Book Log

Here's a log of the books I've read since late 2003. More organized ratings of authors and books are on another page, and you can skip to its entries for individual books by clicking on the icons next to the entries here.
Full disclosure: Amazon links here pay me a commission if you buy the books.

Reading now: The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us, Richard O. Prum

great 2017/07/09: Cryptonomicon[Wikipedia], Neal Stephenson: It's the computer-geek version of Gravity's Rainbow! I also enjoyed the Wired article included with the edition I read.
good 2017/07/02: AMC's Best Day Hikes Near Boston, Michael Tougias and John S. Burk: Impulse buy in the Harvard Coop, read interleaved with other books over several months. Well put-together, above the standard I assumed for a regional press. Makes me seriously consider getting into hiking around here.
good 2017/06/04: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking[Wikipedia], Susan Cain: One of those books that takes the "obvious" facts of everyday life and explains them through a satisfying (and accessible) scientific framework
good 2017/06/01: The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger[Wikipedia], Stephen King: A promising start to a series! Introduces plenty of dots to be connected later.
good 2017/06/01: It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig: Recommended by Jimmy Koppel, as an introduction to the practices and rationale behind paleo diets. I'd like to understand more how, in principle, the same medical-research literature is being cited here to justify such different conclusions than in, e.g., How Not to Die. One thing I noticed in this book is a focus on "feeling your best," with minimal argument about long-term health consequences of the diet.
good 2017/05/27: Man Without a Shadow, Colin Wilson: My reaction is essentially the same as to Ritual in the Dark; it makes for a good sequel.
good 2017/05/13: The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longevity, John Mackey, Alona Pulde, and Matthew Lederman: A more broadly accessible, less extreme version of How Not to Die, still sticking to a pretty solid scientific style, without much fluffy hippie perspective
great 2017/05/11: Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design[Wikipedia], Charles Montgomery: Advocating for cities designed less around motor vehicles, with a good mix of first-principles scientific results and anecdotes of interventions that have been tried
good 2017/05/05: Rainbows End[Wikipedia], Vernor Vinge: A good read in absolute terms, but not up to the standard of A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. Mediocre sci-fi has story elements that feel like afterthoughts on top of tours of worlds that the authors have been so darned clever as to invent. Zones of Thought did a great job of avoiding that syndrome entirely, but Rainbows End leans noticeably in that direction.
good 2017/04/22: Danse Macabre[Wikipedia], Stephen King: There are at least a few good book recommendations in here, but mostly I enjoyed it for the author's discursive style, like I would a conversation with an off-the-wall and well-traveled uncle.
good 2017/04/02: Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University, Carol Frieze and Jeria Quesenberry: This was an illuminating look into a program whose early stages I experienced personally as an undergrad. I liked the refusal to take purported gender differences as the basis for designing a support program. Some fairly thorough evaluation was done to measure progress toward attracting a more diverse student body, seeing them through to graduation, and helping them come to feel that they fit in. What was really telling, though, was the almost complete lack of evaluation of educational effectiveness. A top program like CMU's CS major should be leading students towards (excuse the overblown-sounding phrasing, but I think it fits) mastery of a discipline and leadership in the field. My own anecdotal experience leads me to conclude that, concurrently with the start of the programs the book describes (there may not be a causal relationship), CMU has slipped significantly in the real intellectual measures of success. I have a feeling it has to do with the party line about diversity of interests, stigmatizing single-minded focus in a way that no one would consider doing for fields like biology or math.
good 2017/03/27: The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, Tyler Cowen: I need more time to digest the sweeping argument of this one. I do feel like there's plenty of complacency to go around, but I had assumed that it was just part of the human condition. Part of the phenomenon seems to be an iterative system approaching a fixed point, which needn't be a bad thing.
good 2017/03/18: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkle: Fairly thought-provoking stuff. The first part of the book, about social robots, is full of nearly metaphysical assertions, like that "clearly robots could never feel," without any sort of objective justification. The author seems to be having a hard time letting go of folk-psychology ideas about the essence of thinking beings. The second part of the book, about how social networking & co. have led to attention spread too thin and other woes, I had an easier time agreeing with.
good 2017/02/24: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay[Wikipedia], Elena Ferrante: The details of the protagonists' careers make me want to root for them more. I'm surprised that they're still so young, 3/4 through the series.
great 2017/01/28: Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr.: Here's a very compelling case that the median U.S. university admissions policy is doing a lot of harm, where one of the biggest barriers to improvement is taboos against discussing the issues openly.
great 2017/01/23: Thinking, Fast and Slow[Wikipedia], Daniel Kahneman: Not to be hyperbolic, but this book should be required reading for pretty much everyone.
great 2016/12/30: The Three-Body Problem[Wikipedia], Cixin Liu: An intricate interwoven ball of speculative science and plot. Brings out some of the same themes that I enjoyed in Zones of Thought. Interestingly, I've heard that the English translation may be a better read than the Chinese original, even for native speakers of Chinese!
good 2016/12/16: Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007, Gary B. Gorton: It assumed a bit more economics background than I have, so I got lost following most of the details. However, the short version of the central theory makes sense, and, conveniently, it dovetails with my feeling of confusion in reading the book, in suggesting that some popular investment products have just gotten too darn hard to understand!
good 2016/12/04: Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy, Jonathan Rauch: Short enough to be worth giving a try. I understand the main message like this: coordinating many people to implement political policies requires complex control mechanisms that idealists often disdain. Best practices for those mechanisms wind up looking a lot like what gets labeled "corruption" by today's mainstream media.
great 2016/11/27: There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow, Jeffrey J. Selingo: A nice little gem that summarizes how young people should be reorienting their education and career plans. I might start recommending this to the undergrads I advise! My one (pretty big) disagreement: the implied advice to avoid doing real stuff and exploring career paths before age 18.
good 2016/11/24: Firestarter[Wikipedia], Stephen King: The basic story seemed very familiar, but then I remembered that King likely (co-?)invented this trope of "government experiment gives average people superpowers, then they get chased down by Uncle Sam"! Pretty good stuff.
great 2016/11/20: How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Michael Greger: A very thorough and convincing analysis of best practices for healthy diets. I'm inspired to make some serious changes to what I eat.
good 2016/11/12: A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History[Wikipedia], Nicholas Wade: A good case against taboos on studying genetic causes of social behavior, without a strong argument that particular, interesting differences exist between the populations that the book focuses on
good 2016/11/05: The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, Henry Miller: What a weird mishmash of different content styles: travelogue and then stream-of-consciousness essays on art and politics and then back again. The travelogue content was pretty good, while the rest generally got on my nerves.
good 2016/10/22: Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton: A well-executed look into the lives of a segment of the college-going population that I've had minimal interaction with. It's hard for me not to wonder if everyone in scope for this study, namely students who wind up at universities that are nonelite but moderately selective, is doomed anyway, with automation taking over most of the desirable jobs they had shots at.
good 2016/10/10: The Savage Detectives[Wikipedia], Roberto Bolaño: Memorable and distinctive content and structure. My head hurts from keeping track of all the characters.
great 2016/09/17: Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff Colvin: Ironically, I really enjoyed this book while disagreeing strongly with the top-level point of the title! The book begins with two axioms, one of which is that humans will remain at the center of the economy indefinitely. I don't buy it, but I had no trouble appreciating the rest of the book as a study into how to organize human-based systems efficiently. I was surprised at how many "obvious-in-retrospect" good human-modeling ideas popped up here that I don't remember from past reading.
good 2016/09/07: The Story of a New Name[Wikipedia], Elena Ferrante: More of the same from the last book, not quite as novel any more, but getting interesting at the end with the protagonists' first forays into creative careers
good 2016/08/27: Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir, Wednesday Martin: Very well-written. This little corner of our society showcases some horrible incentives miscalibration, with all the diversion of resources to goofy ends.
