Books that had hidden influence on me

by on November 21, 2017 at 12:21 am in Books, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

Way back when, I considered the ten books that influenced me most, a list I still stand by.  In response, someone asked me to name the books that influenced me, but whose influence I probably was not aware of.  Let’s ignore the semi-contradiction in that request and plow straight ahead!  Here goes, noting that if memory serves I read most of these between the ages of 10 to 12:

1. Alexander Kotov, Think Like a Grandmaster.  From this book I realized you could think you understood a chess position, but then later learn you didn’t really understand it at all.  A huge lesson, one I learned again and to a higher degree when high-quality chess computers came along.  Most of the commentariat on economic and social affairs could use a reminder on this one.  This book also taught me that you learn by doing — trying to solve actual problems — not so much from pure reading.  Or the two in close conjunction.  It may be the distortions of memory, but still I feel this is one of the best books I ever have read.  Hail the Soviet training system!

2. Bobby Fischer, My Sixty Memorable Games of Chess.  Reflects a certain kind of classicism in thinking and method.  Later, it was revealed much of the analysis was faulty and in part was from Larry Evans and not Fischer himself.

3. Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings.  I wasn’t influenced so much by this book itself as by a long series of articles in Chess Life and Review, showing the analysis was full of holes.  See my remarks on Kotov.

4. David Kahn, The Code-Breakers, The Story of Secret Writing.  I read this one quite young, and learned that problems are to be solved!  I also developed some sense of what a history could look like and what a history should report.  I recall my uncle thinking it deeply strange that a boy my age should be reading a book of such length.

5. Rudolf McShane and Jakow Trachtenberg, The Trachtenberg System of Basic Mathematics.  From this I learned how powerful the individual human mind could be, and also how much school wasn’t teaching me.  It began to occur to me that the mainstream doesn’t necessarily have the best or only methods.  That said, non-mainstream approaches still have the responsibility of coming up with the right answer.  Query: does it these days ever make sense to actually use this stuff?

6. The Baseball Encyclopedia, or something like that.  From this book I began to figure out statistics and how they fit into broader patterns of historical explanation.  I spent a lot of time with this one even before the age of ten.  It helped me understand my baseball cards in terms of a much longer perspective and also, if I recall correctly, it explained the underlying meaning of many of the statistics, albeit in what would today count as a very naive, non-Moneyball manner.  I still know that Chief Wilson hit 36 triples in 1912.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Joy of Sex, all given to me by my mother.  I believe they helped inculcate some of the 1960s-70s ethos of individual freedom into my thinking.  I also consumed numerous sports memoirs, such as Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer and also the war memoir Guadalcanal Diary.  From those I began to think about the relationships between character, work habits, teamwork, and success.  The Making of Star Trek helped me master the details of what was then my favorite TV series, and also to think about cosmopolitanism across different kinds of intelligent beings.  In addition to chess I also was influenced by playing paper and dice war games, most of all Barbossa (the exact title may differ slightly), a really scary game where you have to consider the possibility the Nazis could have won and thus think about the contingency of history.  I began to understand that violence could be a reality that stood above all else and how important it was to avoid such a scenario.

Then there is youthful science fiction, though perhaps that someday gets a post of its own.  I read a lot of books about music too, many about jazz solos and chord composition, including in American popular music.  Much earlier, maybe ages 5-8, it was maps and books full of facts about the world (ahem) and animals, most of all the taxonomic arrangement of the animal kingdom.

Finally, at the time I was fully aware that I wasn’t getting a single one of these titles through my formal school system.

1 JC November 21, 2017 at 12:38 am

Curiously Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance is a book I often return to. Have you figured out what quality is?

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2 clockwork_prior November 21, 2017 at 5:57 am

Clearly, Pirsig would have his own opinion on the quality of working for a public policy institute. Likely in a dripping faucet sort of way for a person working there, that is, or possibly in the style of someone trusting that nothing will go wrong will riding, and thus simply not paying attention to how to improve themselves at all. Though in all fairness, those criticisms can also be applied to just about every professor I have ever known when talking about actually being competent with physical objects and their maintenance.

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3 msgkings November 21, 2017 at 12:38 am

I LOVED the Baseball Encyclopedia. Still do. Still remember the font, and how when a player led the league in a stat, that stat was bolded.

I loved paper and dice games too, mainly war games with hexagon maps, my favorite being Third Reich.

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4 Alistair November 21, 2017 at 4:37 am

I loved Advanced 3rd Reich, but with 30 years of gaming experience I now judge it was a fairly poor game and only mediocre in its historical representation. It had too many separate, complex rule systems and lacked unifying mechanics; too many separate tables for air, land, and maritime combat. It should have traded resolution for speed and simplicity at several points.

The main historical “wrongness” was from a military POV it was too focused on firepower and didn’t capture (early war) German advantage in operational art and strategic surprise well, whilst being unfair to the Allies from an economic POV throughout (though later oil rules helped). The fixed force pools didn’t help either; feeling very constraining or allowing too rapid recuperation/rebuild.

However, it is a worthy game due to the scope of its ambition and achievements at the time. The diplomacy rules were great fun and thoughtfully balanced, if broken by randomness. And the variant counters kept things fresh. Who didn’t love raising fascist legions in the Ukraine, or nuking Berlin in spring 45?

