Here you can find a list of some of the (primarily) non-fiction books that I’ve read. If you’re interested in the fiction books I’ve read, that is a much, much longer list and you should probably friend me on Goodreads. There are a few select fiction books I’ve included in the list, simply because I think they are very intelligent reads that are relevant to the content on this blog. I have been making an effort recently to read more non-fiction books, and I especially like listening to non-fiction audiobooks. So some of the books on this list I haven’t actually read… I’ve listened to them! With the longer audiobooks, I’ll often listen for a bit and then switch to a different book… so some of the books will stay on my “in the middle” list for a while. It just means I’ve put the book on pause, and fully intend on finishing it at some point.
In the middle
- “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” by James Gleick
- The concept of “information” has a fascinating history - and this book is a deep dive into everything information, and all of the ways humans have devised to communicate information from pre-literate societies to the computers of the modern era. As an aspiring information scientist, I feel like this book contextualizes everything I am learning, providing a solid foundation for understanding the tools I use for working with data.
- “A History of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell
- I’m listening to this book via Audible… and I kid you not, it is 40 hours long. I’m currently paused somewhere near the beginning of the medieval philosophy section. I can say that the ancient philosophy section was very interesting, and I learned a lot, but I also definitely zoned out while listening to it. Someday I’d like to get a physical copy of this book and use it as a reference (as it’s perfectly set up to be just that).
- “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution” by Francis Fukuyama
- I’m listening to this book via Audible… and it is also on pause. It has some very interesting theories about how humans were able to form increasingly complex societies, despite being programmed to essentially live in communities no larger than 150 people. It’s a study on the theoretical and philosophical foundations of politics, and the first in a duology on Political Order & Political Decay (the second one being on decay).
- “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World” by Melinda Gates
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the best examples of how to use data in the realm of international development, and in this book Melinda Gates focuses on one key mission within international development: empowering women. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Melinda Gates narrating her own book, which was half auto-biography and half advocating for the role of women in international development. Many of the topics in this book were already familiar to me - family planning, education for girls, maternal & newborn care, unequal division of housework - but other topics were new (and fascinating), such as the role of women in agriculture. Melinda Gates talks about each of these important topics through the lens of her own personal experience, and relates moving anecdotes that gives each broad mission an urgent and emotional tie. Having already read Factfulness, I also appreciated her many stories and praise of Hans Rosling and his work.
- “Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military” by Neil deGrasse Tyson & Avis Lang
- The most popular (and vocal) astrophysicist today, Neil deGrasse Tyson, takes on the centuries-old relationship between science (especially astronomy) and the military - a “curiously complicit” relationship as the military’s conquests are only possible due to discoveries made by (generally) progressive/peace-loving scientists. Tyson & Lang cover everything from colonial times (navigating the high seas!) to the present day (spy satellites!). This book merges a lot of my interests (astronomy, politics, history, military, ethics), so it was definitely a must-read!
- “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling
- Bill Gates thinks this book is so important, he gifted it to all 2018 college graduates. Written by the late Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and statistician, this book was written to change the way people think about the world - by arming its readers with “a set of simple thinking tools.” It makes the case that the world is in a better state than we think, and it is important to have an accurate view of the world in order to continue to improve it. The book is shaped around the 10 instincts that distort our worldview, and 10 rules of thumb we can use to combat these instincts, with anecdotes from Rosling’s life used to illustrate how these instincts can be encountered and overcome in everyday life.
- “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari
- As the sequel to “Sapiens,” this book focuses on humanity’s future, rather than our past. But because Harari is still a historian first, and philosopher second, there is still a substantial amount of history in this book to serve as context for the future he envisions/predicts. You could call this book “speculative non-fiction,” as Harari takes familiar ideas from science fiction and writes about them in his typically engaging non-fiction prose. He takes a pragmatic view of the future, and worries about how society will be able to integrate new technology without leaving behind most of humanity - that the elite will become god-like and the rest of us will become redundant and useless.
- “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari
- I really loved this book. It presents a big picture history of the human race, from our origin of a species to our current state of technological progress. It looks at how we have always shaped our environment (by frequently genocidal means), how we learned to organize and store information, the fundamental unifying forces of human history… addressing most of the “big questions” in way that was both philosophically rigorous and interesting - because he told it as a story. This is one of the fundamental points that Harari makes at the beginning of the book: the reason that humans are the dominant species is because we can cooperate in large numbers, and the glue that allows us to cooperate on a massive scale is our capacity for storytelling.
