Reading Period: March 23 - April 19
1. What's Our Problem (P), by Tim Urban
Tim Urban, author of the popular blog Wait But Why, massively influenced my life. His blog is the reason that I started this one, and a handful of articles on Wait But Why legitimately changed my interests. His posts on artificial intelligence, the Fermi paradox, and choosing a life partner are seriously some of the most important collections of words I have yet come across. So, I decided I owed Tim the honor of purchasing his book and reading all 746 pages. It was worth it, although I think that my expectations of the book differed greatly from the actual product. The book is pretty much only about US politics, and the majority of the pages discuss "woke" culture and the problems with current Social Justice Fundamentalism. I guess I agree with everything Tim says, and I now think that this "lower rung" type of thinking prevalent in politics is a much greater danger than I would have previously thought. Still, it's hard to not be suspicious that Tim spends too much time on Twitter, and it's easy to imagine that "high rung" politics have never really been a thing. Still, knowing how this usually works I'm sure this book will completely change my interests and the way I act, so thanks Tim!
2. The Alignment Problem (P), by Brian Christian
This book was extremely difficult to get through. I think Brian must just be a boring writer or something. It's hard to explain why, but I think it took me over a year to read the entire book, despite this subject being the one topic in the world I am the most excited to learn about. The last three chapters of the book were really good and I learned a lot of useful information, but honestly I would not recommend this book.
3. The Rise of the Ultra Runners (A), by Finn Adharanand
Pretty solid running book that chronicles Finn's entrance into ultrarunning and a few of his races. He comments on the sport of ultrarunning as whole, and I definitely learned a lot. Probably not as great of a read for those not interested in ultrarunning.
4. Alexander Hamilton (A), by Ron Chernow
Funny enough, I finished pretty much this entire book (28 hour audiobook at 2x speed) during a 50 mile ultramarathon. That race and this book will forever be intertwined, and all I can say is my hate for Aaron Burr helped push me through. I loved how biased Ron was in this writing, and he did a hell of a great job writing a compelling story. The Founding Fathers have always been, in my opinion, the most talented and impactful group of intellectuals the world has ever seen. It is astounding how productive this small group of men were, and I am fascinated by the quality of their character. George Washington in particular is quite the legend. Maybe Ron embellished, but it seems that Hamilton was one of the most impactful figures in American history. His story is quite astounding, and his tragic flaws make him quite worthy of a book. His writing ranged from petty squabbles to all out wars with the pen, and the amount of drama and gossip that stemmed from "anonymous" letters written in newspapers was hilarious. My favorite bit about Hamilton was that he used a pseudonym and wrote an essay in a paper condemning John Adams. Then, he used another pseudonym to write another essay praising the wit of the other pseudonym (himself) and further lambasting John Adams.
This might be my favorite biography. The atmosphere of the American revolution is quite motivating, and I want to either start another revolution or listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat, maybe both. The book has heroism, villainy, and some amazing insults. It gives the reader an insight into American politics from the beginning, and I learned a ton. I didn't realize how close Civil War seemed at the beginning of the US, and a lot of the actions of the founders, given what was at stake, make a lot more sense given that context. Hamilton and others were so steadfast and strong headed because they truly believed that they would be able to have a profound impact on society for generations and generations. They were right.
5. Models (P), by Mark Manson
One of the worst books I have ever read. Absolute trash. Unbelievable. If going on dates with "dozens" of women makes you qualified to write this book (really, Mark that's it?) I guess I am way more the dating guru than this pathetic author. Being a man is not about being a sleaze-bag who manipulates women and treats people like dirt. Regardless of Mark's qualifying statements, that is exactly what this book seeks to create. Mark's idea of a pickup line: “let’s check out the Science museum, they have an awesome exhibit on the human body." Mark's idea of how dating works "once a girl kisses you, she’s usually going to be comfortable and/or horny enough to go home with you." Mark's idea of success: "have sex with two women in the same 24-hour period: Shower in between optional." Mark's idea of how consent works "just know this: the correct answer to the “no sex” objection is always an affirmative while continuing to escalate physically." I'm embarrassed on behalf of Mark, as his short-lived legacy in this universe will consist of vomiting up a pile of worthless pseudo-dating-advice-garbage into the world and then dying.