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5 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 9:10 am

Advanced 3rd Reich, was product of it’s time. It doesn’t compare well with more modern games. but still it was a solid game.

It’s biggest failing is that, it’s just too way too long a game.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/283/advanced-third-reich

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6 Alistair November 21, 2017 at 10:47 am

Hah! Those are the days when I had whole weekends free…

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7 HL November 21, 2017 at 11:59 am

I can manage a game of axis and allies, anything more complex is just a chore!

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8 liberalarts November 21, 2017 at 12:55 am

Avalon Hill was the king of those games, but the non-dice Diplomacy was the best at honing strategy and group dynamics.

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9 Alistair November 21, 2017 at 4:43 am

In diplomacy it helped to have a metagame reputation as a truthful but vengeful B*****d.

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10 bellisaurius November 21, 2017 at 8:29 am

Chess may be a thinking man’s game, but diplomacy is a much deeper because of the meta game.

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11 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 9:21 am

Poker is also a good strategy game, hinging around the metagame. Every hand’s a winner, every hand’s a loser. Risk assessment is a skill.

In terms of absolute depth to complexity, Rock Paper Scissors actually holds up pretty well. For an actual board game, look for Taluva – VERY simple game, but very deep play too – plus the volcano structures that you make are pretty and surprisingly organic. I’m generally into a bunch of Fantasy Flight and Paradox games, like Twilight Imperium which are very deep but unfortunately very complex as well.

I suppose I should learn Go at some point.

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12 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 9:29 am

In terms of metagame, I tend to dislike games that rely on the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ to balance things out. Any good games that prevent runaway winners while not needing to bash the leader? (thus making part of the metagame to be a strong second-place player throughout the game and rush to victory in the final moment)

I played one a while back, forget what it was called, that gave last-place players high risk, high reward options – kind of like Research in Axis and Allies, but better.

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13 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 9:52 am

” Any good games that prevent runaway winners while not needing to bash the leader?”

Plenty of those. What type of game do you like?

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14 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

Also, how many players do you normally play with? Games tend to have sweet spots, so great games for 3 players will often be just good at 4 and mediocre at 5. Good two player games tend to only be good with either two players or with two teams.

Recent games on my Favorite list: Terraforming Mars (loosely based upon the Kim Stanley Robinson) series, Scythe (a Euro with a distinct war game look and feel), Power Grid (the order to purchase and place is by current position, so it incrementally bashes all the players but last place), Pandemic (co-op, so everyone is in it together), Ra ( a light, auction game, great intro game for new gamers, but still interesting for veterans), 7 Wonders (actually plays up to 7 players, in less than an hour), Puerto Rico (awesome economic game, where players can and most select different roles at different times), Battlestar Galactica (one of the best traitor mechanic games, but only great with 5 or 6 players).

15 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 12:14 pm

I tend to like 4X games, with some amount of military/conquest. Maybe it’s largely unavoidable in those sorts of games? (although I did like the high-risk/high-reward strategies available for people who are losing, and in Crusader Kings / Feudal acquiring more land = more headaches – sometimes life is much easier and safer being a mere duke than a king) Military in 7 Wonders is largely cosmetic…

I normally play with 4-5. MULE is an excellent econ simulator, there are winners in a game but only if the table as a whole beats a certain threshold, which means the leader doesn’t want to get too greedy.

I’ll look around at the private resources mechanic – I think that might be pretty effective. What are some examples of unclear victory? Do you mean like in Civilization, where you can win through diplomacy, military, culture, tech, etc, and someone who appears weak in one may be excelling in the other? Or a couple of hidden modifiers to the score after the Final Round is encountered?

16 Dave Tufte November 21, 2017 at 12:53 pm

JWatts:

It’s not a wargame, but Rail Baron from Avalon Hill is a great one where the losers are not crushed.

17 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 3:56 pm

“What are some examples of unclear victory?”

That was Alistair who made the comment, but I’m pretty sure he means games with hidden victory mechanics.

Examples: Captains of Industry (you place your victory points in a container), Puerto Rico (you can stack them upside down), Ticket to Ride (the Bonus tickets are hidden), etc

18 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 4:22 pm

“I tend to like 4X games, with some amount of military/conquest. ”

Scythe is a good recent 4 X (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate). It’s light on explore; the map is fixed, however certain designated spots allow your leader to explore. It’s somewhat light on extermination, in that most players won’t engage in more that a few battles during the game, but you probably can’t win without a military. (I’ve won without actually fighting any battles once, but my territories were well defended.)

Eclipse is a newer space based 4 x game, but it has a fairly high random factor. (Probably no worse than Axis and Allies). That being said, it’s going to be quicker than Twilight Imperium.

Twilight Imperium is the classic space 4 x game. I own both the 2nd and 3rd editions. However, I find it best with 4-5 players and it usually takes 1.5 -2 hours per player. So, I generally only play it once per year or so now.

Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game (I own it and probably should sell it). The basic game is fairly mediocre. IMO, it plays too slow, with too much down time and my strategic decisions aren’t nail biting.

Empires of the Void: This was a fun game and I liked it, but I’ve only played it once.

