2016 Review of Books

Titles marked with an asterisk are stand-outs books for one reason or another.

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
The much revered account of Eichmann’s trial and source of the “banality of evil.” I was somewhat disappointed with the book which spent too much time discussing uninteresting facts of Eichmann’s life and context surrounding the Holocaust. It’s worth reading, but I would suggest foregoing the book-length version and read the shorter version published in the New Yorker.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
A wonderful mystery.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
A fascinating and inciteful book about modern food choices. Pollan surveys just how dysfunctional our current relationship with food is and explores how this may be resolved. His writing is clear and informative.
A Clockwork Orange* by Anthony Burgess
Deeply disturbing, but absolutely absorbing story. The language makes it memorable.
The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb
Severly overrated. The content of the book would have been much better expressed in a short essay and without the pomposity. Would not recommend.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
A literary classic. There is much material here for analysis, and perhaps one day I’ll study the work in greater depth.
Understanding Computation by Tom Stuart
Very hands-on and concrete method of teaching computation. I could’ve spend a good deal of time actually doing the projects, but it’s not of much use if you understand the concepts. It’s obviously not as in depth as something like Sipser, but a nice introduction for programmers who are math-averse.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Space junkies will swoon at the level of detail and accuracy with respect to the science. General audiences will love the suspenseful story. Many people, including myself, appreciated both aspects.
The Meditations* by Marcus Aurelius
Unless you know the context behind this book, it won’t make much sense. Aurelius is highly repetitive, which is to be expected. But, the wisdom present in his pithy lines is immense. He deserves to be more widely read. If you chose to read The Meditations, read the Gregory Hays translation.
Brave New World* by Aldous Huxley
This book lives up to the hype. Currently my favorite dystopian novel. Huxley’s vision strikes a nerve of plausibility that Orwell misses.
Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
The most persuasive work I’ve read with respect to taking drugs. Huxley lends more crediblity to the idea than most other exponents of psychadelics.
Think by Simon Blackburn
Well written survey of philosophy. Excellent coverage and surprising clarity.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Another book I feel I should have read more slowly and analyzed further. Certainly thought-provoking.
Moral Mazes by Robert Jackall
A little dry, but important ethnography of corporate managers. The book reveals so much about what is wrong with corporate culture and how this is a function of the structure of the work environment.
VSI: Marx by Peter Singer
Clear and concise summary of a thinker whom I know too little about. This has whet my appetite to learn more, but now I am at least somewhat familiar with the fundamentals of Marx’s thought.
VSI: The Marquis de Sade by John Phillips
I can’t remember why I chose this VSI. I knew nothing about de Sade, but he turns out to have been a much deeper intellectual than his reputation may suggest. I learned much from this one.
VSI: Wittgenstein by A.C. Grayling
Way more skeptical of Wittgenstein than I expected considering he is cited so often throughout philosophical texts. I have no gripes with the content of the book though.
VSI: Post-Modernism by Christopher Butler
Another VSI which was quite critical of its subject matter, although maybe this is more anticipated. I have a much better handle on Post-Modernism because of this book.
To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee
Seems like most people read this in high school, but I didn’t. I understand why this is an American classic. The story is captivating and the characters, particularly Atticus, are memorable.
How to Solve It by George Pólya
Mathematicians often recommend this book, but I didn’t find much value in it. A litany of techniques for problem-solving that are either obvious or too vague to be useful.
The Little Schemer* by Daniel Friedman
Such a cute book! This is a nice guide to Lisp-style programming which goes quite in-depth by the end. The teaching style is unique and effective.
On Manners by Karen Stohr
I hadn’t thought much about the subject of this book, but the argument brought manners into a sphere of much interest to me: ethics. Her thesis is utterly persuasive and the text is a joy to read.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
A massive and scholarly book. Perhaps the project was too ambitious and much of the content I have forgotten, but there were many important points made throughout.
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
An existentialist novel. Wasn’t my cup of tea.
Amusing Ourselves to Death* by Neil Postman
Sometimes Postman can sound like a bit of a codger, but nonetheless his analysis is convincing and often prescient. His arguments can easily be adapted to the problems of today.
