratic Thought Patricia Curd ★★★★ 2004
The Medici Bank: Its Organization, Management, Operations, and Decline Raymond de Roover ★★★★ 2008
Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy Nick Bostrom ★★★★ 2010
Haskell: The Craft of Functional Programming Simon Thompson ★★★★ 1999
The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology) K. Anders Ericsson ★★★★ 2006
Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays George Lucas ★★★★ 1997
Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Characters Andy Mangels ★★★★ 1995
Crimson Empire, Volume 1 (Star Wars: Crimson Empire, #1) Mike Richardson ★★★★ 1998
The Han Solo Adventures (Classic Star Wars) Brian Daley ★★★★ 1994
Iron Fist (Star Wars: X-Wing, #6) Aaron Allston ★★★★ 1998
The Bacta War (Star Wars: X-Wing, #4) Michael A. Stackpole ★★★★ 1997
I, Jedi (Star Wars) Michael A. Stackpole ★★★★ 1998
The Truce at Bakura (Star Wars) Kathy Tyers ★★★★ 1994
Shadows of the Empire (Star Wars) Steve Perry ★★★★ 1997
The Courtship of Princess Leia (Star Wars) Dave Wolverton ★★★★ 2011
The Last Command (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #3) Timothy Zahn ★★★★ 1994
Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #1) Timothy Zahn ★★★★ 1992
The Phoenix Exultant (Golden Age, #2) John C. Wright ★★★★ 2003
Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds Harold Bloom ★★★★ 2003
Disclosure Michael Crichton ★★★★ 1994
Cities in Flight (Cities in Flight, #1-4) James Blish ★★★★ 2005
Eon (The Way, #1) Greg Bear ★★★★ 1991
The Trumpeter of Krakow Eric P. Kelly ★★★★ 1992 1999/01/01
The Man Who Was Thursday G.K. Chesterton ★★★★ 2001
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Rudyard Kipling ★★★★ 1997
The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling ★★★★ 1992
Man Into Superman: The Startling Potential of Human Evolution – And How to Be Part of It Robert C.W. Ettinger ★★★★ 2005
Cosmopolis Don DeLillo ★★★★ 2003
Breakdown of Will George Ainslie ★★★★ 2001
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon ★★★★ 2003
The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling John Taylor Gatto ★★★★ 2003
Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility James P. Carse ★★★★ 1987
The Magus John Fowles ★★★★ 1988
And Then There Were None Agatha Christie ★★★★ 2004
A Scanner Darkly Philip K. Dick ★★★★ 2006
Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo ★★★★ 2002
Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention Stanislas Dehaene ★★★★ 2009
New Urban Immigrants: The Korean Community in New York Illsoo Kim ★★★★ 1981
Culture and Customs of Korea Donald N. Clark ★★★★ 2000
Sunset in a Spider Web: Sijo Poetry of Ancient Korea Virginia Olsen Baron ★★★★ 1974
When We Were Orphans Kazuo Ishiguro ★★★★ 2007
The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #2) Lemony Snicket ★★★★ 2000
The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) Lemony Snicket ★★★★ 1999
Across the Sea of Suns (Galactic Center, #2) Gregory Benford ★★★★ 2004
Timescape Gregory Benford ★★★★ 1992
Red Emma Speaks Emma Goldman ★★★★ 1996 2008/06/19
The Known World Edward P. Jones ★★★★ 2006
The Last Ringbearer Kirill Yeskov ★★★★ 2010
Deep Time:: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia Gregory Benford ★★★★ 2001
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States Albert O. Hirschman ★★★★ 1970
The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, #3) Philip Pullman ★★★★ 2003
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1) Philip Pullman ★★★★ 1996
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak ★★★★ 2000
Maniac Magee Jerry Spinelli ★★★★ 2002
The Stinky Cheese Man: And Other Fairly Stupid Tales Jon Scieszka ★★★★ 1992 1997/01/01
A Little Princess (World’s Best Loved Classics) Frances Hodgson Burnett ★★★★ 1994
The Indian in the Cupboard (The Indian in the Cupboard, #1) Lynne Reid Banks ★★★★ 2003
Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1) L.M. Montgomery ★★★★ 2003
Winnie-the-Pooh A.A. Milne ★★★★ 2001
The House at Pooh Corner A.A. Milne ★★★★ 1988
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Dr. Seuss ★★★★ 1957
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens ★★★★ 1999
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi Chris Van Allsburg ★★★★ 1979
Harriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1) Louise Fitzhugh ★★★★ 2001
The Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss ★★★★ 1957
The Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton ★★★★ 2001
Well Played 1.0: Video Games, Value and Meaning Drew Davidson ★★★★ 2009
Mr. Popper’s Penguins Richard Atwater ★★★★ 1992
Giants’ Star (Giants, #3) James P. Hogan ★★★★ 1982
The Gentle Giants of Ganymede (Giants, #2) James P. Hogan ★★★★ 1983
Inherit the Stars (Giants, #1) James P. Hogan ★★★★ 1978
Heirs of Empire (Dahak, #3) David Weber ★★★★ 1996
Path of the Fury David Weber ★★★★ 1992
Field of Dishonor (Honor Harrington, #4) David Weber ★★★★ 2002
The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3) David Weber ★★★★ 1994
On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1) David Weber ★★★★ 2005
Necroscope II: Vamphyri! (Necroscope, #2) Brian Lumley ★★★★ 1989
Necroscope (Necroscope, #1) Brian Lumley ★★★★ 1994
The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect Roger Williams ★★★★ 2010
The Voyage of the Space Beagle A.E. van Vogt ★★★★ 1963
Purely Functional Data Structures Chris Okasaki ★★★★ 1999
Vampire World II: The Last Aerie Brian Lumley ★★★★ 1994
Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project Karl Franz Fogel ★★★★ 2005
The Three Pillars of Zen Philip Kapleau ★★★★ 1989
Storm of Steel Ernst Jünger ★★★★ 2007
The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying: A Spiritual Classic from One of the Foremost Interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West Sogyal Rinpoche ★★★★ 2008
Sailing Bright Eternity Gregory Benford ★★★★ 1996
Beggars Ride (Sleepless, #3) Nancy Kress ★★★★ 1997
Magician’s Gambit (The Belgariad, #3) David Eddings ★★★★ 1983
Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, #1) David Eddings ★★★★ 2004
The Sapphire Rose (The Elenium, #3) David Eddings ★★★★ 1992
When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management Roger Lowenstein ★★★★ 2001
The Great Brain (Great Brain #1) John D. Fitzgerald ★★★★ 2004
The Wasp Factory Iain Banks ★★★★ 1998
Vacuum Diagrams (Xeelee Sequence, #5) Stephen Baxter ★★★★ 2001
The Timeless Way of Building Christopher Alexander ★★★★ 1979
The Architecture of Open Source Applications Amy Brown ★★★★ 2011
The Algebraist Iain M. Banks ★★★★ 2005
Myth Conceptions (Myth Adventures, #2) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★★ 2005
Phule’s Company (Phule’s Company, #1) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★★ 1990
Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections (Myth Adventures, #8) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★★ 2006
Phule’s Paradise (Phule’s Company, #2) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★★ 1992
A Phule and His Money (Phule’s Company, #3) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★★ 1999
The Keep (Adversary Cycle, #1) F. Paul Wilson ★★★★ 2006
How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business Douglas W. Hubbard ★★★★ 2011
Revelation Space (Revelation Space, #1) Alastair Reynolds ★★★★ 2002
The Prose Edda Snorri Sturluson ★★★★ 2006
The Nibelungenlied Unknown ★★★★ 1965
The Book of Lost Tales, Part One (The History of Middle-Earth, #1) J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★★ 1992
Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure Richard Buckminster Fuller ★★★★ 1969
Modern Japanese Diaries: The Japanese at Home and Abroad as Revealed Through Their Diaries Donald Keene ★★★★ 1999
Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (A History of Japanese Literature - Volume 1) Donald Keene ★★★★ 1999
Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon Chikamatsu ★★★★ 1997
Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers Takeda Izumo ★★★★ 1971
World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Premodern Era - 1600-1867 (A History of Japanese Literature - Volume 2) Donald Keene ★★★★ 1999
Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era Donald Keene ★★★★ 1984
The Tao of Pooh Benjamin Hoff ★★★★ 2003
The Te Of Piglet (The Wisdom Of Pooh) Benjamin Hoff ★★★★ 2003
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus Christopher Marlowe ★★★★ 2009
Feynman And Computation Anthony J.G. Hey ★★★★ 2002
Bare-Faced Messiah Frederic P. Miller ★★★★ 2011
Excession (Culture, #5) Iain M. Banks ★★★★ 1998
Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming Peter Seibel ★★★★ 2009
The Hedgehog, the Fox & the Magister’s Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science & the Humanities Stephen Jay Gould ★★★★ 2004
The Golden Bough James George Frazer ★★★★ 1995
Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy: How Emperor Hirohito Led Japan Into War Against the West David Bergamini ★★★★ 2006
The Stainless Steel Rat for President (Stainless Steel Rat, #8) Harry Harrison ★★★★ 1988
The Stainless Steel Rat (Stainless Steel Rat, #4) Harry Harrison ★★★★ 1998
Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues Steven M. Cahn ★★★★ 2005
Catastrophe: Risk and Response Richard A. Posner ★★★★ 2004
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer Sarah Bakewell ★★★★ 2010
The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters B.R. Myers ★★★★ 2010
The Authoritarians Bob Altemeyer ★★★★ 2006
Russian Silhouettes Genna Sosonko ★★★★ 2005
Superior Beings: If They Exist, How Would We Know? Steven J. Brams ★★★★ 2006
The Best Writing on Mathematics William P. Thurston ★★★★ 2011
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness Elyn R. Saks ★★★★ 2007
Melmoth the Wanderer Charles Robert Maturin ★★★★ 2001
Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative Edward R. Tufte ★★★★ 1998
Envisioning Information Edward R. Tufte ★★★★ 1992
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice Christopher Hitchens ★★★★ 1997
Beautiful Evidence Edward R. Tufte ★★★★ 2006
Steppe Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1985
Yon Ill Wind (Xanth, #20) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1997
Juxtaposition (Apprentice Adept, #3) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1987
Blue Adept (Apprentice Adept, #2) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1987
And Eternity (Incarnations of Immortality, #7) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1991
Split Infinity (Apprentice Adept, #1) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1987
For Love of Evil (Incarnations of Immortality, #6) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1990
Centaur Aisle (Xanth, #4) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1997
Wielding a Red Sword (Incarnations of Immortality, #4) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1987
Bearing An Hourglass (Incarnations of Immortality, #2) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1984
On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality, #1) Piers Anthony ★★★★ 1986
Foundation’s Edge (Foundation, #4) Isaac Asimov ★★★★ 2010
Forward the Foundation (Foundation: Prequel, #2) Isaac Asimov ★★★★ 1994
The Odyssey Homer ★★★★ 2006
Around the World in Eighty Days Jules Verne ★★★★ 2004
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson ★★★★ 2003
Where the Red Fern Grows Wilson Rawls ★★★★ 2000
The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings Edgar Allan Poe ★★★★ 2004
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages, #3) Jules Verne ★★★★ 2006
Triss (Redwall, #15) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2004
Taggerung (Redwall, #14) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2003
Marlfox (Redwall, #11) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2005
Pearls of Lutra (Redwall, #9) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2004
The Long Patrol (Redwall, #10) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2004
Salamandastron (Redwall, #5) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2003
Redwall (Redwall, #1) Brian Jacques ★★★★ 2006
Interview With The Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1) Anne Rice ★★★★ 2004
Life of Pi Yann Martel ★★★★ 2006
The Alienist Caleb Carr ★★★★ 2006
Famous First Bubbles: The Fundamentals of Early Manias Peter Garber ★★★★ 2000
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why Laurence Gonzales ★★★★ 2004
U.S.A. John Dos Passos ★★★★ 1996
On the Beach Nevil Shute ★★★★ 2002
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter ★★★★ 1964
His Master’s Voice Stanisław Lem ★★★★ 1999
Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems Li Bai ★★★★ 1973
Lords of the Middle Dark (Rings of the Master, #1) Jack L. Chalker ★★★★ 1986
The Principles of Psychology William James ★★★★ 1983
The Varieties of Religious Experience William James ★★★★ 2000
Not the Impossible Faith Richard Carrier ★★★★ 2009
The Sagas of Icelanders Jane Smiley ★★★★ 2001
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming Stephen LaBerge ★★★★ 1991
Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective J. Philippe Rushton ★★★★ 2002
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1) Douglas Adams ★★★★ 1991
The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas ★★★★ 2001
The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★★ 2001
Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★★ 2001
Tales from Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #5) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★★ 2001
Fables, Vol. 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) (Fables, #7) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2006
Fables, Vol. 10: The Good Prince (Fables, #10) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2008
Fables, Vol. 9: Sons of Empire (Fables, #9) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2007
Fables, Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons (Fables, #5) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2005
Fables, Vol. 6: Homelands (Fables, #6) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2006
Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm (Fables, #2) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2003
Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Fables, #4) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2004
Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile (Fables, #1) Bill Willingham ★★★★ 2002
Titus Groan (Gormenghast, #1) Mervyn Peake ★★★★ 1991
Kick-Ass Mark Millar ★★★★ 2011
The Morning of the Magicians Louis Pauwels ★★★★ 2007
The Lost World (Professor Challenger, #1) Arthur Conan Doyle ★★★★ 2003
Count Belisarius Robert Graves ★★★★ 1982
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 Charles Murray ★★★★ 2012 2012/10/23
The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life Alison Gopnik ★★★★ 2009
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton Edward Rice ★★★★ 1991
The Case of the Animals Versus Man Before the King of the Jinn: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 22 Lenn E. Goodman ★★★★ 2012
A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet, #1) Daniel Abraham ★★★★ 2006
History of the Second World War B.H. Liddell Hart ★★★★ 1999
Queen Victoria’s Little Wars Byron Farwell ★★★★ 1985
Lucky Wander Boy D.B. Weiss ★★★★ 2003
Shadow Puppets (Ender’s Shadow, #3) Orson Scott Card ★★★★ 2003
Modern Operating Systems Andrew S. Tanenbaum ★★★★ 2001
The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon ★★★★ 2006
Lord of the Flies William Golding ★★★★ 1999
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift ★★★★ 2003
The Once and Future King T.H. White ★★★★ 1996
White Fang Jack London ★★★★ 2001
Macbeth William Shakespeare ★★★★ 2003
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America Barbara Ehrenreich ★★★★ 2002
The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; The Wisdom of Life Arthur Schopenhauer ★★★★ 2006
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Mark Twain ★★★★ 2006
Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein ★★★★ 1974
The Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin ★★★★ 2010
The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better Tyler Cowen ★★★★ 2011
Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett ★★★★ 1953
The Complete Maus (Maus, #1-2) Art Spiegelman ★★★★ 2003
Behemoth: β-Max (Rifters, #3) (Behemoth, #1) Peter Watts ★★★★ 2004
Maelstrom (Rifters, #2) Peter Watts ★★★★ 2002
Starfish (Rifters, #1) Peter Watts ★★★★ 2000
The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self Thomas Metzinger ★★★★ 2009
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky ★★★★ 2002
The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov ★★★★ 1996 2008/08/26
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold John le Carré ★★★★ 2001 2008/07/02
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John le Carré ★★★★ 2002
Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville ★★★★ 2003
Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922 Michael Crichton ★★★★ 2006
Airframe Michael Crichton ★★★★ 1997
Congo Michael Crichton ★★★★ 2003
Sphere Michael Crichton ★★★★ 1997
Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park, #1) Michael Crichton ★★★★ 2006
Ghostwritten David Mitchell ★★★★ 2001
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell ★★★★ 2004
Earth David Brin ★★★★ 1991
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1) Robert Jordan ★★★★ 1990
The Way Things Are: The De Rerum Natura Lucretius ★★★★ 1968
Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu ★★★★ 1997
A Modest Proposal Jonathan Swift ★★★★ 2008
Common Sense (Great Ideas) Thomas Paine ★★★★ 2005
The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus ★★★★ 2000
Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, #2) David Brin ★★★★ 1984
What Technology Wants Kevin Kelly ★★★★ 2010
A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy Miyamoto Musashi ★★★★ 1988 2004/01/01
Freedom Evolves Daniel C. Dennett ★★★★ 2004
The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki ★★★★ 2005
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality Eliezer Yudkowsky ★★★★ 2010
Siddhartha Hermann Hesse ★★★★ 1922
Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky ★★★★ 2002
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) Patrick Rothfuss ★★★★ 2007
The Door Into Summer Robert A. Heinlein ★★★★ 1997
The Last Unicorn (The Last Unicorn, #1) Peter S. Beagle ★★★★ 2008 1998/01/01
Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1) China Miéville ★★★★ 2003
Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2) Isaac Asimov ★★★★ 2004
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury ★★★★ 2006
Darwin’s Radio (Darwin’s Radio #1) Greg Bear ★★★★ 2003
Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, #3) Kim Stanley Robinson ★★★★ 1997
Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1) William Gibson ★★★★ 1984
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert A. Heinlein ★★★★ 1991
The Forever War (The Forever War, #1) Joe Haldeman ★★★★ 2003
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro ★★★★ 2010
The Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick ★★★★ 1992
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress Robert A. Heinlein ★★★★ 2005
Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War, #1) John Scalzi ★★★★ 2007
To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld, #1) Philip José Farmer ★★★★ 1998
Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clarke ★★★★ 1987
Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) Iain M. Banks ★★★★ 2005
The Running Man Stephen King ★★★★ 1999
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Stephen King ★★★★ 2002
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White ★★★★ 2001
The War of the Worlds H.G. Wells ★★★★ 2002
The Years of Rice and Salt Kim Stanley Robinson ★★★★ 2003
We Yevgeny Zamyatin ★★★★ 1993
Little Town on the Prairie (Little House, #7) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★★★ 2007
Little House on the Prairie (Little House, #2) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★★★ 2008
Little House in the Big Woods (Little House, #1) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★★★ 2007
Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Detective Mitarai’s Casebook) Soji Shimada ★★★★ 2005
V for Vendetta Alan Moore ★★★★ 2005
Der Mond: The Art of Neon Genesis Evangelion Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★★★ 2006
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 01 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★★★ 2004
Yotsuba&!, Vol. 01 (Yotsuba&! #1) Kiyohiko Azuma ★★★★ 2005
From Hell Alan Moore ★★★★ 2007
The Invisibles, Vol. 7: The Invisible Kingdom Grant Morrison ★★★★ 2002
The Invisibles, Vol. 6: Kissing Mister Quimper Grant Morrison ★★★★ 2000
The Invisibles, Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution Grant Morrison ★★★★ 1996
300 Frank Miller ★★★★ 1999
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller ★★★★ 2002
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, #1) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★★ 2003
Flight, Vol. 1 (Flight, #1) Kazu Kibuishi ★★★★ 2004
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2) J.K. Rowling ★★★★ 1999
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5) J.K. Rowling ★★★★ 2003
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3) J.K. Rowling ★★★★ 2004
The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank ★★★★ 1993
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution Gregory Cochran ★★★★ 2009
The Tale of Genji Murasaki Shikibu ★★★★ 2002
I Am a Cat Sōseki Natsume ★★★★ 2001 2014/01/16
Exhalation Ted Chiang ★★★★ 2009
The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter, #2) Thomas Harris ★★★★ 2002
Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes ★★★★ 2005
The Anubis Gates Tim Powers ★★★★ 1997
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed Jared Diamond ★★★★ 2005
The Hunting of the Snark Lewis Carroll ★★★★ 2010
Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein ★★★★ 2001
Reave the Just and Other Tales Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 2000
The Gap Into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge (Gap, #2) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 2010
The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story (Gap, #1) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 1992
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #1-3) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 1993
A Man Rides Through Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 2003
The Mirror of Her Dreams Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 2003
The Illearth War (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, #2) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 1989
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Jared Diamond ★★★★ 2005
The Art of War Sun Tzu ★★★★ 2005
Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook Edward N. Luttwak ★★★★ 1979
Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto Stewart Brand ★★★★ 2009
How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built Stewart Brand ★★★★ 1995
The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3) J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★★ 1986
The Silmarillion (Middle-Earth Universe) J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★★ 2004
All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque ★★★★ 1987
The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas ★★★★ 2003
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch Terry Pratchett ★★★★ 2006
Night Watch (Discworld, #29) Terry Pratchett ★★★★ 2011
Hogfather (Discworld, #20) Terry Pratchett ★★★★ 2006
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1) L. Frank Baum ★★★★ 1995
The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde ★★★★ 1998
2001: A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #1) Arthur C. Clarke ★★★★ 2000
Lord of Light Roger Zelazny ★★★★ 2010
The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ★★★★ 2000
The Man-Kzin Wars (Man-Kzin Wars, #1) Larry Niven ★★★★ 2006
Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven Larry Niven ★★★★ 1981
The Gripping Hand (Moties #2) Larry Niven ★★★★ 1994
The Mote in God’s Eye (Moties, #1) Larry Niven ★★★★ 2011
Mother Earth Mother Board Neal Stephenson ★★★★ 1996
The Big U Neal Stephenson ★★★★ 2001
The Hunt for Red October (Jack Ryan, #3) Tom Clancy ★★★★ 1999
Tao of Jeet Kune Do Bruce Lee ★★★★ 1975
A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking ★★★★ 1998
Cryptonomicon (Cryptonomicon, #1) Neal Stephenson ★★★★ 2002
The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson ★★★★ 2000
Anathem Neal Stephenson ★★★★ 2009
Ringworld Larry Niven ★★★★ 1985
The Instrumentality of Mankind (Instrumentality of Mankind) Cordwainer Smith ★★★★ 1979
The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature Matt Ridley ★★★★ 2003
Ender’s Shadow (Ender’s Shadow, #1) Orson Scott Card ★★★★ 2002
Quantum Psychology: How Brain Software Programs You & Your World Robert Anton Wilson ★★★★ 1993
Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy (Schrödinger’s Cat, #1-3) Robert Anton Wilson ★★★★ 2009
Animal Farm George Orwell ★★★★ 2003
The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver ★★★★ 2005
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess ★★★★ 1995
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values Robert M. Pirsig ★★★★ 2006
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Nassim Nicholas Taleb ★★★★ 2007
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West Cormac McCarthy ★★★★ 1992
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Dr. Seuss ★★★★ 1990
Mindfulness in Plain English Bhante Henepola Gunaratana ★★★★ 1996
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae Steven Pressfield ★★★★ 2005
King Rat (Asian Saga, #1) James Clavell ★★★★ 2009
Noble House (Asian Saga, #4) James Clavell ★★★★ 1986
Tai-Pan (Asian Saga, #2) James Clavell ★★★★ 2009
Learning GNU Emacs Debra Cameron ★★★★ 2004
The Soul of a New Machine Tracy Kidder ★★★★ 2000
The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time, #5) Robert Jordan ★★★★ 1994
Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time, #6) Robert Jordan ★★★★ 1995
Solaris Stanisław Lem ★★★★ 2002
The Prince Niccolò Machiavelli ★★★★ 2003
The Origin of Species Charles Darwin ★★★★ 2004
Foundation (Foundation, #1) Isaac Asimov ★★★★ 2004
Stealing the Network: How to Own the Box Ryan Russell ★★★★ 2003
Feynman Lectures On Computation Richard P. Feynman ★★★★ 2000
The Book of Fantasy Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★ 1988
Selected Poems Jorge Luis Borges ★★★★ 2000
Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1) Frederik Pohl ★★★★ 2004
Tales from the Empire (Star Wars) Peter Schweighofer ★★★★ 1997
Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So Ian Stewart ★★★★ 2002
The Dying Earth Jack Vance ★★★★ 1977
Tales from Jabba’s Palace (Star Wars) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★★ 1995
Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina (Star Wars) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★★ 1995
Tales of the Bounty Hunters (Star Wars) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★★ 1996
Champions of the Force (Star Wars: The Jedi Academy Trilogy, #3) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★★ 1994
Jedi Search (Star Wars: The Jedi Academy Trilogy #1) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★★ 1994
Maker of Dune Frank Herbert ★★★★ 1987
Under Pressure Frank Herbert ★★★★ 1979
The Road to Dune Frank Herbert ★★★★ 2006
The Dosadi Experiment (ConSentiency Universe, #2) Frank Herbert ★★★★ 2002
God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #4) Frank Herbert ★★★★ 2003
Frank Herbert William F. Touponce ★★★★ 1988
Prayers to Broken Stones Dan Simmons ★★★★ 1997
How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business Douglas W. Hubbard ★★★★ 2010
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays David Foster Wallace ★★★★ 2005
The City and the City China Miéville ★★★★ 2009
The Scar (Bas-Lag, #2) China Miéville ★★★★ 2004
The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3) Brandon Sanderson ★★★★ 2008
Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1) Brandon Sanderson ★★★★ 2006
A Wild Sheep Chase Haruki Murakami ★★★★ 2002 2008/08/15
Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami ★★★★ 2006
The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco ★★★★ 1994
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Susanna Clarke ★★★★ 2006
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Michael Pollan ★★★★ 2006
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) C.S. Lewis ★★★★ 1950
I, Robot (Robot, #0.1) Isaac Asimov ★★★★ 2004
Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind Hans Moravec ★★★★ 2000
Brave New World Aldous Huxley ★★★★ 2008
Ubik Philip K. Dick ★★★★ 2004
Dragon Venom (Obsidian Chronicles #3) Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★★ 2004
The Dragon Society (Obsidian Chronicles, Book 2) Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★★ 2003
Dragon Weather (Obsidian Chronicles #1) Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★★ 2000 2008/08/11
The Misenchanted Sword Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★★ 2000
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge Paul Karl Feyerabend ★★★★ 1993
The World of Parmenides Karl Popper ★★★★ 2001
Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion David Sirlin ★★★★ 2006
The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language Steven Pinker ★★★★ 2000
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Steven Pinker ★★★★ 2003
The Strategy of Conflict Thomas C. Schelling ★★★★ 1981
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Carl Sagan ★★★★ 1997
The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture Jerome H. Barkow ★★★★ 1995
Annals of Klepsis R.A. Lafferty ★★★★ 2001
The Fall of Rome R.A. Lafferty ★★★★ 1971
The Reefs of Earth R.A. Lafferty ★★★★ 1977
Okla Hannali R.A. Lafferty ★★★★ 1991
Nine Hundred Grandmothers R.A. Lafferty ★★★★ 1970
The Hobbit or There and Back Again J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★★ 1997
The Tao Is Silent Raymond M. Smullyan ★★★★ 1977
The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 4 Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 2008
The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 3 Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 2008 2008/06/26
The Sandman, Vol. 10: The Wake (The Sandman #10) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 8: Worlds’ End (The Sandman, #8) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones (The Sandman #9) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives (The Sandman #7) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You (The Sandman #5) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists (The Sandman #4) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country (The Sandman #3) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House (The Sandman #2) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1999
Anansi Boys Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 2006
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 2003
Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle Michael Andre-Driussi ★★★★ 2008
The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables & Reflections (The Sandman, #6) Neil Gaiman ★★★★ 1990
Peace Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1995
The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1997
Soldier of the Mist Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1987
Epiphany of the Long Sun (The Book of the Long Sun, #3-4) Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 2000
Litany of the Long Sun (The Book of the Long Sun, #1-2) Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 2000
The Fifth Head of Cerberus Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1994
The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4) Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1983
The Urth of the New Sun (The Book of the New Sun #5) Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1997
The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2) Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1982
Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology K. Eric Drexler ★★★★ 1987
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain Han Shan ★★★★ 2000
Introduction to Algorithms Thomas H. Cormen ★★★★ 2001
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World Kevin Kelly ★★★★ 1995
Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity Lawrence Lessig ★★★★ 2005
Burning Chrome William Gibson ★★★★ 2003 2008/08/26
Consciousness Explained Daniel C. Dennett ★★★★ 1992
Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern Douglas R. Hofstadter ★★★★ 1996
The Meme Machine Susan J. Blackmore ★★★★ 2000
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days Jessica Livingston ★★★★ 2007
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution Steven Levy ★★★★ 2001
The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage Clifford Stoll ★★★★ 2005
All The Myriad Ways Larry Niven ★★★★ 1971
Diaspora Greg Egan ★★★★ 2000 2014/01/23
Blood Music Greg Bear ★★★★ 2005
Beggars in Spain (Sleepless, #1) Nancy Kress ★★★★ 2004
Look to Windward (Culture, #7) Iain M. Banks ★★★★ 2002
Infinity’s Shore (Uplift Storm Trilogy, #2) David Brin ★★★★ 1997
In the Ocean of Night (Galactic Center, #1) Gregory Benford ★★★★ 2004
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (Heechee Saga, #2) Frederik Pohl ★★★★ 2000
Mission of Gravity (Mesklin, #1) Hal Clement ★★★★ 1953
The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4) Dan Simmons ★★★★ 1998
Green Mars (Mars Trilogy, #2) Kim Stanley Robinson ★★★★ 1995
The Uplift War (The Uplift Saga, #3) David Brin ★★★★ 1987
The Gap Into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises (Gap, #3) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★★ 2009
Beggars and Choosers (Sleepless, #2) Nancy Kress ★★★★ 1996
Tea with the Black Dragon (Black Dragon, #1) R.A. MacAvoy ★★★★ 2001
The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3) Gene Wolfe ★★★★ 1981
The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2) Patrick Rothfuss ★★★★ 2011
Stone of Tears (Sword of Truth, #2) Terry Goodkind ★★★★ 1995
The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2) Brandon Sanderson ★★★★ 2007
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo Unknown ★★★★ 1995
The Hobbit: Graphic Novel J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★★ 1990
The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time, #3) Robert Jordan ★★★★ 2002
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1) J.K. Rowling ★★★★ 2003
New Legends Greg Bear ★★★ 1996 2013/12/04 New Legends is an anthology of SF stories picked by Bear with an eye toward the psychological & personal lives of scientists/researchers. I purchased a copy of it to look at the novella “Radiance” by Carter Scholz and compare it with the full novel Radiance for the annotated ebook of Radiance I have been working on for a while. That will be its own review, so I will pass over it for now. An unexpected bonus for me was Gregory Benford’s contribution: not a story, but an autobiographical essay “Old Legends” on the real-life background to “Radiance” that he lived through, discussing his physics career, time at LLNL (where “Radiance” is set), experiences with other SF authors in the Reagan-era lobbying for SDI/Star Wars, the Cartmill incident, his admiration of Edward Teller, etc. Scholz clearly drew on Benford for his novella, and so it was unusually interesting for me.