great 2016/08/24: Hive Mind: How Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, Garett Jones: Nice and short, with great density of "huh, why didn't I think of that?"-inspiring remarks about the effects of intelligence on economies
great 2016/08/21: The Dead Zone[Wikipedia], Stephen King: Way more heart, artistry, and originality than I expected from my stereotypes of horror movies. Of the King books I've read so far, this one has the strongest element of "life is a bummer" at its core.
bad 2016/08/06: Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, David L. Ulin: My overall rating of this book is a tough call. In the end, I decided that, while reading it, I was too eager for it to end. Not knowing the geography of Los Angeles probably left me unprepared to appreciate it, and I have to say that the book didn't increase my enthusiasm for spending more time there! The prose style was also too overwrought for my taste.
great 2016/07/31: My Brilliant Friend[Wikipedia], Elena Ferrante: Very effective at pulling me into the world of the characters and their personal dramas
great 2016/07/27: From Beirut to Jerusalem[Wikipedia], Thomas L. Friedman: It grew on me while reading. In the end, I appreciated the vivid introduction to one of those world political situations that I've been hearing about my whole life but never really looked into in detail before.
great 2016/07/10: Zero K[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: I think I figured out the central quality of the DeLillo books that I like the most: they follow a particular sort of dream logic. The characters all seem to be speaking with essentially the same voice, and much of the dialogue is delivered monologue-style, with the receptive narrator as perhaps the only listener who's really following. Everyone is less concerned with day-to-day earthly matters than they would be in the real world.
good 2016/07/07: The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, Rachel Simmons: A useful characterization of a persistent social failing [found via Jean's technical privilege reading list]
good 2016/06/30: The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth[Wikipedia], Robin Hanson: An interesting treatment of one scenario within an important space of likely future developments. The funny thing is that the author admits that technology trends would likely give this style of civilization only a few years of life, before it replaces itself with one driven by much less recognizably human actors. I think the author underestimates the chance that those less human actors are technologically feasible before the human emulations he focuses on; it seems hard to argue that, cognitively speaking, we can't do much better than the human architecture by exploring very different designs.
good 2016/06/24: How to Write a Thesis, Umberto Eco: Enjoyed as a glimpse both into another time and into the strange world of research in the humanities, in addition, of course, to the author's peerless style
good 2016/06/19: Numero Zero[Wikipedia], Umberto Eco: Clever, frenetic, and over quickly, with something of the feeling of a friend telling you a far-fetched story in one sitting
good 2016/06/18: The Mismeasure of Man[Wikipedia], Stephen Jay Gould: I'm glad I spent the time reading this book to pick up a bit of cultural literacy, but it was a frustrating experience, with most of the space spent on history irrelevant to scientific questions of how heritable and immutable human intelligence is. Three main choices in framing made the book unconvincing to me: (1) a focus on history, trying to show that certain ideas must be wrong because they were associated with particular goofball scientists; (2) an argument against the "logical error" of "reifying" general intelligence "as a thing," without explaining rigorously what "reification" really means here, apparently denying that it makes sense to introduce empirically backed measurements solely because of their predictive power; and (3) too frequently arguing that some scientific question must be resolved in a certain way because the alternative offends the author's political sensibilities. Almost no space was spent on critiques, beyond those of the 3 kinds I listed, of relatively recent studies, like The Bell Curve, even though two essays are devoted to criticism of that book, as appendices.
good 2016/06/10: The Stand[Wikipedia], Stephen King: Well-done as always. I was surprised at how much it reminded me of the television show Lost, including my feeling, near the end, that the author hadn't planned out the story very carefully, with a variety of plot elements being thrown under the bus haphazardly, never paying off like I had expected them to.
good 2016/05/24: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford: Very well-written; effectively makes many points that I agree with whole-heartedly. I felt like I'd heard most of it before, but this could be a hard-hitting book for someone who is new to this perspective.
great 2016/05/17: Norwegian Wood[Wikipedia], Haruki Murakami: Haunting and memorable. An interesting similarity in mood to 1Q84 without the magical realism.
good 2016/05/05: The Road to Character[Wikipedia], David Brooks: As much as the central theme came to feel like so much emotional nonsense, the tour through some biographies was engaging enough.
good 2016/04/16: The Handmaid's Tale[Wikipedia], Margaret Atwood: A memorable little world, with almost-relatable characters
great 2016/04/09: The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich: Over and over again, I felt like I was being reminded of something I already knew but that I had never thought of before. This is a really illuminating overview of the human social brain.
great 2016/03/08: The Pale King[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: Even unfinished, it blew me away. Often more of the feel of a short-story collection than a novel, but that's a form that's worked well before for the author. The IRS has never been more fun.
good 2016/01/30: Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life[Wikipedia], Daniel Dennett: Good stuff, largely hard to disagree with, written well. It would have made a bigger impact on me if I had read it before all those other books on evolutionary psychology.
great 2015/12/28: The Bachman Books[Wikipedia], Stephen King: It must be one heck of an author who publishes books like these as rejects under a pseudonym! I felt like The Long Walk was (ironically) too long, though it was a worthwhile, eerie experience. The other three were well worth every page.
good 2015/11/25: The Rise of the Creative Class--Revisited: Revised and Expanded[Wikipedia], Richard Florida: An enjoyable read and a compelling theory, though I have to resist the temptation to nod along with a theory that puts my line of work in such an honored place, and in general with an author who promotes so many of my pet causes.
good 2015/11/06: Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, Rich Roll: Very well-written and pretty engaging, though I was left doubting the objective justification for the author's dietary choices, given some of the hippie-style stuff that showed up
good 2015/10/29: By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray: An interesting idea that I haven't finished mulling over yet
great 2015/10/08: Dying Inside[Wikipedia], Robert Silverberg: Really something unique and compelling. It's also short enough that there isn't much to lose by giving it a try!
good 2015/10/07: Mate: Become the Man Women Want, Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller: I appreciated this book for both its near and far content (see term explanations). It was pretty novel to see evolutionary psychology occassionally explained with humor apparently designed explicitly to offend a general audience. I would have preferred a tone closer to what's usual in popular-science books, but really it was just fine as-is.
great 2015/10/03: The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom[Wikipedia], Jonathan Haidt: Another amazingly effective book that I appreciate for the same reasons as The Righteous Mind
great 2015/09/25: 1Q84[Wikipedia], Haruki Murakami: The reviews that describe it as dreamlike are spot-on. Kudos to the English translators for making such good use of idiomatic expressions. And one of the Little People said "Ho ho."
great 2015/08/30: The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise, Nathan Ensmenger: The content was fascinating, though the form was a little weird (e.g., several quotes were repeated multiple times, with no acknowledgment of said repetition). I appreciated both learning more about the history of programming and getting some perspective on how easy it is to take technological systems for granted. One example is the idea of high-level programming languages (introduced in the second half of the 1950s) as a scheme by management to take "good, middle-class jobs" away from low-level coders. The whole experience provides some emotional ammunition for people working on new programming technologies that most folks "just don't get," not to mention other kinds of more "out-there" technological progress.
good 2015/08/28: You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Felicia Day: An enjoyable ride through neurosis and triumph
bad 2015/08/21: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy[Wikipedia], Joseph Schumpeter: I hesitated between tagging this one as "bad" or "good." I learned of the book, in the first place, as the one that introduced the concept of creative destruction in free markets, and, sure enough, that's in here. There's also quite a bit else which was mostly dull. I was surprised that the book, cited for its contribution of one of the main popular arguments for capitalism, is fundamentally arguing for the inevitability of socialism! It's done in a relatively defensible way, but I'm not convinced, and I didn't have too much fun reading until the end.