Antiquity: Expensive 4x game set in 14th century Italy. I liked this one. It’s just not a setting you see that often. It’s a Splotter (publisher) game, which generally means, it’s pricey and most owners are Splotter fans. It’s almost a cult, but they are generally solid games. Another Splotter game that’s similar is Roads & Boats.

19 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Oh and if you ever wanted to play Axis and Allies during the Zombie Apocalypse, I highly recommend:

Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/61484/zombie-state-diplomacy-dead

You can pick this game up pretty cheap right now, and it’s a hoot. I really need to dig my copy out of storage and get another play.

20 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Thanks for the recommendations/reviews, JWatts!

In return, I’ll offer: Seafall, a Legacy-type seafaring game very heavy on the explore.

Ascending Empires: Space-themed game. Pretty short, ends just as things start getting heavy. The gimmick with this game is you manually flick your ships across the galaxy, so speed/movement is based off of you. If you flick your ship off the map, it’s destroyed! If you flick your ship into/near an enemy ship, you blow it up.

Will check out Scythe and Antiquity. Thanks again!

21 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 9:22 pm

“Ascending Empires: Space-themed game. ”

I’ve actually played it a couple of times. I like it, but ended up adding the flick based dungeon crawl Catacombs to my collection. I’m not dexterous enough to warrant more than one flick game.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/57390/catacombs

I’ll be sure to check out Seafall if I run across a chance to play.

22 Alistair November 21, 2017 at 10:53 am

RE: “Tall poppy syndrome”;

Ah, well, if boardgames teach you the primitive roots of envy and socialism, they’ve succeeded in one thing.

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23 Alistair November 21, 2017 at 10:54 am

Games with unclear victory status and private resources avoid that problem altogether.

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24 bellisaurius November 21, 2017 at 12:56 pm

One of the counters to tall poppy is to look at the other players personal victory conditions. The guy who just wants to watch the world burn is a good ally, but so is that little guy who never got big, but who you did that little kindness to earlier who knows they won’t win anyway. With the strategizers, you just need to make sure they think they have enough of an opening to stab you in the back at the last minute.

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25 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 1:37 pm

The metagame of sucking up to kingmakers while remaining in position to be made king- it’s good, but the over reliance on it bugs me. Enough dependence on it can change a deeply strategic game into “vote for the winner”, which would be much faster.

26 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 9:45 am

Diplocmacy remains a classic. Simple rules that allow players maximum choices. And it’s a great game as long as everyone realizes that players can and should lie in the context of the game.

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27 bellisaurius November 21, 2017 at 12:52 pm

And more importantly, to lie carefully. You have to be truthful enough long enough that people will agree to make deals in the first place- bonus points for being able to be truthful and still being able to backstab in the context of that agreement.

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28 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 3:59 pm

“And more importantly, to lie carefully.”

Actually the very best move in Diplomacy is to manage to tell the Truth, but in a way that convinces the person that you are lying. If done correctly, they’ll harm themselves by acting on the lie. And then you can look at them innocently and say: “I was telling you the truth, shame on you for not believing me.” 😉

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29 Bellisaurius November 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Your evil is a thing of beauty, J

30 Steve Sailer November 21, 2017 at 1:10 am

“I still know that Hack Wilson hit 36 triples in 1912.”

Not Hack Wilson. Hack Wilson had 190 RBIs in 1930. Chief Wilson had 36 triples in 1912.

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31 Steve Sailer November 21, 2017 at 1:24 am

Chief Wilson’s 36 triples in 1912 is an interesting outlier. Nobody else has hit more than 26 in the modern era from 1901 onward. This record probably won’t be broken since triples are way down and homers are way up since 1912. The most triples since 1961 was Curtis Granderson’s 23 in 2007, so it’s not impossible for it to be broken, but it’s extremely unlikely.

What’s the story behind Wilson’s record? I don’t really know.

They introduced a livelier ball in 1911 (perhaps with a cork center?), so the hitting statistics in 1911 and 1912 are the best of the mid-Dead Ball Era. I’m not sure why offense faded after 1912 … perhaps pitchers threw more spitballs to counter the livelier ball?

Chief Wilson’s Pittsburgh Pirates had moved into Forbes Field a couple of years later. I don’t know about the year 1912 specifically, but Forbes Field generally had a big outfield so balls could roll a long way before they hit the fence and bounced back toward the pursuing outfielder. Thus Pirate Roberto Clemente who played mostly in Forbes Field has the most triples of anybody who started after WWII.

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32 Steve Sailer November 21, 2017 at 1:27 am

Here’s my 2014 essay on how baseball could get more triples:

http://www.unz.com/isteve/how-to-fix-baseball/

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33 Steve Sailer November 21, 2017 at 2:09 am

As Tyler suggests, triples offer a good lesson for thinking about how to evaluate data since they aren’t as abundant as other baseball statistics and thus have stranger flukes such as Chief Wilson’s record, which Bill James has described as the unlikeliest of records. We have such a huge sample size for most baseball statistics that studying baseball stats can be misleading in understanding how outside of baseball, small samples sizes cause more weird fluctuations like we see with triples.

