As promised, here are the reading recommendations for 2016. Twelve books, one per month, which should fit all schedules.
Links are to Amazon just out of convenience because that’s where the reviews are, but of course get the books you like anywhere you want.
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom – the book has an owl on the cover and is called “Superintelligence”. What more could you possibly want? Probably the best treatment of Artificial Intelligence available. I disagree with Mr. Bostrom on a number of important points (a fact I am sure he is losing hours upon hours of sleep on), but all in all, the book is an erudite and important contribution to the field and an enjoyable read.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel – one of the approximately two books about entrepreneurship written by a successful entrepreneur. Peter Thiel is a fucking legend, and this book is excellent. If you’re self-employed or hoping to, it is required reading.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams – one of the most useful books you will ever read, this is the kind of book I wish somebody had written when I was younger.
Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe – from the author of xkcd, a great book explaining complicated things in simple words. The language is contagious and you will find yourself thinking in much clearer terms after reading this – an useful habit. You will learn, you will laugh and you will love it.
The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality by Ludwig von Mises – examines the psychological reasons people take positions on economics and politics. A bit speculative and can be accused of “mind reading”, but the logic is solid and consistent with observation, and others have arrived at the same conclusions. Truth be told, so have I.
Man and His Symbols by Carl Gustav Jung – a good introduction to Jungian psychology. Which means it is not very scientific, but Jung was one of the two writers of the 20th century who could get away with speculation bordering on mysticism without becoming batshit crazy (which cannot be said for any of his disciples and followers). He was probably onto something, but unfortunately much of his work is untestable and unfalsifiable and as such, firmly within the realm of myth.
The Battle of Bretton Woods by Benn Steil – if you want to know how our current global monetary arrangements came about, read this book. True history that reads like a spy thriller. Speaking of which…
The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman – this brilliant journalistic exposé will take you, without exaggeration, to some of the most closely guarded secrets of the Soviet Union. You knew the Cold War was scary, but you had no idea just how scary. Teaser: there are, to this day, stockpiles of genetically engineered biological weapons in Russia. The author won a Pulitzer prize for this work.
The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman – a second book from the same author, this time documenting the work of arguably the most important spy of the Cold War, an aviation engineer in Moscow. Turns out the real world is more exciting than Bond movies.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely – if you’re interested in how people actually behave and why, this is the book for you. This is one of the best authors of his generation, and it is a good idea to read everything he writes.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – Great insight into decision-making and the working of the two parallel (and sometimes clashing) systems of thinking in our brains. Must read.
Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion Dollar Deals by John LeFevre – subsequent digging revealed that Mr. LeFevre’s tales are not that true, but he manages to capture the culture of high finance well enough. As such, his lies are of the “truer than the mere truth” sort. The author runs the GSElevator Twitter account, which is some of the funniest (because true) stuff on the internet.
Bonus: Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley – this is a short read, two hours or so. Nevertheless, it is one of the most emotionally impactful things I have read in years.
In 1931, Huxley published Brave New World, which became a classic of dystopian fiction. His vision is considerably more terrifying than Orwell’s, for the excellent reason that it is more probable.
Rather than a totalitarian society based on repression and violence, as per Stalin and 1984, which Huxley considered hopelessly crude and unsustainable, he envisioned a world dictatorship based on soft control, systemic brainwashing, positive reinforcement and drugging of the population – a bread-and-games hedonistic theme park where the greater part of humanity lives as completely domesticated animals under a caste of unelected “trainers and keepers”. The kind of relatively benign totality, in short, that the great majority of people would actively welcome (which is exactly why it’s so likely and already well on the way).
Huxley placed his novel some 600 years in the future, and was later shocked by the speed with which his vision is becoming reality. In 1958, he wrote this essay, describing the world’s slide towards the dystopia of his prophetic original novel. Excellent, insightful and frankly terrifying read if you love freedom.
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