What I’ve been reading

1. Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea.  Yes compelling, and a sufficiently influential book that you should read it.  But aren’t you ever tempted to ask: has anyone ever behaved like that?

2. Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History.  An elegantly written book, offering an optimistic take on human nature and cooperativeness.  I am not sure there is anything fundamentally new in here, but I did in fact read and finish it.

3. Juan Williams, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary.  A very good and readable biography of exactly what it promises, also manages to avoid hagiography.

4. R. James Breiding, Too Small to Fail: Why some small nations outperform larger ones and how they are reshaping the world.  A very useful book expanding on the theme that smaller nations have the potential to be much better governed and thus to have smarter policy and greater accountability.

I have not yet read Steven Johnson, Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt, but in general I enjoy his works and find them smart.

There is also Jim Tankersley, The Riches of This Land: The untold, true story of America’s middle class.

Richard W. Hamming, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn is the latest Stripe Press blockbuster.  Here is more information about the book.


1. Peepholes and animal torture are not really my thing, but they seem common enough as human behavior. Admittedly, my main experience with the book comes from the film and the Playboy article featuring the film's stars.

I couldn't agree more. All animals have rights. Torture should be banned. Killing is not acceptable. Life is precious. Eating is murder. How do we really know that hydrogen atoms don't have feelings?

My only impression of the movie (I haven't read the book) was how disgusting it was.

while you were sleeping


rust never sleeps
what we been reading-
the unanimous! supreme court decision that prevents a few states from fubaring the electoral college

For those who have not ordered the piracy book, there is the strange economics question why the hardback is 2 dollars cheaper than the paperback https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545158/enemy-of-all-mankind-by-steven-johnson/

Affiliate links are important in such listings, but why not include a link to the actual opening of the book to whet a reader's appetite? https://stevenberlinjohnson.com/enemy-of-all-mankind-152e5e708887

Hi Tyler, how fast do you read?
How fast do all of you MR readers read?

I was very fast in high school and uni, but nearing 50 and juggling full time job and kids I'm lucky to get 10 pages non-fiction down per day.

As can be seen that Tyler actually highlights the fact he finished a book, writing 'but I did in fact read and finish it'.

Whatever happened to "speedreading?"

speedreading is always a trade off between deeper comprehension and reflecting on the passage you read versus just assimilating the large meaning of the book rapidly.

I too find it hard to read non-fiction very fast.

To me, good fiction requires a lot more time and concentration than non-fiction

Really fast readers don't read every word; they do something a bit more like gulping. Naturally fast readers can read fiction quickly if they want to; people trained to "speed" reade usually can't.

Wrote about it here: https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/the-people-who-share-their-reading-origin-stories/

1) It's really quite amazing that marshal attitudes common in 1945 were laughable when Mishima tried to revive them in 1970.

Quite so, but Mishima's ideas of kicking the United States out of Japan and restoring the emperor were rightly derided as absurd.

Fascists tend to disappear when you nuke them.

Hamming's book was first published in 1996. Learned a few tricks from it.

The Fugitive Slave Law needs to be repealed.

Still cannot tell if this 2018 Hacker News Books comment is from a member of the complacent class, or is from one of those for whom average is over - ""The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to learn" (1996) - because the core principles that drive innovation haven't changed"

The same question could apply to anyone observing this is the latest blockbuster being recycled by a new publisher.

It is admittedly an open question, but have in fact the core principles that drive innovation changed?

Patrick Collison keeps saying silly things (such as it took only 134 days for NASA to launch Apollo 8 after deciding to go to the moon https://patrickcollison.com/fast ) but Stripe Press, if it finds and publishes useful works on progress and innovation -- or republishes existing useful ones -- could be a go-to place to find books that expand our possibilities.

I say this not knowing how good or useful its publications are; until reading Tyler's list I had not heard of Hamming or his book (or Stripe Press for that matter) but Hamming was clearly an innovator of note. The hard question is how well can he or anybody convey in writing the ideas, techniques, mindset, tools, or whatever that help readers become better at innovation? Can this stuff be taught?

Perhaps not directly, but like creative writing or for that matter pretty much anything else, even if it cannot be taught it surely takes practice to become better at it. And a book can be a guide for what and how to practice anything, from innovation to playing basketball. It's not a substitute for getting out on the court, but it can guide our practice.

If companies need to hire diverse, according to TC, why TC is entitled to read exclusively white/japanese male?

Juan Williams is white/japanese?

JW is an honorary badwhite.

i see that fiction is now recognisable by having a title without a colon in it.

Unless it’s classic fiction, such as “Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exnoor.”

Juan Williams missed a chance to boldly stand out from the crowd by using a comma instead of a colon

Ezra Klein fought very hard and ultimately succeeds in not having a subtitle for Why We're Polarized.

Why we are polarized: Ezra Klein

Why I Just Laughed

Who's the translater of the Mishima novel? Is it seidensticker?