So, Wilson’s 36 is a real outlier (he never hit more than 14 in another season), although it’s helped be explained by the lively ball of 1912 and his playing in Forbes with it’s big outfield.

Three guys hit 26 triples in one season since 1901, and they are not as much outliers as Chief Wilson: Shoeless Joe Jackson hit 26 in 1912, the same year as Wilson, playing for the White Sox in another ballpark with a long way to the fences. Shoeless Joe is one of the 4 most famous players not in the Hall of Fame, along with Rose, Bonds, and Clemens. He’s not in because of his involvement with the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series.

Kiki Cuyler hit 26 in 1925 in Forbes Field, where Wilson hit 36. Cuyler is in the Hall of Fame, although he’s one of the guys who benefited from the high batting averages of the time. He was an exciting player, but not that good.

And Sam Crawford hit 26 in 1914. Crawford is the all time record holder for triples, so it’s not too surprising he’s tied for second in the single season rankings. Crawford is in the Hall of Fame.

So, of the top four single season triples figures, three make quite bit of sense, but the top number is just weird.

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34 middyfeek November 21, 2017 at 7:05 am

Based on his reputation as a drinker, Hack Wilson would have been lucky to find third base.

I also was a big baseball fan as a kid. Anyone who played dice games as a kid must have played baseball dice games.

Baseball statistics are sooo overdone. Based on 600 atbats in a season, a player who gets 180 hits will bat .300 and might be an all star. A player who gets 150 hits will bat .250 and might well have to fight for his job in spring training. The difference is less than one hit in five games.

Player gets a Texas Leaguer. His teammates mock him about it. He shuts them up by saying, “It will look like a line drive in the box score”.

When I was nineteen I discovered horse racing. Never felt the same about baseball after that.

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35 Dave Tufte November 21, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Have you tried Statis-Pro Baseball? It substitutes cards for dice: much quicker.

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36 Tyler Cowen November 21, 2017 at 8:15 am

thanks for the correction…

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37 Steve Sailer November 21, 2017 at 8:27 am

I see now that Hack Wilson’s 1930 RBI record was retroactively increased in 1999 from 190 to 191.

I’m not sure that I approve of changing records after my childhood.

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38 Axa November 21, 2017 at 1:26 am

The mission of school is to reduce friction between humans naturally inclined to be different. Don’t worry about interest about specific subjects, worry about learning to live and collaborate with others. Of course humans have always formed groups, but ensuring the can communicate with each other through a common language, basic math and science is more important.

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39 msgkings November 21, 2017 at 2:34 am

Great post

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40 Alistair November 21, 2017 at 4:39 am

+1 for the sociology win!

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41 A Truth Seeker November 21, 2017 at 4:44 am

“but ensuring the can communicate with each other through a common language, basic math and science is more important.”

If it is about teaching “a common language and basic math and science”, why did they use to teach Latin? Why do they teach Ruffini’s rule or aqueous electrolysis or the stages of photosynthesis? How many adults actually remember those?

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42 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ November 21, 2017 at 9:01 am

I woke up this morning in a pessimistic frame of mind (sorry), and picked up my tablet thinking that America’s particular problems, relative to other developed or prosperous countries, boil down to a triumph of anti-intellectualism.

Basically too few of us live Axa’s dream, nor have “books that changed our lives.”

Or, to tie it back to one of Tyler’s frameworks, we have a worse form of “complacency” than we may have expected. We have the “58 people dead and 546 injured in Las Vegas and we treat it as .. hrair” sort of complacency.

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43 TMC November 21, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Anti-intellectualism has been a long standing problem, but we’ve seemed to turn the tide a bit. At least it’s not getting worse and it feels like it is starting to be recognized and called out.

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44 A Truth Seeker November 21, 2017 at 2:46 pm

As famous American (naturalized) scientist Boris Sidis pointed out, American civilization stimulates the basest emotions and pursuits.

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45 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ November 21, 2017 at 10:41 am

Specifically in governance, Americans have reduced themselves to Watership bunnies(*). We treat real problems as too much for our bunny brains. We love gridlock the way bunnies love freezing in place. When we do rally ourselves, we produce something like this tax bill, and then say “this is the best we can do, we are bunnies!”

“Trump is the best we can elect, we are bunnies!”

* – I actually have dim memories of the book

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46 peri November 21, 2017 at 10:41 am

I think it would have more of your desired effect if the school years didn’t so resemble a prison sentence. [And, for some of us in the Sunbelt anyway, schools that resembled actual prisons, or mental hospitals, more than anything else.]

And I say this as one who, as a child, picked up from somewhere the idea of a school that was a sort of United Nations, and dreamt fervently of attending that school.

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47 harpersnotes November 21, 2017 at 2:23 am

The Trachtenberg System, by showing there’s more than one way to multiply two numbers, helps the thinking move away from rote memorization of the inputs and outputs of operations toward more of a choose-the-best-algorithm perspective. Regarding the query – does it ever make sense to use this stuff: First, there is the general aspect of doing mental gymnastics. The Trachtenberg system is a little like blindfold chess, you’re doing math mentally instead of with a paper and pencil, or pieces and a board. Personally I think people have blind fold chess causality reversed – It isn’t that very strong players become incidentally good at blindfold chess, but rather that in the process of becoming really strong players people are developing the skills that make them also good at blindfold chess, only those skills would be better developed by early on training directly at blindfold chess. I suspect the case of the Polgar sisters might provide some insight into this as they played a lot of blindfold chess together when young. Second, inexpensive calculators weren’t much plentiful prior to around 1969 – The Apollo Moon Landing math was largely done with slide-rulers. This bleeds into the issues around whether people are being somehow affected by having computers do more and more of our thinking for us.