The collection overall is good, but not great. A number of the stories are too clearly the product of early ‘90s anxious liberalism and have not aged well since they were written in 1993 or earlier (~20 years ago), some are half-baked, and some are just bad. A few are very good. They are grouped into thematic sections. To go through them in order (there are many spoilers below):


  • “Elegy”, Mary Rosenblum. Good. A scientist working on controlled use of squid neurons to repair human brains and cure trauma like Alzheimer’s struggles with guilt about her demented mother, fear her research will fail, and worries that the squid she uses as raw materials may be part of something far greater.

  • “A Desperate Calculus”, Sterling Blake. Bad. World-trotting scientists struggle to organize a response to a devastating pandemic. Twist ending: the pandemic was engineered to render women sterile, stopping the threat of overpopulation, forcing humanity to dieback and live in harmony with the environment, and the (immune) protagonists were spreading it through their jetsetting, overlaid on a geopolitical forecast of Northern hemisphere vs Southern hemisphere balkanization & resentment. The engineered pandemic conceit is nice but has been done many times before, and the politics are incredibly grating. Even in 1994 it should have been obvious that overpopulation was not going to be an existential threat and that the worst of the environmental problems are often solved by additional economic growth (the Kuznets curve). This story is particularly dated; contemporary writers thinking about using global warming as their threat should consider how much they care about dating themselves.

  • “Scenes from a Future Marriage”, James Stevens-Arce. Mediocre. An unlucky couple who screw up all their life decisions fail again, and review their choices while contemplating suicide. Set against a vaguely dystopian background. This one did nothing for me as it was so over the top.

  • “Coming of Age in Karhide”, Ursula K. Le Guin. Great. In an ageless city where every life follows ancient finely-honed patterns, a fearful child grows into its sexual maturity and becomes an adult. This is very much a Le Guin traditionalist story with her trademark gender twist, and it does what it does very well.

  • “High Abyss”, Gregory Benford. Good. An alien religious war about the physics of the universe, in a universe which is not ours, culminates in victory for the renegade mathematician who led the revolt with his heretical theory that the world is not a line, but another topology. A treacherous counterattack sends the prophet aloft on a hot-air balloon and he realizes that his heresy did not go far enough - that the world was a string embedded in a far grander, far larger, more spherical universe (ours?). He is simultaneously exalted and debased by the epochal discovery of the truth of the Universe. Benford throws you in the hard SF deep-end to figure out the universe (I’m actually reminded a little of The Clockwork Rocket here as a recent example). Does it work? It’s hard to say because the story is so short. I’m not sure what the “string” is even supposed to be - a superstring? How does that work with the given system of the world with ’lava’ bubbling up in the center of the world? I thought initially the story was being set underseas on a crustal fault, and the lava was literal lava and the cold abyssal waters doomed the people if they tried to leave the long line/ridge, but then “stars” came up and I had to abandon that theory. I’m not entirely satisfied with my interpretation and wish the story had been longer and explained its world a little more.

  • “Recording Angel”, Paul J. McAuley. Mediocre. In a vastly distant post-human future, a Indian-like city’s ancient rhythms are disturbed by a human returning from an eons-long space trip. She leads some sort of revolution. Did nothing for me, as nothing about it seemed important, the world-building failed to explain what was going on, etc.

  • “When Strangers Meet”, Sonia Orin Lyris. Bad. A mind-controlling alien (the One) celebrates, with its many servants, the festival at the end of its year, culminating in a grand dance to the death (by exhaustion) of its vaguely human-like slaves. Interspersed are occasional comments about interstellar communication with aliens (humans?). This one frankly made little sense to me. There’s some repeated lines about the dangers of the servants becoming “too familiar” to the One, but also a line about “strangers bring benefits”. The story feels ominous but nothing gels before it abruptly ends with the dance performance and another use of the strangers line. What does it all mean? I have no idea. I can barely figure out what the alien social system is supposed to be (I think it’s modeled after eusocial insects), much less any theme or message. This might have worked if Lyris hadn’t badly overestimated my ability to understand what she wrote.

  • “The Day the Aliens Came”, Robert Sheckley. Very bad. Supposedly humorous. A writer nonchalantly accepts employment with an alien tourist, but then suddenly he’s shacking up with another alien, and suddenly the couple is having kids and merging into a group organism with other couples and then the story just ends. WTF‽ This badly needed to be rejected or at least, Bear should have rejected it and sent it back to Sheckley with a note saying “where’s the second half of this story?”

  • “Gnota”, Greg Abraham. Mediocre. A mid-future soldier gets hit by an IED due to sentimentality; his heart is to be replaced by a clone of his heart grown inside a genetically-engineered pig. He bonds with the pig.

  • “Rorvik’s War”, Geoffrey A. Landis. Good. A citizen is conscripted into a war against the Russians. He dies in an attack - or maybe he dies another way, and then another. War is hell, and wasteful since the militaries’ computers can all simulate the outcome of the battles, except can they really take into account the human factor? Rorvik dies again and again, is taken POW and sent to a Communist re-education camp, until fuzzily he realizes: he’s in the computer simulations. He grapples back to reality, and his conscription is over. He returns home with all his limbs, having apparently served his country without any repercussions. But will he psychologically truly recover? I enjoyed this one in part because it undercut my expectations: I was mentally a little bored with yet another war against Russians and thinking it was a little stupid, but then the story justified its choices quite nicely.

  • “Radiance”, Carter Scholz. Great. See Radiance.

  • “Old Legends”, Gregory Benford. Great. See opening summary.

  • “The Red Blaze Is the Morning”, Robert Silverberg. Great. Silverberg turns in one of the best stories in this volume: an old archaeologist, almost out to pasture, strives in his Turkish dig site to make one last extraordinary find justifying his heterodox theory of the origins of human civilization, following the clue of a few out of place artifacts. He is lonely, his body is failing, but his passion to understand the past drives him on in his fruitless digs. Haunted by his continuing failure to find anything at all, he begins hallucinating visions from the end of time, the dying Earth, the ruins of the mightiest civilizations that humanity will one eon give birth to. The visions are sent by his counterpart, one of the last sapient beings left in the ruins after the Gotterdammerung, who makes him an offer: to swap their minds (shades of Lovecraft’s scholars), so the being can study the impossibly remote origins of humanity and the protagonist study undreamt-of eras. He refuses of course, and the dig continues to go poorly, he drinks more and more, until finally in the climax, a Turkish official arrives with the shattering truth: the artifacts were planted by a corrupt Turkish official for the express purpose of egging him on and motivating more work at the site. His dig is futile, was always futile, and even the slender evidence he had was meaningless. His theory will not be vindicated. Utterly destroyed by the revelation, he accepts the Faustian bargain and flees into madness - or the future? And awakes at the end of time, with endless ruins to investigate and ponder. This story impressed me as close kin to “Radiance” and showing the dark side of a quest for truth.

  • “One”, George Alec Effinger. Mediocre. A husband-wife team set out in a spaceship to search for life. As predicted by the Fermi paradox, they fail to find any on thousands of worlds. The wife dies, the protagonist slowly goes insane, and converts to religion as he continues to fail to find life on any planets he surveys. Wholly unconvincing, I thought.

  • “Scarecrow”, Poul Anderson. Mediocre. An almost Asimovian pastiche, of another husband-wife team whose ship crashes on the chaotic moon Hyperion. They struggle to reach shelter in the installation on the moon, manned by robots, only to discover the robots have, yes, gone insane - or become religious, specifically, having developed a religion focusing on darkness/chaos/bad vs light/order/good. The pair need to prove they follow the light and are not sinister agents of chaos. Based on the wife’s brief religious dialogue with the robots, the husband receives inspiration: he proves that they come from the light by teaching the robots about fractals and chaotic equations which nevertheless have a simple beautiful mathematical core. Having proven his theodicy - how a good and orderly god could have created the chaotic Saturn environment - they are accepted by the robots as fellow worshippers and admitted into the base. While I really enjoyed the last page, I level the opposite accusation at this story that I did some of the others: it is far too long, almost all of it could be trimmed out, and some of the characterization is very poor (the wife is wholly unnecessary and IMO is constantly irritating).

  • “Wang’s Carpets”, Greg Egan. Great. I would put this with “Radiance” and “The Red Blaze Is the Morning” as the 3 best stories in this volume. Upload civilization fires off a bunch of copies to remote systems to look for life, in part as a final attempt to find a justification for remaining involved in the real world and pursuing the great scientific project of understanding the universe, rather than enjoying ever more abstracted or refined simulations. They discover an apparently dull giant simple ocean life form based on self-replicating carbohydrate sheets. Egan offers a truly inspired bit of worldbuilding when he suggests the sheets then are Wang tiles - which are Turing-complete, surprisingly enough, and so host entire computational civilizations of their own! A wonderfully alien suggestion. This was apparently expanded in Diaspora, which if it’s as good as the short story, is well worth the reading. I’ll look for a copy.

The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. Stewart Brand ★★★ 1988 2010/01/01 While a well-done bit of technological investigation & prognostication, now very dated & historical. That said, enough time has passed since 1988 to enable us to judge the basic truthfulness of a lot of the predictions and expectations held by the dreamers such as Nicholas Negroponte: and they were remarkably accurate!

If you aren’t struck by a sense of déjà vu or pity when you read this book, just compare the people at the Media Lab with contemporary skeptical works like Cliff Stoll’s Silicon Snake Oil, and you’ll see just how right they were.

But the sad thing is noting how few future millionaires and billionaires grace the page of TML - one quickly realizes that yes, person X was absolutely 100% right about Y happening even when everyone thought that was insane, but X was off by a few years and jumped the gun and so Z was the person who wound up taking all the spoils. I read it constantly thinking ‘yes, you were right, for all the good it did you’ or ‘not quite, it’d actually take another decade for that to really work out’.

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” The lesson I take away from TML is that it is not enough to predict the future, one has to predict the timing as well to not be ruined. To borrow from 3 of my LW comments (1/2/3):

Even if one is wise enough to know the future, a good idea will draw overly-optimistic entrepreneurs to it like moths to the flame: all get immolated but the one with the dumb luck to kiss the flame at the perfect instant. (How many payment startup were there before Paypal? How many social networks before Facebook? How many search engines before Google?) How can you catch a falling knife?

Many ‘bubbles’ can be profitably interpreted as people being 100% correct about their vision of the future - but messing up the timing (see Thiel’s article on China and bubbles or The Economist on obscure property booms/bubbles or Garber’s Famous First Bubbles for further reading). Consider the case of an investor in the ill-fated Pets.com: was the investor right to believe that Americans would spend a ton of money online such as for buying dogfood? Absolutely, Amazon (which has rarely turned a profit & has sucked up far more investment than Pets.com ever did) is a successful online retail business that stocks thousands of dog food varieties, to say nothing of all the other pet-related goods it sells. But the value of Pets.com stock still went to ~$0. Many startups have a long list of failed predecessors who tried to do pretty much the same thing, and what made them a success was that they happened to give the pinata a whack at the exact moment where some cost curves or events hit the right point. (Facebook is the biggest archive of photographs there has ever been, with truly colossal storage requirements; could it have succeeded in the 1990s? No, and not even later, as demonstrated by Orkut & Friendster, and the lingering death of MySpace.) You can read books from the past about tech visionaries and note how many of them were spot-on in their beliefs about what would happen (The Media Lab is a great example, but far from the only one) but where a person would have been ill-advised to act on the correct forecasts. Or look at computers: imagine an early adopter of an Apple computer saying ‘everyone will use computers eventually!’ Yes, but not for another few decades, and ‘in the long run, we are all dead’.

Examples of this pop up all the time. I watched impressed recently as my aunt used the iPhone application FaceTime to videophone with her daughter half a continent away, and though about how so many people were disappointed by the failure of videophones in the ‘90s and previous and then concluded that perhaps people didn’t really want videophones at all - but really, it looks like the videophones back then simply weren’t good enough! And I’ve noticed geeks express wonderment at the Oculus Rift looking like it’ll bring Virtual Reality to the masses, and won’t that be a real kick in the teeth for Cliff Stoll or Jaron Lanier (who gave up VR for dead ages ago and has earned his daily bread being court jester to the elites and criticizing them)?

Smartphones are an even bigger example of this. How often did I read in the ’90s and early ’00s about how amazing Japanese cellphones were and how amazing a good smartphone would be, even though year after year the phones were jokes and used pretty much solely for voice? You can even see the smartphones come up again and again in TML, as the visionaries realize just how transformative a mobile pocket-sized computer would be. Yet, it took until the mid-00s for the promise of smartphones to materialize overnight. I was reminded of this recently reading an interview with Eric Jackson:

Q: What’s your take on how they’re [Apple] handling their expansion into China, India, and other emerging markets?


A: It’s depressing how slow things are moving on that front. We can draw lines on a graph but we don’t know the constraints. Again, the issue with adoption is that the timing is so damn hard. I was expecting smartphones to take off in mid 2004 and was disappointed over and over again. And then suddenly a catalyst took hold and the adoption skyrocketed. Cook calls this “cracking the nut”. I don’t know what they can do to move faster but I suspect it has to do with placement (distribution) and with networks which both depend on (corrupt) entities.


Certainty is irrelevant, because even if you are certain you still have serious problems making any use of this knowledge. Example: in retrospect, we know for certain that a great many people wanted computers, operating systems, social networks etc - but the history of computer / operating system / social networks are strewn with flaming rubble. Suppose you somehow knew in 2000 with absolute certainty that “in 2010, the founder of the most successful social network will be worth at least $10b”; this is clearly a sharp falsifiable belief which was at odds with all conventional wisdom and about a tech that blindsided a lot of techies, and so is a powerful & informative belief. Yet, just how useful would this knowledge be, really? What would you do with it? Do you have the capital to hang out a VC shingle and throw multi-million-dollar investments at every social media thing that comes along until finally in 2010 you knew for sure that Facebook was the winning ticket and could cash out in the IPO? I doubt it.

It’s difficult even to invest in stocks. There is no convenient stock named CMPTR you can just buy 100 shares of and hold indefinitely to capture gains from your optimism about computers. IBM and Apple both went nearly bankrupt at points, and Microsoft’s stock has been flat since 1999 or whenever (translating to huge real losses and opportunity costs to long-term holders of it). If you knew for certain that Facebook would be as huge as it was, what stocks, exactly, could you have invested in, pre-IPO, to capture gains from its growth? Remember, you don’t know anything else about the tech landscape in the 2000s, like that Google will go way up from its IPO, you don’t know anything about Apple’s revival under Jobs - all you know is that some social network will some day exist and will grow hugely. The best I can think of would be to sell any Murdoch stock you owned when you heard they were buying MySpace, but offhand I’m not sure that Murdoch didn’t just stagnate rather than drop as MySpace increasingly turned out to be a writeoff. In the hypothetical that you didn’t know the name of the company, you might’ve bought up a bunch of Google stock hoping that Orkut would be the winner, but while that would’ve been a decent investment (yay!) it would have had nothing to do with Orkut (awww!); illustrating the problem with highly illiquid markets in some areas…

And even when there are stocks available to buy, you only benefit based on the specifics - like one of the existing stocks being a winner, rather than all the stocks being eaten by some new startup. Let’s imagine a different scenario, where instead you were confident that home robotics were about to experience a huge growth spurt. Is this even nonpublic knowledge at all? The world economy grows at something like 2% a year, labor costs generally seem to go up, prices of computers and robotics usually falls… Do industry projections expect to grow their sales by <25% a year?

