2019

  1. Just Giving, Rob Reich (p). The second book on my recent philanthropy kick, since I now work in the field. I agree with most of the book’s punchlines.
  2. Becoming, Michelle Obama (a). Yes, I teared up in public.
  3. Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva (p). #3 on the philanthropy kick.
  4. The Givers, David Callahan (a). #4. Mainly gossip about rich people, which in this case serves a useful purpose.
  5. Why Philanthropy Matters, Zoltan Acs (a). #5.
  6. Reinventing Discovery, Michael Nielsen (a). Part of a recenter kick on scientific progress and how to speed it up. Nielsen talks through examples of how the internet (of 2011) can help science by redirecting expert attention to the areas each expert can most help, and by harnessing collective energy/ideas: Polymath ProjectKasparov vs the WorldMathWorks Challenge. Galaxy Zoo. A fun anecdote I learned from the book: Galileo discovered what later turned out to be the rings of Saturn through a blurry telescope, then sent letters to his friends and competitor Kepler announcing what he’d found — in the form of an anagram. This bought him time to look into it further alone, while ensuring he could claim initial discovery if someone else found the rings too. Kepler decoded the anagram incorrectly, leaving one letter to spare, and took it to signify that Mars had two moons — also, incidentally, true, though not known for a couple more centuries.
  7. A friend’s manuscript (p+a)
  8. Stubborn Attachments, Tyler Cowen (a). Book #2 on my innovation/economic growth kick. It’s short and easily summarisable: we should care about the long term future, and thus do all that we can to increase economic growth, without violating human rights. There’s something compelling about that worldview, but I thought the arguments were kind of fluffy and wasn’t sold. Cowen also prevaricates on a crucial (though admittedly vexed) question: do interventions to increase economic growth increase the growth rate of the economy — incredibly important due to compounding — or just temporarily increase the level of GDP until it gets back onto its original growth trajectory? He says we don’t know which it is, and since there’s a chance it’s the former, that’s worth shooting for — which, to be fair, is a structure of argument I use all the time so touché… but it’s still intellectually frustrating given the book hinges on the question.
  9. Working, Robert Caro (a). I have an intense one-sided love/hate relationship with Caro. His books are long and are always forcing me to read them. E.g. see the third paragraph of my 2018. This new short book about Caro’s process for researching and interviewing made me fall so firmly on the love side that I’m probably, disastrously, going to renew an attempt on the previous books. His meticulousness in pursuit of understanding — moving to the Texas Hill Country for 3 years to understand LBJ’s upbringing; tracking forgotten political actors across countries to discover a private manuscript proving LBJ stole the 1948 Texas Senate election; reading buried correspondence to discover a $10,000 bribe paid from Otto Kahn to Robert Moses in 1926 that unraveled Moses’ public image as incorruptible decades later — makes me hope for a better, truthier world.
  10. The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells (a)