Think Like a Grandmaster – It is actually a rare sort of thing when someone who is highly expert in an area can explain so well how they think to others in a way that helps rather than confuses.

Fine’s Basic Chess Endings teaches that there is much to learn even in deceptively simple appearing endgame positions. Also, much could be written (and probably has) about the importance of first learning to see the patterns where the complications are limited to only a few pieces and then gradually increasing the number of pieces to middle-game levels, and from what I’ve read that is generally the way teachers of serious chess students generally structured their lessons – starting with endgame positions first. Basic Chess Endings, written over the course of three months around 1941, had flaws. What is interesting is that in a process not totally unlike science holes were discovered in the analyses and endgame chess theory become less wrong over time. Incidentally, there’s a pretty good write-up on BCE at … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Chess_Endings ..

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48 Mark Thorson November 21, 2017 at 11:28 am

I read the Trachtenberg book when I was about 10. It’s just a bunch of arithmetical parlor tricks. The only one I still use is multiplying by 5, which I don’t do very often. If someone could redo that book with an emphasis on decimal-hexadecimal conversion, it might actually be useful for something. Also conversion between integer and IEEE floating-point formats. If there are any tricks out there to be had, it might be worth sending Trachtenberg back to the concentration camp for a few years.

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49 Ray Lopez November 21, 2017 at 11:32 am

TC’s list shows a bit too much emphasis on chess, an unhealthy obsession. Kotov’s “Think like a Grandmaster” has been rightly criticized as unhelpful in its ‘tree of candidate moves’ paradigm, while Fine’s (a practicing psychologist) book, written on short notice, is a pioneering book that indeed is like the way science progresses: a quick leap forward then back and fill.

Kahn’s The Code Breakers is a bit too dry and verbose for most people (though I enjoyed it) and I don’t read fiction that much, so I can’t really comment on the books TC read, though I have thumbed through them and they quickly read like metaphysics without much pedigree (at least the organized religions have pedigree rather than something about a bird musing while it is flying around, free as a bird).

Bonus trivia: at the time of this posting this comment is the 64th comment posted, 64 equaling the number of squares on a chess board.

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50 Guy Makiavelli November 21, 2017 at 2:36 am

>Honorable mentions: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Joy of Sex, all given to me by my mother.

That’s kind of like saying that “Green Eggs and Ham” was a big influence.

> I believe they helped inculcate some of the 1960s-70s ethos of individual freedom into my thinking.

That’s “freedom” in the sense of “freedom to stare at your belly button” rather than freedom to actually think independently. And reading Strauss apparently didn’t cure you.

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51 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Navel gazing is quite illuminating if you have the wisdom to understand what you’re seeing. A navel means that you are a contingent being – you owe your creation to something other than yourself. And so too to your mother and so on! And since you did not create yourself, your very life is not your choice. What is your choice is to view life as a gift or a curse. And still since you did not create yourself, you ‘deserve’ nothing. Grace, not justice, should lead your thoughts.

Navel gazing is not in vain!

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52 So Much For Subtlety November 21, 2017 at 4:44 am

The Making of Star Trek helped me master the details of what was then my favorite TV series, and also to think about cosmopolitanism across different kinds of intelligent beings.

It is an interesting example of the Gramscian march through the institutions – and the use of things like the TV to push a hard left political agenda. Because when Star Trek talked about intelligent beings, most people seem to agree they were talking about race. But to do that they have to do massive violation to common sense and basic science. If we meet any aliens, they are unlikely to be fertile with humans. As leftist SF writers often point out – invading aliens are extremely unlikely to want to rape White women and so that trope has all but disappeared from SF. After all, we are closer relatives of squid than any plausible alien and we don’t interbreed with them. But if they are disinclined to rape, they will be disinclined to marry. Yet they do because it is a stand in for Black-White relations. Many writers manage to maintain both concepts in their head at the same time. After all, the indoctrination of children demands it.

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53 clockwork_prior November 21, 2017 at 6:00 am

‘But if they are disinclined to rape, they will be disinclined to marry.’

That is a truly disturbing perspective – how could any person actually believe that?

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54 clockwork_prior November 21, 2017 at 8:28 am

Seems like only that a select few will ever know.

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55 liberty November 21, 2017 at 8:10 am

So many disturbing and inaccurate pieces here, some of which have already been addressed. But as an avid ST fan, I will point out that, while yes of course ST is (and has never hidden it) addressing issues like race and diversity, and exploring the idea of a post-scarcity utopian future –there are many books on ST you can read to understand the why, the metaphors, and so forth, but essentially in several hundred years it is not unreasonable that technology may have advanced enough that basic needs of all can be supplied to all, regardless of work, “replicators” being based on super advanced nanotech-3d-printer technology; in such a future, might we change as we no longer need to work and struggle to avoid poverty? Could we even achieve world peace? Could all the ills of poverty, such as violence and racism (bred of fear), also disappear?

