What I’ve been reading

1. Jackie Chan, with Zhu Mo, Never Grow Up. “My ankle joint pops out of its socket all the time, even when I’m just walking around, and I’ll have to pop it back in.  My leg sometimes gets dislocated when I’m showering.  For that one, I need my assistant to help me click it back in…I can’t lift heavy objects.”  He needed brain surgery after filming Armour of God, and he sustained permanent hearing loss in his left ear.  Recommended, if you like the movies.  And: “That was how I pursued girls, I overwhelmed them.”

2. John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.  “…the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can only be understood if it is placed in the context of the hermetic tradition.  The distinctive doctrines of the church — preexistent spirits, material spirit, human divinization, celestial marriage — are opaque unless we explore their relationship to the evolving fusion of hermetic perfectionism and radical sectarianism occupying the extreme edge of the Christian tradition from the late Middle Ages into the early modern age.”

3. Guy Arnold, Africa A Modern History: 1945-2015, second edition.  It is hard to image that a 1077 pp. doorstop kind of a book on “Africa” might be very good, but in fact this one is.  It is the best book on contemporary Africa and its (recent) historical roots that I know.  I am reading this book all the way through.

4. Cass Sunstein, How Change Happens.  How does social change happen, organized around Cass’s favorite topics, such as nudge and polarization and cascades.  This book doesn’t cover everything, but it is one of the essential introductions to a topic that is very difficult to handle.  And I am happy there is no subtitle.

Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist, A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, is a good and correct “green” take on the case for nuclear energy.

The Cato Institute has put out Michael D. Tanner, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor, and Randal O’Toole Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love are Not the Transportation We Need.


Once again no books on STEM (no, that climate change book is about policy not science). Rather than complain too much, here's some recommendations.

1. Instead of a book about Chinese entertainment. How about Chinese science? You will learn so much here:


Did you know that China is in the middle of building the world's largest particle accelerator? Did you know that they just landed on the dark side of the moon, a first for mankind? That their research on perovskites could lead to new technology like better batteries.

2. Instead of Mormon Cosmology, how about the "Cosmos" series from deGrasse Tyson. Yes, he is being #meToo'd but science is about reality not just hurt feelings.

3. Reading about the dark continent is fine but a new edition of Erickson's Algorithms will help you get a six figure Trump-proof job at Big Tech company.


"Yes, he is being #meToo'd but science is about reality not just hurt feelings."

Reality is he is toast and deservedly so.

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Spent one hour reading Erickson's Algorithms instead of writing my own book... Thanks for the links anyway.

+1 on Erickson. Scapegoat Trees were new to me. Thanks.

There isn't a "dark side of the moon". As all STEMians should know.

"I am reading this book all the way through."

And this time, Prof. Cowen really, really means it - no liberation until the book is finished.

After all, there is the normal meaning of reading a book, and then there is the exquisitely Straussian definition that Prof. Cowen generally uses in its place.

'can only be understood if it is placed in the context of the hermetic tradition'

Sounds classier than hucksterism on the part of an individual, admittedly. Less historically grounded in the actual events involving golden plates written in a 'reformed Egyptian' language, admittedly, but there are always tender sensibilities to keep from being too bruised by simply reporting what occurred.

It seems you have no respect for Mormonism. Admittedly, this is obvious from your comment, admittedly.

Really, you really perfectly caught the written tics, really.

As for respect for Mormonism? Talking about historical facts concerning Smith is not a sign of disrespect. In the same way that talking about historical facts regarding L. Ron Hubbard is not a sign of disrespect of Scientology.

Of course, simply not believing the stories either men told is not a sign of disrespect either. There are a number of beliefs I do not believe in - to say I am disrespecting all of those beliefs seems a bit absurd, as basically all those holding a particular belief do not believe in the different beliefs of others.

Being Catholic is not a sign of disrespect for the LDS, or vice versa.

And facts remain facts, regardless of belief. No one has found any evidence for a 'reformed Egyptian' language - 'The Book of Mormon, a work of scripture of the Latter Day Saint movement, describes itself as having originally been written in reformed Egyptian characters on plates of metal or "ore" by prophets living in the Western Hemisphere from perhaps as early as the 4th century BC until as late as the 5th century AD. Joseph Smith, the movement's founder, published the Book of Mormon in 1830 as a translation of these golden plates. Scholarly reference works on languages do not, however, acknowledge the existence of either a "reformed Egyptian" language or "reformed Egyptian" script as it has been described in Mormon belief. No archaeological, linguistic, or other evidence of the use of Egyptian writing in ancient America has been discovered.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_Egyptian

I bleeve dat!

