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What I read

People sometimes ask me what I read. I’ve replied to a few e-mails with small selections, but I guess I should write it down a little bit more elaborately and share it. I don’t read much fiction, and not all that many books. I’ve been buying e-books from Amazon recently. I have a Kindle but I’m mostly reading e-books through the Kindle app for my iPhone. I do read loads and loads of long and short articles and blog postings using Google Reader as my interface. The few twitter accounts I follow and Google News alerts I have set are also in my Google Reader feed.

Books:

First off, here’s a selection of some of the books I have been reading in the past 6 months or so. (The book title is a link to the Wikipedia article for the book. If the author’s name is a link, it’s a TED talk by the author dealing with the same subject matter.

The first book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, I read after I wrote my keynote for the 2010 CCC Congress in which I worried, among many other things, about the extent to which our society is medicating unhappiness and the political impact thereof. But this is not an activist book as much as it is a work of science journalism, thoroughly investigating the scientific basis for various classes of psychiatric medications. The picture that emerges however is quite a bit more sobering than even I had expected.

The next books are about the economic situation we’re in. Griftopia is by Matt Taibbi, a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, who is both hilarious and quite talented in explaining many of the extremely complex issues in laymen’s terms. Vultures Picnic is by Greg Palast, the ‘Lonely George’ of a particular type of investigative journalism. His is the story of tracking down some of the worst global economic offenders and sometimes suffering as a consequence. (If you like him, also check out “Armed Madhouse” about the Bush era White House.) The Big Short is the story of a handful of people in the financial world that saw the sub-prime crisis coming and how they made a handsome profit from it, all the while trying to tell the world this was all just so crazy.

Drift by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow (who is as smart and hilarious as Jon Stewart) is a careful study on how over the past 50 years US military power has become gradually immune to outside influences such as democracy. Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air is highly recommended for the geeks amongst my readership because it teaches you to think quantitatively about various sources of sustainable energy without falling for the huge amounts of bullshit that are flying about.

The next books deal with various aspects of the more general mess we’re in. Limits To Growth, the original is from 1972, hardly needs an introduction. If only the world had understood the central message 3 or 4 decades ago. The Great Disruption describes the situation we’re in and the immediate future and manages to end with an only slightly contrived message of hope. The Long Emergency is a more distinctly American perspective on the same circumstances, but Kunstler has clearly thought through a rather dystopian future. I’m planning to read his book “Too Much Magic” next, so I can’t tell you yet what that’s like.

As much as I believe our civilisation is facing its most existential problems to date, I do try to read as much as I can from the opposite point of view as well. In The Rational Optimist author Matt Ridley tries to debunk all the current doomsday theories by arguing the world is only getting better day by day. He does make some excellent points, and the narrative on Ideas Having Sex which is part of the book is well thought out and not something I would argue with. He does succeed in making one think twice about raising the alarm. Ultimately his line of reasoning fails to convince me though. I feel he systematically ignores or belittles a lot of the fundamental problems we’re facing by pointing to upward curves and essentially making the argument that a curve that has always been going up must forever go up. His proof seems to mostly consist of pointing to previous theories of doom that failed to materialize. Which is all too bad, because I really liked some of his previous work. His 1994 popular science book “The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature” taught me a lot of what I know about humans, sex and evolution.

As you probably know by now I believe human civilisation is headed for serious trouble at the “Fall of the Roman Empire except global and made much worse by climate change” end of the scale. But I’m honest enough to admit that confirmation bias and the composition of my daily information diet are causing me to be in my very own filter bubble. I am therefore very grateful for any suggestions for thoughtful papers, articles and (popular-)scientific works that argue that, maybe barring a few hiccups here and there, we’re basically going to be fine. Please use the comments for this, so other people can join in.

Blogs etcetera

Below is a long lost of some of the things I read. Some have many posts a day, others barely post anything. The list is in no particular order, contains all sorts of things and finding out what these are about is part of the fun of clicking around. I think. Or maybe I am too lazy to write descriptions. Although I like most of these, please note that I do not necessarily agree with or endorse any of these sources beyond admitting that I look at at least some of the stuff that is posted there.

Today

As an example, here are two excellent articles that appeared in my feed today:

11 comments to What I read

  • Ellen

    Thanks for your reading list. I love to see this stuff.

    I’m curious how you think about the book ‘Abundance’ by Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis. It’s not negative at all and uses many examples from technology to predict an area of abundance. There’s also a TED talk about the ideas.

  • rop

    Ellen: I’ve put it on my list of things to read. Will let you know.

  • rop

    Ellen: have read it. This is by the ‘Singularity University’ people.

    I agree with most of what’s written here:

    http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/105703/the-naked-and-the-ted-khanna

    I’m a little tired of these 3rd generation life extension believers going all hosanna over technologies that, while they hold considerable promise, must perform ever greater miracles to save us. You can’t solve crises by just by sticking ‘nano’ in front of every technology we have today.

    The guy they quote on geo-engineering himself says he thinks it’s not a good idea and that we need to drastically reduce CO2 output.

    They quote Ridley extensively (he is part of their central argument even). I’m afraid I think this is another case of “it has grown so far so it must keep on growing”, mixed with pandering to the very rich (who fund their enterprises).

    Unimpressed…

  • Ellen

    @Rop: Thanks for reacting.

    I’ve read the article in the link, however I’m afraid I don’t understand most of it. For me this looks like a big web of arguments that are woven together into something that becomes totally unclair to me. It feels more like a ‘we versus them fight’ than clear arguments against the Abundance-book. But maybe that’s what differences in opinions and worldviews often are about?

    Anyway, I like the clair and clever way of thinking you show on your blog and I’m happy with the reading list you shared with us. Keep up your good work! Maybe it’s time for me to read more from your readinglist, to understand your standpoints better. Thanks for the reply.

  • Julius

    Some more filter bubble and confirmation bias: http://youtu.be/UCsxH1-J2aw?t=13m57s

    Lonnie is simply a realist, and unfortunately (for the world) I think you are too..

  • Willem

    You might be interested in http://theautomaticearth.com.

    Raul Meijer and Nicole Foss used to post on “The Oil Drum”, but started their own site “The Automatic Earth” some years ago.

    I think they do a very good job explaining and analyzing the current political/financial/social/environmental state of the globe, everything properly documented and referenced.

    Unfortunately they are not very optimistic about the future of our children..

    Cheers,
    Willem.

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