Book Notes

(Geo)Pol/Econ/Soc

Caplan, Bryan – The Case Against Education (2018) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW
According to libertarian economist Caplan, a college degree primarily serves to signal that a certain individual is sufficiently intelligent, conscientious, and conformist to finish a four year degree. Meanwhile, the gains in actual human capital are modest to non-existent (as the author flippantly notes, while anyone can come in and sit in at most college lectures, access to university gyms is tightly controlled). Promoting and subsidizing mass higher education is a huge misallocation of resources.

Chang, Ha-Joon – Kicking Away the Ladder (2002) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)
Chang is a South Korean proponent of strategic trade. Adopting Friedrich List’s arguments for the early 21st century, he argues that American free trade rhetoric is largely for foreign consumption.

Dawkins, Richard – The God Delusion (2006) ★★★★
The past 1-2 decades have seen a massive retreat in religion – not just in the US, but in most of the rest of the world. I suspect much of this is driven by YouTube atheists, but where did many of them get their ideas from? Objectively, I think this may be one of the most influential books of the 21st century.

Ford, Martin – Rise of the Robots (2015) ★★★★
Superb overview of the role of automation on the future of leisure and employment – already reverberations of that with the candidacy of Andrew Yang.

Friedman, George – The Next 100 Years (2009) ★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)
China and Russia to fall apart (how convenient). Polish superpower. Mexican superpower. The coming war with Japan. Why does anybody take Friedman seriously?

Fukuyama, Francis – The End of History and the Last Man (1992) *** ★★★★★
This is one of the two “foundational” books of the post-Cold War geopolitical order (the other is Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations). The geopolitical ascent of China and the rise of populism in Europe would appear to refute this Panglossian, fin de siècle vision of universal liberal democracy. Or would it? The “Alt Right” of today are more liberal than the American men who stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Heilbroner, Richard – The Worldly Philosophers (1953) ★★★★★
Political Economy 101: A brilliant and eminently readable history of the “worldly philosophers” and their economic ideas since Adam Smith.

Huntington, Samuel – The Clash of Civilizations (1996) *** ★★★★★
This is one of the two “foundational” books of the post-Cold War geopolitical order (the other is Fukuyama’s The End of History). Huntington argues that future conflicts will center around ancient cultural and religious identities, which are especially likely to occur in “cleft countries” that contain large demographic blocs identifying with separate civilizations. This was borne out in the Ukraine in 2014.

Kahn, Herman – On Thermonuclear War (1959) ★★★★
The inspiration for Dr. Strangelove, this is – in reality – an attempt to objectively analyze the costs of nuclear war (devastating, but survivable) and the most cost-effective way of mitigating it.

Kennedy, Paul – Preparing for the 21st Century (1993) ★★★★

Kroeber, Arthur A. – China’s Economy (2016) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

List, Friedrich – The National System of Political Economy (1841) ★★★★

Liu, Xin – The Otherness of Self (2001) ★ FULL REVIEW (2013)
Only read/reviewed this because it was assigned in college.

Marx, Karl – Capital (1867) ★ ANTI-REVIEW (2018)

McGregor, Richard – The Party (2010) ★★★★
Some takeaway from this deep analysis of the world’s largest and most powerful political organization:
(1) China remains a thoroughly “Leninist” (or NEPist) state; its largest corporations, including nominally private ones, are connected by “red telephones” to Zhongnanhai.
(2) The overweening role of the Organization Department in choosing cadres.
(3) The CPC has a much tighter grip on both the military and regional branches than the CPSU did in the late USSR.

Moldbug, Mencius (Curtis Yarvin) – A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations (2009) ★★★
Will admit I found the foundational text of “neoreaction” to be rather underwhelming. The HBD was obviously not new to me, he seems to believe that supporting Britain in the American Revolutionary War is some great taboo (is that really so?), and engages in long-winded regurgitations of conservative talking points about the supposed global warming hoax.

Myers, B.R. – The Cleanest Race (2010) ★★★★
Convincing argument that Best Korea is more of an ultranationalist state than a Marxist-Leninist one.

Naughton, Barry – The Chinese Economy (2006) ★★★
Introductory textbook to the Chinese economy. Couple of observations:
(1) Chance of dying on the job under Maoism than getting fired;
(2) Perhaps uniquely for any major economy, there were zero positive returns to increasing education until ~1990.

Sachs, Jeffrey – The End of Poverty (2005) ★★★

Smith, Adam – The Wealth of Nations (1776) ★★★★

Smith, Arthur H. – Chinese Characteristics (1894) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2013)
One of the best travelogues ever written.

Steyn, Mark America Alone (2006) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)
Funny writing style, appeals to American vatnik types, ultimately nonsensical but who cares.

