Reading Period: October 10 - Present
1. What We Owe the Future, by William MacAskill
Yet another Effective Altruism (audio) book, this one focused on longtermism, the concept that future, unborn generations are extremely morally important. Given that humanity is so young, it follows that there could be trillions of humans after us. The lives of these trillions of humans will be greatly influenced by the choices society makes today, and because some events (artificial intelligence, nuclear war, chemically engineered pandemics) can make this future non-existent, we should expend extra effort to ensure that future generations are given the chance to live and thrive. A lot of this book overlaps with other books I've read this year, but obviously I agree with most of William's points and am strongly convinced by the overall cause. One new topic that William brings up is economic stagnation. William discusses how stagnation can happen, and lays out a pretty convincing argument that this sort of stagnation could be extremely harmful to our long term future. Overall, persuasive book that has given me a lot to think about.
2. The Art of Living, by Epictetus
Stoic philosophy at its best. Virtue ethics is way less stressful than all this overbearing utilitarian stuff I've been waist deep in this year. I'm quite convinced a life focused on internal character and virtue would lead to the most personal happiness and probably the greatest amount of spiritual success. The points that resonated with me the most: focus only on things that are within your control, never depend on the admiration of others, mindset is everything.
"First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do"
"Arrogance is the banal mask for cowardice; but far more important, it is the most potent impediment to the flourishing life."
"You can only be one person - either a good person or a bad person. You have two essential choices."
3. The End is Always Near, by Dan Carlin
This audiobook was disappointing, as it jumps around to various unconnected topics (raising children, nuclear war, ancient Rome) and lacks a coherent narrative. The title is misleading, and it seems clear that I was looking for something else.
4. Midnight in Chernobyl, by Adam Higginbotham
Legitimately terrifying. Easily one of the best non-fiction books I've read all year. I strongly recommend this audiobook, but maybe wait for a time period when nuclear war is a bit less likely. Also, none of this changes my aggressively confident pro-nuclear power stance.
5. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes
Very clearly the best non-fiction book I've read. The level of detail in this book was astounding, and I learned an incredible amount about physics and history during this thirty-seven hour audiobook. The first part of the book is almost entirely focused on nuclear physics, its development and progression throughout the early 20th century. The next part chronicles the beginnings of the Manhattan project, including detailed biographies of the important members involved. The third part is the shortest, an account of the Trinity test and the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. The final act of the book was horrifying, and it will be impossible to unsee the images of nuclear consequences that Richard forced into my brain.
"Nuclear weapons ensure the destruction of any participating nations, unless war itself is abolished." Richard's unbiased commentary, generally displayed through the lens of quotes from physicists, was also terrifying. The nuclear bomb is likely mankind's most important invention to date, as it is likely humankind's most probable means of destruction. Paradoxes abound. The bomb forces peace between world superpowers, but if that peace is breached even slightly, the human race is potentially exterminated. The Manhattan project's scientists, upon liberating the power of the atom, were excessively burdened by the idea of billions of innocent deaths. This mental burden should be shared by us all, if we are to avoid anniliation.
6. Noble House, by James Clavell
Insanely good story. James might be one of the most compelling writers I have ever come across. His ability to weave interesting narratives together without losing the reader's interest is impressive. This book was super long, the audiobook being around fifty-eight hours in total. A few of the side plots could have been shortened, or at least tied up better. Still, incredible work of fiction.