good 2015/07/08: Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, Lauren A. Rivera: Informative, but not as interesting to me as I would have liked, since it only studied consulting, investment banking, and law, businesses that I don't consider to be terribly important
good 2015/06/27: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, Ian Morris: A very well-written presentation of an idea that I was already pretty familiar with. It may very well have crossed the line into "great" if I read it 5 years ago.
great 2015/06/18: 2666[Wikipedia], Roberto Bolaño: A twisty maze of interlocking stories told well, with a dreamlike atmosphere
bad 2015/04/29: Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge, Michael Suk-Young Chwe: The core thesis is interesting, but the style of the book was just not my cup of tea. It seemed intentionally obfuscated like I expect to see in a caricature of the humanities.
good 2015/04/25: Last Night in Twisted River[Wikipedia], John Irving: Unexceptional Irving material.
good 2015/04/01: What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry[Wikipedia], John Markoff: Interesting historical context in a well-written form, though I didn't feel an especially strong case was made for a fundamental link between computing and counterculture
good 2015/03/24: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert D. Putnam: Engaging but somehow not entirely convincing
good 2015/03/20: Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking), Christian Rudder: Some fascinating conclusions, though sometimes the writing style seemed too bombastic.
good 2015/03/15: Sundiver[Wikipedia], David Brin: Clever but not exceptional; a bit pulpy, too. Might return to this series eventually.
good 2015/02/22: Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, Robert Frank: An enjoyable read, but it's hard to come away with any serious conclusions. Is the author just picking and choosing the most entertaining examples of conspicuous consumption, or is there a real, socially important trend here? I enjoyed smirking periodically, considering that the book was published just before the 2008 financial collapse, and probably a good fraction of the characters wound up in dire straits shortly.
good 2015/02/19: Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us, Avi Tuschman: A pretty good addition to this important field. My two main reservations: (1) while most of the book is written in an objective, scientific style, the author's liberal leanings occassionally show through, in gratuitous mockery of conservative celebrities; (2) the book didn't quite help me sum everything up in one actionable theory that's easy to remember.
good 2015/01/21: Night Shift[Wikipedia], Stephen King: Well-done as usual
good 2015/01/19: The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker: I feel emboldened to ignore some of the grammatical "rules" I've learned over the years.
good 2015/01/12: The Children of the Sky[Wikipedia], Vernor Vinge: Enjoyable enough, but it abandoned the basic format of the previous two books and wasn't nearly as much fun.
good 2014/12/21: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty[Wikipedia], Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo: A number of interesting conclusions drawn about behavioral patterns in developing countries
great 2014/12/17: Ritual in the Dark, Colin Wilson: Full of life, fun, and poetic, like Adrift in Soho but moreso
good 2014/12/06: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think[Wikipedia], Bryan Caplan: I'm convinced!
great 2014/12/06: The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, Jon Gertner: An inspiring look at the research process and the foundations of information and communication technology
good 2014/11/24: The Shining[Wikipedia], Stephen King: Very atmospheric and well-executed, with a kind of depth of detail and context that the movie version couldn't muster
good 2014/11/05: In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State, Charles Murray: It all sounds very plausible and appealing for its simplicity.
great 2014/11/02: A Deepness in the Sky[Wikipedia], Vernor Vinge: It's amazing how close the basic formula here is to A Fire Upon The Deep while keeping the particulars different enough that it's no less of a page turner!
good 2014/10/12: The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, Jonathan Rottenberg: Good message, though I think the book could have stood to be quite a bit shorter.
great 2014/09/12: A Fire Upon the Deep[Wikipedia], Vernor Vinge: A pretty amazing contrast between my impressions 20 pages in and at the end. Started slowly and wound up being extremely inventive and well-executed.
good 2014/08/22: Carrie[Wikipedia], Stephen King: Pretty darned good for a first novel!
good 2014/08/20: The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh: Much more practically oriented than my usual reading material, but could come in handy.
good 2014/08/16: Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century, Steven Conn: An enjoyable tour through an important aspect of American history, though without a strong synthesis into a new perspective or strategy
great 2014/08/02: Snow Crash[Wikipedia], Neal Stephenson: It's the cyberpunk Infinite Jest!
good 2014/07/19: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee: I'm so used to this narrative already that I'm not sure what that's new I took away from reading it, but it's probably a good introduction to this line of thought.
good 2014/07/19: The Compatibility Gene: How Our Bodies Fight Disease, Attract Others, and Define Our Selves, Daniel M. Davis: A solid piece of popular-science writing about our immune systems and the funny interactions they have with other parts of our biology
good 2014/07/05: The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist, Frederick Brooks: It's hard for me to tell how much I got out of reading it. The highlights were (1) accounts of some 1960's computer hardware/software projects and (2) some parts on design in house-building.
good 2014/06/07: The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, Megan McArdle: Reads like a set of well-written essays (longish blog posts?) on the general subject of failure and bouncing back therefrom.
good 2014/06/01: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty[Wikipedia], Daron Acemoğlu and James A. Robinson: A simple theory that is hard to argue with, presented pretty well
good 2014/05/11: Adrift in Soho[Wikipedia], Colin Wilson: It's a bit like Rosy Crucifixion in London!
good 2014/05/09: The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, Charles Murray: The first half or so was satisfying in the same way as standing around the water cooler complaining about the boss. Ended on a low note with the unqualified disapproval of atheism, absent any kind of convincing argument in favor of religion, for folks who don't already buy into supernatural thinking.
great 2014/05/07: The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life[Wikipedia], Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray: A contentious analysis of some important issues, which I'd say is worth reading for its unusual perspective.
good 2014/04/03: Generation A[Wikipedia], Douglas Coupland: Something completely different; clever narrative devices, though the plot wasn't quite my flavor
good 2014/03/11: Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America[Wikipedia], Thomas L. Friedman: A message that's hard to argue with, conveyed pretty well, but in too many words. I think a shorter account would have been more effective, focusing on the big take-aways.
great 2014/02/01: The Prague Cemetery[Wikipedia], Umberto Eco: A cross between the subject matter and style of Foucault's Pendulum and Baudolino; tons of fun!
great 2014/01/26: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley: A very well-written consideration of which factors really matter in developing higher-order thinking skills in schoolchildren, coming to a pretty simple conclusion
good 2014/01/20: Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn, Lynn Saxon: Thought-provoking stuff. Now I can see why Amazon reviewers described it as "dry." The writing and argument style isn't as "pop" as in Sex at Dawn, but it sure does sound like the authors of said book cut some serious corners.
good 2013/12/31: Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality[Wikipedia], Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá: Very well-written and thought-provoking. Now to read Sex at Dusk and see the counterarguments....
good 2013/12/26: The Sirens of Titan[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: For a book with one serious downer of a message about free will, this was a fun ride. Recommended for fans of paranoid fiction.
great 2013/12/24: Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming[Wikipedia], Peter Seibel: An extremely entertaining read! The focus on folks who had been around longer worked out well, I think. The discussions here got me to thinking about how formal verification really should be an effective replacement for the laborious debugging sessions that interviewees relate here.
good 2013/12/12: Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, Amy J. Binder and Kate Wood: Interesting enough, but just not what I was looking for. Sociology is weird, and the idea of "conservative" vs. "liberal" in the U.S. is crazy.
great 2013/12/01: Bleeding Edge[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Well, that's a relief; Pynchon seems to be back on track! Stylistically, this one sits somewhere in between Inherent Vice and Gravity's Rainbow. There was a surprising amount of computing inside-joke humor; I don't know how the average reader will react (Tyler Cowen couldn't stand the book; maybe this is why?). The retro 2001 milieu was lots of fun for me.
great 2013/11/17: Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture[Wikipedia], David Kushner: Not very literary, but for me a fun walk down memory lane. Even though I was never that serious of a gamer, the events described here were part of the context during some of the most fun years of my life.