But let’s say that the market is wrongly pessimistic. If so, you might spend some of your hypothetical money on whatever the best approximation to a robotics index fund you can find, as the best of a bunch of bad choices. (Checking a few random entries in Wikipedia, maybe a fifth of the companies are publicly traded, so… that will be a pretty small index.) Suppose the home robotic growth were concentrated in a single private company which exploded into the billions of annual revenue and took away the market share of all the others, forcing them to go bankrupt or merge or shrink. Home robotics will have increased just as you believed - keikaku doori! - yet your ’index fund’ suffered huge losses or gone bankrupt (reindex when one of the robotics companies collapses? Reindex into what, exactly? Another one of the doomed firms?). Then after the time period elapses and your special knowledge has become public knowledge, the robotics company goes public, and by the Efficient Market Hypothesis, their shares then become a normal gamble where you could lose money as easily as make it. So you could easily fail to outperform the general market.

(Is this an impossibly rare scenario? Well, it sounds a lot like Facebook, actually! They grew fast, roflstomped a bunch of other social networks, there was no way to invest in them or related businesses before the IPO, and post-IPO, I believe investors have done the opposite of profit.)

It feels like a weird perspective to take, but we can think of many other technologies which may be like this.

Bitcoin is a topical example: it’s still in the early stages where it looks either like a genius stroke to invest in, or a fool’s paradise/Ponzi scheme. We see what looks like a bubble as the price inflates from ~$0 to $130 as I write this, which is consistent with the claims of it being a bubble - yet, if Bitcoin were the Real Deal, we would expect large price increases as people learn of it and it directly gains value from increased use, an ecosystem slowly unlocking the fancy cryptographic features of it like all the kinds of smart contracts it enables, etc.

Or take niche visionary technologies: if cryonics was perfectly correct in principal, yet turned out to be worthless for everyone doing it before 2030 (because the wrong perfusion techniques or cryopreservatives were used and some critical bit of biology was not vitrified) while practical post-2030 say, it would simply be yet another technology where visionaries were ultimately right despite all nay-saying & skepticism from normals but nevertheless wrong in a practical sense because they jumped on it too early, and so they wasted their money.

When a knife drops, a fraction of a second divides a brilliant save from an emergency-room visit. They don’t call it the ‘bleeding edge’ for nothing.
A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14) Robert Jordan ★★★ 2013 2013/01/09 So. It has come to this. WoT finally ended.

I remember how the wheel of dharma began to turn for me: my mother ran a Girl Scouts troop while I was in middle school, and sometimes they met at a local town rec center. Rather than try to participate, I would sometimes kill time in the lounge reading their old donated paperbacks. One of them was remarkably thick, but the cover looked interesting, and I was hooked by the opening passages: a Tolkien-esque chapter about a young lad heading back to the Shire and haunted by a Ring-wraith. (Not so much the Prologue, which was too mystifying.) I’d read Tolkien by this point, of course, and wondered if it’d be an awful shameful ripoff like Sword of Shannara, but I kept reading.

The opening was nifty enough but not gripping, at least until I reached Moiraine’s speech to the villagers about Manetheren. I was spellbound and had not been so gripped at least since Tolkien with Gimli’s dirge for the dwarves in the Mines of Moria. And the book didn’t stop there: there was the creepy interlude at the cursed city of Shadar Logoth, the even more creepy Machin Shin of the Waygates, the unusual Templar/Children of the Light, the intriguing uncertainty about which of the kids was the Main Character (you thought it was Rand, of course, as the major viewpoint, but the dreams kept you uncertain - surely the author wouldn’t throw those in if there weren’t a good chance the obvious choice wouldn’t be picked?), the good troll character who is a scholar rather than a warrior, a Western-samurai militaristic setting a whole city of female magicians, Old Tongue on every other page culminating in no less than the Green Man at the Eye of the World (just one of many nods to real-world things). I was impressed as I read it over the weeks, meeting by meeting, and soon checked out the other 6 or so. This was a long time ago. A very long time ago.

Indeed, WoT could be considered Tolkien turned up. Tolkien had a cast of hundreds? WoT would have a cast of thousands! Tolkien had a few countries going to war against a dark lord? WoT would have dozens of countries and regions! Tolkien had two or three scheming magicians? WoT would have scores of scheming magicians, and they would be split into more than a dozen groups, all scheming. Tolkien had one or two trolls? WoT would have trolls too, all over the place, and they’d be the good kind, peaceful scholar; and Tolkien had a character recording events for a history, well, that’s a perfect task for one of the scholar-trolls. Tolkien had a few Ring-wraiths and a big fight against one at the end, well, WoT would have ring-wraiths in every book and they’d be a standard foe (which makes sense given all the magical powers given to every other character: you need to power up the bad guys if you power up the good guys). The Shire would be tainted by evil due to the hero & companions coming from there and eventually have to be led to an uprising? Emond’s Field would never fall and would wage epic battle against Padan Fain et al. And so on.

You couldn’t say that Wheel of Time had the restrained scholarly English sensibility of LotR, but it packed a punch. If LotR was the novel, WoT was the video game or maybe movie adaptation, with everything dialed up to 11 and an unlimited budget for explosions & exotic locations. And it did this very well in the early books. In that sense, it’s an excellent ‘Tolkien for teenagers’. (In another sense, reusing the old ‘hidden prince’ trope of being born to a destiny and with arcane powers, WoT is also good for teens: they’ve long loved that trope, perhaps because at that age they desperately love the idea of being given a defined role and the (unearned) ability to fill it. This trope is perhaps a bit too narcissistic for adults to enjoy as much, although given how popular Frozen has been and how many people, child or adult, claim to identify with Elsa, I may be wrong here.)

One of the lessons I learned from WoT was learning the hard way why one should avoid in-progress series: the mental suffering and time expended is radically out of proportion to the pleasure. (I am handily applying this lesson now to that other endless vast fantasy epic, GRRM. Given my pre-2007 comments that it was entirely possible that Jordan would die before finishing, I wonder how that one will turn out.) Another lesson is that length and a big cast of characters should not be taken as a goal in its own right because you descend into repetition and cliche.

In some sense, Sanderson’s AMoL for me succeeds just by existing and giving me closure. I would be happy if it is not as enraging as King’s ending to The Dark Tower, or as unremittingly awful and a disgrace to all parties involved as Brian Herbert & KJA’s work in the Dune universe. Perhaps all the people on Goodreads who are leaving laudatory 5 star reviews without even reading the book and apparently are ignorant of what a “review” is feel the same way - that as long as it’s not awful, it deserves 5 stars for giving them closure.

And it’s neither enraging nor terribly awful, so I am satisfied.

I share a lot of the complaints I’ve seen in other reviews. Some characters like Moiraine do nothing interesting; others have compressed endings like Luc/Isam and Padan Fain. Bela dies despite an expectation that she would continue her improbable luck. The body-swapping is unprecedented and confusing, since it apparently is not due to Rand indulging in cosmic powers but a mysterious gray-haired woman who I could not understand after two reads and googling a bit. The resolution of confrontation with the Dark One was clever as far as it went, but it relied on a feature of Callandor I am pretty sure was not mentioned before and I feel a bit deus ex machina-d, although I’m relieved that the general interpretation of Herid Fel’s basic point that because of the Wheel, you have to restore the prison to how it was before the Bore (rather than patch it again, kill the Dark One, etc) was correct.

There were many great bits. Rand and Matt bragging in one of their last meetings. Lan taking down Damodred (although didn’t we see the suicidal maneuver in a previous book…). Min vs spies. Demandred and Graendal make the Forsaken look less incompetent than usual. Thom casually knifing women while composing a poem.

Many bad parts.

The endless grinding battle - by the time I finished the book, I felt as exhausted as if I’d been pushing pikes with Trollocs myself. The worst part was, despite the endless pages of battle, the battles still didn’t feel epic or hardfought; they lacked any urgency or real drama. Perhaps WoT just massively over-indulged in battles before, or perhaps the battles were just disconnected - it’s a bad thing when you have characters lampshading the triviality of what they’re doing and asking ‘so why does this matter when the only battle that matters is Rand vs DO?’ The battles are weirdly parochial and limited to a few locations. 4 battlefronts is impressive? For the Last Battle, a worldwide struggle against the Shadow? We didn’t get so much as one point of view in, I dunno, Seanchan which was supposed to have waged its own epic struggle against Shadowspawn during the original colonization! We don’t get Waygates popping open in hundreds of locations, the entire Randland convulsed in thousands of battles… Basically, we didn’t see a world at war. We bounced between 4 locations again and again and again until it was an incredible chore to read another page. Last minute rescues are a storytelling device that work only a few times. In a chapter. Before they lose any impact.

Some of the writing seems stiff and clumsy, and I liked Matt less than in the previous book so I suppose that was just an anomaly.

The ‘philosophy’ bits of the Rand vs DO encounter were seriously juvenile; so Rand overcomes the DO with the Power of Love but then he realizes that to destroy the DO, he would take away Free Will! And just as any idiot could have predicted, he has to leave the DO alone and repair the prison good as new. And of course the DO whines at him and Rand has to lecture him self-righteously… Give me a break. I’m sure that this must have been Jordon’s notes, because I remember Sanderson doing better in Mistborn.

I suspect people will be identifying loose ends and missed prophecies or Min-visions for years to come. At least we did sorta find out who killed Asmodean.

So now that it is finished, what should I think of WoT? Would I recommend it to a younger version of me? I think I would. In bulk, WoT’s flaws are reduced. The repetition fades away like the Homeric epithets filling out lines, and the multi-million word count becomes less intimidating. The awful middle-late books, like possibly the series nadir Winter’s Heart, lose their severe aggravation when you have all the books in a pile waiting to be read instead of an unknown multi-year wait upon an author who may (and did) die on you. Without years between reads, the plots and characters will be easier to track, and even if one fails to pick up on clues or asides, the resolution will be delivered soon and one can go ‘ah!’ as one newly appreciates a new thread of the pattern.

But I would accompany it with this caution:

“WoT, in small chunks, is not good. The characters and writing is repetitious, the descriptions pedestrian; few passages will move you with the beauty of strangeness or exoticism that marks the best fantasy. What WoT does is take the ‘quantity vs quality’ tradeoff, and jam it all the way to ‘quantity’, to see what happens, and does so more extremely than any other fantasy series I know of. If you want to see ‘epic fantasy’, with a cast of who knows how many thousands, spread over more countries than you can keep straight, and watch this tapestry evolve over years and millions of words, then you must read WoT. If you want to maximize your enjoyment per word, if you want the heights of what the fantasy genre can deliver in terms of quality, then put away WoT for another day and instead do something like read through chronologically the winners of the Locus & World Fantasy Awards.”

There have been worse obituaries for pieces of your childhood.
Pirate Freedom Gene Wolfe ★★★ 2007 2012/11/24 (This review is copied from an email sent to the Gene Wolfe mailing list.)

Quick read, reasonably entertaining. Sadly, I find myself even less interested than The Sorcerer’s House in figuring out the secret - but I am more interested, and I enjoyed Pirate Freedom more, than An Evil Guest. Faint praise, perhaps. Reading through the old email threads to see what I missed, I’m not sure about some of the ideas floating around.

First, where’s this stuff about him being cloned coming from? The one bit of evidence I’ve seen is a quote to the effect that “my father made me”; I can’t find this in my Pirate Freedom EPUB (but FBReader seems to have buggy search so this may not count). But at face value, this seems completely unconvincing to me: he’s a Mafia guy! All “my father made me” means is that he’s a “made man”, as one would expect of the son of a big Mafia figure. Chris even says at one point to a new pirate something to the effect ‘now you’re a made man’. Presumably no one thinks Chris just zapped him with some tailored RNA viruses… “Half-human monster” is more promising, but in context, there’s no mention of simply human: “The artists of the Middle Ages painted allegories, we say. What really happened was that they saw more clearly than we do, and painted what they saw - angels and devils, beasts, and half-human monsters like me.” The artists were painting clones? Or is this just more Christian thought a la Pope? The best line is “I am taller than most people - my father told me once he got me engineered that way - and I was taller than he was by quite a bit.” but height has been known to be heritable since Galton and a fair number of genes & SNPs have already been identified responsible for variance (eg. ~50% from SNPs), so even simple embryo selection (make multiple embryos, sequence the genomes of each, implant the best-scoring one) would work for that.

Second, there’s something really weird about the lack of attention paid to the timeslips. Chris doesn’t even explicitly mention anything about time travel until like pg 80 where he says it just sank in (?!!?!), and the implication is that the timeslip happened long before he left for the entire monastery: the enrolled kids are, after the closure of the school is announced, implied to be different from the previous kids, and at some point Chris notices no one has wristwatches. Now, this is the same Chris who after wandering around colonial age Cuba and sailing ships still hasn’t noticed what time period he is in, so the safe assumption is that the wristwatches disappeared when the school closed. So the entire monastery has been timeslipped for many years, and we are told that some of the monks go out to hear confessions each week, so the timeslip could not have gone unnoticed for more than a week at worst. So what’s going on here with the monastery? The lack of contact is curious, as Chris points out and as is emphasized when we learn that Chris thinks his house is so close that he’ll just walk there - he didn’t sneak out at any point, or have a vacation or break? (His father can’t visit him, but nothing is said of Chris visiting his father.)

His obliviousness and rationalizations are supposedly not that: he claims to pump for information the farmer he meets with the horse, but why didn’t he just turn around and go back to the monastery and ask ‘hey guys - what happened?’ He also then rationalizes blatantly: “And it was not there. I decided then that there were two Havanas, or maybe the city had changed its name and this little town had taken it over.” Sure, Chris. Sure. That’s totally plausible.

Having read a bunch of theories on the ML, I can’t say any of them seem especially plausible. No one has a good explanation of Jaime’s self-immolation or disappearance, Valentin & dog’s murder, the apparent foreknowledge of Lesage, Chris’s father (if he is a later Chris, why is he much shorter than his ‘son’?) or the monastery’s behavior. Nothing that ties them all together. It’s a little frustrating, since once the various points are identified it feels like there should be an obvious answer.

I feel a little like after reading The Sorcerer’s Houseor An Evil Guest here: by the end we’ve identified what the solution ought to look like (another time traveler acting at various points in the story / Bax killing his twin and usurping his identity / Cassie going to Woldercon and maybe time-traveling herself), but we don’t know how to go beyond that and make the whole thing fall into a satisfying whole (who and how and why / how the letters were mistakenly or deliberately rearranged and the deceptions before the final deception-letter / what Cassie actually did).

—–

On a side note, the speech about the many Church sex abuse scandals is disgusting. I don’t take this as Wolfe deliberately giving us evidence of Chris being a depraved monster, it reads too sincerely and is consistent with the increasingly conservative crankery I’ve documented elsewhere (although I fully expect someone to reply saying ‘no, don’t confuse the text with the author, let’s interpret it as charitably as possible’, just like they did with the nonfiction predictions by Wolfe I posted); the lead-up to his speech is itself misleading and slanted, completely ignoring the central enabling coverup role the Church played for decades upon end. There is no reason to not mention the Church’s role, since the Bishop is not otherwise portrayed sympathetically and mentioning it would both be factually accurate and continue characterizing the Bishop… The setup is also, shall we say, curious for making the victims adolescents and not younger still as they so often were. It’s also a little strange that Wolfe expects the ‘Communists to fall’. Even when this was being written, Cuba’s government had been substantially liberalizing and privatizing. There’s pretty much no reason to expect them to ‘fall’ as opposed to follow a gradual transition to being, like China, Communist in name-only.
Selected Poems Paul Celan ★★★ 1972 2014/06/01 Modern verse is always difficult to read, and I expect little from it since the freedom gives people far too much rope to hang themselves (“you need an infallible ear, like D. H. Lawrence, to determine where the lines should end”); Paul Celan is no exception in that most of his poems leave me simply baffled. Part of the problem is the shadow of the Holocaust lingering over many of the poems: an event too awesome and sublime to reduce to words, seemingly reducing Celan to slapping down words and fractured lines in frustration and despair, and not a little guilt, circling around the themes again and again (reminding me of Wittgenstein’s famous introduction to Philosophical Investigations).

That said, a few of the poems or parts of the poems worked for me - not just the famous “Fugue of Death” (WP) but several of the others. In poetry, a few gems is enough, because they stay with one in a way that prose rarely does, and so I forgive Celan for the poems I did not like and myself for the poems I did not get. Some excerpts:

“Aspen Tree…”, pg24:

“Aspen tree, your leaves glance white into the dark. / My mother’s hair was never white. / Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine. / My yellow-haired mother did not come home. / Rain cloud, above the well do you hover? / My quiet mother weeps for everyone. / Round star, you wind the golden loop. / My mother’s heart was ripped by lead. / Oaken door, who lifted you off your hinges? / My gentle mother cannot return.”


“Corona”, p32:

“Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends. / From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk: / then time returns to the shell.”


“…We stand by the window embracing, and people look / up from the street: / it is time they knew! / It is time the stone made an effort to flower, / time unrest had a beating heart. / It is time it were time. / It is time.”


“Fugue of Death”, pg33:

“Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall / we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night / drink it and drink it / we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there / A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes / he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden / hair Margarete / he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter / he whistles his dogs up / he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in / the earth / he commands us strike up for the dance / Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night / we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at / nightfall / drink you and drink you / A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes / he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden / hair Margarete / Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the / sky it is ample to lie there…”


“Thread Suns”, pg83:

“…there are / still songs to be sung on the other side / of mankind.”


“I Hear that the Axe has Flowered”, pg106:

“I hear that the axe has flowered, / I hear that the place can’t be named, / I hear that the bread which looks at him / heals the hanged man, / the bread baked for him by his wife, / I hear that they call life / our only refuge.”


Ironically, the reason I looked up Celan in the first place was a Japanese novella (a doujin for Touhou), Iyokan & Surrounded By Enemies’s Dream and Reality, included as a running theme quotes from Celan’s From Threshold to Threshold (perhaps because Celan’s poems in Japanese bring out the repeated themes of gates/thresholds/transitions, which complements the plot of the novella & a key character). I had been particularly struck by the poem “The Guest” from Threshold:

“Long before nightfall / someone who exchanged greetings with darkness / comes to spend the night with you. / Long before daylight / he wakes / and, before leaving, kindles a sleep, / a sleep echoing with footsteps: / you hear him going off, measuring distances, / and you throw your soul / after him.”


And since Selected Poems was available but Threshold was not, I downloaded it to read… and “The Guest” was not in it.
Before the Storm (Star Wars: The Black Fleet Crisis, #1) Michael P. Kube-McDowell ★★★ 1996 As a kid collecting EU novels and stories, I was always puzzled by The Black Fleet Crisis trilogy. It was wildly different in tone and subject matter from most of the EU, I didn’t know whether I hated it or loved it, and it seemed to have been largely ignored by the rest of the EU (ever see the Yevetha or Black Sword Command or the White Current mentioned elsewhere?). This ignoring has happened for a number of other books like the Dark Empire comics or Crystal Star, but usually for good reasons: Dark Empire was so over-the-top and gothic that to take it seriously would undermine many other stories and so it’s usually name-checked briefly, if that, and ignored, while Crystal Star was just so terrible it can be ignored. Neither of these seem especially applicable, though, so I didn’t know what to think.

Having reread the trilogy now, I think I understand it better. It’s essentially a Weber/Drake/Clancy-style military or mil-sf novel, which happens to be set in the EU and feature 2 distracting large subplots. From the great opening Fifth Fleet exercise to the equally great small subplot of discovering the Black Sword records (I’m nerdy enough to really like that, and also the various library/research issues in the Lando subplot) to the excellent finish, that’s what it really is.

The problem is in large part the non-Yevethan subplots:

1. there’s a reasonably interesting first-contact story using Lando which keeps distracting from the real story and which has absolutely no relevance to the other 2 subplots and is completely unnecessary. (Another reviewer comments that it would fit nicely as a stand-alone story like the pulpy Han Solo Adventures; I agree, and actually there were multiple Lando Calrissian Adventures, so even more reason…)
2. The subplot for Luke has more justification than Lando, but is still problematic for how sheerly boring and pointless it is. The ultimate justification seems to be the White Current assistance in the final battle and revelation of how they had been working against the Yevetha all along, but this is not much of a justification. It’s probably just as well, since any real info about Luke’s mother would have been rendered moot by the prequels (and I wonder if that’s why the ending had to be so disappointing?). The positive side is that in some respects, this subplot seems to anticipate how a lot of later writers would handle Luke - so perhaps we should not criticize Luke’s hermetical ways and musings. (Some of the resemblances to the Yuuzhan Vong/New Jedi Order story-arcs are striking, although I hated them enough that I stopped reading the EU after they started coming out.) Certainly he serves as a vehicle for some interesting bits like reflecting on the death toll of the first Death Star (although the Imperial Museum in Wedge’s Gamble is still a far better scene).

(One missed opportunity is Drayson; since Drayson is a key player in the major arc, and a key player in the start and end of Lando’s arc, the trilogy missed a chance to make an interesting and subtle move: have Drayson be the topic of the trilogy! It would examine his methods, choices, and beliefs as contrasted against those he manipulates and serves. Most people would not appreciate this subtlety, but that only makes it mirror the life of its subject all the more. But he plays no role in Luke’s subplot, so the interpretation fails. Too bad. The spy novel aspects were a major reason why Zahn’s trilogy was, and probably still remains, the greatest EU series.)

The criticism of Leia in the trilogy is, I think, off-base. A good character is not a omni-perfect automaton who never makes mistakes; Leia needs to make mistakes, and this depicts one of them. Calling that ‘bad characterization’ is just fanboyism. I am reminded of a foreword to one of the character encyclopedias which enthused, “Check it out, Leia never misses [in A New Hope]”. I did. She does, several times.
Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society Jim Manzi ★★★ 2012 2013/01/25 Speaking as a die-hard believer in the value of randomization and meta-analysis, I’m not entirely sure how much I got from this book other than some useful assertions and interesting claims. To go through it roughly in order:

1. the first few chapters are a serviceable philosophy of science primer. We get discussion of how the Scientific Revolution was a break, we get some Popper and falsificationism, and as a very important correction, some Duhem-Quine; we get some cultural and vocation material, and discussion of the value of prediction even in non-experimental sciences. Chapter 6 is a bit of a waste as Manzi makes the standard criticism of frequentism that the basic ideal - probability as the limit of some particular set of events - is extremely imprecise since it gives absolutely no guide as to which set of events, since you can choose arbitrarily complicated events, but he does so on his own terms and without any reference to competing paradigms such as the many flavors of Bayesianism.
2. then we get into genuinely important material on the development of RCTs (he uses the term “RFT”, which I find silly). Personally, I could wish for a whole book on the gradual development and refinement, and many more examples of the superiority of RCTs to other approaches; his summaries of things like the US social program experiments is short and in many ways inferior to, say, Rossi’s “metallic laws”. ch9’s example analyses read like columns folded into the chapter, but I still enjoyed them as fun examples of critical thinking and how analyses can reach any goal.
3. with ch10 we finally get into Manzi’s own career. This section is… weirdly lacking in many examples, even though it’s the section where you would expect Manzi to just lay the smack down with countless scores of anecdotes and stories and statistics about how experimentation is the ne plus ultra of epistemology and exactly how much money it made all these corporations. There’s a few, like Capital One and some Internet companies, but it is not very thematically separate from point #2.
4. he issues some policy recommendations. Hard to argue with some of them: why not let in some immigrants as part of randomized experiments? It can hardly be worse than the current system. Fairly anodyne.