It's kinda fun to follow the apologist theory du jour. Or maybe that's the 19 year old missionary in me.

No respect for Mormonism? You mean, someone who believes in science and DNA instead?

Here, I'm with you. I'd rather think it was part of no tradition at all. The golden plates business did have some context, though - a book I read about western New York (well, it was ostensibly about the Erie Canal, but everyone in the vicinity being so batshit crazy kept drawing the author away from his original topic) talked about treasure-hunting (gold, Indian relics) in the hills being a popular weekend pastime, in Joseph Smith's "set," sort of the rock climbing of its day. As if in a children's game, it seemed they were able to enjoy this without ever actually finding anything until the day they found the golden plates. Perhaps this was a fresh-air alternative to going to hear lectures scientifically proving the date of the Rapture.

I recall that attendees of the latter were sad when the end failed to come, but am I misremembering? How strange, in a New World full of possibilities. Anyway, the calendrical authority would soon rally everyone - "I forgot leap years, darnit!" or whatever - and supply a new date on which to fasten. Maybe when half the people you're burying are children it drives you mad.

Those western New Yorkers are not my people, so even though I came for the canal, I stayed for the crazy, fascinated to learn more about this side of Yankees that had been ... under-emphasized?

'And I am happy there is no subtitle'
- amen to that!

2. Christian sectarianism? Few Christians are conscious of just how sectarian the history of Christianity has been. In the early years the dispute was over the divinity (or Christology) of Jesus. That's right, He was not always considered to be divine. Or if He was divine, He was adopted by God, at His birth, at His baptism, at His death, or at His resurrection, take your pick. If one reads the four canonical Gospels closely, one will see four different Messiahs. It's the last Gospel, John, that has become orthodox: Jesus always was, which was confirmed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 (and reflected in the Nicene Creed). One can read just the opening paragraphs of John and recognize a very different religion than the religion in the other three Gospels, John being other worldly. And these were not minor differences. If one reads closely the three Letters of John, one will see the sectarianism: no, love one another doesn't mean love everyone or even every Christian, it means love like-thinking Christians. While Mormonism may be the most recognized version of "hermetic perfectionism and radical sectarianism", it's a growing trend. The fastest growing Christian churches are independent evangelical churches, often referred to as "community" churches, each led by a charismatic founder. Community is an accurate description, for these are hermetic (complete and airtight) and sectarian: one is either a member or one is not, and if not, Lord have mercy on your soul. The community churches have grown at the expense of the traditional Christian denominations, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalean, etc., each of which has its own hierarchy for both determining the meaning of the faith and enforcing it, which disguised the sectarianism beneath. The splintering of Christianity into an independent church for every "community" will test what it means to be a Christian.

The Guy Arnold book looks interesting. As for "It is the best book on contemporary Africa and its (recent) historical roots that I know", have a look at "The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence" by Martin Meredith as well, as it presumably covers similar territory and is a well-written and highly readable book. (I'm something of a layman reader of African history, and have yet to visit the continent, but I can recommend it as a reader.)

I haven't visited either. I'm sure my ancestors sixty thousand ago left for very good reason.

It was a sh*thole then too!

4. Wholesale electricity prices in Australia averaged around 5.8 US cents per kilowatt-hour last year. No one is willing to build a commercial nuclear power for anything close to that price so commercial nuclear power plants will not be built.

There's coal in the hole! A lotta coal!

There's a whole lotta coal, but we're using less. Australian coal consumption last year was 17% below its peak in 2008.

"4. Wholesale electricity prices in Australia averaged around 5.8 US cents per kilowatt-hour last year."

It's really amazing that residential prices are so high...

See Figure 6 for retail rates

Once daily supply charges are added in I often pay over 50 Australian cents or 36 US cents per kilowatt-hour of grid electricity used.

Goldstein/Qvist: “How some countries have solved climate change...” Climate change is either solved or it isn’t. It is not solved in one place and unsolved in another. It is global, and therefore whatever “some countries” are doing, it is impossible to know what effect those things are having on climate. It’s the whole that matters.

The Journal of Mormon History had a roundtable issue on Brooke's book that you might find interesting: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jmormhist.41.issue-4

Brooke is a bit dated. For early Mormon history and theology, I'd recommend

Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling (Knopf, 2005).

Samuel M. Brown, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Terryl L. Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (Oxford University Press, 2014).

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