Who Stole Feminism* by Christina Hoff Sommers
For someone liberally-inclined like myself, this book was a shock. The extent to which much of contemporary gender feminism is intellctually corrupt is astounding.
A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich
Easy-to-read tour through the history of the world originally intended for children, but absolutely readable for adults. Made me realize how much my historical knowledge is lacking.
Guns, Germs, and Steel* by Jared Diamond
This one was chock full of information. Some of it reinforced what I already knew, like the extent to which disease was a factor in colonization, but others were absolutely new to me. The central thesis is compelling, although I’m convinced it’s not as much of the story as Diamond may claim.
Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny Le Couteur
Entertaining if slightly desultory collection of stories and explanations of molecules, their histories, and their uses.
Phaedo by Plato
Essential reading for anyone interested in philosophy.
The Blank Slate* by Steven Pinker
Extensive and lucid argument supporting a biologically informed conception of human nature. A variety of topics are covered, all quite interesting.
The Emperor of all Maladies* by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Marriage of story-telling and information that is rare in science writing. Highly recommended.
The Death of Ivan Ilych* by Leo Tolstoy
Deeply affecting story.
On Education by Harry Brighouse
Presents a solid description of the goals of education and the role of education in society. Investigates some of the more controversial questions relating to education and contains some surprising conclusions.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
Enjoyed this book, although there wasn’t much that was new or surprising.
On Humanism by Richard Norman
Honestly, other than clarifying the focus of humanism, I can’t remember much from this book.
The Public Domain* by James Boyle
A balanced argument on the failure of our intellectual property laws. Far from being simply a critical book, Boyle presents a sane perspective through which we may view copyright’s role in society.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
An ethnography investigating the challenges of cross-cultural communication and the devastating consequence of getting it wrong.
Why Not Socialism? by G.A. Cohen
Short, essay-length book supporting socialism as a viable and prefereable system over capitalism.
Why Not Capitalism? by Jason Brennan
Direct parody of Cohen’s work which supports capitalism.
VSI: Kierkegaard by Patrick Gardiner
Sometimes I got lost in the details of Kierkegaard’s thought, but many of the main themes stuck with me.
On Immigration and Refugees* by Michael Dummett
Before I read this, I was equipped with very little philosophical justification for liberal immigration policy. This book armed me with some solid arguments.
Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham
Enjoyable, but way too short.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Wallace is a refreshingly down-to-Earth writer, but still capably talks about challenging subjects. The essays were great reads.
VSI: Consciousness by Susan Blackmore
Clearest of the VSI’s I’ve read so far. Clarified somewhat on philosophical positions relating to consciousness, but ultimately didn’t provide huge incites.
Fashionable Nonsense by Alan Sokal
Reading this may cause one to question the intellectual integrity of the whole Post-Modern movement. For the scientifically literate, some of the content here is just astounding.
Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois
Intimate portrait of indigent and homeless heroin addicts in California. Too much theory, and could’ve used better editing, but the stories were so powerful that these issues could be overlooked.
Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig
Addresses the question of why campaign finance reform matters so much. Excellent writing.
The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe
Critique of the art establishment of the time. I think Wolfe may be a little too dismissive of the artists.
On the Internet by Hubert Dreyfus
Although the book’s focus was a little odd. Dreyfus picked subjects which were not all that relevant, for example Second Life. The arguments were worth reading nonetheless.
Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff
Too political for my tastes, but has some nice examples of framing.
The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser
Draws on a number of sources to support the claim that personalization may be a major problem. I concur although I’m not sure to what extent this is problematic.
Conformity and Conflict by James Spradley
Large collection of anthropological essays. Many were worth reading, others not so much.
Linear Algebra and Its Applications by David Lay
A standard, matrix-focused introduction to linear algebra.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
I was afraid the prose would be difficult, but it proved easier than expected. Franklin was such an impressively accomplised man, and it shows.
On Dialogue by David Bohm
The first two essays, “On Communication,” and “On Dialogue” were thought-provoking and I agree with much of the content. The rest of the essays ventured slightly into crackpot territory.