So overall good, and maybe great for people who aren’t familiar with the topics. But I think in general if I wanted a layman to appreciate statistics and its pitfalls and experiments, I might actually be better off giving them Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise (although they’re not totally comparable, of course).

People seem impressed by his Hayekian libertarian arguments using genetic algorithms as arguments. I don’t think they’re as well supported as they may seem. Just to name the obvious, society has changed massively over short time-spans, corporate mortality is astonishingly high, corporations do not replicate with high fidelity (“corporate culture” is fragile) etc; evolution, as it happens, can only filter out so many mutations per generation so past a certain point, a genome just decays. This, along with other considerations, strongly suggests that corporate ‘evolution’ is nothing but a poetic metaphor.
Game Programming Patterns Robert Nystrom ★★★ 0 2014/05/18 (I read the online version.)

This book follows the standard pattern for design pattern books: short chapters on each particular style, with definition, pros & cons, simple pedagogic example, comparisons with other design patterns, and possibly some discussion of real-world implementations & game engines. I haven’t heard of any other place where one could find this sort of game-oriented programming design advice, and in that respect, this book is unrivaled.

While far from encyclopedic, the chosen design patterns all seem like reasonable choices for video game programmers: there are some architectural ones like Flyweight & Singleton which everyone needs to know, and then a good helping of high-performance or game-specific patterns (eg. Data Locality/Object Pool/Dirty Bit & Double Buffer/Game Loop/Spatial Partition, respectively), as well as a few fairly exotic patterns which often show up in games but not that many other areas (for example, Byte Code shows up in a lot of games to support modding, but you’ll otherwise spot such things only in a few extremely-extensible applications like text editors or programming languages).

The actual chapters are surprisingly brief (from my non-game-programming perspective, anyway), and come across more as unusually long blog posts than meaty book chapters. Nystrom mentions several times he was trying for brevity, but I would say he’s taken simplicity to simplemindedness. I would have liked to see more of everything: more examples, more real-world applications, more benchmarks, more comparisons to other languages (especially to higher-level languages like Python/JavaScript/Haskell, which as hardware resources increase, game programmers will increasingly use; us Haskellers say that design patterns are simply flaws in the language, and I’m curious how much of Nystrom’s writing is simply due to working around C and Java issues).

The web presentation is in standard 2.0-style: big font, lots of whitespace. Not too bad for reading, although the sidebar notes were annoying since a lot of them would have been better off incorporated into the text or simply axed, and their relation to the text could be very confusing if there were 2 or 3 on the same page. The web presentation also omits a major advantage of being online: comments! I started reading the site solely because I saw one of the chapters submitted to Hacker News & found it interesting. By a quick count, there’s 18 relevant discussions on Hacker News and another 37 on Reddit, yet someone reading it has no idea. There were many interesting comments and suggestions in those submissions, why not excerpt the best? Or at least link them at the end of each chapter as a “further reading” or something?
The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason John V. Fleming ★★★ 2013 2013/08/09 The title might lead one to believe that Fleming is trying to show an inherent duality to science and the Enlightenment in general - its reliance on irrational methods or its oppression or inherent contradictions, say, perhaps an updated (and more factual) Foucault. But while it’s a clever play on words, The Dark Side of the Enlightenment boils down to some short biographies of minor figures in Europe: the obscure English faith healer Valentine Greatrakes, the French Jansenists, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, Cagliostro, and Julie de Kruedener. If one looks for any sort of demonstration of a duality to the Enlightenment, one will be disappointed, as all the examples seem amply explained by simply pointing out that alchemists and religious types and fraudsters have always existed, and the case studies simply show that the Enlightenment did not sweep them away instantaneously, lock stock and barrel; one is surprised to note Fleming’s lack of emphasis on the more famous examples of the coexistence of religion & science, like Isaac Newton. Perhaps this is to ascribe a failure at goals that Fleming never aimed at, but regardless none of the sections are particularly compelling: while the Rosicrucian and Freemason sections seem like reasonable overviews of their subjects for people who don’t know anything about the topic, Greatrakes and Kruedener left me completely bored and wondering why Fleming considered them interesting enough to write a good chunk of a book on them summarizing other people’s books on them, and the Cagliostro section seems rather apologetic (although I have only seen passing references to Cagliostro before and know little about him).

Fleming’s medievalist traits show in his resentment for the low modern opinion of the Dark Ages, which is a little amusing, and his predilection for using very old and obscure books as sources. But this is the cause of the best aspect of this book: Fleming’s genuine appreciation that even in the Enlightenment, a great many people thought very differently than we do today, centuries later in a completely transformed age, and his attempt to lay out the forgotten background and bring home the difference in consciousness. For example, Fleming points out the absurdity of claiming that Milton either subconsciously or consciously wrote Paradise Lost with the Devil as admirable, given the intense religious convictions of that age and Milton’s own strong beliefs, and he does a credible job of conveying how so many Europeans and Catholics could seriously and factually believe that Napoleon Bonaparte was the literal Anti-Christ foretold by John in Revelations who would usher in the end of the world and sketching the gematria-based arguments Christian occultists concocted to ‘prove’ this. Getting in the “mind” of past ages is always hard, and I appreciate any author who gives me a little insight, even if much of the rest of his book left me feeling like I was wasting my time.
A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole ★★★ 1994 2013/03/13 It’s hard to know what to make of this… I’ve rarely read a book where the main protagonists inspires such disgust in me - even for a picaresque, the main character Ignatius is extreme. It is as if Toole read Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity and a psychology textbook, and said to himself, “how can I make the most offensive moronic character which mashes up the traits of both psychopaths and autists?” and then wrote a novel on it in which the protagonist’s countless evil actions, glib lies, narcissism, ignorance, sloth, leeching, and other flaws finally brought down an appropriate punishment - only to rescue him at the last moment for further adventures.

In particular, I’m not bothered that Ignatius pretends to be a medievalist Catholic. I’m bothered that as far as I can tell, Toole seems to genuinely try to present Ignatius as educated and learned and with a worldview (and reading the reviews here, it seems that most people do indeed take this for granted). The problem is, Toole fails. Utterly. In the entire book, Ignatius’s learning is displayed solely as repeated surface allusions to Boethius and Hroswitha, and a few other dropped names, and never anything of substance. Someone who read Wikipedia on Boethius and Hroswitha would know more than Ignatius does, and is probably literate enough to spot Ignatius (and by extension, Toole’s) failures, like writing ‘gyro’ where they were trying to make an allusion to Yeats’s ‘gyre’ (way to mess up an allusion to only one of the most famous poems ever!).

So, with the complete failure of Ignatius to offer any sort of Catholicly-grounded interesting critique or reflection on society (as a good picaresque is supposed to!), we’re left with the evocation of New Orleans (seems good enough, although I don’t know enough about New Orleans to really judge), the humorous value of each set piece (overall, low. Jeeves this is not.), and the final convergence of plot threads at the bar (a decent enough denouement but still leaves the first 150 pages a drag).

Is that enough to make it a masterpiece? I should think not. Indeed, A Confederacy of Dunces overall stands in stark contrast to Gene Wolfe or R.A. Lafferty’s better novels.
Bitter Seeds (The Milkweed Triptych, #1) Ian Tregillis ★★★ 2010 2013/03/20 I loved Stross’s “A Colder War”, and enjoyed Powers’s Declare and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so this was right up my alley. I enjoyed the concept and a few touches like the Thule Society, and don’t regret reading it: taking blood sacrifice seriously in a “beware while fighting monsters” makes for a gradually creeping sense of doom which is fitting, and I was impressed to see the old medieval debate over the language of infants resurrected and then taken to the max, which was a real bit of esoterica. The logical conclusion, a British program into Enochian, is a nasty enough conclusion that it convinced me to keep reading the series.

Downsides: the repeated use of raven sections is blunt; Gretel’s character is even blunter, we’re told almost on sight that “she sees the future and is manipulating everyone” and this is ground in ad nauseam, while subtlety would’ve worked better (maybe 1 hint at the beginning and then a revelation at the end for the inattentive reader - but we get what must be dozens instead); Nazi Germany is a total caricature; while sometimes the descriptions of places or events are excellent (like the opening), characters can be pretty wooden and I feel like Marsh is made to punch people to move the plot along (eg. to get himself fired, and then to ignore Will and not ask the sane thing like ‘why would you suggest something so horrible as an abortion when you know how much losing our child hurt us?’). The alt history is a little crude and lacking in details: in contrast to Declare or “A Colder War”, which wove in and rewrote all sorts of historical tidbits (some extremely obscure, in Declare), Bitter Seeds only does big brushstrokes - tanks going through the Ardennes, bad winter weather in Russia, a failure of a hypothetical Operation Sea Lion - and it omits all sorts of historical backgrounds that could’ve enriched it (Nazi occultism is a bizarre subject which is surprisingly underused by Tregillis; someone should’ve given him a copy of Morning of the Magicians or something). Hopefully he’ll weave a more intricate tapestry for the Cold War books; at least, I’ll be quite disappointed if James Jesus Angleton doesn’t make some appearances.
Voyage of the Beagle Charles Darwin ★★★ 1989 2012/12/14 Frequently exceedingly dry and of no interest except to naturalists, and probably not always them either: Darwin’s voyage was so long ago that much of his information and speculation is simply outdated (his talk of ‘miasmas’ is one instance where later information makes his material of purely historical interest).

If one is reading it for background on evolution and Origin of Species, one will be disappointed: there are a handful of lines in the main part of the work which may be taken as prefiguring or groping towards evolution, and then there’s some speculation in the surprisingly short Galapagos section (I suspect he spends as much time describing the gauchos’ methods of horsemanship and dealing with cattle as he does on all of the Galapagos material!). In general, the ‘pacing’ is quite odd: reams of material on South America, some pages on the Galapagos, a dash to New Zealand & Australia, a long section on islands and ‘cacao-nuts’ (coconuts), a mini-monograph on coral atolls, and the book abruptly ends.

Which is not to say he doesn’t occasionally drop in interesting or acute observations, for he does. (The shepherd-dog of South America quite took my fancy, for example.) They are just rare welcome morsels in the general desert of this door-stopper. If I had to recommend it to my past self, I would tell him to skip the bulk but to read the Tierra del Fuego sections where the events are both interesting and evocative of the long uncivilized past of man (and perhaps his future), the Galapagos section for its substantial historical interest, and maybe the brief conclusion.

—-

My National Geographic anniversary edition is substantially lacking in additional material; there is surprisingly little about its reception, what contributions it made, where it was prescient and where it was wrong (disturbing, since one doesn’t know what mistakes, misimpressions, outdated information, plausible yet wrong speculation, etc. one might be absorbing over the 400+ pages). As well, Darwin’s original illustrations would benefit mightily from additional material like color photographs and maps.
Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website Daniel Domscheit-Berg ★★★ 2011 2011/11/08 I give it 3 stars solely because it is a unique primary source about WikiLeaks; if this was not from a principal player, it would not be worth reading as it is shallow incomplete garbage.

Negatives: the writing is absolutely atrocious, although I don’t know if this is due to the translation from the German or whether the co-author journalist screwed it all up.

And Domscheit comes off in some passages as too ignorant to even understand Assange’s beliefs (for example, I seem to recall that there was an irritating passage where Domscheit mocks Assange’s use of red light to help his sleep - even though this is standard chronobiology, that blue light influences melatonin secretion to retard the sleep cycle and keep one awake!). One is strongly reminded of Russell’s famous description of Xenophon’s writings on Socrates: “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand. I would rather be reported by my bitterest enemy among philosophers than by a friend innocent of philosophy.” Which is not to say that Domscheit’s portrait of Assange as a megalomaniac asshole is wrong, because from all the other coverage of him, it’s clear there’s a lot of truth to this portrayal.

Domscheit’s personal failings are only highlighted by the since-complete & unmitigated failure of his ‘OpenLeaks’ project.

It’s also bizarrely lacking in technical details, which is the one part one would hope a supposed geek like Domscheit would at least make sure his book got right! (Probably also thanks to the journalist.)

Still, many interesting bits. I remember thinking way back that for a group claiming so many participants & advisers, it had an oddly low flow of leaks - which Domscheit says was because it was mostly him and Assange; makes sense. I was amused to learn that the Iceland laws were based by Assange in part on Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon - again, makes sense in a curious way.
The City of Falling Angels John Berendt ★★★ 2006 2014/01/07 An American writer with access to Venetian high society moves there and writes down all the gossip and good stories he witnesses or hears about while living there for a few years. This book has all the strengths and weaknesses that this sounds like: on the one hand, these are pretty much all stories I am completely unfamiliar with since the reflections of Venice in things I have read or seen are typically of pre-20 century Venice (think stories like The Count of Monte Cristo or film works like Aria or histories of the Mediterranean region) and so stories like theaters burning or the Save Venice feuds or the Pound scandal are news; on the other hand, they were news to me because I didn’t care about any of them before and I don’t care much about them having read Falling Angels either. As one might expect, there’s not much cohesiveness to the stories beyond the narrator himself because real life is not so cooperative as to combine all the storylines into a single satisfying conclusion.

On the positive side: Berendt is a fine writer who smoothly narrates events and lets people speak for themselves more than most writers would. He is aware of the danger of relying on gossip and seems to keep an open mind as he critically examines all the versions and stories he’s told, and he seems to have spoken to everyone so he has plenty to compare. He also has a good eye for details and and interesting people and anecdotes. I don’t regret reading it, even if I don’t expect to ever re-read it nor learned any ‘big’ truths or stories.
The Autobiography Of Benvenuto Cellini Benvenuto Cellini ★★★ 1999 2012/10/05 To read this, one wonders how Cellini survived to age 20, much less age 70! He is constantly killing and being attacked, wenching his models, contracting hideous illnesses (or noting in passing the constant unexpected death of others), and being betrayed (by this account) or insulting others. It’s an endless exhausting cycle such that even Cellini had to notice its futility and danger. One has to wonder how much he exaggerates: aside from the demonology and weather-controlling, it seems so routine for people to go around armed and attacking for minor insults and then dying of a scratch. Then there is his strange attitude to his patrons: on the one hand, he seems largely unable to criticize them or the system despite wallowing in their corruption and wealth (surely the King of France wasn’t all that, and given the sheer servility & ignobility & criminality of the popes he deals with, his tolerance of them is astounding), but on the other hand, he almost goes out of his way to mess with them.

Well, it’s fun in small doses, the constant tumult of Cellini’s life suggests that the constant murder & assault & theft & large gifts we read of in picaresques or stories (like the Decameron) are much more realistic than we give them credit for, and it’s pretty cool to look at the Wikipedia article and see images of the works he labors over at such length in his autobiography.
Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist Thomas Levenson ★★★ 2009 2014/03/21 A quick breezy read good for an evening; Levenson touches on the highlights of Newton’s early life & throughout keeps an eye out for the telling detail or quote which might bring the past to life for us, is sympathetic towards the alchemy and tries to put it in a context, and then plunges into Newton’s war with an obscure counterfeiter.

This section would make good background reading for Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (despite Levenson’s book being published in 2009 and the cycle finished in 2004, and the latter being one of the few places a reader might have encountered Newton in the same breath as counterfeiters, entirely unmentioned), as it pretty clearly explains the monetary issues of clipping, recoining, balance of exchange with Asia, etc, in a less digressive & action-packed manner than Stephenson’s doorstoppers.

It’s interesting that Newton was so involved in criminal matters, but in some respects Levenson is trying to wring blood from a stone: Newton doesn’t seem to have been any Sherlock Holmes (an apt comparison since Moriarty was an expert on Newtonian mechanics), but rather, just obsessive & hardworking and applying all the standard investigative techniques. The story is hampered also by the relatively low amount of documentation (one wonders what the boxes of documents Newton burned would have revealed).
Daemon (Daemon, #1) Daniel Suarez ★★★ 2009 2013/03/27 An unfriendly AI designed by a dead billionaire (who for some reason reminded me a little of an evil John Carmack) takes over the world. The overall combination is good but nothing to write home about. The frequent appearance of autonomous vehicles is a nice touch and one too often absent from SF, near or far. Most of the technical details were good (I was not surprised to read the short author bio and learn Suarez is a practicing programmer, since the Ross character felt like an author self-insert).

But the decentralized conspiracy was done better in Sterling’s “Maneki Neko”, the creepy persuasive AI was done better in ‘Friendship is Optimal’, the technical detail in Cryptonomicon, the futuristic developments in Otherland, and the plutocracy/government stuff in multiple William Gibson novels (Suarez’s version being more than a little bit crude - citing Confessions of an Economic Hitman, really?).

And despite the lauded technical detail, the AI presented is farcical; it’s hard to see how any ‘logic tree’ could possibly handle all that the AI does even if Suarez throws in some failures to parse responses and writes up . (If I had an iPhone I’d probably snark about how Siri can understand the responses given by various characters fine, and hasn’t taken over the world.)
Tau Zero Poul Anderson ★★★ 2006 2013/08/10 The single central conceit is outstanding and excellent hard SF, an interesting entry in what one might call ‘time dilation horror’; there’s only one central idea, however, which becomes strained with repetition over the length of the novel (as short as it is), and while I appreciate that Anderson tried to leaven the hard SF with real characters and interpersonal drama, I can’t say he succeeded.

For punch, some of Larry Niven’s Known Universe short stories using ramjets may be better (“Rammer” and “The Ethics of Madness” come to mind) and I would be remiss to not mention Peter Watts’s “The Island” (suggested soundtrack: Cloud Cult’s “There’s So Much Energy In Us”), although Tau Zero is much more ambitious.
Matter (Culture, #8) Iain M. Banks ★★★ 2008 Absurdly lengthy, with one of the slowest setups ever followed by an equally abrupt and unsatisfactory resolution which kills off pretty much every character we might have even a faint interest in† thanks to something which is introduced out of nowhere maybe 4/5s of the way through. Banks is a great author, so of course there are plenty of rewarding nuggets scattered through out (the haunted ex-Culture man, the deceptive artifact, the general convincingness of ‘the stage is small but the audience great’ theme etc.), but much less than expected from a groaning tome’s worth of Banks. The shell world concept is not developed or employed well (you could replace all of the maneuverings with 2D equivalents if you wished), and the rest of the background and concepts seem pretty stock Culture.

† eg. I was expecting the betrayal to be linked to alien machinations, but no, it turns out to be exactly as simplistic as it seems, the ex-SC guy’s good argument to the contrary, and a complete red herring as he dies with everyone else, the complexity of his character never ascending beyond cackling evil.
50 in 50: Fifty stories for fifty years! Harry Harrison ★★★ 2002 2012/08/22 I downloaded it to read ‘The Streets of Ashkelon’ (which did not disappoint, even though I read an earlier version in Borges and a much later version in Simmons’s Hyperion).

It’s a fun collection of relatively light stories; in classic SF style, each story is usually short, punchy, with a single point or idea highlighted by the ‘twist’ or punchline-style ending.

This means that they are rarely subtle (eg. I see complaints online that ‘Streets’ is an unfair caricature and reveals Harrison’s stock atheism, but it’s hard to lay out the world, story, maintain a decent style, and also be subtle or fair in just a few pages), but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Also on the downside for a modern reader, Harrison shared the common SF preoccupation with the ‘population bomb’ and coming Peak Oil/great dieback; neither of which seem to have happened, thankfully, but they still irritate one to read just a little bit.

Hence, I couldn’t give this a 4 or a 5, but I don’t regret reading it since some were pretty good and I did laugh while reading some. So a 3 it is. RIP, Harrison.
Shadow Games (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #4) Glen Cook ★★★ 1989 2013/06/12 Croaker and company head south, and things go surprisingly smoothly and well in the African countries they travel through until south of the Nile, they discover an evil empire is in their path menacing an innocent Babylonian-style city. Naturally, Dances with Wolves style, they’ll help the hapless natives protect themselves. And we get not one but four of the old Taken coming back to life (Howler, Shaper, Stormbringer, and Soulcatcher) -_-. Oh and also a ‘buried evil’ a la the Dominator. Yes, another one. That’s what, the third now? Good grief.

Like the previous book, my complaint here is that the plot is simple and straightforward, parts of it are very ham-handed (eg. once I got over my disgust at yes, another Taken was back, it was pretty obvious where the crows were coming from).

The upside is that it’s fun watching Croaker becoming the Captain and growing still more.
Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway Clifford Stoll ★★★ 1996 I read this not long after publication, and re-read it a year ago weeding through my books. Between the two, I would have to give it 2-3 stars.

The good part is that at the time, he was correct in puncturing or deflating a lot of the most hyperbolic claims about the benefits of computers and the Internet: online shopping did have a ways to go, kids’ education was not being improved by computers (and may still not be), etc.

The bad part is, he was correct only in the short run. On many claims or predictions where he was absolutist, he is laughably wrong now, and we can expect his track record to continue to worsen as time passes.

This is actually a pretty common failure mode for skeptics of technologies: I call this the Amara effect, after Roy Amara: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
iWoz Steve Wozniak ★★★ 2006 Fairly interesting, although i wish he had dilated more on his technical achievements: he described them in enough detail, I think, to annoy the non-geeks but just tantalize the geeks.

Steve Wozniak strikes me as a naive guy who seems to willfully let himself be exploited because to be less exploited would entail abandoning some idealized sense of childlike innocence (I was particularly incensed by Wozniak handing free millions to a hedge fund just because Wozniak had made a verbal agreement months or years before - that the hedge fund broke! - and they came back asking for more); Steve Jobs inadvertently comes off as a grasping penny-pinching asshole. My opinion was modified only somewhat by reading Isaacson’s Steve Jobs: Jobs could be munificent and non-penny-pinching - for anything to do with himself.
House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski ★★★ 2000 As impressive and inventive a multimedia presentation this is, it’s hard not to think that the fictional Navidson movie described by the novel would be far more interesting or moving than the actual novel is, dragged down by a narrator who is interesting neither in voice nor message; ‘trying too hard’ is a phrase I apply to some experimental or postmodern works, and it fits here better than most. And are we to be moved by this? The labyrinth is constantly described and discussed in it, but one thing that goes unnoticed is that with the exception of Daedalus’s labyrinth, at the enter of almost all labyrinths is nothing at all, and when one reaches it, the only thing to is shrug and head back out.
The Judging Eye (Aspect-Emperor, #1) R. Scott Bakker ★★★ 2009 Bakker says he’s influenced by Frank Herbert, and it’s nowhere clearer than here - the reader of Dune Messiah will notice the uncanny echos. The final sequence is the almost inevitable theft from Tolkien of the Mines of Moria, but it’s sufficiently exciting and well-done that unlike a similar theft in The Sword of Shannara I didn’t put down the book in disgust.

