HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method

This book scatters some good points around a thesis that contradicts itself. HypnoBirthing claims that the problem with modern births is intervention: doctors getting in the way of an instinctual process that nature has honed over millions of years. Dogs and cats can give birth without lessons or help, so why do humans need an entire team and toolshed? That's a pretty good question. But then the book immediately follows with several chapters of Things You Must Do instead of listening to The Doctors — in other words, the book insists on its own interventions. e.g. meditations, planning, perineal massage,

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

The author claims that proximity to a job — ranging from those that do the jobs being close and those that assign jobs as far — is a good proxy for knowing whether a job is pointless. If the person doing a job thinks it shouldn't have to be done, then it probably shouldn't. And when those people are asked, a lot of them do think their jobs are pointless, and that if they were to stop performing them, nothing would measurably change in the world. I disagree. Do the pistons in an engine need to know about the tires on the

The Poverty of Historicism by Karl Popper

I was introduced to Popper by David Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity, and also somewhat through parenthetical references made by Nassim Taleb in his books. Both present Popper's ideas clearer than the man himself, in The Poverty of Historicism. Deutsch quotes Popper incessantly, and the ideas he (Deutsch) talks about are awesome. Two that struck me: Most progress is incremental, and more about error correction than consistent correctness.Explanations of sociological facts (like why a war happened) are best described with other sociological facts, and not with physics or mysticism.An example from Deutsch, on the latter: the best

Will: A Memoir by Will Self

Not for me. Might be for you. After having binged a number of Will Self's lectures/debates/interviews online, and having read Tough, Tough Toys..., I wanted to know more. I love his quickness and breadth. I love his disregard for formality and propriety, and complete focus on The Empirically Lived Interesting Stuff of life. e.g., The benefits of nicotine, the state of Brexit, the map to and of creativity, the absurdity of domesticity. Politics, drugs, walking around. it's all on the table, and it's all interestingly woven together by Will Self. Knowing he came from addiction made me

Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys by Will Self

Spoilers Incoming The opening scenes of drug dealers and rip offs sets up an expectation that Tough, Tough... will be some dime-store thriller, Cowboys & Indians, 007 and Goldfinger. But that expectation is wonderfully, satirically subverted with the literal crack mine — a pit of crack cocaine one could harvest with a pick axe — and the drop off ending. The remaining stories are similar subversive and satirical. I kept expecting the straight-to-DVD type cliches — "And I would've gotten away with it, too..." — but Self takes the stories in these incisive character-driven directions, and the characters are unexpected and smart. This theme

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

Rambles: The idea that collective intelligence is its own independent entity, that we can contribute to, from the bottom up. You more commonly hear about how collective centralized planning fails, and less about how trade and specialization succeed. Liked that. There's a lot of talk about how the infrastructure for sharing ideas has improved dramatically over the years — i.e. the internet — and how that allows for a new scale of prosperity, since prosperity is based on the sharing of good ideas. However, Ridley doesn't really touch on how that same scale might make us vulnerable. Where a bad idea

The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson

Probably prescient, but a few things lose this book a star or two for me: There's a skewed moral undertone: the author seems to imply that the predicted thriving of sovereign individuals is not only inevitable, but right. Which very well might be the case, but at the same time the book has no problem writing off all the "left behinds" as a calculated externality, neither right nor wrong, just part of the physics of the thing, no more good or bad than inertia. To me, a better book would either (a) make the prediction with more academic precision, and

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

This is revealing in ways the author didn't mean. It's juvenile, not heroic or enlightening. Stories about high heels, trips to Paris and Germany, being absurdly overpaid, deserving to explore love interests outside of her marriage, first class tickets, three star meals, therapeutic purchases of overpriced handbags, sex in the back seats of cars, the I'm chic for still liking grunge bands in her 40s, the burden of guilting parents who still managed to provide for all the middle class expectations of a girl whose friends unfairly got to buy Prada and to go on yacht trips and to drive

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

I couldn't get through it. I thought The Magic Mountain would either be (a) an explicit exposition of pre-war and war time, mixed with some kind of class analysis; or maybe (b) an investigation of exceptional personal sickness and being surrounded by those also sick, while all together trying to come to terms with mortality and material expectations; or maybe (c) it'd be some arty analogy, painting Europe at the time in the form of a sanatarium. Perhaps I just don't have the background of the era or maybe my expectations were flatly wrong, but none of the above landed

My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård

You don't remember people's faces or what they say, but you remember all the inconsequential details of that one time you were embarrassed by work 20 years ago? You don't have the courage to do something about your grandmother sitting in her own piss for several days, as you clean the house you let her fester in for years? Your brother hasn't introduced all his children to their own blood? Your father is a worthless alcoholic, he dies, and you dedicate a whole book to describing your reaction to the death, but the actual description and characterization of that father

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Having never read any of Rilke's poetry, I was told by a friend to read this, my expectation being that it was profound and beautiful. I ended up rolling my eyes through most of it. Rilke comes off as some sniffly blowhard hipster. School is too difficult, Paris is impossible to focus in, Christmas is a drag, Italy's art is too temporally disconnected to be taken seriously. I would send you some of my work, but I'm so poor that I can't afford to; please go buy a publication, Dear Mr. Kappus. Did I mentioned we're staying my friend's summer