good 2013/11/11: Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, Ara Norenzayan: A pretty convincing argument for an intuitively appealing theory of why big-box religion developed
great 2013/10/15: Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation[Wikipedia], Tyler Cowen: A fun unified projection of what we have coming. It seems pretty plausible that the trends predicted here will be extremely important while simultaneously being appreciated by very few people today. A bit too much time spent on a computer-chess metaphor, for my tastes.
great 2013/10/02: 'Salem's Lot[Wikipedia], Stephen King: Not too fancy, well put-together, fun retro feel. The "monsters come to small-town New England" idea is tons of fun.
good 2013/09/04: Point Omega[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Short and surreal.
great 2013/09/01: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace[Wikipedia], David Lipsky: What's not to like about sort of crawling inside David Foster Wallace's head?
great 2013/08/26: The Radicalism of the American Revolution[Wikipedia], Gordon S. Wood: A fascinating look at the development of the social structure that we take for granted in America today. Some parts felt a bit slow-going, but overall seems like essential reading for anyone interested in pondering ways the social order could be reengineered. A good andidote to the lazy claim that nothing ever changes politically!
good 2013/06/20: Back to Blood[Wikipedia], Tom Wolfe: Decent. Not very intellectual-feeling.
bad 2013/05/01: Planet of Cities, Shlomo Angel: This might be very good economics scholarship, but I found it extremely dull, mostly a parade of data and statistical results. I gave up halfway through.
great 2013/02/24: On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense[Wikipedia], David Brooks: Hard to characterize and not entirely what I expected, but very well-presented and engrossing.
great 2013/02/19: Human Capitalism: How Economic Growth Has Made Us Smarter--and More Unequal, Brink Lindsey: Very high value per page count, considering what seems like a central social problem of our time.
good 2013/02/10: Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, Jason Brennan: Structured as a series of questions with answers, grouped by topic. I probably would have liked a more traditional (and opinion-full) narrative better.
good 2013/01/26: Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, David Niose: I have mixed feelings about this book. I felt like most of it was "preaching to the choir," repeating standard complaints about abuse of church-state separation and so on. I was really after detailed information on the history of recent secular movements. There was some of that, and it was good enough to make me think about getting involved in related activism.
bad 2013/01/12: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy[Wikipedia], Chris Hayes: Many sections were enjoyable enough to read, but in the end I don't really get what is the central argument of the book. The author takes up economic equality as an "obvious" goal, but I'm not convinced, and so I didn't see the point of most of the proposals near the end.
bad 2012/12/26: The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, Lierre Keith: I haven't yet finished looking into the factual content, but the style is extremely off-putting, with frequent tone transfusions of both Stoned Hippie and Angry Oppressed Person. One chapter spends many too many words arguing against a crazy version of ethical vegetarianism where killing anything is wrong, which I don't think is very common, and which I've never come close to subscribing to. There are calls for a feminist, anti-corporatist revolution sprinkled throughout.
good 2012/12/04: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined[Wikipedia], Steven Pinker: Could probably have been quite a bit shorter without losing value, but still I found it very thought-provoking (apparently enough to keep me reading to the end!).
great 2012/09/13: Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There[Wikipedia], David Brooks: A fun exposition of a nifty insight
great 2012/09/07: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion[Wikipedia], Jonathan Haidt: This one gets added to my shortlist of must-reads in evolutionary pyschology; another piece of the owner's manual for human brains!
great 2012/08/15: Just Food: How Locavores are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, James E. McWilliams: Important information presented very well. This is close to what I've been looking for: a summary of the facts in favor of some unconventional choices, justified in terms of environmental impact. The part that frustrates me is the inconsistency in, on the one hand, quotes about the importance of minimizing intake of animal products, and, on the other hand, details of how fish ought to be raised for food. Does the author believe this aquaculture isn't substantially worse environmentally than veganism, or does he just think it's politically impossible to eliminate meat consumption?
good 2012/07/25: Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society, Jim Manzi: I'm not sure what to make of this book. I feel like it used way too many words to get across a not-especially-complex message. The author is a very good wordsmith; it was hard to find complaints with any individual paragraphs. Yet the whole thing was unsatisfying, considering the length. It felt somewhat like a stream-of-consciousness brain dump, albeit by a talented writer, supporting a worthwhile message.
good 2012/05/20: The Rent is Too Damn High, Matt Yglesias: Persuasive arguments, but not too much I hadn't already seen elsewhere
good 2012/05/14: The Natural Survival of Work: Job Creation and Job Destruction in a Growing Economy, Pierre Cahuc and André Zylberberg: Some good perspectives on employment
good 2012/04/29: An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, Tyler Cowen: A fun read, with a mix of high-minded theorizing and practical advice
great 2012/04/15: Down and Out in Paris and London[Wikipedia], George Orwell: Reminds me of Henry Miller! Orwell has quite a way with words.
good 2012/04/01: Coming Apart: The State of White America, Charles Murray: Well-written, but I'm not sure what to make of the conclusions.
good 2012/03/11: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution[Wikipedia], Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending: A pretty good case that serious evolutionary forces have been active for humans more recently than most folks think
good 2012/02/18: Confessions of a Crap Artist[Wikipedia], Philip K. Dick: Much less about the narrator than I was expecting. Not quite sure what to think of it.
good 2012/02/11: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything[Wikipedia], Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: Short and sweet. Not as much fun as some economics-inspired books that aren't aimed so much at the general public.
good 2012/01/30: Launching The Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast, Alex Tabarrok: I agree with what he's saying and somehow didn't learn too much; but I can't complain about such a short essay.
good 2012/01/28: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better[Wikipedia], Tyler Cowen: An interesting perspective that I'd gotten plenty of from the blogosphere before reading this
good 2012/01/22: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory, Torkel Klingberg: You might not guess that a book about working memory would be much fun, but this was fairly informative and enjoyable. Contrary to my expectations, it really is almost entirely about working memory.
bad 2011/12/27: Disciplined Minds[Wikipedia], Jeff Schmidt: Somewhat thought provoking, but mostly unsatisfying. Most all of the author's complaints about PhD programs don't seem to apply to top computer science programs; I don't know how accurate they are elsewhere. I was surprised by this book's tone when I started reading it; somehow, when I first added it to my "to read" list, I hadn't realized that the book is targeted to "radicals" and "activists." The author doesn't spend any space trying to explain why the reader might want to become such a thing, so that was another serious turn-off for me.
bad 2011/12/08: From Two Cultures To No Culture, Robert Whelan: A big old pile of meta-discussion about who said what about whom
good 2011/11/30: Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences, Thomas Armstrong: Lots of really interesting stuff in here, but the special education angle didn't appeal to me.
good 2011/11/24: Comfortably Unaware, Richard A. Oppenlander: This was an aggravating book. On the first page, I noticed a typo, a horrifying font/spacing convention, and the clumsy, patronizing, and preachy prose style. However, the core of information in the book seems very worth knowing. The way it is presented leaves me wondering how much I can trust in its accuracy, but I haven't yet seen a reason to doubt it. It would be nice to find a better, less emotional presentation of the same essential facts about the costs of animal-based food production and consumption.
good 2011/11/20: Everyman[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: I went into this one not realizing that the focus would be aging, illness, and death. Doesn't sound so enjoyable, right? It turned out to be a fun read.
good 2011/11/10: Falling Man[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: At first I wasn't very optimistic; 9/11 is a pretty heavy subject for DeLillo. However, he wound up pulling it off very well. The usual surreal elements crept in eventually.
good 2011/10/20: Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, Edward Glaeser: Fun to read, though perhaps a bit of preaching to the choir, in my case
good 2011/09/26: Bowling Alone[Wikipedia], Robert D. Putnam: Definitely got me thinking, though the focus on particular archaic-feeling forms of social involvement seemed undermotivated.