The Thousandfold Thought was a sheer disappointment, and I did wonder whether to continue on to The Judging Eye, but I don’t much regret it. The new characters are still pretty dubious (Mimara is just an annoyance), but the psychopathic son has real promise as a very dark inversion of Leto II.
No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy ★★★ 2006 2012/08/28 Somehow a disappointment, especially compared with Blood Meridian. It has some fantastic moments & writing (eg. Chigurh’s first coin toss), but wrapped in a plot which feels simplistic, cheap, linear, and video game-like; I thought at one moment that it was no surprise that it made what was apparently a great movie, since it read like a screenplay version of the real novel. Harold Bloom mentioned that the apocalypticism was a flaw, and here I would agree: it’s a flaw I’ve also seen surface in Gene Wolfe, and which tarnishes the stories or novels which take up a crude - dare I say, conservative? - sort of jeremiad against these fallen latter days.
The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations Cory Doctorow ★★★ 2012 A mixed bag. A third of the way through, I was ready for 2 stars, and reading only because I remembered the preview as being pretty good; it was reading like the worst parts of Doctorow crossed with cutting-floor scraps from Stross’s Accelerando (general advice: if you haven’t read Accelerando yet, I strongly strongly recommend it over Rapture of the Nerds).

After suffering through the crap of the first half, I finally get to the real story (recommendation: C-f to “It’s the Singularity!” if you want to save yourself the grief). This is pretty fun and decent, although the judge scenario is far from new.
Chinese History in Economic Perspective Thomas G. Rawski ★★★ 1992 2012/09/08 Fairly technical, largely not of interest to non-specialists. Some of the papers captured my interest: the demographic analysis revealing very high infanticide rates and mortality patterns of females was quite interesting, and some of the papers revealed a better integrated and more sophisticated Chinese market economy than I had expected, with less income inequality or dysfunctionality than one gets the picture of when reading of pre-WWII warlordism and civil war.

(I read the online version.)
The Wallet of Kai Lung Ernest Bramah ★★★ 2002 2013/07/19 One reads this for the language on display by Bramah: the absurd sustained Latinate circumlocutions which forever perendinate and cunctate on expressing their simple sense. As far as that goes, it’s quite an interesting exercise and the source of a number of parodic versions of China/Japan, I suspect. I am not sure how many people are up to a entire sustained anthology of this, though: the stories are relatively flimsy and one can drown in the prose while losing track utterly of the plot and personages, which certainly is not calculated to create charm nor cheer in the consumer.
Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day Daryl Collins ★★★ 2009 2012/12/10 The first 2 or 3 chapters are very interesting and enlightening on the risk borne by the poor and how they do their best to cope; however, the rest is generally repetitive and shows the same data in somewhat different ways and countries, and become boring quickly - making this one of the padded books which would’ve been a better read as a longform article or essay. (One exception is the discussion of APRs and how the loans actually are done which renders them far less usurious.) Ironically, the appendices were more interesting than many of the narratives in the later chapters.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street Burton G. Malkiel ★★★ 2004 It’s hard to believe at this point that Malkiel’s views on the desirability of indexing and not trading and the basic truth of the efficient market hypothesis were ever controversial or not conventional wisdom (the 1 and 2 star reviews here notwithstanding… how many geniuses like Peter Thiel blew up betting against Treasuries in the past few years, guys? Efficient markets FTW.), but nevertheless, he was a pioneer. I didn’t wind up learning too much from this since it’s targeted at beginners, but that is not its fault and the advice is generally sound.
Kim Rudyard Kipling ★★★ 1981 Though it’s one of his most famous, I found it hard to like. It’s laden in Orientalism, picaresque almost to a fault, the Buddhism is a little laughable for all that it might have been state of the art in the 1800s (although less laughable than the ornate antique language forced on every character), and the plot is a bit of a trainwreck with endless pages lavished on Kim growing up only to abruptly end in a short theft of documents and an equally abrupt and unsatisfying finish to the religious quest that previously drove events.
Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age Clay Shirky ★★★ 2010 2012/10/03 Short, fluffy - an attempt to expand on what is a pretty short idea at core. If you read or watched any of his previous talks like “GIN, TELEVISION, AND COGNITIVE SURPLUS” and have followed some of his other writings, there’s little new here for you. One advantage of being in book form is that he includes his references.
Everything Bad is Good for You Steven Johnson ★★★ 2006 2011/11/03 I thought it was very short and not in depth at all; yeah, his handful of graphs of episodes was interesting from the data visualization viewpoint, but most of his arguments, such as they were, were qualitative and hand-wavey. (What, there are no simplistic shows these days?) The best I can say is: the thesis is not obviously impossible or wrong a priori, but needs a heck of a lot more empirical backing.
Spice & Wolf, Book 1 Isuna Hasekura ★★★ 2009 2013/07/28 I’m afraid this suffers badly in comparison with the anime: Hasekura isn’t nearly as good at conveying Lawrence & Holo’s interactions as good animators + good seiyuu, and really, that’s the heart of the story. If you can’t get that perfect, then there’s not much to it, and the irritating aspects of light novels come to the fore (very short, sketchy chapters, endings that feel almost rushed, etc).
Psychiatry And The Human Condition Bruce G. Charlton ★★★ 2000 2012/10/23 Not really sure what to make of it; it has interesting ideas but so broad that one has no idea if they’re right or if Charlton is hiding fatal evidence (he doesn’t have the best reputation these days, and this book way back when wasn’t received with acclamations), and one would have to be an expert oneself to know whether Charlton is putting the pieces together in a licit way.
The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record Stanley Appelbaum ★★★ 1980 2013/08/07 As the other reviews say: worth it for the photographs, not so much the commentary. Some might be a little disappointed by the focus on the neo-classical prestige buildings and not parts us moderns would find of vastly more interest, like the first Ferris wheel, the first Japanese building in the US, Wild Bill’s show, etc, but it’s still much better than nothing.
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Kathryn Schulz ★★★ 2010 Touched on a lot of the standard points and citations you’d see somewhere in skeptical literature like LessWrong, but in a very much fuzzier humanities sort of way. Couldn’t really recommend it unless you’re the sort of person who has never heard of Tetlock or Quine or the studies on eyewitness fallibility or read their Kahneman etc - for beginners only.
Silently and Very Fast Catherynne M. Valente ★★★ 2011 2012/01/01 Read this on Cosma Shalizi’s recommendation.

While the writer is clearly skilled, the style grates and the story leaves me cold: the only fairy tale that really spoke to me was Turing’s (but turning his life into a fairy tale, given his death, is almost cheating).
The Cinema of George Lucas Marcus Hearn ★★★ 2005 2012/04/26 Like any authorized, lots of interesting details, gorgeous photos, and thorough with the glaring exception of zero critical thought or criticism or appraisal (except, perhaps, for brief discussions of how Lucas wrote the Star Wars movies drawing on friends and acquaintances, a system which seemed to break down for the prequels - with dismal results).
The Difference Engine William Gibson ★★★ 1992 2011/03/10 Struck me as a lot like Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle though it came long before, and while very interesting and inventive, somehow the overall story never really gelled for me - I think the problem may be that Gibson doesn’t develop his milieu in enough detail or imaginatively enough that the world and its characters can really come to life for one.
It’s behind you - The making of a computer Game Bob Pape ★★★ 2013 2013/09/30 Vividly conveys the fly-by-night and chaos of early computer games and some of the contortions & challenges of dealing with the limited computers of the day. All in all, though, I think Mechner’s The Making of Prince of Persia is a better read if you’re not specifically interested in R-Type.
Policeman’s Beard is Half-Constructed: Computer Prose and Poetry Racter ★★★ 1984 2010/01/01 Summary: the dreams quote in the Wikipedia article really was the most evocative part of the collection. Most of it wasn’t worth reading, and extremely suspiciously sophisticated and likely written by Chamberlain, which reduces the novelty value. (I read the online version.)
Making Money (Discworld, #36) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2007 2012/01/18 Pretty mediocre, hard to believe plot (since when did Ankh-Morpork need fiat money? the gold standard went fine for highly industrialized countries right up to the Depression), and when did the patrician become the philosopher-king? I enjoyed it much less than Hogfather, which I read around the same time.
A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! Harry Harrison ★★★ 2000 2011/05/25 Rather short, but a fast read - Victorian flavored but not unreadable like a lot of steampunk. Decent but not great alternate history. (To call it great, I’d want it to be harder alt history with more details about how a transatlantic tunnel could even work at all, wrapped into a more engrossing story.)
Handbook of Psychopathy Christopher J. Patrick ★★★ 2007 2012/09/07 Highly technical and definitely not for anyone who has not read on the topic before or read a great deal of psychology research. Some papers are a waste, but some other papers are really good: I admired Harris & Rice 2006, and especially their careful analysis/takedown of the Salekin meta-analysis.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work Matthew B. Crawford ★★★ 2009 2012/10/15 Overall, makes many good points.

