This year I hit a string of bad luck, and ended up putting down most of the books I’d started. Over the years, I’ve really forced myself to finish anything I’d already gotten about 10 percent into, but now I have 2 kids, I was moving homes, and sometimes I just couldn’t take it any more.
But there were a few that stuck with me…
Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by Clive James
This is often long-winded and obtuse, but he has assembled and pretty interesting collection of 20th-century personalities to create a narrative of cultural advancement. I’d never heard of most of these people, and it is interesting to meet them via his very subjective biographical snap shots.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
The further I get away from this book the more I suspect that very few of the arguments actually hold water. The primary reason The Beatles were great was because they had the opportunity to practice a lot? Really? But it’s the actual constructing of the arguments and narratives that’s pretty entertaining and makes it worth the read. The section on plane crashes is great.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This is from my series of self-help books last summer. Anyone looking at my list of recently-read books in August might’ve started wondering if I was about to swan dive off the George Washington Bridge. I wasn’t…I was just doing a little “house keeping” as Sam Harris (author of a lesser one I read, Waking Up, would say). Thinking, Fast and Slow does the satisfying (and wildly over-simplifying) work of categorizing the methods by which humans process information into 2 categories, “fast” and “slow” (“System 1″ and “System 2.” My “fast” reaction to this book was “wow that’s really simple…that’s really, really simple…yeah that’s too simple;” but my “slow” reaction was “it definitely rings right that my own well-considered, calculated, and contrived responses to problems have, not infrequently, set me way back in the wrong direction.” Trust your instincts!…or trust them sometimes.
Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat
How many times can you repeat the same thing over and over in one book? Either James Barrat was toying with this in some kinda post-modern machine-esque tone, or James Barrat is himself some sort of artificial intelligence, still working out a few glitches. Either way, this has a classic doomsday forecast that you can’t help but linger on after reading…When are machines going to surpass human intelligence and thus find us not merely expendable, but too unpredictable to bother keeping around? It’s only logical. It’s also complete fantasy…but it’s kinda fun. (I stole this book from a band mate on tour…sorry, Greg.)
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