good 2011/08/18: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement[Wikipedia], David Brooks: The first third or so was great. There's a very meta aspect to the later parts of the book, which was clever at first, but which I started to feel was being abused. I won't spoil the details of what I'm talking about. ;-)
good 2011/08/05: The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate, David Archer: A reasonable description of how little we know about climate changes and our effect on them
good 2011/06/30: The Lonely Crowd[Wikipedia], David Riesman: Thought-provoking, though it was often hard for me to get past the dated elements of the book. The last few chapters were especially unsatisfying, partly for that reason.
good 2011/06/05: The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod: I've seen the executive summary of this material so many times in other books that it's hard to evaluate the worth of the full version.
good 2011/06/05: The Revolution: A Manifesto[Wikipedia], Ron Paul: Largely agreeable, though not very novel
good 2011/05/31: Imperial, William T. Vollmann: Long enough that I often wondered whether it was worth finishing. Overall an enjoyable experience, raising interesting issues about how large populations of people can organize themselves in a modern setting.
good 2011/02/13: The Death and Life of Great American Cities[Wikipedia], Jane Jacobs: Interesting ideas that I need to ponder more. It didn't always hold my interest in the particulars.
good 2011/01/01: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin[Wikipedia], Benjamin Franklin: It's hard to imagine a book written today being so explicit about a search for "moral perfection," but I found the approach really attractive. I wonder how thoroughly the author followed through with it.
good 2010/12/17: Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade, Henri Pirenne: This was enjoyable enough, but still on the low end of "good."
good 2010/12/08: The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness, Joan Roughgarden: Some interesting stuff, though I kept getting hung up on what exactly was the definition of "truth" of an evolutionary theory that this book was oriented around.
great 2010/11/28: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days, Jessica Livingston: This was really fun and seems like a great extended pep talk for people considering doing the startup thing.
good 2010/11/23: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present, Mark Goldman: I seesawed between liking and not liking it. The not liking came from feeling that it was a "one thing after another" kind of history book without a broader message (and also from some poor copyediting and laugh-out-loud bad phrasing). The liking probably had most to do with the consistent anti-urban-renewal focus.
good 2010/10/24: How to Win Friends and Influence People[Wikipedia], Dale Carnegie: It's unclear how useful this will be, but it was very entertaining. I'm glad I followed Paul Graham's advice and got my hands on an early edition, complete with content that doesn't follow today's rules for political correctness.
good 2010/10/08: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon[Wikipedia], Daniel Dennett: Well-written; I'm not sure exactly what I took away from it, but I enjoyed the ride.
great 2010/10/02: The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup: This was a long one, but it was a lot of fun to read.
good 2010/09/03: The Future of Europe: Reform or Decline, Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi: Interesting, though I'm not sure I got much out of it
great 2010/08/29: Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, Christopher Boehm: A very interesting perspective on the roots of political behavior
good 2010/08/23: Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life[Wikipedia], Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis: A well-written presentation of an interesting perspective. I got a good chuckle out of the socialist elements, which stayed manageable until the last part of the book, which is entirely skippable.
good 2010/08/19: Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Careers in Science and Engineering, Richard M. Reis: Like with the last one, I'm not sure if I got much out of reading this. In contrast, the prose here seemed overly preachy/condescending and generally didn't leave me with warm feelings.
good 2010/08/15: A Ph.D. Is Not Enough!, Peter J. Feibelman: Quite well-written, and short enough that I don't feel bad about not thinking too hard about what I got out of it.
great 2010/08/01: The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics, Steven E. Landsburg: Short and sweet, but with high enjoyment value per page
good 2010/07/30: From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities and the Lasting Triumph over Scarcity, Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz: Not bad, not great; for me, more like a cheerleading exercise than anything else.
good 2010/07/23: Sex and Reason, Richard Posner: Clear-headed and thought-provoking, though not earth-shaking
good 2010/07/20: Midnight's Children[Wikipedia], Salman Rushdie: Entertaining enough. Too long and too much foreshadowing.
good 2010/06/10: Free to Choose[Wikipedia], Milton Friedman and Rose D. Friedman: I forgot to log this book until some weeks after finishing it, so I don't remember details, but it was probably pretty good. :-)
good 2010/05/12: Goodbye, Columbus[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Decent
good 2010/04/27: Winesburg, Ohio[Wikipedia], Sherwood Anderson: I read this because Henry Miller seemed to be a fan. It was all right, but somehow didn't quite do it for me.
great 2010/04/03: The Evolution of God[Wikipedia], Robert Wright: Compared to my expectations, this was a lot more about politics and a lot less about evolutionary psychology. Near the end, though, the author brings in a really interesting message about the origins of morality in social evolution.
good 2010/03/21: Fixing College Education: A New Curriculum for the Twenty-First Century, Charles Muscatine: This book doesn't seem to have much to say about education in highly technical fields. Thus, while I agree with the book's criticisms, I'm not sure the proposed solutions are generally applicable.
good 2010/03/18: Simple Rules for a Complex World, Richard Epstein: Not always engrossing, but I feel more law-y already
good 2010/02/18: Inherent Vice[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Different but fun
bad 2010/02/02: Why Gods Persist: A Scientific Approach to Religion, Robert Hinde: I had to bail on this one early on. It was clumsy stylistically and didn't seem to be painting any kind of big picture.
good 2010/01/24: The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller: Very lively
good 2010/01/13: Democracy in America, Volume I[Wikipedia], Alexis de Tocqueville: Interesting, though the value per page didn't seem quite high enough. Still, it stands the test of time pretty well.
good 2009/12/10: Guns, Germs, and Steel[Wikipedia], Jared Diamond: Interesting without really being riveting
good 2009/11/27: Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice, Tom G. Palmer: Some insightful stuff, but also a few chapters that are too much about arguing against particular works; not enough convincing rational argument in general
great 2009/11/18: The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, Elyn R. Saks: Kind of harrowing, but a real page-turner
great 2009/11/15: The Satanic Verses[Wikipedia], Salman Rushdie: Reminds me of Thomas Pynchon without the geek factor.
good 2009/10/12: The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society[Wikipedia], David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander Tabarrok: It didn't always have me on the edge of my seat, but there was still plenty of thought-provoking stuff.
good 2009/10/01: Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, Nick Lane: Interesting and well-written, in that plucky British style
great 2009/09/26: Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, David J. C. MacKay: A really enjoyable and informative read. There's definitely something to be said for the signature British writing style. [available free online]
great 2009/09/06: Amazons: An Intimate Memoir By the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Really well put together, like an extended poem
bad 2009/09/04: Ancestral Roots: Modern Living and Human Evolution, Timothy Clack: There was some interesting information and speculation in here, but too much of the book came across as moralizing. The copy-editing was also notably poor.
bad 2009/08/21: Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science[Wikipedia], Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt: I didn't feel like I learned much from this book. The authors attacked particular quotations from a hand-picking of authors, so it's hard to tell which points are valid against the whole body of literature that they're dissecting. I don't know how it would be possible to do better, but that doesn't mean that this book is very helpful. The prose was also a little too purple for me.
good 2009/08/14: A Devil's Chaplain[Wikipedia], Richard Dawkins: Some decent material. I don't really like Dawkins's over-flowery writing style.
bad 2009/08/07: Mazel, Rebecca Goldstein: This one ended up being a wild ride. The first few chapters seemed very promising, but the bulk of the book just didn't interest me.
good 2009/07/25: The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering[Wikipedia], Frederick Brooks: For a light read, I enjoyed this well enough, more for the retro appeal than for the presence of much advice that seems relevant today.
good 2009/07/23: The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, Geoffrey Miller: Some good information about what seems to be a really useful theory
good 2009/07/16: Programmers at Work: Interviews With 19 Programmers Who Shaped the Computer Industry, Susan Lammers: Good stuff. The earlier interviews (which were with the older programmers) I liked substantially more than the later ones.
great 2009/07/11: Consider the Lobster[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: And I thought he couldn't push this footnote stuff any further....