Taleb, Nicholas Nassim – The Black Swan (2007) ★★★★

Turner, Jonathan Adair – Just Capital (2001) *** ★★★★★

Ware, Timothy – The Orthodox Church (1963) ★★★★

Yang, Andrew – The War on Normal People (2018) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2019)

 

Science & Futurism

Bostrom, Nick – Superintelligence (2014) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Dartnell, Lewis – The Knowledge (2014) ★★★★

Dunham, William – Journey through Genius (1991) ★★★★★

Grey, Aubrey de – Ending Aging (2007) ★★★

Hanson, Robin – The Age of Em (2016) *** ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Kurzweil, Ray – The Singularity is Near (2005) *** ★★★★★
Series: My Top 5 Most Influential Books

Lynas, Mark – Six Degrees (2007) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Meadows, Donella et al. – Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update (2004) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2010)

Smil, Vaclav – Global Catastrophes and Trends (2008) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

Stager, Curt – Deep Future (2011) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Tainter, Joseph – The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2018)

Tegmark, Mark – Our Mathematical Universe (2014) ★★★★

 

HBD

Bloom, Howard – The Lucifer Principle (1995) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2010)

Chua, Amy – World on Fire (2002) ★★★★

Clark, Gregory – A Farewell to Alms (2008) ★★★★★

Cochran, Gregory & Harpending – The 10,000 Year Explosion (2009) ★★★★

Finlayson, Clive – The Humans Who Went Extinct (2010) ★★★★

Hart, Michael – Understanding Human History (2007) ★★

Jensen, Arthur – The g Factor (1998) *** ★★★★★

Jones, Garett – Hive Mind (2015) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Klein, Richard – The Human Career (1999) ★★★

Lynn, Richard – The Global Bell Curve (2008) ★★★

Murray, Charles – Human Accomplishment (2009) *** ★★★★★

Murray, Charles – Coming Apart (2012) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Murray, Charles & Herrnstein – Bell Curve (1994) *** ★★★★★
Series: My Top 5 Most Influential Books

Papagianni, Dimitra & Morse – The Neanderthals Rediscovered (2013) ★★★

Pinker, Steven – The Blank Slate (2002) ★★★★★

Ritchie, Stuart – Intelligence: All That Matters (2015) ★★★★

Rushton, J. Philippe – Race, Evolution, and Behavior (2000) *** ★★★★★
Series: My Top 5 Most Influential Books

Todd, Emmanuel – The Explanation of Ideology (1985) *** ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Wade, Nicholas – A Troublesome Inheritance (2014) ★★★★

 

Russia

Cohen, Stephen F. – Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives (2009) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Gaddy, Clifford & Hill – The Siberian Curse (2003) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Hoffman, David – The Oligarchs (2001) ★★★★

Hutchins, Chris & Korobko – Putin (2011) ★★★★

Ilyin, Ivan – Our Tasks (1956) *** ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Lucas, Edward – The New Cold War (2008) ★

McMeekin, Sean – The Russian Revolution (2017) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Parshev, Andrey – Why Russia Is Not America (1999) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

Putin, Vladimir et al. – From the First Person (2000) ★★★

Sakwa, Richard – The Crisis of Russian Democracy (2010) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Sakwa, Richard – Frontline Ukraine (2014) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Schrad, Mark – Vodka Politics (2013) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Treisman, Daniel – The Return (2011) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Trenin, Dmitry – Should We Fear Russia? (2016) ★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Trubetzkoy, Nikolay – Europe and Mankind (1920) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

 

History

Arnove, Robert & Graff National Literacy Campaigns (1987) ★★★

Bellamy, Chris – Absolute War (2007) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Diamond, Jared – Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

Dupuy, Trevor N. A – Genius for War (1977) ★★★★

Ferguson, Niall – The Pity of War (1998) ★★★★★
Series: Best Books on WW1

Fischer, David Hackett – Albion’s Seed (1989) *** ★★★★★

Harris, William – Ancient Literacy (1989) ★★★★

Jones, E.L. – The European Miracle (1981) ★★★★

Kennedy, Paul – The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987) *** ★★★★★
Series: My Top 5 Most Influential Books

Korotayev, Andrei et al. – Introduction to Social Macrodynamics (2006) *** ★★★★★
Series: My Top 5 Most Influential Books

Landes, David The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1998) ★★★★

Morris, Ian – Why the West Rules–For Now (2010) ★★★★

Morris, Ian – The Measure of Civilization (2010) ★★★★

Overy, Richard – Why the Allies Won (1995) ★★★★★

Pinker, Steven – The Better Angels of our Nature (2011) ★★★★

Pinker, Steven – Enlightenment Now (2018) ★★★ ANTI-REVIEW (2018)

Pomeranz, Kenneth – The Great Divergence (2000) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2011)