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (A), by J.K. Rowling
Magical. That is how I would describe this series, a series completely in a league of its own. I totally understand the fasciation with the Harry Potter universe, and I think it deserves its spot as the most popular book series of all time. I didn't really enjoy the first half of this book, and I really wish Voldemort was more than a one-dimensional villain. Still, maybe it is the nostalgia talking but I am really glad I went through this series. I felt like a kid again, entranced in a world full of wonder and adventure.
7. Rhythm of War (P), by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson never misses. Still, I would probably rank this last out of the Stormlight Archive series, simply because it took me quite a while to get through. I wasn't very interested in most of the flashbacks, and there were a few plot points that I took issue with. Still, the book is very clearly a 9/10. The characters are great, the worldbuilding is phenomenal, and the last two hundred pages are impossible to put down. Classic Sanderson.
8. Irreversible Damage (A), by Abigail Shrier
Reading this book, given the current political climate, made me feel subversive and rebellious. If the subtitle of a book you are reading is "the Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters" you almost don't want to add it to your Goodreads for fear of potential backlash. Overall, I think the conversation around "gender affirming surgery" for minors is actually pretty important. We probably shouldn't let minors make life-altering decisions and we probably should have protected spaces for biological women (prisons are the obvious example that you can't really argue against). I am not quite sure I agree that there is a transgender craze in America that is sweeping up young women, but that is simply because I have no relevant exposure. I understand Abigail's stance against puberty blockers, but honestly if you feel from birth that you were born in the wrong body I can't see why we should make you endure puberty. If you are 18, even if you are misguided, you should have full say over what you do with your body. Still, society should absolutely make you wait until then.
It is sad and disturbing that many doctors have turned into service providers, simply bending to the will of a small minority of people with radical beliefs about gender. I think the nod towards how the medical profession helped create the opioid crisis was important, it is clear on mass that they don't really have their patient's best interest at heart. Abigail is incredibly biased, but I think this conversation is really important. If non-binary people are getting hysterectomies, that is cause for concern. If young girls that like engineering and sports are led to believe that liking traditionally masculine things makes them a boy, that is cause for concern. Too often liberals take traditional gender roles seriously and invalidate their own beliefs as a result (explain how there are 72 genders but also that this young girl is definitely a boy and needs surgery otherwise they will kill themselves). If you are a man, you can love wearing makeup, like fashion, and have sex with other men. This doesn't make you any less of a man, and it doesn't make you necessarily a woman. Many progressives are extremely regressive when it comes to gender identity, and seem to cling to centuries old rigid gender roles as gospel. I have no problem with people transitioning, and we should treat everyone with respect. But we should also be mature enough to have difficult debates about books such as this one.
9. The Hundred-Page Machine Learning Book (P), by Andriy Burkov
"All models are wrong, but some are useful." A great quote at the header of every chapter.
Every time I read a book about machine learning I wonder if I should just give up and stick to working in finance for the rest of my life. This book was very good, and I really liked that it was short enough to actually read without getting massively frustrated (looking at you, Deep Learning). I don't think my technical knowledge was sufficient to understand a lot of the algorithms mentioned, but I am still glad I read it.
10. Skin in the Game (A), by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Well, I learned that Nassim's books are 100x easier to get through if you do an audiobook instead of a print version. As usual, this is a pretty mean spirited book with a lot of irrelevant, useless information. Nassim loves harping on his usual, trite thoughts (economists are bad, ivy league people are bad, Nassim is a genius). I wonder if, like many people, he is just still salty to this day that he didn't get into Harvard. Regardless, the core idea of "skin in the game" is actually massively useful and makes the book worth a read. People should have better incentives, and we shouldn't let bankers and politicians get only upside regardless of their behavior. As an individual, you will live a better and more fulfilling life if you are a risk-seeker that finds opportunities that could expose you to both massive gains and massive losses.
Nassim would be legitimately insufferable to hang out with. I swear if he would have mentioned deadlifting one more time, I might have burned the book. He assumes that the world is entirely fair and meritocratic. A classic take from someone with self-proclaimed "f-you" money. He said that he would rather trust a fat Italian doctor without a medical license to do a surgery than an established Harvard M.D. His rationale is that the gruff, incomprehensible Italian doctor would have to have overcome more obstacles to get into his position and thus would probably be better at surgery. I wonder if Nassim lives his life this way. Given how brilliant 10% of the book is, I wonder what Nassim's legacy would be if he had the personality of one of the upstanding intellectuals he criticizes, instead of that of a toddler.