If this is “a hard left political agenda” I had better let a lot of my libertarian friends (including myself, though I am less libertarian than I used to be) know, because they think that free markets coincide well with these values.

As for why different aliens on ST can inter-breed (sometimes with medical help — medical care is highly advanced by then, of course — is explained — the “progenitors”, an alien race from long long ago, seeded the galaxy with their genes, thus most humanoid species are quite closely genetically related, much more so than humans and squid.

I won’t even bother to give air time to your disturbing comments about rape. Clearly you could use some education in that area, again, others have pointed this out. Please take a breath and think about what you wrote — I’m not trying to be rude, I am very serious.

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56 chuck martel November 21, 2017 at 10:13 am

” Could all the ills of poverty, such as violence and racism (bred of fear), also disappear?”

Why would you feel that violence and racism are “ills of poverty”? People of adequate means and more certainly don’t eschew violence at all, though they may delegate it to others in some contexts. See football, hockey, law enforcement, etc. Poor people are necessarily racist? Maybe. After all, they’re not in a position to structure the social environment in which they live. Some ghetto residents may seldom speak to one of a different ethnicity and are unlikely to go out of their way to do so. On the other hand, fringe members of the elite will see their own gladiators on a regular basis but this familiarity doesn’t always transfer to other ethnicities.

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57 JWatts November 21, 2017 at 10:23 am

It’s not a secret that Star Trek had a Left wing agenda. It’s pretty clear that Star Trek the Next Generation depicted a socialist utopia with open disdain for capitalism.

Of course only an economically illiterate person thinks that replicators would make capitalism obsolete.

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58 Chicken Little November 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

“If this is “a hard left political agenda” I had better let a lot of my libertarian friends (including myself, though I am less libertarian than I used to be) know, because they think that free markets coincide well with these values.”

Funny, because socialists sure did see it differently. I mostly just saw the contradictions, on the one hand they are “post-scarcity” with no money but on the other hand in many episodes were quite capitalist. Post scarcity utopias can be boring.

“I won’t even bother to give air time to your disturbing comments about rape. Clearly you could use some education in that area, again, others have pointed this out. Please take a breath and think about what you wrote — I’m not trying to be rude, I am very serious.”

What you are trying to do is avoid having to make an argument beyond “I’m triggered.”

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59 A Truth Seeker November 21, 2017 at 6:06 am

“Yet they do because it is a stand in for Black-White relations.”

Is this the reason SF aliens try to destroy or conquer mankind?

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60 GHQ November 21, 2017 at 6:15 am

What jazz solos books did you read?
Do you mean transcriptions of solos, or do you mean theory books?
In either case, which?
Do you play any instrument(s), if so which?
What was your objective in reading these books, especially if you do not play any instrument? (Seriously curious about that).

Cordially,
GHQ

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61 Tyler Cowen November 21, 2017 at 8:17 am

I played jazz guitar, some other styles as well, I can’t remember which books, alas…but did study some basic music theory at that age.

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62 Joshua Green November 21, 2017 at 6:52 am

I don’t really play competitive chess like I used to — who does? — but I did (and didn’t) get through my fair share of chess books. Most recently, I thoroughly enjoyed Move First, Think Later and, based on your comments about the other books, I suspect you would too.

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63 CG November 21, 2017 at 6:55 am

And that Ozzie Smith hit .303 w/ 40 doubles in 1987

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64 rayward November 21, 2017 at 7:30 am

The lessons these books have in common is the importance of self-awareness. That an academic would observe he learns by doing is both a reflection of self-awareness and irony. The common theme of the lessons is critical thinking and reading of texts. Of course, it’s not surprising that a student of Strauss and the ancients would appreciate the hidden meaning in texts (discerned from a critical reading). In an interview a while back Cowen identified the Bible as one of the most important books. Biblical scholars emphasize the necessity of a critical (as in close) reading of Biblical text in order to discern the authors’ meaning. That’s ironic considering most Christians adhere to Biblical literalism, which was a consequence of the rejection of a single authority (The Church) to discern the authors’ meaning. Today, rejection of authority has elevated even the dim-witted to the status of expert, and on all subjects not just the Bible (from football to economics to physics). If the dim-witted can be an expert on Biblical interpretation (and what God meant), then why not on all subjects.

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65 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Only a profoundly stupid person would not acknowledge the incredible direct significance of the Bible and the Koran in our daily lives, whether you think the influence is for good or ill. I must assume that’s why Cowen did not mention them, here or in his earlier post.

The problem you’re describing about scriptural literalism and sola scriptura is not isolated to Christianity, although it’s a worthy fight and debate to have (and I try to do my part in the debate). I would say Christianity exhibits less of this behavior than other worldviews, but the behavior is more visible. Internet Atheists tend to have a very dogmatic worldview that relies on fundamentally misunderstanding science, and using that fundamental confusion to justify all other positions.

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66 Sam the Sham November 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm

The above comment was meant to mean the religious texts were “goes without saying” and thus unsaid, not meant as a dig at our host.

