What are you reading?

By Razib Khan | November 13, 2011 10:12 pm

I haven’t had time to read a book front to back in 2 months. Probably the longest period I’ve gone like this since I was 13. I plan to “binge” as much as I can over the Holidays. Is there anything interesting you’re reading? And yes, I already have The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined on my Kindle.

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  • Polynices

    I just finished “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” (http://www.amazon.com/Admiral-Ocean-Sea-Christopher-Columbus/dp/0316584789) about the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus. Neat book. The reviews on that Amazon page give a pretty good flavor of the book, IMO.

  • Elais

    I’ve been reading “A Cooperative Species” by Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis. Its a fun account of how morals and cooperation emerged in human societies. On the fiction side of things, I’m starting “The Confusion”, book two of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. I really liked the first book’s portrayal of scientists and the detail given to the various quirks in their personalities.

  • http://www.bradbrad.com Brad Daly

    Cairo: The City Victorious, by Max Rodenbeck

    The World, By Jan Morris

    The two best books I’ve read this year are The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.

  • http://www.adamesmith.co.uk Adam Smith

    I recently read My Beautiful Genome by Lone Frank, about the current state of play in the genomics industry. Some of the interviews with folks at companies such as deCODEme and GenePartner are illuminating!


    Happy reading!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i have frank’s book. plan on hitting it over xmas.

  • Grad Student

    A few recommendations based on some of the books I’ve read this year, focused on more serious non-fiction. You might have read some of them already:

    1. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Excellent science writing, a history of cancer)
    2. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (The story of mass migration of African Americans to the North during Jim Crow)
    3. The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson (Judson died this year, I came across his obit in the NYT, which prompted me to find this book. Probably the definitive history of the dawn of molecular biology)
    4. Ratification by Pauline Maier (Excellent, incredibly well research history of the ratification of the US constitution).
    5. Gunfight by Adam Winkler (Very interesting, historical examination of gun rights in the United States. It’s about as non-partisan as it’s possible to be on the subject).

  • http://ski-jumping.tumblr.com/ Daniela

    Maybe try some fiction. Jonathan Franzen’s novels are always a good escape, and so are Ian McEwan’s. Or the new Star Trek graphic novels 😉

  • B.B.

    Currently 2/3 of the way through Democracy: The God That Failed. After I’m done with that I plan on reading Genius: The Natural History of Creativity by Hans Eysenck.

  • Antonio

    I am trying to read After Tamerlane but I am so busy reading stats manual on longitudinal models …. I am not unhappy but I would like to see stuff other than matrices, likelihoods and computer code…

  • http://emilkirkegaard.com Emil

    I was giving som advice to a person about wich books to reed about evolutionary thinking and i mentiond Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and then it hit me that i hadn’t red it myself, so now i am. It is prety light reeding and feels similar to his Religion as a Natural Phenomenum.

  • Martyn

    While unpacking boxes in our new place I picked up a copy of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Didn’t think I’d enjoy it, but was curious to see what the first page was like. Was hooked immediately and reading it whenever I have a spare few minutes (which isn’t much at the moment!). ~Can definitely recommend it, or ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli for something a bit different.

  • Charles Nydorf

    Its a good year for history of science. I enjoyed Jim Baggott’s “Quantum Story”, Louisa Gilder’s “The age of entanglement”, Thomas Grissom’s “The Physicist’s World”, and Kenneth W. Ford’s “101 questions about the quantum.”

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I just finished Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times”, which I don’t recommend. Before that was Kuhn’s “The Copernican Revolution”, a better and shorter book. I decided to read it after Matthew Yglesias listed it as among those that most influenced him, saying the standard story people here was all wrong. And then after I read it I found him citing Kuhn while repeating old myths he had sought to debunk.

    I was planning on following up with Joseph Tainter’s “Collapse of Complex Societies”, but my local library doesn’t have it.

  • Mary

    I am currently reading Washington, a Life by Ron Chernow. Accessing newly edited archival material, Chernow has written a page turner. It’s some consolation to realize that the founders had as many crazy nutwings to deal with as we do today. People are always going to be the same.

  • JB Tait

    1493 by Charles C. Mann

  • Naughtius Maximus

    Just past the halfway point of A Dance with Dragons; I read them alll after each other thinking the fifth one was the last. Apparently there are two more and Martin likes to take his time.

  • FredR

    I’m reading Bourdieu’s Distinction and it’s pretty good.

    p.s. How could you not like Modern Times?

  • Jacob Roberson

    Pieces of Marcus Aurelius from time to time. Never have been able to retain Koine despite schooling and private study, but then again without using it how should I? So I work with two copies and a dictionary and translate bits here and there.

    Like Mary says above, the funny thing is the similarity to the thinking of today. Today I was reading: Everyone must do what is in accordance with their constitution, and all other parts of the person have been constituted for the sake of the rational part, just as in every other case the lower exist for the sake of the higher. But rational beings have been made for the sake of each other.

    Pretty sophisticated for a cave man.

  • pconroy

    I find that it’s difficult to read in the subway – where I have most time – as there is a lot of jostling and pushing, so physically difficult to keep a book or book reader steady. As I’m also prone to motion sickness, I can only read for 15 minutes or so before it begins to set in.