good 2009/06/21: The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature[Wikipedia], Steven Pinker: As usual, an enjoyable read, though it was often hard to figure out what exactly I had learned from each chapter.
good 2009/05/25: Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes, William H. Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins: 99% estate tax or bust!
good 2009/05/23: The Broom of the System[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: I can see the germ of the good stuff yet to come, but this one just didn't hang together in the satisfying way of Wallace's later work.
good 2009/04/19: Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, Richard Nisbett: An interesting overview. I was most bothered by ignoring the extremes of intelligence.
great 2009/04/08: The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century[Wikipedia], Thomas L. Friedman: Reading this, I get a sense of what religious folk might feel readin' scripture.
good 2009/03/17: Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, John Taylor Gatto: OK, but I didn't get much out of it that I hadn't already gotten out of Gatto's past writings
great 2009/03/16: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time[Wikipedia], Mark Haddon: Totally identified with the protagonist....
good 2009/03/14: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal[Wikipedia], Eric Schlosser: Interesting, but not a page-turner
great 2009/03/07: The Lexus and the Olive Tree[Wikipedia], Thomas L. Friedman: A really interesting synthesis of different aspects of globalization into a Unifying Theory
good 2009/02/17: The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton[Wikipedia], Jerome Karabel: Some very illuminating information in here. The book was too long, but for some reason I followed through to the end anyway. There was good stuff appearing pretty frequently; there was just too much padding, too.
good 2009/01/17: Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education, Harry R. Lewis: Plenty of thought-provoking stuff in here. My biggest point of disagreement had to do with the downsides of large-scale spectator-oriented athletics, regardless of if that kind of activity is "natural." I also don't feel encumbered by tradition in designing future educational institutions, so conclusions based on assumptions like the continued use of lectures aren't that interesting to me.
bad 2009/01/15: Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner: I think I've been spoiled by books that analyze topics and synthesize new hypotheses or recommendations. I couldn't stand to finish this book, which is a mishmash of quoted stories grouped by topic, with minimal connecting text. From reading the description, I got the impression that most of the big elements of "quarterlife crises" weren't occurring for me, and that seems mostly accurate, based on what I read. I should make a note to, in the future, avoid reading books based on that kind of curiosity when the books were featured on Oprah.
good 2009/01/13: 100 Million Unnecessary Returns: A Simple, Fair, and Competitive Tax Plan for the United States, Michael J. Graetz: This seems like a pretty darned good proposal.
good 2009/01/09: Exit Ghost[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: The End
great 2009/01/02: The Moral Animal[Wikipedia], Robert Wright: More fascinating stuff, though falling off in interestingness near the end
bad 2008/12/25: The Age of Defeat, Colin Wilson: This started out interesting but devolved into seemingly random mentions of different authors and their works.
good 2008/12/22: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes[Wikipedia], Anita Loos: Nothing to write home about
good 2008/12/21: The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World[Wikipedia], Alan Greenspan: Got a little boring 'round the end, but interesting nonetheless
good 2008/12/06: A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools, Alec Klein: An interesting read. I couldn't help noticing how little creativity seemed to be involved in the hoops that these kids were jumping through to earn their special status.
good 2008/12/04: Tropic of Capricorn[Wikipedia], Henry Miller: Too many spells of free association, but I forgive him. Final verdict: Rosy Crucifixion beats the Tropic originals, hands down.
good 2008/10/14: The Space Merchants[Wikipedia], Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth: Quite well-written stylistically, and plenty of 1950's charm
good 2008/09/28: What Price Fame?, Tyler Cowen: There were some interesting spans of idea-sharing, but, in the end, I didn't really get what the point of the book was. Reading it kind of felt like standing in the way of a firehose.
good 2008/09/19: The Third Policeman[Wikipedia], Brian O'Nolan: This reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. I checked it out because the Lost writers cite it as an influence.
bad 2008/09/19: Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler's List, Michael Martone: One or two of the stories were enjoyable; the rest didn't work for me. I read this because David Foster Wallace mentioned it in "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction."
great 2008/09/18: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny[Wikipedia], Robert Wright: Very thought-provoking
good 2008/09/02: JPod[Wikipedia], Douglas Coupland: Entertaining enough, but it felt like too many gimmicks with too little form or substance
good 2008/08/28: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature[Wikipedia], Steven Pinker: No shortage of interestin' stuff
good 2008/08/12: The Language Instinct[Wikipedia], Steven Pinker: Not quite what I was expecting; too much focus on nitty-gritty details. The last chapter leaves me realizing that I was more interested in something like The Blank Slate, so on I go to that!
good 2008/07/30: Fortune's Formula, William Poundstone: At no point was it especially clear what the "theme" of this book was, but it was enjoyable anyway.
great 2008/07/26: The Last Samurai[Wikipedia], Helen DeWitt: This was so frenetic and nutty, in a way I've never seen before.
great 2008/07/13: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: Heh heh heh.
bad 2008/07/05: The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture[Wikipedia], Fritjof Capra: I remember liking this book Way Back in the Day, but I can't stand it now. The author repeats the same hippie-targeted phrases over and over, with very prolix sentences that nonetheless fail to convey useful information.
good 2008/05/24: Villa Incognito[Wikipedia], Tom Robbins: This one leaves me with the impression that Tom Robbins may be "Thomas Pynchon for Dummies."
good 2008/05/17: Sabbath's Theater[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Another raunchy ride from Roth
good 2008/04/04: Hey Nostradamus![Wikipedia], Douglas Coupland: There were a lot of loose ends. I didn't really get into it, but it was interesting and mostly well-told.
good 2007/12/29: The Unbearable Lightness of Being[Wikipedia], Milan Kundera: Kind of rambly and weird, but weird is good
good 2007/10/28: Letting Go[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Kind of overdramatic
great 2007/08/30: Girl with Curious Hair[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: More of the same, with more of a popular culture focus than the DFW stuff I read earlier
good 2007/08/19: Carpenter's Gothic[Wikipedia], William Gaddis: My first impression was rage at the unconventional grammatical organization, where it's not clear what's a spoken quotation and what isn't. It got better further in, but not enough to make up for the confusion.
good 2007/07/26: Licks of Love, John Updike: John Updike doesn't disappoint.
good 2007/07/19: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture[Wikipedia], Douglas Coupland: Pretty slick, though I was less able to identify with the characters than for Microserfs
good 2007/07/17: The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: He couldn't avoid sticking in more of this self-referential stuff, eh? :-)
bad 2007/07/13: Mysticism and Logic, Bertrand Russell: After reading the first few essays in the book, I asked myself what I was getting out of the experience. Failing to find an answer, I set out for greener pastures. (I picked up the book because Everything and More cited it, and the title sounded interesting; that should teach me to live on the edge!)
good 2007/07/11: Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: I'm left wondering how much of this is intended satirically.
good 2007/07/07: World's End[Wikipedia], T. Coraghessan Boyle: It had its gripping stretches, but in the end it wasn't all that satisfying.
great 2007/06/23: Microserfs[Wikipedia], Douglas Coupland: Far out. For some reason, I had formed an internal classification of this book as typical empty nerdstuff. "We generate stories for you because you don't save the ones that are yours." Recommended by mpnolan.
good 2007/06/20: Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update[Wikipedia], Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows: Some interesting insights with solid experimental results
great 2007/06/04: The Ancestor's Tale[Wikipedia], Richard Dawkins: Yay for evolution. The parallels between better ways of enabling evolution and better ways of building computer systems are interesting... and squirrels are cool.
great 2007/05/23: Nexus[Wikipedia], Henry Miller: I wasn't disappointed.
good 2007/05/15: The God Delusion[Wikipedia], Richard Dawkins: Going in, I was feeling kind of guilty, since this kind of "preaching to the choir" subject matter is so popular among hapless fanboys. Nonetheless, there were some interesting arguments in here, and it's always fun to read Dawkins's prose. Makes me want to read more science-y books, in fact.