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67 WB November 21, 2017 at 7:45 am

For me, at age 10 or 11, it was one book: The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. I was obsessed with the brutality, difficult prose , and exotic locations. I needed to read the stories many, many times over to understand them, often asking my mother to help decipher particularly difficult passages. I remember struggling to follow the opening discussion in “The Purloined Letter” and, at the same time, being blown away by the extraordinary cleverness of its characters.

In many ways, I’m still the same reader I was back then. I commit to one type of literature, read nothing but, until I have fully devoured and digested it.

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68 Art Deco November 21, 2017 at 8:10 am

The book that has influenced me the most is one I can recommend to all of you: The Gorilla Mindset by Michael Cernovich.

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69 liberty November 21, 2017 at 8:12 am

Tyler,
I find it cool that your mum gave you the Joy of Sex (curious: what age?), but more importantly, if you have any sisters, I hope she gave it to them too –for the giving and receiving of joy should be an equal responsibility and reward among the sexes.

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70 clockwork_prior November 21, 2017 at 8:25 am

Our Bodies, Ourselves would be a much better book for sisters, especially in its late 70s/early 80s version . Try as hard as he might, Alex Comfort’s information tended to be quite clearly directed towards males.

(I bought my copy of the Joy of Sex around 16 at a Fairfax Crown Books – lots of useful information, no question. However, compared to the copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves that I read around 1981 – belonged to my first girlfriend – when it came to sex from a female perspective, Joy of Sex was distinctly less insightful, if only because a book written by women describing themselves has the advantage of not only accuracy, but actual experience.)

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71 Chicken Little November 21, 2017 at 10:31 am

LOL

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72 bellisaurius November 21, 2017 at 8:25 am

I think it’s interesting to look at someone’s headspace with these two lists about a decade apart. The first list has a ‘whole world as idea’ feel. I think it could be fairly described as ‘the platonic cohen’.

The second list is a series of tactical, ‘world as playground’ feel. Here are the things I do. Here’s how I interact with the world.

The honorable mentions are probably the core, stuff that goes on in the background. Sort of the moral background that keeps the other two parts running.

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73 Jonathan November 21, 2017 at 8:26 am

Instant Replay was really important to me too, and I’ve never heard of anyone else who felt that way. Particularly since neither of us has any Wisconsin connection. But I then tried reading another sports bio, and another, and another, and finally gave up. Only Ball Four worked for me, and that simply for amusement. Even the well-regarded Bullpen Diaries by Dirk Hayhurst was disappointing. Is there another great sports autobiography?

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74 Ted Craig November 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

It’s not a biography, but Dan Jenkins’ “Semi-Tough” is a send up of the genre.

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75 Zach November 21, 2017 at 6:14 pm

Open, by Andre Agassi. Quite a lot of depth and insight into what it was like to be an all time great at a sport that was chosen for him, that he didn’t really enjoy playing.

Other than that, not many. There’s a big difference between doing and thinking, and athletes tend to be doers.

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76 mkt42 November 22, 2017 at 2:51 am

I liked Bill Russell’s second autobio, co-authored by Taylor Branch, _Second Wind_. What makes a basketball superstar, and a championship team? Raw athleticism is only the starting point, there’ve been hundreds of great athletes who never amounted to anything in the NBA. Russell tells us what were the insights and changes in mentality that transformed him from an athletic but unskilled high school player into a budding basketball genius.

The books is actually only about 1/3 about basketball, and the other 2/3 is well worth reading. Family life in impoverished rural Lousiana and then moving to Oakland, what it’s like to live as a Black man in the USA, etc.

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77 mkt42 November 22, 2017 at 3:31 am

It should also be noted that Instant Replay seems to be generally viewed as the best sports memoir ever, so you might be disappointed by literally every other one that you read.

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78 CM November 21, 2017 at 8:43 am

I wonder if you could talk about the disadvantages to seeing the world through the lens of chess and whether you have made intellectual errors in the past because you thought too much like a chess player?

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79 Anonymous reply to Jonathan November 21, 2017 at 8:51 am

I don’t think there is, not in American sports, anyway. I think the skill to be a really good writer (book-length) is much much rarer than people think. And of course the pool of professional sports people, active and retired, is very small. The Venn diagram overlap is probably zero. Not to say that you could not get a good, even fascinating, book-length transcript of interesting on-air reminiscences from some of the older athletes who serve as commentators, but I wouldn’t expect we will be saying anything like a real-life Remembrance of Things Past from anybody who has had their picture on a sports card any time soon. That being said, apparently Tom Seaver is a really good vintner, and Dick Francis was, I’ve heard, a jockey, but I haven’t read any of his books and I don’t think I saw any of his races.

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80 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ November 21, 2017 at 9:17 am

Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone belongs on more lists. It is widely available, motivational, and gives a peek into a variety of lost cultures foreign and domestic.

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81 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ November 21, 2017 at 9:20 am

Descartes’ Error by António Damásio is good for understanding your own machinery.

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82 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ November 21, 2017 at 9:36 am

If this is specifically about childhood books, I was reading Alistair MacLean, enjoying all the bloody havoc.

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83 Ted Craig November 21, 2017 at 10:19 am

I just finished reading “Instant Replay.” What a contrast between the NFL of 50 years ago and today. What stuck out to me was the casual attitude toward concussions. It is also a good book on management.

