Belated and Unfinished 2017 Books in Review: Delights, Disappointments and Duds

Delights

Scale by Geoffrey West

Anti-Fragile by Nassim Taleb

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Scoop, a Handful of Dust, the Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forester

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon Wood, Benjamin Franklin by Edmund Morgan.

 

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom (7/10)

Bostrom is the rare breed of scientific writers who can communicate at the event horizon of fascinating, challenging science, without falling into the black hole of bad writing. Earlier short works of his publicly available are: Are You Living in a Computer Simulation and Where are They? about the philosophic consequences if extra-terrestrial life is found. The core thesis is a pressing public policy one: the exponential growth of artificial intelligence is something we are, or will, have a hard time understanding much less controlling. He describes risks in the most seemingly innocuous scenarios – hey, computer prove 2×2=4 – that turns our universe into a computational mush of “computronium” as every atom is pressed into service to help prove this question that was not properly bounded. Does this sound far-fetched? Of course. But reading with three year hindsight that even this alarmist had written that at least humans could still beat computers in Go, a measure of human capacity that fell only months later.

Homo Deus and Sapiens by Yuval Harari (7/10)

These are more historically-oriented, puckish cousins to Bostrom’s work. Deus works especially well as a more practical guide to policy challenges we will have given exponential advances, Sapiens maybe makes one less sad about what is being left behind. Harari can be overly didactic and dismissive at times. But his discussions from first principles of things like banking and the belief system that underlies money or corporations is particularly salient when contemplating the rage of 2017, cryptocurrencies. Animals, and other branches of the Homo race get special consideration in these wide ranging, innovative histories whose reach may extend beyond its grasp in its lightly-sourced take downs of the Agricultural revolution or memorials to the megafauna of Australia. Spirited works, especially if you can take a heaping serving of buddist-animist agitprop.

The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse (6/10)

 

Disappointments and Duds

Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups by Jason Calacanis

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits by Tony Hsieh

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb etc etc by Brad Stone

 

Miscellaneous

Machine, Platform, Crowd by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Platform Revolution by Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Sangeet Paul Choudary

Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson

 

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