good 2007/05/06: The Man in the High Castle[Wikipedia], Philip K. Dick: There was some interesting stuff in here. It had a weird feeling of having been hastily written, like ol' PKD was under a tight deadline.
good 2007/04/25: Against the Day[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Plenty of good stuff here, but not quite enough to justify the length
good 2007/03/02: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television[Wikipedia], Jerry Mander: Interesting, though not especially well focused
good 2007/02/22: The Waterworks, E. L. Doctorow: An all right book
great 2007/02/13: Infinite Jest[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: Awesome. That footnote business required some out-of-the-ordinary place-saving apparatus for efficient reading.
good 2007/01/14: Closing Time[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: Kinda nifty
good 2007/01/07: Tropic of Cancer[Wikipedia], Henry Miller: I see the germ of the endearing qualities of Rosy Crucifixion.
good 2006/12/30: I am Charlotte Simmons[Wikipedia], Tom Wolfe: Agreeable enough, though it didn't have that special oomph.
great 2006/12/24: Oblivion[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: Wild stuff.
great 2006/12/04: Plexus[Wikipedia], Henry Miller: Now here's a ball of energy for you.
good 2006/10/27: The Counterlife[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: More mind-blowing recursive fiction!
good 2006/10/06: Billy Bathgate[Wikipedia], E. L. Doctorow: Mm, history-y.
good 2006/09/22: Rabbit at Rest[Wikipedia], John Updike: So that's that.
good 2006/08/05: The Plot Against America[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Interestin'
great 2006/07/12: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men[Wikipedia], David Foster Wallace: I don't usually like books of short stories or things of similar form, but this one was super. With such great power to think of twisted ideas comes great responsibility.
good 2006/06/26: My Ishmael[Wikipedia], Daniel Quinn: More interestin' stuff
good 2006/06/17: The Story of B[Wikipedia], Daniel Quinn: Some thoughts worth thinking
great 2006/06/11: A Man In Full[Wikipedia], Tom Wolfe: Quite good, though suspiciously similar to Bonfire
bad 2006/06/02: Last Exit to Brooklyn[Wikipedia], Hubert Selby, Jr.: The combination of the subject matter and the "experimental" disregard for English grammar and layout drove me away from this before I got very far into it.
great 2006/06/01: Rabbit is Rich[Wikipedia], John Updike: This was top-notch and a significant improvement over the first two Rabbit books.
good 2006/05/10: The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind, Rebecca Goldstein: Interesting but uneven. I do wonder if the author is satirizing philosophers with some of the sections or if she really thinks that stuff is the bee's knees.
great 2006/05/03: The Bonfire of the Vanities[Wikipedia], Tom Wolfe: That was pretty swell. It reminded me of DeLillo and Heller in particular. Who knows who influenced whom!
great 2006/04/24: David Copperfield[Wikipedia], Charles Dickens: Great, but perhaps a bit longer than I would have liked.
good 2006/02/11: The Imaginary Girlfriend, John Irving: Not bad.
good 2006/02/06: Anansi Boys[Wikipedia], Neil Gaiman: It took a while to get started, but it ended up being reasonably good. It can't compare with American Gods, though.
great 2006/01/18: Operation Shylock[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: This was quite good. I had to laugh when I finished reading it; the whole thing came together so well. I'm now nominating Philip Roth for Patron Saint of Paranoiacs. (Thomas Pynchon is the other main contender, as I see it.)
good 2006/01/02: Until I Find You[Wikipedia], John Irving: Good, but not his best.
great 2005/12/20: Sexus[Wikipedia], Henry Miller: They don't make 'em like this anymore, no sir. There sure was a lot of sex!
good 2005/11/26: On the Road[Wikipedia], Jack Kerouac: Mildly interesting, but nothing too great. I guess I've been spoiled by all of the post-modern stuff that came later.
good 2005/11/20: The Mind-Body Problem, Rebecca Goldstein: Interesting and worth reading. At first I was put off by the seemingly forced and unnatural style of the writing, but it stopped bothering me.
good 2005/11/14: Hocus Pocus[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Slightly above average quality. I think the non-linear narrative was too non-linear.
great 2005/11/08: Something Happened[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: Interesting and worth reading. Do/did most middle-class Americans really live like this?
good 2005/10/22: Zuckerman Bound[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: More good stuff.
good 2005/10/18: Lila[Wikipedia], Robert Pirsig: Some parts were very interesting. The "story" parts were pretty poorly executed. Altogether uneven and disorganized.
good 2005/09/20: Radio Free Albemuth[Wikipedia], Philip K. Dick: Pretty good. My kind of paranoid trip. I see more PKD in my future.
great 2005/09/11: Portnoy's Complaint[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Soopah doopah pizzazz.
good 2005/08/30: The Ghost Writer[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Every journey has a beginning. (I liked it.)
good 2005/08/18: The Great American Novel[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: OKish and enjoyable at times. This one was entirely comic without the authentic feel that so endeared the latest Zuckerman trilogy to me.
good 2005/07/29: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight[Wikipedia], Vladimir Nabokov: Bleh. Some brief periods when it held my interest.
good 2005/07/17: The Power and the Glory[Wikipedia], Graham Greene: Not bad. Not awesome.
bad 2005/06/28: The Picture of Dorian Gray (and three stories)[Wikipedia], Oscar Wilde: I wanted to give this well-known story a try, and I was hoping the Wilde-ishness I'd read before wouldn't be involved too much. It was, and the interspersing of serious stuff with wit-wars didn't work very well. I didn't have the stomach to stay for the three stories.
good 2005/06/09: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana[Wikipedia], Umberto Eco: Off-and-on gripping. Definitely unique and imaginative.
good 2005/05/31: It Can't Happen Here[Wikipedia], Sinclair Lewis: All right-ish. I liked the feisty 1920's charm.
good 2005/05/24: Life of Pi[Wikipedia], Yann Martel: It was pretty good, but uneven. Anyone who needed to wait for this one to "make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction" has been living in a paper bag.
great 2005/05/22: The Catcher in the Rye[Wikipedia], J.D. Salinger: Seal of approval granted.
great 2005/05/20: The Human Stain[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: This was really good.
great 2005/05/15: I Married a Communist[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: I like.
great 2005/05/04: Great Expectations[Wikipedia], Charles Dickens: Top-notch.
good 2005/04/03: American Pastoral[Wikipedia], Philip Roth: Hey, pretty good.
good 2005/03/20: All the Pretty Horses[Wikipedia], Cormac McCarthy: Interestingly compelling, though I'm sure the double-quotes industry had a fit when they saw this one.
good 2005/03/05: John Barleycorn[Wikipedia], Jack London: Pretty swell.
good 2005/02/15: Rabbit Redux[Wikipedia], John Updike: I liked it better than the first book in this series. Definitely some good stuff here.
bad 2005/01/21: God Knows[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: I gave up without finishing it. It was too loose and purposeless for me. Maybe I would have liked it if I had grown up with this biblical stuff.
good 2005/01/05: Mao II[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Eh. Eh.
good 2004/12/30: Trying to Save Piggy Sneed[Wikipedia], John Irving: Not bad.
great 2004/12/28: Slow Learner[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Not bad. I agreed with the author's comments in the introduction, which said that the last story, "The Secret Integration," was significantly better than the others.
great 2004/12/24: A Son of the Circus[Wikipedia], John Irving: Really good. Very different from his previous books, and yet very similar at the same time.
good 2004/12/12: Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: Not bad.
great 2004/12/05: The Water Method Man[Wikipedia], John Irving: A grade-A good time.
good 2004/11/26: The Body Artist[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Short and sweet. Neither great nor horrible.