His discussions of computers, though, are not very well-informed; in particular, his footnote on Godel and Turing is pretty bad, although I think he may just have been misled by the authors he’s relying on like Searle, Penrose, and Andrew Hodges.
Back to Methuselah George Bernard Shaw ★★★ 2007 2013/01/15 Strange - a sort of extremely slow progress that runs antithetical to modernity. In many ways (in terms of the nonfiction aspect of Shaw’s project), J.B.S Haldane’s “Daedalus, or, Science and the Future” is far superior, or Bernal’s The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.
Ragnarok A.S. Byatt ★★★ 2011 2011/10/19 Byatt’s Norse is not mine; she writes very well, but to me, Norse myth is about the striking verse, the illuminating kenning, the weirdly powerful line, yoked to phantasmagoric unconnected incidents under the dark shadow of Wyrd… (Much shorter than expected.)
10 Print Chr$(205.5+rnd(1)); Goto 10 Nick Montfort ★★★ 2012 2012/12/02 A “world in a grain of sand” enterprise, it succeeds better at the task than I expected. (The sections on modern art are very strained, however. I would’ve preferred some mathematical analysis of the mazes generated and their properties to that whole section.)
Vader’s Little Princess Jeffrey Brown ★★★ 2013 2013/08/02 Cute, but superficial as intended. The main appeal of this for me was seeing just how many classic Star Wars lines or scenes could be twisted into hoary stereotypical teen jokes - it was many more than I would have expected!
Musa Pedestris - Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes [1536 - 1896] John S. Farmer ★★★ 2007 A great source for writers wishing to use cant since it shows them off in context. The best poem (most are pedestrian in the negative sense) would be “Villon’s Straight Tip To All Cross Coves”, which is a marvel of its kind.
Economic Analysis of the Law: Selected Readings Donald A. Wittman ★★★ 2002 2011/10/20 Best essays were the blackmail, aboriginal, sports, and baby markets. The earlier ones were terribly dry, theoretical, and often justified themselves by appealing to rational actors and the status quo.
Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation Jay L. Garfield ★★★ 2001 2012/08/27 Much of it is relatively technical, especially the parts dealing with Nagarjuna, and not suited to those who haven’t read the key texts. I did enjoy the comparison with Sextus Empiricus a lot, though.
The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life - The Four Essential Principles Richard Wiseman ★★★ 2003 2011/05/23 This book is almost too padded to be worth reading. Is there a condensed version anywhere? The ideas seem like they might have something to them, but it’s hard to find the meat under the flab.
The Sword of Good Eliezer Yudkowsky ★★★ 2009 A clever subversive ending doesn’t make a story great. To some extent, this critique was done much better in Spinrad’s The Iron Dream or Herbert’s Dune/Dune Messiah for that matter.
Surface Detail (Culture, #9) Iain M. Banks ★★★ 2010 2011/07/20 The usual intertwined Banks plotting was easier to follow this time, and the overall resolution very satisfactory. Not as interesting as Player of Games, but still a solid Culture novel
The Children of the Sky (Zones of Thought #3) Vernor Vinge ★★★ 2011 2011/11/01 As much as I like the Zones of Thought universe, this drags in the middle, Tine society isn’t as interesting second time around, and it doesn’t end the storyline.
The Night Land William Hope Hodgson ★★★ 2001 2012/02/28 Very strange, studiedly & almost unreadably archaic, not really recommended except for the excellent early worldbuilding & evocation of the dying earth setting
A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry Czesław Miłosz ★★★ 1998 2012/10/09 A fairly mediocre collection, with many obvious candidates and far too many Polish or Chinese selections; Milosz’s prefaces shed little light.
The Closing of the American Mind Allan Bloom ★★★ 1988 2011/11/27 More interesting than I expected (not just a conservative cliched curmudgeon) but ultimately leaves me mostly unmoved.
Bleak Seasons (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #6) Glen Cook ★★★ 1997 2013/06/13 A dark fantasy version of Slaughterhouse Five, but more so.
The Story of Life Insurance Burton Jesse Hendrick ★★★ 1907 2009/01/01
Guerrilla Warfare Ernesto Guevara ★★★ 1985 2003/01/01
Six Memos For The Next Millennium Italo Calvino ★★★ 1996 2014/01/29
Letters from a Stoic Seneca ★★★ 1969 2014/05/05
Dawn of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru #6) 07th Expansion ★★★ 2009 2013/09/01
The Invention of Morel Adolfo Bioy Casares ★★★ 2003 2014/04/01
Myth-Taken Identity (Myth Adventures, #15) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★ 2005 2008/07/15
An Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake Tom Horton ★★★ 1997
Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach Meryl Gordon ★★★ 2008 2013/06/21
Water Sleeps (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #8) Glen Cook ★★★ 2000
How to Read Donald Duck Ariel Dorfman ★★★ 1984
Introducing Nietzsche: A Graphic Guide Laurence Gane ★★★ 2005
History of the Conquest of Mexico/History of the Conquest of Peru William H. Prescott ★★★ 2000
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Karl Marx ★★★ 2005
Modern Egypt Evelyn Baring Cromer ★★★ 0
Young Philby Robert Littell ★★★ 2012 2013/04/01
Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51 Phil Patton ★★★ 1998 2013/03/27
Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction Damien Keown ★★★ 2005
Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project, 1939-1945: A Study in German Culture Paul Lawrence Rose ★★★ 1998 2013/02/15
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor E. Frankl ★★★ 2006
Heaven and Hell Aldous Huxley ★★★ 1956
The Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell Aldous Huxley ★★★ 2004
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy Christopher L. Hayes ★★★ 2012
Harry Potter and the Natural 20 Sir Poley ★★★ 2012
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Eliyahu M. Goldratt ★★★ 2004
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Robin Sloan ★★★ 2012
How to Succeed in Evil Patrick E. McLean ★★★ 2007
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome Tony Attwood ★★★ 2006
The Testament John Grisham ★★★ 1999
Singularity William Sleator ★★★ 1997
The Drive-In Joe R. Lansdale ★★★ 2005
A Vindication of the Rights of Women Mary Wollstonecraft ★★★ 2004 2012/09/01
The Warrior Prophet (The Prince of Nothing, #2) R. Scott Bakker ★★★ 2005
The Locked Room (The New York Trilogy, #3) Paul Auster ★★★ 1986
Ghosts (The New York Trilogy, #2) Paul Auster ★★★ 1987
The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies Michael Breen ★★★ 2004
On Bullshit Harry G. Frankfurt ★★★ 2005
The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain James Blair ★★★ 2005
What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry John Markoff ★★★ 2006
Rules of Engagement (The Serrano Legacy, #5) Elizabeth Moon ★★★ 2000
Everyman and Other Miracle and Morality Plays (Dover Thrift Editions) Anonymous ★★★ 1995
The Historian Elizabeth Kostova ★★★ 2005
The Planet Buyer Cordwainer Smith ★★★ 1975
The Waterworks E.L. Doctorow ★★★ 2007
The Brain Makers H.P. Newquist ★★★ 1994
The Secret History Procopius ★★★ 1982
Arms and the Man: Dr. Gerald Bull, Iraq and The Supergun William Lowther ★★★ 1991
The Perfect Store: Inside eBay Adam Cohen ★★★ 2003
Modern Egypt Evelyn Baring ★★★ 2009
Weird Water and Fuzzy Logic Martin Gardner ★★★ 1996
Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science Martin Gardner ★★★ 1957
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine Michael Lewis ★★★ 2010
The Last Basselope: One Ferocious Story Berkeley Breathed ★★★ 2001
Sinfest Tatsuya Ishida ★★★ 2004
Communities in Cyberspace Peter Kollock ★★★ 1999
The Art of Reasoning David Kelley ★★★ 1998
Banks, Palaces, and Entrepreneurs in Renaissance Florence Richard A. Goldthwaite ★★★ 1995
Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes Frans de Waal ★★★ 2000
Dark Empire Sourcebook Michael Allen Horne ★★★ 1998
Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-87 Bob Woodward ★★★ 1987
Pippi Longstocking Astrid Lindgren ★★★ 1972
The Fall of the House of Usher Edgar Allan Poe ★★★ 1839
The Hidden Persuaders Vance Packard ★★★ 1972
A Day No Pigs Would Die Robert Newton Peck ★★★ 1979
Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays Richard M. Stallman ★★★ 2002
The Jungle Upton Sinclair ★★★ 2003
The Forlorn Dave Freer ★★★ 1999
The Wizardry Compiled (Wiz, #2) Rick Cook ★★★ 1990
The Mysterious Island Jules Verne ★★★ 1874
Purgatorio (The Divine Comedy, #2) Dante Alighieri ★★★ 2004
The Age Of Turbulence: Adventures In A New World Alan Greenspan ★★★ 2008
Rules for the Direction of the Mind René Descartes ★★★ 1961
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (Doctor Dolittle, #2) Hugh Lofting ★★★ 2005
The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj David Gilmour ★★★ 2006
Bioethics Reader Helga Kuhse ★★★ 2007
Symmetries and Reflections Eugene Paul Wigner ★★★ 1979
Copenhagen Michael Frayn ★★★ 2000
Six Chapters Of Life In A Cadre School: Memoirs From China’s Cultural Revolution Chiang Yang ★★★ 1986
In the Shadow of No Towers Art Spiegelman ★★★ 2004
Balance of Power: International Politics as the Ultimate Global Game Chris Crawford ★★★ 1986
H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life Michel Houellebecq ★★★ 2005
Rats, Bats & Vats (The Rats and the Bats, #1) Dave Freer ★★★ 2001
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court Jeffrey Toobin ★★★ 2007
Bangkok Tattoo (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #2) John Burdett ★★★ 2006
Bangkok 8 (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #1) John Burdett ★★★ 2004
The Captive Mind Czesław Miłosz ★★★ 1990
Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft’s Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution Dean Takahashi ★★★ 2002
The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World A.J. Jacobs ★★★ 2005
Notes from Underground Fyodor Dostoyevsky ★★★ 2004
Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan Oscar Ratti ★★★ 2000
The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde ★★★ 2005
Going Postal (Discworld, #33) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2005
Rogue Moon Algis Budrys ★★★ 1978
The Hand of Oberon (Amber Chronicles, #4) Roger Zelazny ★★★ 1977
Sign of the Unicorn (Amber Chronicles, #3) Roger Zelazny ★★★ 1976
The Guns of Avalon (Amber Chronicles, #2) Roger Zelazny ★★★ 1974
Joel on Software Joel Spolsky ★★★ 2004
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media Noam Chomsky ★★★ 2002
The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) Jasper Fforde ★★★ 2003
Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man (Encyclopedia Brown, #4) Donald J. Sobol ★★★ 1982
Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues (Encyclopedia Brown, #3) Donald J. Sobol ★★★ 1982
Deep Trouble (Goosebumps, #19) R.L. Stine ★★★ 2003
How I Got My Shrunken Head (Goosebumps, #39) R.L. Stine ★★★ 2003
Ghost Beach (Goosebumps, #22) R.L. Stine ★★★ 2003
Be Careful What You Wish For… (Goosebumps, #12) R.L. Stine ★★★ 2005
Welcome to Camp Nightmare (Goosebumps, #9) R.L. Stine ★★★ 2003
Blue Wizard Is about to Die!: Prose, Poems, and Emoto-Versatronic Expressionist Pieces about Video Games, 1980-2003 Seth Fingers Flynn Barkan ★★★ 2004
Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris ★★★ 2001
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer ★★★ 2006
Fire Sea (The Death Gate Cycle, #3) Margaret Weis ★★★ 1992
Dragon Wing (The Death Gate Cycle, #1) Margaret Weis ★★★ 1990
Surfing Through Hyperspace: Understanding Higher Universes in Six Easy Lessons Clifford A. Pickover ★★★ 1999
Sushi Never Sleeps Clifford A. Pickover ★★★ 2002
E-Prime Frederic P. Miller ★★★ 2010
The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway ★★★ 1996
An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry Earl Roy Miner ★★★ 1968
Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China Robert J. Antony ★★★ 2004
Mechademia 3: Limits of the Human Frenchy Lunning ★★★ 2008
Mechademia 1: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga Frenchy Lunning ★★★ 2006
Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire (Mechademia) Frenchy Lunning ★★★ 2007
Ex-Prodigy: My Childhood and Youth Norbert Wiener ★★★ 2007
Cybernetics Norbert Wiener ★★★ 1961
Conversations with Shotetsu =: Shotetsu Monogatari Shotetsu ★★★ 2007
Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge & Its Transmission Through Myth Giorgio De Santillana ★★★ 1992
Eaten Alive (Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear, #1) John Whitman ★★★ 1997
Planet of Twilight (Star Wars) Barbara Hambly ★★★ 1998
Death, Lies, and Treachery (Star Wars: Boba Fett) John Wagner ★★★ 1998
Crimson Empire, Volume 2: Council of Blood (Star Wars: Crimson Empire, #2) Mike Richardson ★★★ 1999
Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Volume 1 Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 2007
Dark Empire II Tom Veitch ★★★ 2006
Dark Empire I Tom Veitch ★★★ 2003
Delusions of Grandeur (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #9) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 1999
Darkest Knight (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #5) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 1999
The Lost Ones (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #3) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 1999
Lightsabers (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #4) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 1999
Starfighters of Adumar (Star Wars: X-Wing, #9) Aaron Allston ★★★ 1999
Tyrant’s Test (Star Wars: The Black Fleet Crisis, #3) Michael P. Kube-McDowell ★★★ 1996
Shield of Lies (Star Wars: The Black Fleet Crisis, #2) Michael P. Kube-McDowell ★★★ 1996
Wraith Squadron (Star Wars: X-Wing, #5) Aaron Allston ★★★ 1998
The Hutt Gambit (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #2) A.C. Crispin ★★★ 1997
The Paradise Snare (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #1) A.C. Crispin ★★★ 1997
Children of the Jedi (Star Wars) Barbara Hambly ★★★ 1996
Wedge’s Gamble (Star Wars: X-Wing, #2) Michael A. Stackpole ★★★ 1996
Rogue Squadron (Star Wars: X-Wing, #1) Michael A. Stackpole ★★★ 1996
Specter of the Past (Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn, #1) Timothy Zahn ★★★ 1998
Dark Force Rising (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #2) Timothy Zahn ★★★ 1993
The Golden Transcendence (Golden Age, #3) John C. Wright ★★★ 2004
Orphans of Chaos (Chronicles of Chaos, #1) John C. Wright ★★★ 2006
Kabbalah and Criticism Harold Bloom ★★★ 2005
Legacy (The Way, #3) Greg Bear ★★★ 1996
Eternity (The Way, #2) Greg Bear ★★★ 1994
The Club Of Queer Trades G.K. Chesterton ★★★ 2004
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot ★★★ 2010
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice Shunryu Suzuki ★★★ 1973
Climbing Mount Improbable Richard Dawkins ★★★ 2006
The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex Murray Gell-Mann ★★★ 1995
Korean Etiquette Ethics Business Boyé Lafayette de Mente ★★★ 1994
The Mouse That Roared Leonard Wibberley ★★★ 2003
Ten Thousand Sorrows : The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan Elizabeth Kim ★★★ 2000
Snakepit Moses Isegawa ★★★ 2005
The Foreign Student: A Novel Susan Choi ★★★ 2004
Kal Flight 007: The Hidden Story Oliver Clubb ★★★ 1985
Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology Bruce Fulton ★★★ 2005
The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom Ralph Hassig ★★★ 2009
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets Sudhir Venkatesh ★★★ 2008
The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #12) Lemony Snicket ★★★ 2005
The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #11) Lemony Snicket ★★★ 2004
The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #10) Lemony Snicket ★★★ 2003
The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #6) Lemony Snicket ★★★ 2001
The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #5) Lemony Snicket ★★★ 2000
The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #3) Lemony Snicket ★★★ 2000
Market Forces Richard K. Morgan ★★★ 2005
The Constant Gardener John le Carré ★★★ 2005
Split Heirs Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 1993
Furious Gulf (Galactic Center, #5) Gregory Benford ★★★ 1994
Tides of Light (Galactic Center, #4) Gregory Benford ★★★ 2004
Great Sky River (Galactic Center, #3) Gregory Benford ★★★ 2004
Foundation’s Fear (Second Foundation Trilogy, #1) Gregory Benford ★★★ 2000
Karl Marx: A Reader Jon Elster ★★★ 2006
Terror and Consent : The Wars for the Twenty-First Century Philip Bobbitt ★★★ 2008 2008/07/01
Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present Michael B. Oren ★★★ 2007 2008/07/03
Patterns of Software: Tales from the Software Community Richard P. Gabriel ★★★ 1996 2008/08/04
Command Failure in War: Psychology and Leadership Philip Langer ★★★ 2004 2008/06/18
The Last Lecture Randy Pausch ★★★ 2008
Edison’s Conquest of Mars: The Original 1898 Sequel to The War of the Worlds Garrett P. Serviss ★★★ 2010
1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science James Trefil ★★★ 1991
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs Jon Scieszka ★★★ 1996
The BFG Roald Dahl ★★★ 2001
Holes (Holes, #1) Louis Sachar ★★★ 2000
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare ★★★ 1978
The Chosen Chaim Potok ★★★ 1987
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett ★★★ 1998
The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain # 2) Lloyd Alexander ★★★ 1980
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1) Lloyd Alexander ★★★ 1980
Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables, #2) L.M. Montgomery ★★★ 1997
Bridge to Terabithia Katherine Paterson ★★★ 2003
A Separate Peace John Knowles ★★★ 2003
When We Were Very Young A.A. Milne ★★★ 1988
The Sneetches and Other Stories Dr. Seuss ★★★ 1961
The Polar Express Chris Van Allsburg ★★★ 1985
Bunnicula (Bunnicula, #1) James Howe ★★★ 2006
The Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, #1-4) Gertrude Chandler Warner ★★★ 1990
Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die (Machine of Death #1) Ryan North ★★★ 2010
It’s a Busy, Busy World Richard Scarry ★★★ 1965
Northworld Trilogy (Northworld, #1-3) David Drake ★★★ 1999
The Armageddon Inheritance (Dahak, #2) David Weber ★★★ 1993
More Than Honor (Worlds of Honor, #1) David Weber ★★★ 1998
Mutineers’ Moon (Dahak, #1) David Weber ★★★ 1999
At All Costs (Honor Harrington, #11) David Weber ★★★ 2005
Ashes of Victory (Honor Harrington, #9) David Weber ★★★ 2001
Echoes of Honor (Honor Harrington, #8) David Weber ★★★ 1999
Flag in Exile (Honor Harrington, #5) David Weber ★★★ 1995
Honor Among Enemies (Honor Harrington, #6) David Weber ★★★ 1997
The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington, #2) David Weber ★★★ 2001
Vampire World I: Blood Brothers (Necroscope, #6) Brian Lumley ★★★ 1993
Necroscope V: Deadspawn (Necroscope, #5) Brian Lumley ★★★ 1991
Necroscope IV: Deadspeak (Necroscope, #4) Brian Lumley ★★★ 1992
Necroscope III: The Source (Necroscope, #3) Brian Lumley ★★★ 1989
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town Cory Doctorow ★★★ 2006
The Hacker and the Ants Rudy Rucker ★★★ 2003
Equal Rites (Discworld, #3) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2005
The Pelican Brief John Grisham ★★★ 1992
The Light Fantastic (Discworld, #2) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2000
The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane ★★★ 2006
The Eudaemonic Pie Thomas A. Bass ★★★ 2000
Vampire World III: Bloodwars (Necroscope, #8) Brian Lumley ★★★ 1995
The Nimrod Flipout: Stories Etgar Keret ★★★ 2006
Castle of Wizardry (The Belgariad, #4) David Eddings ★★★ 1984
Queen of Sorcery (The Belgariad, #2) David Eddings ★★★ 1982
The Ruby Knight (The Elenium, #2) David Eddings ★★★ 1991
The Diamond Throne (The Elenium, #1) David Eddings ★★★ 1990
Gentlemen of the Road Michael Chabon ★★★ 2007
Powers, Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? Brian Michael Bendis ★★★ 2006
Me and My Little Brain (Great Brain #3) John D. Fitzgerald ★★★ 2004
The Great Brain at the Academy (Great Brain #4) John D. Fitzgerald ★★★ 1982
More Adventures of the Great Brain (Great Brain #2) John D. Fitzgerald ★★★ 2004
The State of the Art (Culture, #4) Iain M. Banks ★★★ 2007
Timelike Infinity (Xelee Sequence, #2) Stephen Baxter ★★★ 1997
Flux (Xeelee Sequence, #3) Stephen Baxter ★★★ 1998
Raft (Xelee Sequence, #1) Stephen Baxter ★★★ 1992
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Charles Mackay ★★★ 2003
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s John Elder Robison ★★★ 2007
Hit or Myth (Myth Adventures, #4) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★ 2006
Little Myth Marker (Myth Adventures, #6) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★ 2006
M.Y.T.H. Inc. in Action (Myth Adventures, #9) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★ 2007
Sweet Myth-Tery of Life (Myth Adventures, #10) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★ 1995
Another Fine Myth (Myth Adventures, #1) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★★ 2005 2008/07/15
The Tomb (The Adversary Cycle, #2) (Repairman Jack, #1) F. Paul Wilson ★★★ 1998
Hunter’s Death (The Sacred Hunt, #2) Michelle West ★★★ 1996
Hunter’s Oath (The Sacred Hunt, #1) Michelle West ★★★ 1995
The Riven Shield (The Sun Sword, #5) Michelle West ★★★ 2003
The Sun Sword (The Sun Sword, #6) Michelle West ★★★ 2004
Sea of Sorrows (The Sun Sword, #4) Michelle West ★★★ 2001
The Broken Crown (The Sun Sword, # 1) Michelle West ★★★ 1997
The Uncrowned King (The Sun Sword, #2) Michelle West ★★★ 1998
The Shining Court (The Sun Sword, #3) Michelle West ★★★ 1999
The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture Roger J. Davies ★★★ 2002
An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology Frieda Fordham ★★★ 1970
The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu’s Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance Donald Keene ★★★ 1951
Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume One: From Earliest Times to 1600 Donald Keene ★★★ 2002
The Pleasures of Japanese Literature Donald Keene ★★★ 1993
Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century Donald Keene ★★★ 1994
How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle: How the World’s Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers William Poundstone ★★★ 2004
Reading Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Responses to Franco Moretti Jonathan Goodwin ★★★ 2011
Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare ★★★ 2004
Night (The Night Trilogy, #1) Elie Wiesel ★★★ 2006
Manga Impact! Collectif ★★★ 2010
The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (Stainless Steel Rat, #9) Harry Harrison ★★★ 1998
The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat (Stainless Steel Rat, #4-6) Harry Harrison ★★★ 1987
Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz ★★★ 2011
Comics and Sequential Art Will Eisner ★★★ 2001
Manga Impact: The World of Japanese Animation Philip Brophy ★★★ 2010
Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone Ralph Richard Banks ★★★ 2011
The Truth Machine James L. Halperin ★★★ 1996
Vathek William Beckford ★★★ 1999
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward R. Tufte ★★★ 2001
The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles Gregory Bassham ★★★ 2010
Zettel Ludwig Wittgenstein ★★★ 1970
Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness Frank Brady ★★★ 2011
Statesman (Bio of a Space Tyrant, #5) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1986
Executive (Bio of a Space Tyrant, #4) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1985
Politician (Bio of a Space Tyrant, #3) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1985
Mercenary (Bio of a Space Tyrant, #2) Piers Anthony ★★★ 2000
Refugee (Bio of a Space Tyrant, #1) Piers Anthony ★★★ 2000
Phaze Doubt (Apprentice Adept, #7) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1991
Out of Phaze (Apprentice Adept, #4) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1988
The Color of Her Panties (Xanth, #15) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1992
Ogre, Ogre (Xanth, #5) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1997
With a Tangled Skein (Incarnations of Immortality, #3) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1986
The Source of Magic (Xanth, #2) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1997
A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth, #1) Piers Anthony ★★★ 1977
Foundation and Earth (Foundation, #5) Isaac Asimov ★★★ 2004
Second Foundation (Foundation, #3) Isaac Asimov ★★★ 2004
The Giving Tree Shel Silverstein ★★★ 2014
The Crucible Arthur Miller ★★★ 2003
Candide Voltaire ★★★ 1991
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain ★★★ 2006
Confessor (Sword of Truth, #11) Terry Goodkind ★★★ 2007
Temple of the Winds (Sword of Truth, #4) Terry Goodkind ★★★ 2007
Blood of the Fold (Sword of Truth, #3) Terry Goodkind ★★★ 1997
Outcast of Redwall (Redwall, #8) Brian Jacques ★★★ 2004
The Bellmaker (Redwall, #7) Brian Jacques ★★★ 2004
Mariel of Redwall (Redwall, #4) Brian Jacques ★★★ 2003
Martin the Warrior (Redwall, #6) Brian Jacques ★★★ 1995
Mattimeo (Redwall, #3) Brian Jacques ★★★ 1999
Heaven’s Reach (Uplift Storm Trilogy, #3) David Brin ★★★ 1999
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★ 2000
The Haunted Mesa Louis L’Amour ★★★ 1988
Polyamory in the Twenty-First Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners Deborah Anapol ★★★ 2012
Randomized Clinical Trials: Design, Practice and Reporting David Machin ★★★ 2010
Distrust That Particular Flavor William Gibson ★★★ 2012
The Intelligent Universe: A New View of Creation and Evolution Fred Hoyle ★★★ 1983
Mr Palomar Italo Calvino ★★★ 1994 2008/07/29
Luminosity Alicorn ★★★ 2010
Shining Steel Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 1986
Infinite in All Directions Freeman Dyson ★★★ 2004
Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism John Updike ★★★ 2007 2008/09/06
TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone (New Autonomy) Peter Lamborn Wilson ★★★ 2003
Silence Shūsaku Endō ★★★ 1980
Peace on Earth Stanisław Lem ★★★ 2002
Lilith: A Snake in the Grass (The Four Lords of the Diamond, #1) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1981
The Return of Nathan Brazil (Saga of the Well World, #4) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 2005
Twilight at the Well of Souls (Saga of the Well World, #5) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1986
Charon: A Dragon at the Gate (The Four Lords of the Diamond, #3) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1982
Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail (The Four Lords of the Diamond, #4) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1983
Pirates of the Thunder (Rings of the Master, #2) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1987
Echoes of the Well of Souls (Watchers at the Well, #1) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1993
Shadow of the Well of Souls (Watchers at the Well, #2) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1994
The Watchers at the Well: Echoes of the Well of Souls; Shadow of the Well of Souls; Gods of the Well of Souls Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 1994
Exiles at the Well of Souls (Saga of the Well World, #2) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 2003
Midnight at the Well of Souls (Saga of the Well World, #1) Jack L. Chalker ★★★ 2002
Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism Richard Carrier ★★★ 2005
Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith Richard Carrier ★★★ 2011
Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer Duncan J. Watts ★★★ 2011
Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China Rachel DeWoskin ★★★ 2006
The Singers of Time Frederik Pohl ★★★ 1991
Norstrilia Cordwainer Smith ★★★ 1985
Heechee Rendezvous (Heechee Saga, #3) Frederik Pohl ★★★ 1985
3001: The Final Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #4) Arthur C. Clarke ★★★ 1999
Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1) Arthur C. Clarke ★★★ 2000
Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1) Eoin Colfer ★★★ 2003
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently, #2) Douglas Adams ★★★ 1991
The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★ 2003
Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind (Fables, #17) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2012
Fables, Vol. 16: Super Team (Fables, #16) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2011
Fables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Fables, #13) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2010
Fables, Vol. 14: Witches (Fables, #14) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2010
Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red (Fables, #15) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2011
Fables, Vol. 12: The Dark Ages (Fables, #12) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2009
Fables, Vol. 11: War and Pieces (Fables, #11) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2008
Fables, Vol. 8: Wolves (Fables, #8) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2006
Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love (Fables, #3) Bill Willingham ★★★ 2004
The History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides ★★★ 1954
Vitality, Energy, Spirit: A Taoist Sourcebook (Shambhala Dragon Editions) Thomas Cleary ★★★ 2009
Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism Daniel Pinchbeck ★★★ 2003
Tomorrow’s Eve Villiers de L’Isle-Adam ★★★ 2000
Influence Of Seapower Upon History, The Alfred Thayer Mahan ★★★ 1995 2012/07/18
Twisting the Rope (Black Dragon, #2) R.A. MacAvoy ★★★ 1986
The Advent of the Algorithm: The 300-Year Journey from an Idea to the Computer David Berlinski ★★★ 2001
Shadow of the Giant (Ender’s Shadow, #4) Orson Scott Card ★★★ 2005
Shadow of the Hegemon (Ender’s Shadow, #2) Orson Scott Card ★★★ 2001
Speaker for the Dead (The Ender Quintet, #2) Orson Scott Card ★★★ 1994
Mason and Dixon Thomas Pynchon ★★★ 2004
Vineland Thomas Pynchon ★★★ 1995
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Simon Winchester ★★★ 2005
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy ★★★ 2001
Othello William Shakespeare ★★★ 2004 2008/06/20
Hamlet William Shakespeare ★★★ 2003
The Firm John Grisham ★★★ 1997
Behemoth: Seppuku (Rifters, #4 / Behemoth, #2) Peter Watts ★★★ 2005
Rational Choice in an Uncertain World Robyn M. Dawes ★★★ 1988
The Tailor of Panama John le Carré ★★★ 1996
Smiley’s People John le Carré ★★★ 2002
Rising Sun Michael Crichton ★★★ 2004
The Lost World (Jurassic Park, #2) Michael Crichton ★★★ 1995
The Andromeda Strain Michael Crichton ★★★ 2003
The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time, #8) Robert Jordan ★★★ 1999
The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, #12) Robert Jordan ★★★ 2009
The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War, #2) John Scalzi ★★★ 2007
Black Swan Green David Mitchell ★★★ 2007 2008/09/03
Foundation’s Triumph (Second Foundation Trilogy, #3) David Brin ★★★ 2000
Brightness Reef (Uplift Storm Trilogy, #1) David Brin ★★★ 1996
Thus Spoke Zarathustra Friedrich Nietzsche ★★★ 1978
On the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo Friedrich Nietzsche ★★★ 2010
The Hero With a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell ★★★ 1972
Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, #1) David Brin ★★★ 2010
Franz Kafka’s The Castle (Dramatization) David Fishelson ★★★ 2003
Zen in the Art of Archery Eugen Herrigel ★★★ 1999
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Daniel C. Dennett ★★★ 2006
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) Suzanne Collins ★★★ 2008
An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro ★★★ 2005
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick ★★★ 1996
Singularity Sky (Eschaton, #1) Charles Stross ★★★ 2012
America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction Jon Stewart ★★★ 2004
The Tempest William Shakespeare ★★★ 2004
Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction Alfred Birnbaum ★★★ 2002
Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales Stephen King ★★★ 2005
The Tommyknockers Stephen King ★★★ 1993
The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, #3) Stephen King ★★★ 2003
Needful Things Stephen King ★★★ 1992
’Salem’s Lot Stephen King ★★★ 1991
Dracula Bram Stoker ★★★ 1986
Deathbird Stories Harlan Ellison ★★★ 2006
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union Michael Chabon ★★★ 2007
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★ 2004
Count Zero (Sprawl, #2) William Gibson ★★★ 2006
Mona Lisa Overdrive (Sprawl, #3) William Gibson ★★★ 1989
The Long Winter (Little House, #6) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★★ 2007
On the Banks of Plum Creek (Little House, #4) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★★ 2007
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 Alan Moore ★★★ 2002
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 Alan Moore ★★★ 2004
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 04 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★★ 2004
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 03 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★★ 1999
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 05 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★★ 2004
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 02 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★★ 1998
The Invisibles, Vol. 5: Counting to None Grant Morrison ★★★ 1999
The Invisibles, Vol. 4: Bloody Hell in America Grant Morrison ★★★ 1998
The Invisibles, Vol. 2: Apocalipstick Grant Morrison ★★★ 2001
100 Bullets, Vol. 3: Hang Up on the Hang Low Brian Azzarello ★★★ 2001
100 Bullets, Vol. 2: Split Second Chance (100 Bullets, #2) Brian Azzarello ★★★ 2000
100 Bullets, Vol. 1: First Shot, Last Call (100 Bullets, #1) Brian Azzarello ★★★ 2000
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 6: Girl on Girl (Y: The Last Man, #6) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2005
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 8: Kimono Dragons (Y: The Last Man, #8) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2006
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 9: Motherland (Y: The Last Man, #9) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2007
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 4: Safeword (Y: The Last Man, #4) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2004
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 7: Paper Dolls (Y: The Last Man, #7) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2006
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 3: One Small Step (Y: The Last Man, #3) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2004
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 5: Ring of Truth (Y: The Last Man, #5) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2005
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 2: Cycles (Y: The Last Man, #2) Brian K. Vaughan ★★★ 2003
Zot!: The Complete Black-and-White Collection: 1987-1991 Scott McCloud ★★★ 2008
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7) J.K. Rowling ★★★ 2007
The 4-Hour Work Week Timothy Ferriss ★★★ 2007
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens ★★★ 2003
The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger ★★★ 2003
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Kathryn Schulz ★★★ 2010
Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture Alan Sokal ★★★ 2010
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood James Gleick ★★★ 2011
The Lifecycle of Software Objects Ted Chiang ★★★ 2010
Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1) Connie Willis ★★★ 1992
To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2) Connie Willis ★★★ 1998
King Lear William Shakespeare ★★★ 2004
I Am Legend Richard Matheson ★★★ 1999
The Master of Go Yasunari Kawabata ★★★ 1996
Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder ★★★ 1995
Two Treatises of Government John Locke ★★★ 1988
Daughter of Regals and Other Tales Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1985
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #1-3) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1994
Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #2) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 2007
The Runes of the Earth (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #1) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 2004
The One Tree (The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #2) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1997
White Gold Wielder (The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #3) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1997
The Wounded Land (The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #1) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1997
Lord Foul’s Bane (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, #1) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1989
The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell ★★★ 2011
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity David Allen ★★★ 2002
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler Italo Calvino ★★★ 1982
The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2) J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★ 2003
The End of Eternity Isaac Asimov ★★★ 1971
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho ★★★ 1993
The Trial Franz Kafka ★★★ 2001
The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2005
Mort (Discworld, #4) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2001
Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2001
Reaper Man (Discworld, #11) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2005
Sourcery (Discworld, #5) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2001
Monstrous Regiment Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2003
Moving Pictures (Discworld, #10) Terry Pratchett ★★★ 2005
Dubliners James Joyce ★★★ 2006
The Stranger Albert Camus ★★★ 1989
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins ★★★ 2006
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce ★★★ 2003
Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe ★★★ 2001
The Magic Goes Away Larry Niven ★★★ 1979
N-Space Larry Niven ★★★ 1997
Flatlander (Known Space) Larry Niven ★★★ 2003
A World Out of Time (The State, #1) Larry Niven ★★★ 1986
The Integral Trees Larry Niven ★★★ 1985
Ringworld’s Children (Ringworld, #4) Larry Niven ★★★ 2005
The Ringworld Throne (Ringworld, #3) Larry Niven ★★★ 1997
The Ringworld Engineers (Ringworld, #2) Larry Niven ★★★ 1997
Megatokyo, Volume 4 Fred Gallagher ★★★ 2006
Megatokyo, Volume 1 Fred Gallagher ★★★ 2004
Marooned in Realtime (Across Realtime, #2) Vernor Vinge ★★★ 2004
The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time, #2) Robert Jordan ★★★ 1991
The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, #3) Neal Stephenson ★★★ 2005
The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, #2) Neal Stephenson ★★★ 2005
Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1) Neal Stephenson ★★★ 2004
Principia Discordia, Or, How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger Gregory Hill ★★★ 1980
Children of the Mind (The Ender Quintet, #4) Orson Scott Card ★★★ 2002
On the Road Jack Kerouac ★★★ 1976
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon ★★★ 2004
Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell ★★★ 2008
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Daniel H. Pink ★★★ 2009
Prometheus Rising Robert Anton Wilson ★★★ 2010
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design Richard Dawkins ★★★ 2006
A Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time, #7) Robert Jordan ★★★ 1997
Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time, #10) Robert Jordan ★★★ 2003
Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time, #11) Robert Jordan ★★★ 2006
A Wrinkle in Time (Time, #1) Madeleine L’Engle ★★★ 1973
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Malcolm Gladwell ★★★ 2002
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Lynne Truss ★★★ 2006
The Republic Plato ★★★ 2003
The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology Ray Kurzweil ★★★ 2006
Pattern Recognition (Blue Ant, #1) William Gibson ★★★ 2005
Rainbows End Vernor Vinge ★★★ 2007
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World Jack Weatherford ★★★ 2005
This Craft of Verse Jorge Luis Borges ★★★ 2002
The Book of Sand Jorge Luis Borges ★★★ 2001
The Mandalorian Armor (Star Wars: The Bounty Hunter Wars, #1) K.W. Jeter ★★★ 1998
Tales from the New Republic (Star Wars) Peter Schweighofer ★★★ 2011
Darksaber (Star Wars) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 1996
Dark Apprentice (Star Wars: The Jedi Academy Trilogy, #2) Kevin J. Anderson ★★★ 1994
Soul Catcher Frank Herbert ★★★ 1987
The Ascension Factor (Destination: Void, #4) Frank Herbert ★★★ 1990
Whipping Star Frank Herbert ★★★ 1986
Chapterhouse: Dune (Dune Chronicles, #6) Frank Herbert ★★★ 1987
Heretics of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #5) Frank Herbert ★★★ 1987
House Atreides (Prelude to Dune, #1) Brian Herbert ★★★ 2000
I Am Legend Richard Matheson ★★★ 1995
The Hollow Man Dan Simmons ★★★ 1993
Carrion Comfort Dan Simmons ★★★ 1990
Olympos (Ilium, #2) Dan Simmons ★★★ 2006
Ilium (Ilium, #1) Dan Simmons ★★★ 2005
King Rat China Miéville ★★★ 2000
Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace ★★★ 2005
Iron Council (Bas-Lag, #3) China Miéville ★★★ 2005
Kraken China Miéville ★★★ 2010
Town of Cats Haruki Murakami ★★★ 2011
After Dark Haruki Murakami ★★★ 2007
Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami ★★★ 2000
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami ★★★ 1997 2008/08/12
Travels in Hyperreality Umberto Eco ★★★ 1990
Starship Troopers Robert A. Heinlein ★★★ 1987
Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut ★★★ 1999
The Chronicles of Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia, #1-7) C.S. Lewis ★★★ 2002
The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #4) C.S. Lewis ★★★ 2008
The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) C.S. Lewis ★★★ 1995
The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #6) C.S. Lewis ★★★ 2005
Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #2) C.S. Lewis ★★★ 2005
The Positronic Man (Robot, #0.6) Isaac Asimov ★★★ 1994
Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome ★★★ 1994
Life, the Universe and Everything (Hitchhiker’s Guide, #3) Douglas Adams ★★★ 2008
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish Douglas Adams ★★★ 2008
Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker’s Guide, #5) Douglas Adams ★★★ 2009
The Ethical Slut. A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities Dossie Easton ★★★ 2004
Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt ★★★ 2006
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide, #1) Douglas Adams ★★★ 1995
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Hitchhiker’s Guide, #2) Douglas Adams ★★★ 2005
The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster ★★★ 1996
The Book of Silence: Book 4 of the Lords of Dus Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 1983
The Sword of Bheleu Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 2002
Seven Altars of Dusarra Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 2002
The Cyborg and the Sorcerers Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 1982
The Lure of the Basilisk Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 2001
With a Single Spell Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★★ 2000
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas S. Kuhn ★★★ 1996
Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases Daniel Kahneman ★★★ 1982
The Flame is Green R.A. Lafferty ★★★ 1985
Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas R.A. Lafferty ★★★ 2008
Arrive at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine R.A. Lafferty ★★★ 1971
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Robert Wright ★★★ 1995
Harlequin Valentine Neil Gaiman ★★★ 2001
Coraline Neil Gaiman ★★★ 2006
American Gods (American Gods, #1) Neil Gaiman ★★★ 2005
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse John Joseph Adams ★★★ 2008
Castle of Days Gene Wolfe ★★★ 1995
Free Live Free Gene Wolfe ★★★ 1999
An Evil Guest Gene Wolfe ★★★ 2008
The Sorcerer’s House Gene Wolfe ★★★ 2010
Return to the Whorl (The Book of the Short Sun, #3) Gene Wolfe ★★★ 2001
In Green’s Jungles Gene Wolfe ★★★ 2001
The Knight (The Wizard Knight, #1) Gene Wolfe ★★★ 2005
The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul Daniel C. Dennett ★★★ 1985
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History Howard Bloom ★★★ 1997
Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity Gregory Bateson ★★★ 2003
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software Sam Williams ★★★ 2002
The Shockwave Rider John Brunner ★★★ 1995
The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene Richard Dawkins ★★★ 1999
The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Ray Kurzweil ★★★ 2000
On Intelligence Jeff Hawkins ★★★ 2005
Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age Paul Graham ★★★ 2004
The Time Ships Stephen Baxter ★★★ 1995
Axiomatic Greg Egan ★★★ 1997
The Peace War (Across Realtime, #1) Vernor Vinge ★★★ 2003
Iron Sunrise (Eschaton, #2) Charles Stross ★★★ 2005
Protector (Known Space) Larry Niven ★★★ 1987
Neutron Star (Known Space) Larry Niven ★★★ 1977
Against a Dark Background Iain M. Banks ★★★ 1993
The Many-Coloured Land (Saga of Pliocene Exile, #1) Julian May ★★★ 1981
The Adversary (Saga of Pliocene Exile, #4) Julian May ★★★ 1987
The Golden Torc (Saga of the Pliocene Exile, #2) Julian May ★★★ 1985
Trumps of Doom (Amber Chronicles, #6) Roger Zelazny ★★★ 1986
The Power That Preserves (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, #3) Stephen R. Donaldson ★★★ 1987
The Courts of Chaos (Amber Chronicles, #5) Roger Zelazny ★★★ 1979
Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13) Robert Jordan ★★★ 2010
The Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time, #4) Robert Jordan ★★★ 1993
The Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two (The History of Middle-earth, #7) J.R.R. Tolkien ★★★ 1989
The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2) Philip Pullman ★★★ 1997
The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★ 2004
Intellectuals and Society Thomas Sowell ★★ 2010 I started this hoping that it would be a bit like Scott’s Seeing Like A State, which is one of my favorite books, or if not exactly like that, at least like something Charles Murray, who is one of my favorite writers, might have written on the topic.