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Warning: this text may contain spoilers My main problem was this: if you imagine the male characters female and the females male, the story reads entirely the same, with most of the consequences of power being stereotypical, over simplified, bond-villain-style tropes of masculinity. The ending confirms the suspicion, that the premise of the book is this: power corrupts universally and simply. And for that, the book loses impact. I don't agree with the premise. People are complicated. Organizational power structures are not simple. The world is multivariate. Power is not one thing, and strength is only one variable in the

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

On point, but a bit dragged out and ornamental. It's like you want to know what happens after and under all this acid talk, like give me some direction or deep explanation, but instead you keep getting this flowery alliterated enumerations of all the stuff the hippies are talking about. Which, after a while, one realizes is a perfect mirror of the acid movement itself. Another (I read The Painted Word first) subtle, subversive, steel-manned criticism from Tom Wolfe.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

When I was a kid going to church, I got a prescription that was top down: Christ is god, Heaven is real, be good or else, believe what the books say. All other explanation was filling in the gaps below these claims. If Christ lived, what was his life like? Enter the Gospels. If God is all powerful, what exceptional work has he done? Enter the stories of the Old Testament. This was religion by deduction, with Christ being the unquestionable axiom. The literal truth of the story was all important, and the lessons less so. In my head: doubting

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I'm not sure who this book was written for. It wasn't me, which is fine. Best case, this was written for other strugglers, those curious and intelligent enough to want to break out of their own binds, but who are limited without the right model of their own problems or the right example of a feasible solution. It's written at a high school level, not in the sense that it has grammar issues or is incoherent, but in that it's so simple and full of cliches and unironic tropes that only someone who hasn't read much or seen much could

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

There's good advice in this book, clouded by a lot of senseless drama. The story of how Goggins survived his childhood abuse, got through his military training, and accomplished so many athletic goals is impressive enough. The challenges he makes to the readers and the explanation of the battle in his mind, the description of what it takes to run 100 miles, that's interesting and useful. But to me, it is made much less impressive by his deciding to run on broken legs, push through kidney failure, and work out while in arrhythmia the morning of heart surgery. The absurdity

Circe by Madeline Miller

Somewhere in the middle of this book I had begun to think that Circe was a simple instrument for playing back the popular stories of Greek mythology in a short, indulgent form. Circe, The Greek's Greatest Hits, a mixtape by Madeline Miller. The writing is pretty and elegant (e.g. Aeetes describing his godhood as a column of water, Helios's regality, etc. gotta come back and edit in actual quotes, but don't have the text with me); the stories are familiar (e.g. Prometheus, Icarus, The Minotaur); the perspective (i.e. Circe's) feels alternative and thus fresh, but not, initially,

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I wanted this book to be more. I thought its reputation meant it was more than just a time-passing novel, and perhaps it'd be something of a psychological dissection. Like, maybe this was the book that would get into the details and provide the palpable empathy of what it was like to be a slave, and further what it was like to participate in the actual underground railroad. Maybe it'd describe the atrocities in independent and full color detail. Where a high school education might tell you that people were brutalized, dehumanized, whipped, lynched, etc. a novel has the potential

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

War is abstract for people like me. Occasionally I'll watch Mark Wahlberg kill terrorists over a beer, and that's only ever during the downtime between bouts at work, a place where I'm saturated with idiosyncrasies that are even further removed from politics and culture and the contention they stir up. Bush's got his mission, Obama's sending drones out, Trumps doing Syrian things, I'm thinking about whether the corporate software I write could be 7% faster and if I should eat eggs for dinner or go shop for proper groceries. So when I think about war and ideology, it's easier for

A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin

At first I thought this book was a bit rough. It starts out with what feels like this exaggerated character: a quiet loner type kid, with synesthetic skills in visualization and spatial awareness, develops into this fantastic mathematician simultaneously obsessed with his extraordinary work, yet casually involved in multiple prodigious side projects, and also socially capable and involved in enough personal relationships to sleep around with half a dozen distinguished women, taking the occasional hit of acid for good measure. It's a wild ride believing that all of it is possible for one person, but at some point it comes

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Identity Politics, as a title and as an argument, has been exhausted for me. I didn't really have a horse in the race, and was and am interested in other things. I'm in a privileged position, sure -- not that I accept, blindly or meekly, all the handicaps of empathy and understanding that that work is supposed to damn one to. But I do realize that my experience is different and easier than others'. As are most my friends', regardless of their group affiliations, self-ascribed or otherwise. But back in 2015 when I saw Nicholas Christakis being screamed in a

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

It's 220am, months after I first picked this book up (again, for a third attempt) and I've finally finished the thing. First thing I did was Google "ending explained" 'cause I'm dumb, and I get to an explanation written by Aaron Swartz -- an idealist programmer I used to follow, who killed himself after a dramatic copyright legal battle. So that's weird. And Swartz's concise explanation of the plot, which I make the distinction by mentioning "the plot" so as to contrast against all the themes of and observations made within the book, which are seemingly more significant and yet

The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 (Abridged) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

At just over 400 pages in an abridged form, The Gulag Archipelago took me over a year to finish. The way I took it in, it's a difficult book, and I've probably forgotten more than I currently remember. Digression: I need to start taking notes as I read, especially with books like this one: academic books, books you're responsible for reading not because they're fulfilling or gratifying, but because they're informing. Informing in either a direct sense, as in the information is scarce and important and a lesson for how to or not to act; or in a derived sense,