good 2004/11/24: Moloch, Henry Miller: Very nice writing style, when he wasn't off in the Purple Prose Nebula. Definitely promising enough to warrant trying some of his better known books.
good 2004/11/11: The World According to Garp[Wikipedia], John Irving: It didn't quite have the life of Irving's later novels, but it had a less intense version of their quality.
great 2004/10/31: The Crying of Lot 49[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Worth reading, if only for another masterful treatment of paranoia. A few times I wondered if Pynchon had written a paragraph just to be confusing.
bad 2004/10/28: Oblomov[Wikipedia], Ivan Goncharov: Not very remarkable.
good 2004/10/10: Ishmael[Wikipedia], Daniel Quinn: Interesting
great 2004/10/02: Catch-22[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: This is really something!
good 2004/09/18: Americana[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Y'know, I really liked a lot of it, but it spent a lot of time dragging in Part 3. I also found a pathetically prolix style that DeLillo seemed to abandon immediately after this one.
great 2004/09/03: The Cider House Rules[Wikipedia], John Irving: Great
good 2004/08/29: Cosmopolis[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Pretty good
great 2004/08/27: The Underground History of American Education[Wikipedia], John Taylor Gatto: An extremely illuminating book; highly recommended
great 2004/08/22: Vineland[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: My appreciation for this guy just grows and grows. This book is both more down-to-earth and weirded than his previous.
good 2004/08/07: Rabbit, Run[Wikipedia], John Updike: It didn't always hold my interest, but in the end I liked it.
good 2004/07/30: Picture This[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: Just my luck; I picked up another nontraditional sort of deal. I enjoyed it all the same. It almost makes me angry that I've had no exposure to "Classics" in my formal education.
good 2004/07/25: Now and Then[Wikipedia], Joseph Heller: I picked this one at random from the library shelves because the title sounded good, not realizing that it was an autobiography. It was pretty good, as autobiographies go. The writing was amazingly good. This man past age 70 had an amazing knack for writing pleasing English. So, I'm on to reading some of his fiction!
bad 2004/07/20: Old School[Wikipedia], Tobias Wolff: Eh, mediocre.
great 2004/07/19: A Widow for One Year[Wikipedia], John Irving: Super duper as usual.
great 2004/07/13: Libra[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Very good.
good 2004/07/05: Slaughterhouse-Five[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Fairly good. I find Vonnegut's repetition of phrases and overfrequent references to his other books annoying, though.
good 2004/06/29: The Fourth Hand, John Irving: Pretty good.
great 2004/06/23: Underworld[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Again, it grew on me as I read it. The idea of moving backwards in time as the book progressed was very effective.
great 2004/06/05: A Prayer for Owen Meany[Wikipedia], John Irving: Another excellent book
bad 2004/06/03: An Outcast of the Islands[Wikipedia], Joseph Conrad: I gave it a chance, but it just couldn't hold my interest, so I gave up. The writing was waaay too verbose.
bad 2004/05/30: Keep the Aspidistra Flying[Wikipedia], George Orwell: A curious book. I think Orwell was trying to get across a social message, but it was generally unclear which of his characters and their views he agreed with.
good 2004/05/26: The 158-Pound Marriage[Wikipedia], John Irving: Another good one, though a bit more erotic than expected!
great 2004/05/21: Mason and Dixon[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Very enjoyable. The 90's Pynchon is much more organized than the 70's Pynchon. The sudden songs were kept to a minimum.
good 2004/04/26: Players[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: This was short but reasonably enjoyable.
great 2004/04/24: The Hotel New Hampshire[Wikipedia], John Irving: Wow. This book is amazing. Need I say more?
good 2004/04/22: Setting Free the Bears[Wikipedia], John Irving: This book was quite good, though the quality was inconsistent in places. I got the impression that this book was one of those attempts to merge several story ideas into one book. You'll see what I mean if you read it.
bad 2004/04/14: The Psychology of Computer Programming, Gerald Weinberg: I don't think I've really taken too much away from this book, especially given that most of what it talks about is based on the outdated computing conventions of the early 1970's. However, I have to say that Gerald Weinberg is one of the best nonfiction authors I have ever read. He has a very lucid writing style that keeps the reader interested.
great 2004/04/06: V.[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Overall positive opinion, though I often felt like it lacked organization and coherence. There really wasn't any clear connection between the two parallel stories that got about equal time and merged senselessly near the end.
bad 2004/03/17: The Hero with a Thousand Faces[Wikipedia], Joseph Campbell: I stopped reading this after the first of two parts. There were some interesting ideas, though somehow I feel like I would have gotten just as much out of a short article.
good 2004/02/19: Breakfast of Champions[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: An interesting story, very reminiscent of Timequake, though I read them in the reverse order to that in which they were written decades apart.
good 2004/02/18: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: I liked this one a lot. Very good weaving of social commentary into an engaging story.
good 2004/02/17: Cat's Cradle[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: I thought it was mediocre. There weren't really any sympathetic characters for me in it, and the plot came across as somewhat disorganized.
bad 2004/02/14: Strange News from Another Star[Wikipedia], Hermann Hesse: As I would expect from a book alternately entitled "Fairy Tales," this one wasn't really my style. I hadn't realized that these short stories were written shortly before Hesse got into psychodrama.
good 2004/02/08: Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy[Wikipedia], William Barrett: This was quite clearly written, and I feel like I understand the basics of existentialism much better now than before I read this.
great 2004/01/27: The Names[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: I really enjoyed this one. It was a little slow starting up, but I ended up appreciating it more in the way I would appreciate a poem than the way I would usually appreciate a novel.
good 2004/01/14: Timequake[Wikipedia], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: I picked this one out expecting a novel. It turned out to be some weird unstructured autobiographical thing. Nonetheless, I ended up enjoying it.
bad 2004/01/13: Rudin/On the Eve, Ivan Turgenev: Pretty unremarkable stories.
bad 2004/01/10: Ratner's Star[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Sometimes interesting, but not particularly satisfying. It reminded me more of Kafka's The Castle than the previous DeLillo books that I've liked. Instead of putting strange characters in believable situations, DeLillo puts strange characters in absurd situations for the entire book.
bad 2004/01/10: Running Dog[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: The streak is spoiled. This one is very different from his two books that I read previously. Somewhat enjoyable, but too action oriented. Not enough improbable conversation. Too real.
great 2004/01/05: Gravity's Rainbow[Wikipedia], Thomas Pynchon: Interesting book. Very 70's. If all your life you've longed for a novel full of spontaneous singing, then Gravity's Rainbow may be your deliverance.
good 2003/12/20: Wuthering Heights[Wikipedia], Emily Brontë: Recommended by opet in #haskell. I ended up enjoying it. It didn't rock my world, but that's OK.
good 2003/12/12: The Big Sleep[Wikipedia], Raymond Chandler: I read this on recommendation from Andrew Clausen, and I was pleasantly surprised. Seeing as how it's a detective story, I was expecting something much, much more pulpy than I got. The plot and behavior of characters were close to what I expected, but it was very intelligently written.
good 2003/12/11: Great Jones Street[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: This one ended up being pretty enjoyable. I think it got significantly better somewhere near its middle. OK, time to stop reading DeLillo before I overdose or something.
great 2003/11/30: End Zone[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: Another very good book from this author. Doubly impressive for being centrally about football and still being enjoyable for me.
good 2003/11/27: Nabokov's Dozen[Wikipedia], Vladimir Nabokov: Mixed feelings. I liked the story about the crazy kid. :-)
good 2003/10/20: The Great Gatsby[Wikipedia], F. Scott Fitzgerald: Not stupendous, but surprisingly good for something so often assigned in high school English classes
bad 2003/10/13: Forty Stories[Wikipedia], Donald Barthelme: Abandoned because I don't like the format.
great 2003/10/11: White Noise[Wikipedia], Don DeLillo: :-) Good recommendation by dwb.
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