I was quickly disabused of both hopes. Sowell is not that great a prose stylist and has a gift for putting things in ways that irritate the hell out of me even when I already agree with him.

More importantly, the promise of the flaps and introduction is not borne out as far as I read. It was not an investigation, either psychological or historical or economic, of intellectuals or recent intellectual history. It was simply a partisan rant bringing up all the old arguments and citations we’ve seen a million times before; I give him points for thorough - dare I say, intellectual - sourcing, which is more than one can say about eg. Michael Moore or Ann Coulter’s books (he wrote, damning with faint praise).

There are arguments in it which I find hard to believe would pass Sowell’s own muster if they were dressed up in liberal guise.

For example, on pg27 I was shocked to see - in the middle of his haranguing liberals for insufficient attention to economics - him seriously argue that oil company executive salaries are irrelevant because they add only a dime to the cost of gasoline gallons! Wow! Imagine Sowell’s reaction to the following argument: “regulation XYZ is not worth debating about because, after all, when implemented it will add no more than a dime to the cost of gas” - can there be any doubt that he would rip this argument to little eeny-weeny shreds for failing to ‘think on the margin’ and realize that an extra dime will make or break many economic decisions and ramify throughout the economy? How was it possible for him to write such a transparently partisan thing? Because it was a good bash at his enemies.

(‘Politics is the mind-killer’, as we say on LessWrong.)

Or another example from pg21; having finished reciting the Hayekian argument that no one can generalize over the entire economy or populace and central planning is impossible, he then goes on (???) to discuss how Cicero told his friend all English slaves were completely worthless and how Teddy Roosevelt hated all Indians and rather than criticizing their opinions as a perfect example of the intellectual’s arrogance in generalizing from tiny tiny samples (both Cicero and Teddy were intellectuals par excellance), he defends their bigotry, arguing that critics are themselves being arrogant! What is this I don’t even -

It came as no surprise on pg28 to see a caricature of economic libertarianism and zero mentions of standing disproofs of the simplistic models like Coase’s point about large firms being economic absurdities and central planning in a different disguise, since I wasn’t expecting very much any more.

By pg30, I abandoned my sporadic note-taking and began playing a little game: write down every time a thinker or politician who could be described as conservative or libertarian is criticized or given as an example of the evils of intellectualism.
Naturally, I didn’t expect to see Hayek come up for hobnobbing with dictatorships (any more than people discussing Mother Theresa usually bring up her more questionable funding sources), but still - an entire book ought to provide at least 1 or 2 examples.

In the 70s or 80s, I thought I might finally have something to add to my list: Naziism and Italian fascism. Surely those would get criticized, as they notoriously aimed to remake their entire societies, with disastrous results? But no! I learned, to my surprise, apparently fascism and Naziism are socialist liberal parties and they are just more liberal examples of intellectual arrogance!

Apparently no one on the right end of the political spectrum has ever proposed or implemented any bad idea, ever. Even if I granted the fairness and accuracy of all his descriptions of left-wingers, his conclusions or synthesis would be completely worthless as it omits half the political spectrum! It would be like doing a study of cancer patients and throwing out every patient who was a Democrat - what could you possibly hope to learn at the en, after you did that?

The Naziism-is-socialism finally broke me. Writing a bad review is not so worthwhile as to be worth going through this. The book was nothing but capsule hitjobs of everyone Sowell disliked at any point, and gave no indication that it would be anything but that for the entire rest of the book.

Life is too short to read Sowell, and I had Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America to read, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time.
Soldiers Live (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #9) Glen Cook ★★ 2001 2013/06/16 A weirdly quiet and sedate ending to the entire series.

It’s great that we have Croaker back so the series begins as it ended, but the plot is just too odd and incomplete. Everything happens too easily - I began worrying as I started the book, there were too many loose ends and nothing set up for a grand ending, and that’s exactly what happened. We have the Black Company at the start overpowered as usual, as it has since Smoky started napping, with the further assistance of an even more overpowered demon; they slice through resistance with the greatest of ease, enemies like Soulcatcher or Booboo or Goblin go down trivially, and even the final defeat of Kina comes as trivial anticlimax (how the deuce did it make a lick of sense that the ancient gods couldn’t destroy Kina if a little hedge wizard’s spear and an exploding airplane can do the trick?!). The ‘twist’ ending is not shocking or compelling, and my reaction was ‘oh. Well, that’s nice for Croaker, I guess.’ I’m sure there’s all good explanations in-universe along the lines of ‘the demon was helping them the entire time and eg. that’s why the forvalaka dies so easily’, but an explanation is just an explanation and it doesn’t rescue a bad story.

I’m left just shaking my head, wondering what went wrong. Why did Cook go to such lengths to introduce a character as powerful and hence game-breaking as Tobo while implying a narrative of power-corrupts which never goes anywhere besides one or two instances of revenge? Why did he make the demon so cooperative? Why did he make the Howler die, in what must be the only instance in the entire damn series where a Taken dies and stays dead?! And so on and so forth. Reading through some interviews with Cook, I find myself wondering if he just wanted to stop the series and didn’t really try hard on the ending - he certainly comes off as cynical and mercenary about writing, with little of Croaker’s faith in the power of the Annals. Looking back, many of the books in The Black Company were weak enough that I can’t really blame him for intending to stop with the first one, but now that I’m done, I’m not sure I’ll bother with any future books in the universe (apparently he has one or two in the pipeline).

Although the title is excellent and used well.
Light M. John Harrison ★★ 2004 2014/03/30 See the top Goodreads review by Evan (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/26441188). Overall, Light is a huge disappointment given the glowing reviews given of it by the likes of Neil Gaiman and previous work of Harrison I’ve read like Virconium: occasional flash of inspiration in worldbuilding, excellent writing in parts marred by flat descriptions, repetition (particularly anything to do with K-ships), and some deeply questionable approaches to depicting sex.

The three stories come together and intertwine only by a very generous reckoning (the Kearney arc is uniformly awful and a waste of space, especially the shaggy-dog-joke of an ending, making me wonder if Harrison was trying to one-up Banks’s Wasp Factory and completely failing) and a healthy dose of authorial fiat for a lamely inept ending, the space-cyberpunk is derivative and much inferior to other works like Schismatrix Plus, the allusions are random and superficial (adding little depth or layering, unlike, for example, many works by Dan Simmons).

Halfway through, I began wondering if maybe I was simply not getting it, if Light was simply ‘2deep4me’; but the ending confirmed that nope, I understood fine - there was just that little going on underneath the flashy surface.
The Thousandfold Thought (The Prince of Nothing, #3) R. Scott Bakker ★★ 2007 A major disappointment; the epic grinds to a baffled conclusion which undermines the interest of the previous two novels. Having wondered for two enormous books what Kelhus’s father has been up to, we discover that it is… not much, because he screwed up; having wondered for two enormous books why the Cishaurim attacked the Scarlet Spires, setting in motion a substantial amount of the plot, we learn why and it is beyond stupid (so the Cishaurim on discovering a skin-spy immediately assume it was from the Scarlet Spires, do not negotiate or warn or investigate in any way, and immediately laugh a decapitation strike? If this were TvTropes, it’d be an entry on the Idiot Ball page. One almost wishes Bakker had Moenghus take responsibility, because at least then it would make some sense.) The conquests become lackluster after book 2.