3. Juan Williams occupies an unusual place in American journalism: political analyst at Fox News, where he engages in conversations with other Fox celebrities whose reality is as far-fetched as their opinions. His defense is that he is "meeting in the middle", which unfortunately exists only in his mind. I suppose the inclusion of this book in Cowen's new list might be considered in light of the prior blog post on signaling virtuous victimhood.

+1. He frequently offers a very lame counter to standard FOX obsession with taking an extreme left wing comment/point of view and march towards a Stalinist state Juan's not in the middle of anything politically at FOX
Apart from BBG, BBC all televised news is garbage

Someone had to replace Alan Colmes.

williams got booted from narrative
fraught fraught radio right about the time it started getting out of the news business

The Tankersley link is incorrect. Tankersley is an economics reporter for the NYT (formerly for the WP). He has found his voice at the NYT.

>smaller nations have the potential to be much better governed

Says the guy who never, ever misses an opportunity to praise an idea that enlarges the US Federal Government.


Small nations, not small government.

Tankersley link goes to the piracy book. This trend of non-fiction books to have a colon is severely annoying. Nearly every book discussed on the newbooksnetwork.com podcasts has one.

Spot on. And frequently the part of the title following the colon could be a New York Post headline. In Tyler’s list, two books pretend to tell the “true story.”

"pretend to tell the “true story.”"

I always think of that as a red flag. An indication that the author is going to be pushing a narrative rather than relating the facts as they stand.

Is it better to recount a "true story" or reveal a "dirty secret"?

Every man to his own cliché.

Were things better in prior centuries when these classic non-fiction works were written:

"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"
"Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil"

The issue with colons in titles is a legitimate Seinfeldesque quip about the modern world but it seems like an improvement over these verbose titles.

They seem the same. Not everything has to be improvement simply because it's newer, Progressive ;).

Woah - Ennio Marcone just died, notable of Big Movie score fame. That would be a good book - scorers and composers often get exceptional access to sets, stars, and directors of renown. Books of movie making, behind the scenes (in a vision sense, not a gossipy crew sense) and in the Studio are a bit more rare than the success/ value of the Industry should predict.

I recommend:
Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe.
by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee (University of Washington)
It has been 20 years and this is a profound read that gives ALL recent discoveries, insights, and The Possibilities of the ExoPlanet revolution in glorious, insightful context.

Still working my way through some of the TLS summer reading list. Got the latest Julian Barnes The Man in the Red Coat. He, Barnes, just reviewed a Spanish flu novel in the Times, so will probably end up picking that up. Aside from that I have Celestial Hunter. Other fiction is Sketches from a Hunter’s Album, and reading the Aubrey/Maturin books in French— I read so much Chinese during lockdown that I just want a break from it for a few months.

On the nonfiction front, reading Persian Letters, How Innovation Works, Au Revoir Tristesse by Viv Groskop, and Orlando Figes newest book, which isn’t all that new, but has also got me rereading Natasha’s Dance.

Hoping to finish the innovation book, a Aubrey book, and maybe Hunter’s Album this week. Certainly will finish the innovation book, which will probably lead me to rereading his book Genome. And will probably end up setting Persian Letters aside for a few months.

I read Acemoglu, Johnson, Robinson: Institutions as a fundamental cause of long-run growth. Even as they set out to disentangle the identification problems, it is hard to distinguish the hypothesis of a roughly linear relationship between institutional quality and economic development with the hypothesis of a nonlinear poverty trap as a result of bad institutions. You only have a few dozen data points. Moreover this would be complicated by Allow catch-up effects. As interesting as the discussion on settler mortality was, this issue of linearities seems like it might be present there as well.

That said, as a theory of everything -- history and political science and economics -- it is about as appealing a theory as I've ever seen and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it a lot in the future -- why there is no political Coase theorem, about the persistence of rent-seeking...

2. I liked his first book and am looking forward to the new one. I'd love to see a CWT with Bregman (and with Matt Yglesias once his book comes out). I'm not sure what the long run consequences of Bregman's books will be, but I'd be grateful if sci-fi writers took his work seriously enough to reduce the prevalence of dystopian plot lines.

Stripe Press publishes books that are both beautiful and insightful, and The Art of Doing Science and Engineering meets that bar. It's fundamentally a self-help book through the lens of the history of technology. Yes, it conditions on the dependent variable (the techniques and habits of scientists who are already great), but this is true of any "great men" biography, and anyway I am enjoying and learning from it. I'm also watching Hamming's old lectures on it as a supplement. (Here's the first one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD4b-52jtos&list=PL2FF649D0C4407B30). Recommended.

4. Many small nations are racially and culturally the same. Not Nigeria. ... See Biafra. "There Was A Country."... by Achebe. Many small countries are torn by religious and political ties. Cyprus? Bosnia? Croatia? Serbia? Czech Lands in the past. Tunesia?

Chad? Liberia? Congo?

Really do not like this, I mean such a waste of time it was.

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