- “Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek” by Rutger Bregman
- This book is not quite a manifesto, not quite a philosophical work, not quite an economic study, not quite an analysis of society… but a little bit of all of those things rolled into one. Bregman is one of the most well-known and active proponents of Universal Basic Income (UBI), and in this book he lays out his case for why UBI is necessary, why it should appeal to both liberals and conservatives, and it’s (relatively unknown) history in the US and Europe. While most of the book is focused on UBI, Bregman also lays out some other goals for the near future (open borders, a 15-hour workweek), and why he believes they are economically viable, morally necessary, and achievable within the next few decades. Bregman does a fantastic job throughout the book of providing historical context for all of his topics, and a roadmap for how we can actually achieve these goals.
- “Freakonomics” & “Superfreakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
- Written by an economist (Levitt) and a journalist (Dubner), these books are a series of interconnected essays about how behavioral economics and statistics are ingrained in the deepest parts of our personal, social, and political lives. They explore a wide variety of topics with their compelling combined skills of economic/statistical expertise and narrative storytelling. Listening to these books, I felt like I was constantly learning something new - and everything was all the more fascinating for being embedded in their chosen expert’s personal story.
- “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell
- This was a very interesting book that was essentially divided into two parts - the first part was about very successful individuals and their shared techniques for achieving that success (Gladwell’s famous 10,000 hour rule). But the second part was even more interesting for me, and it was about how the social, economic, and political situations that individuals were in had a far greater influence on those individuals being successful than any actions that individual person took.
- “Data and Reality” by William Kent
- This book merges databases, philosophy, data modeling… it’s a meditation on how we can capture an infinitely complex reality in finite data models that will themselves shape reality. As someone interested in the philosophy of information, this book is a must read. I learned about this book via @hillelogram on Twitter.
- “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success” by Shane Snow
- This is a book about lateral thinking, and how people can accomplish incredible things in a very short amount of time. This book tries to rethink success and provide techniques for doing things smarter and faster (by taking “smartcuts,” not “shortcuts”).
- “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari
- By the author of “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus,” this book is a set of 21 essays about the most important issues facing humanity today. One of these essays is about how science fiction is today’s most important artistic genre! After “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”, I will read anything this man writes.
- “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
- This book focuses on how we think - and why that is important to everyday decision making. Kahneman explains that our brain has 2 systems for thinking: System 1 (fast, intuitive, emotional) and System 2 (slower, deliberative, logical), and each has their advantages and disadvantages. By learning when we use each system and what their faults and biases are, we can make better decisions and guard against bad judgements.
- “Too Like the Lightning” by Ada Palmer (Terra Ignota series)
- One of the few fiction books/series I’ve included on this list, the Terra Ignota series is a fantastic work of narrative philosophy in the guise of science fiction. The author is a historian by profession, and write this book as a history, of revolutionary events set in the 25th century, from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, in the style of 18th century literature, with the “reader” as a character in conversation with the narrating character. The third book in the series, “The Will to Battle,” adds philosopher Thomas Hobbes as a third character in the meta-conversation that occurs between the narrating character and the reader. If you are into political theory and science fiction, it doesn’t get much better than this.
- “Infomocracy” by Malka Ann Older (Centenal Cycle series)
- Another fiction book/series I knew I needed to include in this list, “Infomocracy” is a vision of how global micro-democracies could develop during our information age, in the near future. Older is a humanitarian worker with over eight years of experience working in international aid & development, and her desire for a better global political system really comes through in her world-building. This is an author who knows the power of science fiction in influencing future leaders, and focuses on addressing political issues we will very likely face within the next few decades.
- “Bandwidth” by Eliot Peper (Analog series)
- Out of the three, these books are set in the nearest future. The Analog series features an omnipresent “feed” - imagine all of your social media and news feeds melded together and constantly in your field of vision (the specific mechanism is left unspecified). This feed shapes how the characters perceive reality - and when the main character realizes that his feed is being manipulated, he is forced to question his entire reality. The narrative is a fantastic blend of spy-thriller and futuristic speculation that confronts the same issues that we are facing now as a society that consumes news through social media.
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