The only redeeming aspect is that Paul becoming Padishah Emperor sets us up for Dune Messiah - sorry, I mean Kelhus becoming Aspect-Emperor sets us up for The Judging Eye, which has more intrinsic interest.
Good Thinking: The Foundations of Probability and Its Applications Irving John Good ★★ 2009 2013/01/15 A compilation of very old philosophy of statistics papers, it’s hard to imagine why any but a historian would be much interested in any of them, so obsolete are most of the subject matters - the causality papers are obsoleted by Pearl, hierarchical models more understandable in Gelman, etc - or completely forgotten these days - does anyone at all care in the least about Keynes’s views on probabilities? Compiled en masse, it’s also easy to be annoyed by various habits of Good’s, like mentioning Turing everywhere possible or mentioning Charles Saunders Pierce’s anticipation of likelihood ratios but also that it was flawed.
The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century David Salsburg ★★ 2002 Odd, not that great. Problem is, Salsburg can’t decide whether he’s writing a history, a collection of biographies, anecdotes, or explaining modern statistics (early, frequentist, and Bayesian) to a layman, and so it winds up being nothing in particular.
If you want statistics history, I’m sure there are better starting points (McGrayne’s Theory That Would Not Die being one that comes to mind).
The Decameron Giovanni Boccaccio ★★ 2003 2013/06/18 I had to give up reading this halfway through. The stories are just too awful and didactic and trapped in a moralizing medieval milieu, centering around caricatured one-dimensional characters. However important and key to the history of literature it is, it’s not worth reading for any but scholars or historians.
The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún J.R.R. Tolkien ★★ 2009 The essential problem with this book is that the Nose wonk will already know most of the background, and the actual poetry is incredibly padded out. Worse, while Tolkien has some marvelous verses that truly work, the gems are buried in page after page of flat mediocrity.
The Scarlet Pimpernel Emmuska Orczy ★★ 1905 2012/03/27 A reasonable adventure novel, OK story, but kind of silly - those poor poor aristocrats! -_- Politics never ages well, but politics which upholds aristocrats as the ne plus ultra and caricatures the French Revolution ages particularly badly.
Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia Thant Myint-U ★★ 2011 2012/01/10 Potted histories a bit boring, case feels overstated, overall repetitious; most interesting bits are personal travels. It’s also fairly outdated now due to the surprisingly opening up & democratizing of Myanmar.
Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 Robert Brenner ★★ 2003 2011/10/20 Gave up halfway: too many names, too many details, too long. Brenner deals with the minutiae, which may be admirable but I am not that interested in the currant trade or lobbying the king for monopolies.
When London Was Capital of America Julie Flavell ★★ 2010 2011/12/02 Bogged down by detailed focus on a tiny handful of Americans - so few, that one gets by the narrowness the impression there weren’t that many American in London and the thesis is relatively bogus!
Procyon’s Promise Michael McCollum ★★ 1985 2011/04/26 Unentertaining and bizarrely unsuspenseful. When you compare this to, say, Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky which has a somewhat similar superior-colonizer theme, you see just how much is lacking.
The Clockwork Rocket (Orthogonal Trilogy #1) Greg Egan ★★ 2011 This read like a physics treatise more than a novel… I feel as if I ought to have a math or physics degree to appreciate; I do like my SF novels hard & educational, but this much is ridiculous!
The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos James N. Gardner ★★ 2007 2012/04/25 Relatively superficial treatment of physical eschatology; suffers badly for having been written in 2007 and not being particularly up to date even then.
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School Alexandra Robbins ★★ 2009 2011/10/15 Found it only OK. Basically extended anecdotes, with some light science mixed in to buttress her manifesto (and used for support, not illumination).
Simplicity As Evidence of Truth (Aquinas Lecture) Richard Swinburne ★★ 1997 2010/12/01 Not very good. Dismisses mathematical approaches much too quickly and simplistically, leading to meandering almost question-begging discussions.
After the Software Wars Keith Cary Curtis ★★ 2009 2011/04/29 Disappointing. Simplistic, ideological, economically naive, littered with technical errors, uninformed by post-2005 developments…
Twilight of the Golden Witch (Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru #8) 07th Expansion ★★ 2010 2013/09/01
Myth-Gotten Gains (Myth Adventures, #17) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★ 2006 2008/07/16
She is the Darkness (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #7) Glen Cook ★★ 1998
The Silver Spike Glen Cook ★★ 1989
The White Rose (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #3) Glen Cook ★★ 1985
Freedom™ (Daemon, #2) Daniel Suarez ★★ 2010
The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills Daniel Coyle ★★ 2012 2012/10/17
The Drive-in 2 Joe R. Lansdale ★★ 1989
The Sorrows of Young Werther Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ★★ 2005
Capability-based computer systems Henry M Levy ★★ 1984
Winning Colors (The Serrano Legacy, #3) Elizabeth Moon ★★ 1995
Sporting Chance (The Serrano Legacy, #2) Elizabeth Moon ★★ 1999
Stellaluna Janell Cannon ★★ 1993
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Scott Pilgrim, #2) Bryan Lee O’Malley ★★ 2005
The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan ★★ 2003
Empire Michael Hardt ★★ 2001
Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now George S. McGovern ★★ 2006
White Light Rudy Rucker ★★ 2001
Paradiso (The Divine Comedy, #3) Dante Alighieri ★★ 1962
Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman ★★ 1855
Peer Gynt Henrik Ibsen ★★ 2003
Strange Attractors (The Chaos Chronicles, #2) Jeffrey A. Carver ★★ 1996
Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime Christopher Bolton ★★ 2007
Children Above 180 IQ: Stanford Binet Origin And Development Leta Stetter Hollingworth ★★ 1975
Manalive G.K. Chesterton ★★ 2000
Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences Abraham Maslow ★★ 1994
Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn Richard Hamming ★★ 1997
Laws of Form G. Spencer-Brown ★★ 1979
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible A.J. Jacobs ★★ 2007
S/Z Roland Barthes ★★ 1975
Get Your War on David Rees ★★ 2002
The Elements of Style William Strunk Jr. ★★ 1999
Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness Roger Penrose ★★ 1996
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (Stainless Steel Rat, #6) Harry Harrison ★★ 1973
The Day of the Jackal Frederick Forsyth ★★ 1982
Night of the Living Dummy II (Goosebumps, #31) R.L. Stine ★★ 2004
One Day at Horrorland (Goosebumps, #16) R.L. Stine ★★ 2003
The Haunted Mask (Goosebumps, #11) R.L. Stine ★★ 2003
Serpent Mage (The Death Gate Cycle, #4) Margaret Weis ★★ 2009
Elven Star (The Death Gate Cycle, #2) Margaret Weis ★★ 1991
The Alien IQ Test Clifford A. Pickover ★★ 1997
To Be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology D. David Bourland ★★ 1991
The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan Christopher E.G. Benfey ★★ 2003
City of the Dead (Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear, #2) John Whitman ★★ 1997
The New Rebellion (Star Wars) Kristine Kathryn Rusch ★★ 1997
Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology Bill Smith ★★ 2000
A Guide to the Star Wars Universe Bill Slavicsek ★★ 1998
By the Emperor’s Hand (Star Wars: Mara Jade) Michael A. Stackpole ★★ 1999
The Adventures of Lando Calrissian (Star Wars: The Adventures of Lando Calrissian, #1-3) L. Neil Smith ★★ 1994
Shadow Academy (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #2) Kevin J. Anderson ★★ 1999
Hard Merchandise (Star Wars: The Bounty Hunter Wars, #3) K.W. Jeter ★★ 1999
Isard’s Revenge (Star Wars: X-Wing, #8) Michael A. Stackpole ★★ 1999
Solo Command (Star Wars: X-Wing, #7) Aaron Allston ★★ 1999
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (Star Wars) Alan Dean Foster ★★ 1994
Rebel Dawn (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #3) A.C. Crispin ★★ 1998
Assault at Selonia (Star Wars: The Corellian Trilogy, #2) Roger MacBride Allen ★★ 2011
The Crystal Star (Star Wars) Vonda N. McIntyre ★★ 1995
The Krytos Trap (Star Wars: X-Wing, #3) Michael A. Stackpole ★★ 1996
Vision of the Future (Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn, #2) Timothy Zahn ★★ 1998
Vector Prime (Star Wars: The New Jedi Order, #1) R.A. Salvatore ★★ 2004
How to Read and Why Harold Bloom ★★ 2001
White Noise Don DeLillo ★★ 1999
Listening to Prozac Peter D. Kramer ★★ 1997
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything Don Tapscott ★★ 2006
The Achievement Gap (Opposing Viewpoints) Karen Miller ★★ 2010
The New Politics of Old Age Policy Robert B. Hudson ★★ 2005
The Book of Dead Birds Gayle Brandeis ★★ 2004
Mijeong Byun Byung-jun ★★ 2009
A Pale View of Hills Kazuo Ishiguro ★★ 2005
Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever Walter Kirn ★★ 2009
Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers Sok-Kyong, Chi-Won & Chong-Hui ★★ 1993
The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #9) Lemony Snicket ★★ 2002
The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #8) Lemony Snicket ★★ 2001
The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #7) Lemony Snicket ★★ 2003
The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #4) Lemony Snicket ★★ 2001
The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives Zbigniew Brzezinski ★★ 1998 2008/07/28
Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism Kevin Phillips ★★ 2008 2008/06/28
All Tomorrow’s Parties (Bridge, #3) William Gibson ★★ 2003 2008/08/29
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis Ludwig von Mises ★★ 1981
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia Elizabeth Gilbert ★★ 2006
Little Women Louisa May Alcott ★★ 2007
Go, Dog. Go! P.D. Eastman ★★ 1961
How Proust Can Change Your Life Alain de Botton ★★ 1998
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Alain de Botton ★★ 2009
The Tank Lords (Hammer’s Slammers) David Drake ★★ 1997
Changer of Worlds (Worlds of Honor, #3) David Weber ★★ 2002
War of Honor (Honor Harrington, #10) David Weber ★★ 2002
In Enemy Hands (Honor Harrington, #7) David Weber ★★ 1998
The World of Null-A A.E. van Vogt ★★ 2002
The Awakening Kate Chopin ★★ 2006
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge, #1) Judy Blume ★★ 2004
Ventus Karl Schroeder ★★ 2001
The Mismeasure of Man Stephen Jay Gould ★★ 1996
Myth Directions (Myth Adventures, #3) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★ 2006
Myth-ing Persons (Myth Adventures, #5) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★ 2006
M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link (Myth Adventures, #7) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★ 2006 2008/07/28
Phule Me Twice (Phule’s Company, #4) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★ 2000
Time Scout (Time Scout, #1) Robert Lynn Asprin ★★ 2004
The Touch (Adversary Cycle, #4) F. Paul Wilson ★★ 1986
Expert Systems Handbook: An Assessment of Technology and Applications Terri C. Walker ★★ 1990
Never the Twain Shall Meet: Bell, Gallaudet, and the Communications Debate Richard Winefield ★★ 1987
Operating System Concepts James Lyle Peterson ★★ 1983
Faust: First Part Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ★★ 1988
The Zenith Angle Bruce Sterling ★★ 2005
Berserker Fury (Berserker, #10) Fred Saberhagen ★★ 1998
Great Expectations Charles Dickens ★★ 1998
The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge (Stainless Steel Rat, #5) Harry Harrison ★★ 1997
And Another Thing… (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, #6) Eoin Colfer ★★ 2009
Culture and Value Ludwig Wittgenstein ★★ 1984
WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy David Leigh ★★ 2011
In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief James L. Kugel ★★ 2011
The Sandman: Book of Dreams Neil Gaiman ★★ 2002
I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon Philip K. Dick ★★ 1987
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships Tristan Taormino ★★ 2008
Under a Velvet Cloak (Incarnations of Immortality, #8) Piers Anthony ★★ 2007
The Dastard (Xanth, #24) Piers Anthony ★★ 2001
Robot Adept (Apprentice Adept, #5) Piers Anthony ★★ 1989
Crewel Lye (Xanth, #8) Piers Anthony ★★ 1987
Night Mare (Xanth, #6) Piers Anthony ★★ 1997
Being a Green Mother (Incarnations of Immortality, #5) Piers Anthony ★★ 1988
Castle Roogna (Xanth, #3) Piers Anthony ★★ 1997
Prelude to Foundation (Foundation: Prequel, #1) Isaac Asimov ★★ 1994
Nemesis Isaac Asimov ★★ 1990
Frankenstein Mary Shelley ★★ 2003
A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present Howard Zinn ★★ 2005
The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare ★★ 2004
Phantom (Sword of Truth, #10) Terry Goodkind ★★ 2006 2008/07/04
Chainfire (Sword of Truth, #9) Terry Goodkind ★★ 2005
Naked Empire (Sword of Truth, #8) Terry Goodkind ★★ 2004
The Pillars of Creation (Sword of Truth, #7) Terry Goodkind ★★ 2002
Soul of the Fire (Sword of Truth, #5) Terry Goodkind ★★ 2000
The Legend of Luke (Redwall, #12) Brian Jacques ★★ 2005
Lord Brocktree (Redwall, #13) Brian Jacques ★★ 2005
Mossflower (Redwall, #2) Brian Jacques ★★ 1998
Utopia Thomas More ★★ 1516
God & Golem, Inc. Norbert Wiener ★★ 1966
Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions Zachary Shore ★★ 2008
Radiance Alicorn ★★ 2010
Reflections of a Political Economist: Selected Articles on Government Policies and Political Processes William A. Niskanen Jr. ★★ 2008
Nightside City Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★ 2001
The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th-Century Chinese Hermit Stonehouse ★★ 1998
Cerberus: A Wolf in the Fold (The Four Lords of the Diamond, #2) Jack L. Chalker ★★ 1987
Ghost of the Well of Souls (Saga of the Well World, #7) Jack L. Chalker ★★ 2000
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk Peter L. Bernstein ★★ 1998
Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work Paul Babiak ★★ 2006 2012/08/13
Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson G.I. Gurdjieff ★★ 2006
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood ★★ 1998
Jack of Fables, Vol. 9: The End (Jack of Fables #9) Bill Willingham ★★ 2011
Jack of Fables, Vol. 8: The Fulminate Blade (Jack of Fables #8) Bill Willingham ★★ 2011
Jack of Fables, Vol. 7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack (Jack of Fables #7) Bill Willingham ★★ 2010
Jack of Fables, Vol. 6: The Big Book of War (Jack of Fables #6) Bill Willingham ★★ 2009
Jack of Fables, Vol. 5: Turning Pages (Jack of Fables #5) Bill Willingham ★★ 2009
Jack of Fables, Vol. 4: Americana (Jack of Fables #4) Bill Willingham ★★ 2008
Jack of Fables, Vol. 3: The Bad Prince (Jack of Fables #3) Bill Willingham ★★ 2008
Jack of Fables, Vol. 2: Jack of Hearts (Jack of Fables #2) Bill Willingham ★★ 2007
Jack of Fables, Vol. 1: The [Nearly] Great Escape (Jack of Fables, #1) Bill Willingham ★★ 2007
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert ★★ 2004
The Dutchesse of Malfy a tragedy: as it was approvedly well acted at the Black-friers, by His Maiesties servants: the perfect and exact copy, with divers things printed, that the length of the play would not beare in the Presentment (1640) John Webster ★★ 2010
The Iliad Homer ★★ 1961
The Invisible Man H.G. Wells ★★ 2002
Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World Tyler Cowen ★★ 2009
Adventures Of Huck Finn Mark Twain ★★ 1998
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth Apostolos Doxiadis ★★ 2009
The Giver (The Giver #1) Lois Lowry ★★ 2006
The Night Manager John le Carré ★★ 2006
A Most Wanted Man John le Carré ★★ 2008
The Terminal Man Michael Crichton ★★ 2002
Timeline Michael Crichton ★★ 2000
The I Ching, or Book of Changes Cary F. Baynes ★★ 1967
Sea of Silver Light (Otherland, #4) Tad Williams ★★ 2001
Mountain of Black Glass (Otherland, #3) Tad Williams ★★ 2000
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Samuel P. Huntington ★★ 1998
The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2) Dan Brown ★★ 2006
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains Nicholas Carr ★★ 2010
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (The World As Myth) Robert A. Heinlein ★★ 1988
Time Enough for Love (The World As Myth) Robert A. Heinlein ★★ 1988
Forty Thousand in Gehenna (Unionside, #1) C.J. Cherryh ★★ 1984
The Gods Themselves Isaac Asimov ★★ 2000
Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, #6) Stephen King ★★ 2006
Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower, #5) Stephen King ★★ 2003
The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower, #7) Stephen King ★★ 2006
Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, #4) Stephen King ★★ 2003
The Dead Zone Stephen King ★★ 1980
The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2) Stephen King ★★ 2003
The Stand Stephen King ★★ 1990
Chaos: The Making of a New Science James Gleick ★★ 1988
Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2) Ursula K. Le Guin ★★ 2006
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom Cory Doctorow ★★ 2003
Idoru (Bridge, #2) William Gibson ★★ 2003
The First Four Years (Little House, #9) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★ 2007
Farmer Boy (Little House, #3) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★ 2007
By the Shores of Silver Lake (Little House, #5) Laura Ingalls Wilder ★★ 2007
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 12 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★ 2011
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 10 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★ 2007
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 09 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★ 2004
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 08 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★ 2004
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 07 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★ 2004
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 06 Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ★★ 2002
Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation (Gunnerkrigg Court #1) Thomas Siddell ★★ 2009
100 Bullets, Vol. 7: Samurai Brian Azzarello ★★ 2004
100 Bullets, Vol. 8: The Hard Way Brian Azzarello ★★ 2005
100 Bullets, Vol. 6: Six Feet Under the Gun Brian Azzarello ★★ 2003
100 Bullets, Vol. 5: The Counterfifth Detective Brian Azzarello ★★ 2003
100 Bullets, Vol. 4: A Foregone Tomorrow Brian Azzarello ★★ 2002
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores (Y: The Last Man, #10) Brian K. Vaughan ★★ 2008
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6) J.K. Rowling ★★ 2006
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4) J.K. Rowling ★★ 2002
Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution Francis Fukuyama ★★ 2003
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee ★★ 2006
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck ★★ 2002
Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden ★★ 2005
Feersum Endjinn Iain M. Banks ★★ 1996
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger ★★ 2001
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change Stephen R. Covey ★★ 2004
II Cybernetic Frontiers Stewart Brand ★★ 1974
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen ★★ 2000
Antigone Sophocles ★★ 2005
The World Of Ptavvs (Known Space) Larry Niven ★★ 2000
The Integral Trees / The Smoke Ring Larry Niven ★★ 2003
Megatokyo, Volume 3 Fred Gallagher ★★ 2005
Megatokyo, Volume 2 Fred Gallagher ★★ 2004
Future Shock Alvin Toffler ★★ 1971
Computer Lib; Dream Machines Ted Nelson ★★ 1987
Xenocide (The Ender Quintet, #3) Orson Scott Card ★★ 1996
The Metamorphosis Franz Kafka ★★ 1972
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man John Perkins ★★ 2005
The Road Cormac McCarthy ★★ 2006 2008/06/20
Whirlwind (Asian Saga, #5) James Clavell ★★ 1986
Gai-Jin (Asian Saga, #6) James Clavell ★★ 1994
Shōgun (Asian Saga, #3) James Clavell ★★ 2009
Winter’s Heart (Wheel of Time, #9) Robert Jordan ★★ 2002
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell ★★ 2007
Ambush at Corellia (Star Wars: The Corellian Trilogy, #1) Roger MacBride Allen ★★ 1995
Heirs of the Force (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #1) Kevin J. Anderson ★★ 1999
Hellstrom’s Hive Frank Herbert ★★ 2007
Destination: Void (Destination: Void, #1) Frank Herbert ★★ 1984
The Lazarus Effect (Destination: Void, #3) Frank Herbert ★★ 1987
The Jesus Incident (Destination: Void, #2) Frank Herbert ★★ 1987
Children of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #3) Frank Herbert ★★ 1987
The Winds of Dune (Heroes of Dune, #2) Brian Herbert ★★ 2009
The Battle of Corrin (Legends of Dune, #3) Brian Herbert ★★ 2005
House Corrino (Prelude to Dune, #3) Brian Herbert ★★ 2002
House Harkonnen (Prelude to Dune, #2) Brian Herbert ★★ 2001
Orphan Of The Helix Dan Simmons ★★ 1999
Song of Kali Dan Simmons ★★ 2005
Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #3) Dan Simmons ★★ 1997
Virtual Light (Bridge, #1) William Gibson ★★ 1996
The Pale King David Foster Wallace ★★ 2011
The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7) C.S. Lewis ★★ 2005
The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis ★★ 2001
The Caves of Steel (Robot, #1) Isaac Asimov ★★ 1980
The Time Machine H.G. Wells ★★ 2002
Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future John Brockman ★★ 2011
The Unwilling Warlord Lawrence Watt-Evans ★★ 2000
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading Mortimer J. Adler ★★ 1972
The Logic of Scientific Discovery Karl Popper ★★ 2002
Stardust Neil Gaiman ★★ 2006
There Are Doors Gene Wolfe ★★ 2001
The Wizard (The Wizard Knight, #2) Gene Wolfe ★★ 2006
Holy Fire Bruce Sterling ★★ 1997
The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics Roger Penrose ★★ 2002
I Am a Strange Loop Douglas R. Hofstadter ★★ 2007
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software Erich Gamma ★★ 1994
The Boat of a Million Years Poul Anderson ★★ 2004
River of Blue Fire (Otherland, #2) Tad Williams ★★ 1999
The Neutronium Alchemist 1: Consolidation (Night’s Dawn 2) Peter F. Hamilton ★★ 1998
The First Book of Swords (Books of Swords, #1) Fred Saberhagen ★★ 1984
Ender In Exile Orson Scott Card ★★ 2011
Enchanters’ End Game (The Belgariad, #5) David Eddings ★★ 1986
Left in the dark : the biological origins of the fall from grace : an investigation into the evolution of the human brain : a journey to the edge of the human mind Graham Gynn 2008 2012/07/06 Having seen an overview of the claims, I expected little from this book but I was hopeful that it could at least be “mind candy” in the same sense that I enjoyed tremendously reading Jayne’s Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. But having finished reading it, I’m disappointed. It’s not fit to shine Jaynes’s boot buckle; while Jaynes’s theory has serious problems (explaining where bicameralism went, worldwide, and other chronological problems, for starters), it at least was an elegant theory that fit a great many facts!

Wright and his co-author, on the other hand, is chock-full of anecdotes (better ping-pong playing and relaxation playing with your left hand? really?); data seems misrepresented (I did not recognize his description of the peg data in the sleep deprivation experiment with the actual graph); dismissal of possibilities as ‘implausible’ which are perfectly plausible (the claim that testosterone can’t damage one hemisphere and help the other comes to mind, as does the claim that there are no plausible evolutionary theories for evolving handedness - actually, there’s a very elegant competition explanation which anyone who has done a head-to-head sport like ping-pong or fencing could appreciate); fully general counter-arguments like the claim that not appreciating the theory is evidence of being damaged as the theory predicts; excuse-making for the absence of forest fossils supporting their theory; blatantly false claims about bipedalism mixed in with distraction about the aquatic ape theory; claims about agricultural longevity which are surely the elementary mistake of assuming that infant mortality-dominated average lifespans say much about how adults actually lived; invocation of pseudoscience like photoreading or Carlos Castaneda or 140-year olds in distant Third World countries (seriously? seriously‽) or Alzheimer’s and other diseases being caused by dehydration; blatant confirmation bias† (who, interested in people who do not sleep, would mention a Vietnamese woman and not mention fatal familial insomnia?); and of course, vitamin C megadoses must appear in any work by fruitarians, as does the claim that cooking reduces the nutritional value of food (which would come as news to anthropologists, who regard the introduction of fire as possibly the key breakthrough to enabling large expensive brains - except that right, the authors believe that fruit is what enabled large brains, well, I wonder why they might not discuss the caloric value of cooking food… perhaps it’s because cooked food doesn’t ‘raise micro-electric potentials throughout the body’).

† which becomes ever more important in data-rich noisy fields like psychology; I actually pointed this out for dual n-back recently on Hacker News and more generally in my DNB FAQ

The use of autists, idiot savants, and TMS is an interesting topic in its own right, but inadvertently sabotages the thesis. There’s a legal saying, ‘hard cases make bad law’; in neuroscience, damaged patients make bad theories. The brain is Turing-complete and can exhibit arbitrarily complex problems: these patients tend to be fairly unique, and how are you going to build any kind of theory on them? To the extent we can infer anything, it’s that there is a common trait among those with access to low-level processing: they are not smart. Their abilities seem to come at the expense of all other abilities or higher-level processing: Kim Peek may have memorized thousands of books, but what sort of understanding did this man with an IQ of 89 exhibit of them? Very little. The child prodigy artist may be able to render remarkably detailed artwork, but a camera is more accurate and just as artistic as I’ve ever heard him be. This does not bode well for any exaltation of the right hemisphere…

The crowning piece of nonsense is probably the ‘loop’ between fruits, steroids, and DNA. This idea, lovingly illustrated in multiple graphs, is fractal nonsense: the more you look at each piece, the worse it gets. It’s as if someone told you that car evolution was steered by gas stations: you see, a human drives the car to a gas station, the car is filled up with gas, the gas changes the car, changing how it drives to the next gas station and how it reacts to the next fill-up. This may initially seem plausible until you look at step 3, which reads basically like the old Far Side strip - ‘And then a miracle occurs’. How exactly do steroids rewrite the DNA? A steroid is not a little computer or nanobot which can go into a sperm or egg - and notice the quiet eliding of the difference between somatic and germ-line cells, it’s perfectly possible for any genetic or epigenetic changes to not be passed on - and rewrite the DNA as it wishes. If variations in circulating levels of some chemical affect DNA, it must do so via receptors and proteins set up in advance by gradual evolution to do specific things - eg. think of how alligators or crocodiles vary the sex ratio of their offspring in response to ambient temperatures, this is set up in advance because it’s useful, the temperature doesn’t ‘just cause’ the sex ratio to vary in some magical way because boy alligators are fiery and analogous to hot weather while female crocodiles are chillier and aloof. (I’m reminded of the genie of the lamp: “I wish everyone was happy!” Well, OK, but what does that actually mean and how should the genie do it?) They are, naturally, as sure of this evolutionary loop as one can be in the complete absence of all evidence.

While we’re on DNA, I was deeply amused that they could propose this system as their primary explanation, and then throughout the rest of the book dismiss any further adaptation because a few hundred thousand years was not enough! I really think that we can adapt to eating meat in a few hundred thousand years, especially when our primate ancestors and surviving lineages often do eat meat… It was especially funny to read “It is highly unlikely that the DNA selection process could have achieved this rapid result (certainly not on the savanna where hominids would be subjected to hard and stressful environmental conditions)”; hard and stressful conditions are exactly the kind of selection pressure that might drive large increases in any organ or body part, and allometric scaling in general is one of the easier things for evolution to change if it’s fitness-increasing. (Changing size is a lot easier than developing an organ from scratch, that’s for sure. Size is a tweak.)

These are only my notes for the first 80 pages. After that, I gave up and read on in a sort of stunned state. At least it does deign to include some sort of references (although it doesn’t link specific claims to specific papers, seems kind of skimpy, and is very heavy on books - which aren’t very useful in the sense that now you have an entire book to read just to check a few claims).

It helps that I’ve read up on many of the same topics for entirely different reasons, so I have a good idea of the general framework of various fields and where they’re making huge extrapolations or passing over contrary evidence. ‘What is good in it is not original, and what is original is not good.’

The disturbing thing for me is that so many of the references and facts are familiar, and it’s written fairly well. I’m reminded of Anatole France:

What frightens us most in a madman is his sane conversation.
Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany 2001 2009/01/01 A turgid incomprehensible mess which I abandoned after 200 pages. Delany seems to be of the opinion that great literature is meaningless and shocking (and long), and so the more deviant sex and violence the better. Looking at the positive reviews, I am reminded of a sarcastic comment by Karl Popper: “‘I did not understand a word; but I know: this is philosophy’ was the deep conviction of a highly gifted young physicist after he had heard Martin Heidegger speak.” Similarly for Dhalgren: the emperor has no clothes, but that’s a very gay thing to do and so he is feted and admired as shocking and edgy - if people don’t like it, it must be good!

The most I can say for it is that it seems to evoke well middle-class New Yorkers’ fears about the increasing crime rate portending a descent into violent anarchy & the ‘concrete jungle’.
Planning for Empire: Reform Bureaucrats and the Japanese Wartime State Janis Mimura 2011 2011/11/11 Not very good: disappointingly heavy on bureaucrat bio and what they wrote, as opposed to what they actually did or what the corporations did in Manchuria & Korea, etc. If the textual analysis informed events, the focus could be forgiven, but since it doesn’t, it all comes off as lazy hackwork in lieu of an actual contribution to understanding the period.
The Green Brain Frank Herbert 2002 2012/03/25 An extremely inferior essay of ideas Herbert would do much better in his later Hellstrom’s Hive, not worth reading except for completionists.
Left Behind (Left Behind, #1) Tim LaHaye 2000
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou 1993
The Secret Warning (Hardy Boys, #17) Franklin W. Dixon 1938
The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight (Goosebumps, #20) R.L. Stine 2003
Let’s Get Invisible! (Goosebumps, #6) R.L. Stine 2003
The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (Goosebumps, #5) R.L. Stine 2003
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (Goosebumps, #14) R.L. Stine 2003
Stay Out of the Basement (Goosebumps, #2) R.L. Stine 2003
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Unofficial Guide - Mysteries and Secrets Revealed! #3 Kazuhisa Fujie 2004
Planet Plague (Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear, #3) John Whitman 1997
The Glove of Darth Vader (Star Wars: Jedi Prince, #1) Paul Davids 1992
The Lost City of the Jedi (Star Wars: Jedi Prince, #2) Paul Davids 1992
Crisis at Crystal Reef (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #14) Kevin J. Anderson 1998
Trouble on Cloud City (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #13) Kevin J. Anderson 1998
The Emperor’s Plague (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #11) Kevin J. Anderson 1999
Shards of Alderaan (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, #7) Kevin J. Anderson 1999
Showdown at Centerpoint (Star Wars: The Corellian Trilogy, #3) Roger MacBride Allen 1995
In Full Bloom Caroline Hwang 2004
The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #13) Lemony Snicket 2006
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Judy Blume 2001
Eastern Standard Tribe Cory Doctorow 2005
Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (Perennial Classics) Gary Zukav 2001
Battlefield Earth L. Ron Hubbard 2001
The Beginning Place Ursula K. Le Guin 2005
The Extended Mind Richard Menary 2010
Chthon Piers Anthony 2000
Debt of Bones (Sword of Truth, #0.5 Prequel) Terry Goodkind 2004
Faith of the Fallen (Sword of Truth, #6) Terry Goodkind 2001
New Spring (Wheel of Time, #0) Robert Jordan 2004
The Sword of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy #1) Terry Brooks 1999
The Elfstones Of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy, #2) Terry Brooks 1982
The Druid of Shannara (Heritage of Shannara #2) Terry Brooks 1998
The Scions of Shannara (Heritage of Shannara, #1) Terry Brooks 2006
The Elf Queen Of Shannara (Heritage of Shannara #3) Terry Brooks 1992
The Run to Chaos Keep (Quintara Marathon, #2) Jack L. Chalker 1999
Sisterhood of Dune (Schools of Dune, #1) Brian Herbert 2012
Titus Alone (Gormenghast, #3) Mervyn Peake 1968
Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon, #1) Dan Brown 2006
An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser 1964
Prey Michael Crichton 2003
Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1) Christopher Paolini 2005
The Practice Effect David Brin 1995
Anthem Ayn Rand 1999
First King of Shannara (Shannara, #0) Terry Brooks 1997
The Wizard and the War Machine Lawrence Watt-Evans 1987
Digital Fortress Dan Brown 2004
The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #5)