    A friend recommended Audible.com’s app for iPhone and Android, as you can crank up the reading speed to a max of 3x. I find that 2x is very legible, but 3x a little too demanding. So that might be a good alternative for people in New York or other cities with subways…

    Slightly OT, but does anyone have a good introduction/primer for Mises that they have personally read and recommend – for a non-economics major person?

  • GH

    Just finished “On The Edge: My Story” by Richard Hammond of Top Gear fame, before that “Barnum Brown: The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus Rex” by Lowell Dingus and Mark Norell- very good read. Just started “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach.

    I’ve been challenging myself to read more non-fiction than I have in the past. I do have some fiction on standby as well- “Doc” by Mary Doria Russell, “Gideon’s Sword” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and lots of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. Now to find more time…

  • Zora

    _Reamde_, by Neal Stephenson. One-third done, so far so GREAT. Narrative elements: MMORPGs and general geekiness, hackers of various countries/ethnicities (American, Chinese, Hungarian, Eritrean …), marijuana smuggling, bikers, Russian mafia, jihadis, M16, guns, explosions. Waiting to see if Stephenson can pull off a good ending, something at which he often fails.

  • Kiwiguy

    For a laugh I’d recommend ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ by Philip Roth. Hilarious, laugh out loud funny.

    Paul Johnson’s ‘Intellectuals’ is an entertaining muckraking of the lives of several prominent figures over the last 300 years.

    The new Steve Jobs autobiography?

  • Jason Malloy

    Mann’s 1493 and Trivers’ The Folly of Fools.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    FredR, there’s waaaaaaay too much special pleading. And he keeps on going on about how the new century brought relativism and that caused all the bad things, even while acknowledging that Japan was in many respects (particularly those he’s criticizing) similar to ancient Egypt, nevertheless moral relativism is to blame even if there’s no demonstrated linkage between what europeans thought and anyone else did. And since I’ve been reading a lot of Sumner as of late, his Rothbardian account of the 20s and Great Depression irritated me. He admits that there’s no evidence of inflation in the 20s but says that’s just masked by productivity improvements (the inflation under Nixon’s presidency gets no mention since Johnson finds it more important to indict the press for revealing things about Nixon that they hadn’t done for previous presidents). Keynes was a sodomite and as far as Johnson is concerned that tells you what to think of his ideas (Hoppe gives an actual argument for a connection between the two, Johnson is pushing an implicit halo effect), monetarism is only mentioned in the Thatcher era and treated only as a tag-line rather than an idea. And since the deaths in the trenches caused many to write about the futility of war Johnson (who never served in a war) responds that many of the casualties were “misfits or failures”. Surely such types number among the casualties as well, but it’s one of the worst arguments I’ve heard.

  • Kiwiguy

    @ TGGP, have you read Johnson’s ‘Enemies of Society’? He really comes off the long run up there. John Derbyshire quotes him in this piece.


  • Spike Gomes

    Currently reading “Buddenbrooks” by Thomas Mann, Just completed “Secrets of Songwriting” by Gary Ewer (this was my third reread). Next in the queue is “Electronic Circuit Building for Dummies”.

    I probably read a lot less general non-fiction than the average person here. Mostly fiction and applied non-fiction.

  • FredR


    Everything you say is true, and I went into it already despising his obvious biases, and yet I found that despite these flaws the book is one of the most enjoyable and informative history books I’ve ever read.

  • Matt

    I just finished Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda JethĂĄ. The authors present some convincing arguments against the standard view of pre-agricultural human sexuality.

    It also includes a scathing critique of Pinker’s TED talk version of The Better Angels of Our Nature.

  • Frederikp

    I’ve just finished “Wolves in the City: The Death of French Algeria” by Paul Henissart. The focus is on the OAS in the last year leading to independence. Very much recommended!

    But I have a question someone here might be able to answer: Is there any good book on how the ability to measure something shapes the thinking about it? Say, once someone comes up with the concept of GDP to measure output, it becomes almost impossible to keep in mind that they are still not the same thing and very easy to think more in terms of your arbitrary measurement than in the underlying condition you assume it represents.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Modern Times is a long book and there’s certainly good material there as well, but it would have been better without all the axe-grinding.

    FrederikP, are you talking about something like Goodhart’s Law? James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” might be a bit along the lines you’re looking for. He talks about legibility and the view from a top-down bureaucrat using a map whose features leave out details apparent to someone on the ground.

  • http://sidudoexisto.blogspot.com Jorge Laris

    Gaya Science from Friedrich Nietzsche.

  • Frederikp

    Thanks for the suggestions TGGP. Both Goodhart’s Law and “Seeing like a State” deal with a fraction of what I mean, but I have something broader in mind, e.g. the penalty area of a football (soccer) pitch is 18 x 44 yard. Had it been designed under the metric system it certainly would not have been 16,5 x 40,32 meter, Schelling points and all that. The effect on football tactics is marginal, but certainly there. The ideal book would start with the immediate consequences on human thinking of the invention/discovery of numbers itself and go from there.

  • omar

    Grand Pursuit by Sylvia Nassar. Maybe all old news to you, but I didnt even know that Beatrice Potter and Beatrice Webb were the same person, so it has been an informative read. Well written romp through economics. (her husband is an economist).

  • http://funnyifnottragic.blogspot.com/ Robert Morris

    Postwar by Tony Judt. As Europe unravels its interesting to look into how they got started, after World War II and through the Cold War.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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