Ricon, Jose Luis – Back in the USSR (2017) ★★★★

Schama, Simon – Citizens (1989) ★★★★★

Schwartz, Benjamin – In Search of Wealth and Power (1963) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2013)

Shirer, William L. – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) ★★★★★

Slezkine, Yuri – The Jewish Century (2004) ★★★★★

Tooze, Adam – Wages of Destruction (2015) ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Tuchman, Barbara – The Guns of August (1962) ★★★★★
Series: Best Books on WW1

Turchin, Peter – War and Peace and War (2006) ★★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2010)

Turchin, Peter – Ultrasociety (2015) ★★★★

 

Memoirs

Grass, Gunter – Peeling the Onion (2006) ★★★★

Scott, John – Behind the Urals (1941) ★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

Trump, Donald – The Art of the Deal (1987) ★★★

Werth, Alexander – Moscow War Diary (1942) ★★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

 

SciFi

Abnett, Dan – Xenos (2001) ★★★★

Bacigalupi, Paolo – The Water Knife (2015) ★★★

Baxter, Stephen – FLOOD ★★★★

Brooks, Max – The Zombie Survival Guide (2003) ★★★★★

Brown, Pierce – RED RISING ★★★★

Card, Orson – Scott Ender’s Game (1985) ★★★

Clancy, Tom – Red Storm Rising (1986) ★★★★

Collins, Suzanne – HUNGER GAMES ★★★★

Forstchen, William – One Second After (2009) ★★★★★

Glukhovsky, Dmitry – METRO ★★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Harris, Robert – Fatherland (1992) ★★★★★

Herbert, Frank – Dune (1965) ★★★★

Hertling, William – Avogadro Corp (2014) ★★★★

Howey, Hugh – SILO ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Huxley, Aldous – Brave New World (1932) ★★★★★

Kunstler, Howard – World Made by Hand (2008) ★★ FULL REVIEW (2009)

Leiber, Fritz – A Pail of Air (1951) ★★★

Lukyanenko, Sergey – Knights of the Forty Islands (1992) ★★★★

Mather, Matthew – NOMAD (2016) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Miller, Walter M. – A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) *** ★★★★★

Orwell, George – 1984 (1949) ★★★★★

Robinson, Kim Stanley – The Years of Rice and Salt (2003) ★★★★★

Stephenson, Neal – Seveneves (2015) ★★★★ PENDING REVIEW

Stirling, S.M. – EMBERVERSE ★★★★★

Voinovich, Vladimir – Moscow 2042 (1986) ★★ FULL REVIEW (2018)

Wingrove, David – The Middle Kingdom (1989) ★★

 

Fantasy

Abercrombie, Joe – THE FIRST LAW ★★★★★
The world-building doesn’t amount to much more than cardboard cutouts of TV Tropes realms – The Union (=The Federation), Gurkish Empire (=The Empire), The North (=”It’s Grim Up North”). The plot is forgettable, and sometimes barely made sense. Yet despite all that, Abercrombie proves that in literature, it is the characters that carry the day: Years on, I still remember the crippled torturer Glokta, the doofy aristo Jezal, and of course the berserker Logen and his band of warriors.

Friedman, C.S. – Black Sun Rising (1991) ★★★★ FULL REVIEW (2013)
Has some cool metaphysics, but lack of interesting plot and characters.

Jacques, Brian – REDWALL ★★★★★

Jordan, Robert – THE WHEEL OF TIME ★★★★

Le Guin, Ursula – EARTHSEA CHRONICLES ★★★★

Martin, G.R.R. – A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE ★★★★★

Pullman, Philip – HIS DARK MATERIALS ★★★★★

Reeve, Philip – Mortal Engines (2001) ★★★★

Rowling, J.K. – HARRY POTTER ★★★★

Sanderson, Brandon – MISTBORN ★★★★★

Sanderson, Brandon – WAX & WAYNE ★★★★

Tolkien, John R.R. – THE LORD OF THE RINGS ★★★★★

Yudkowsky, Eliezer – Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (2015) ★★★★★

 

Literature

Borges, Jorge Luis – Labyrinths (1964) *** ★★★★★

Camus, Albert – The Stranger (1942) ★★★★★

Evola, Julius – Meditations on the Peaks (1974) ★★★

Istvan, Zoltan – The Transhumanist Wager (2013) ★★

Kundera, Milan – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) ★★★★★

Machiavelli, Niccolò – The Prince (1532) ★★★★★

Unamuno, Miguel de – San Manuel Bueno, Martyr (1930) ★★★★★

 

Self-Help

Demarco, M.J. – The Millionaire Fastlane (2011) *** ★★★★★

Durant, John – The Paleo Manifesto (2013) ★★★★★

Roosh V – Bang! (2007) ★★★★★

Wade, Paul – Convict Conditioning (2010) ★★★★