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84 Ted Craig November 21, 2017 at 10:20 am

One of the biggest differences is the lack of agents. Kramer tells the story of how one played came to Lombardi at contract time with an agent and Lombardi responded by trading him to the Eagles.

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85 dearieme November 21, 2017 at 10:36 am

I can’t remember what I read at 10-12: Biggles, probably, and the wonderful Just William books.

At 13 I read Trevelyan’s Garibaldi trilogy. The history subject set for that summer’s hols was The 19th Century Italian Wars of Nationalism. Do schools set summer reading nowadays?
On my father’s recommendation I followed up with Prescott on the conquests of the Incas and Aztecs. He was a fine writer but Trevelyan was superb.

Narrative history is good stuff for boys that age, especially if they have been warned about the Whig Interpretation.

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86 A Truth Seeker November 21, 2017 at 11:56 am

Such is the life in Trump’s America…

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87 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ November 21, 2017 at 12:06 pm

No, it is not, actually.

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88 A Truth Seeker November 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm

I am talking about the reactions. They are chilling snapshots of Trump’s America.

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89 Ted Craig November 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I believe you meant to say, “Such was the life in Ford’s America…”

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90 A Truth Seeker November 21, 2017 at 12:36 pm

According to Ford, the State of the Union was not good.

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91 john November 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

“In addition to chess I also was influenced by playing paper and dice war games, most of all Barbossa (the exact title may differ slightly), a really scary game where you have to consider the possibility the Nazis could have won and thus think about the contingency of history. I began to understand that violence could be a reality that stood above all else and how important it was to avoid such a scenario.”

Couple the above quoted insight with a prior statement about the learning by doing over book learning I’m wondering where TC’s understanding of this reality is. Just that abstract understanding (playing board games of “violence” is rather like reading about it) or does that understanding run deeper?

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92 Niroscience November 21, 2017 at 12:20 pm

To his credit, I would charitably read that as a discussion of (literal) game theoretic outcomes leading to conflict/violence and how common they are

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93 urethra franklin November 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm

I learned nothing in school before college. Absolutely zero. But I read on my own and got into a top university.

Public schools are utterly useless as learning centers. They function for social, sport, and arts learning — all done outside of class.

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94 Sheree November 21, 2017 at 8:29 pm

This is a serious and heart-felt question, Tyler:

How did you learn about these books around age 10-12?

Thanks!
Sheree

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95 Tyler Cowen November 22, 2017 at 8:32 pm

Much of it was from pawing around the public library, not from my parents in any case…

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96 mkt42 November 22, 2017 at 3:34 am

Kahn’s _Codebreakers_ is a great book, the newest edition has an added chapter on public cryptography.

Definitely an unusual reading list for a 12-year old.

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97 jb November 22, 2017 at 3:59 am

The Joy of Sex..
I worked at the local library in the early 70’s and one of the two copies of this book, that the library had purchased, was kept in the basement and could only be retrieved upon request.
The other copy, it was rumoured, was kept at the librarian in chiefs home.
And mind you this happened in Denmark, the first country in the world to legalize porn.

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98 anon November 22, 2017 at 1:54 pm

#1. You learn by doing and not simply reading or seeing how others are doing it. Every mathematician will tell you that.

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99 Crayonist November 22, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Correct title is “My 60 Memorable Games”. (Sorry…)

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100 David Walker November 22, 2017 at 9:24 pm

For some reason, Star Trek generated a startlingly powerful literature about how to create great creative product under time pressure:

* The Stephen Whitfield book (his real name was Stephen Edward Poe) was the first to explore in detail all the various aspects of a television show’s production and was one of the first such explorations for any production in cinema and TV.

* David Gerrold’s “World of Star Trek” went much deeper into the nature of story. Gerrold is a great writer still most famous for his writing of the terrific episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”, and for a young sci-fi fan, “World of Star Trek” was a revelation.

* A lot of what I know about literary analysis I learned from Gerrold’s book on the writing of “The Trouble With Tribbles”. I was startled a few years later to realise how much of it I was applying to high school Shakespeare studies.

* Marc Cushman’s “These are the Voyages” books are a terrific study on the value of rework in creativity generally. Rework is crucial and underrated; just occasionally, you hear people at places like The Economist and Pixar talking about its power and centrality. It has helped me immensely in my work as a publication editor.

I’d welcome theories on why all this literature came out of one three-year show. It may be that the original Star Trek particularly appealed to people who love both great narrative and great analytical thinking.

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101 Jeffrey Deutsch November 22, 2017 at 10:48 pm

You want to read an alternative history where the Nazis won?

I give you Harry Turtledove’s (stand alone) novel In The Presence Of Mine Enemies and his short story “The Last Article,” among other works.

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102 bbe November 23, 2017 at 11:30 am

I doubt that my game is in the league of the professor’s but the first chess book that I really read and worked through was Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals. It is what I always recommended for anyone starting out who wanted to raise their game above the drunken dorm room level. I remember it as being more about basic concepts and how to think ahead rather than an encyclopedia of openings, endings, etc.

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103 Mark November 24, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Very cool, thanks

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