Books read in 2016


  • Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1890
    • Reading Twain’s smaller writing. Great to see his less interesting stuff, and fun to be steeped in his voice.
  • Slow Democracy (Chelsea Green, 2012). S. Clark, W. Teachout
    • Clark and Teachout have a great vision for the role democracy should play in people’s lives. I love to see that view represented. This book is more on the movement building side than the handbook or theory side, so it was mostly for helping me not feel alone, although there was good history and good examples.
  • The Communistic Societies of the United States: Economic Social and Religious Utopias of the Nineteenth Century (Dover Publications, 1966). Charles Nordhoff

    • My understanding is that this is a classic study of small-scale communistic societies in the 19th century. They are overwhelmingly religious separatists with leaders. Their business organizations have surprising similarities. The Shakers seemed to have a lot of trouble with embezzlement by those leaders, with about a third of communities demonstrating some past of it. A great resource, and important reminder that the promise of America was for a long time, and for many people, in its communist utopias.
  • A Paradise Built in Hell : The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.
    Penguin Books (2010), Rebecca Solnit,

    • Beautiful, creative, and powerful. I admire Solnit a lot and her message is so clear and strong. She finds a bias hidden deeply in the thinking from both the left and the right, and makes it impossible to unsee. Shortly after reading it I saw it again in the etymology of “havoc.” It’s hard to be uncompromisingly radical and even-headedly fair and lucid at the same time, but she makes it look easy and makes me feel intellectually and physically lazy for failing to make the integration of those apparent extremes look effortless. Maybe the glue is compassion? I hope she has a lot more to say about utopia.
  • Individual strategy and social structure : an evolutionary theory of institutions / H. Peyton Young.
    • An important book laying out an important theory that evolutionary game theory offers a model of cultural evolution. I disagree, and now have a better sense of why. Great history and examples. I read past all but the essential introductory formal work (aka math).
  • JavaScript: The Good Parts and Eloquent Javascript

    • Two short books about Javascript that are helping me learn to think right in the language.
  • The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates (Princeton University Press, 2009). Peter Leeson

    • Pirate societies. I’ll be teaching this book. I like Leeson a lot even though he’s a mad libertarian. He’s creative.
  • The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal
    System (2014). Skarbeck

    • Prison societies. I’ll be teaching this too.
  • Codes of the Underworld: How criminals communicate (2009). Diego Gambetta

    • An economist’s signaling perspective on the Mafia.
  • Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

    • I’ll be teaching this book to help teach my class systems thinking, which is especially gratifying since she was here at Dartmouth. Meadows had a huge influence on me. In fact, my wife got a head start on it and she describes it as a user’s manual to my brain. I didn’t even know this book existed until wifey found it. It’s the best kind of posthumous book because she was almost done writing it when we (the world and, more specifically, Dartmouth) lost her.
  • Citizens of no place – An architectural graphic novel by Jimenez Lai
    • Fun, fast, a good mix of dreamy, ambitious, and wanky.
  • The Little Sister (Philip Marlowe, #5) by Raymond Chandler

    • Chandler is classic noir and I’m happy to get caught up on the lit behind my favorite movies. Marlowe is as cynical, dissipated, dark, and clever as you’d want, though I’ve got to admit I like Hammett better than Chandler: he does cynical better with Spade, and dark better with the Operator, and shows through Nick and Nora that he can lighten it up with just as much fluency.


  • Faust

    • Gift from a friend, a proud German friend who took me to the restaurant in the book where the devil gives the jolly guys wine while Faust sits there disaffected and bored. I’m now recognizing that this is an important book for a scientist to read, at least for making the intellectual life romantic.
  • Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891–1910 Edited by Louis Budd

    • A thick volume of Mark Twain’s early work, where you get to see his voice fill out from journalism through speeches to storytelling, for which he’s now most appreciated. Amazing to see all of his contributions to English, proportional to those of the King James Bible.
  • Elements of Statistical Learning : Data Mining, Inference, and Prediction (New York, NY : Springer-Verlag New York, 2009). J. Friedman, T. Hastie, R. Tibshirani

    • Important free textbook on statistical learning. Great read too; who knew?
  • The evolution of primate societies (University of Chicago Press, 2012). J. C. Mitani, J. Call, P. M. Kappeler, R. A. Palombit, J. B. Silk.

    • Amazing exciting expansive comprehensive academic walk through the primates, how they get on, and how humans are different. It’s a big one, and a slow read, but I’m learning a ton and it’s a great background for me as both a cognitive scientist and social scientist
  • The origin and evolution of cultures (2005). R. Boyd, P. J. Richerson

    • The fruits of unifying economic, evolutionary, and anthropological thought with mathematical rigor. Great background as I teach myself more about cultural evolution and the evolution of culture.
  • Joseph Henrichs’ The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter

    • Pop book that gives an easier overview of the cultural anthro lit. He offers a big vision. Light on details, which is inly a problem for me because the claims are so strong, but that’s not what this book is for. Makes me recognize, as a cognitive scientist, that language and consciousness are a giant gaping hole in current evolutionary accounts of what makes humans different.

To read:

  • Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal

    • De Waal making an overstrong-but-important-to-integrate case for animal social and psychological complexity
  • Animal social complexity : intelligence, culture, and individualized societies / edited by Frans B.M. de Waal and Peter L. Tyack.

    • An academic version of De Waal’s pop book, more concrete examples and lit,a nd a great cross-species overview to complement my more focused reading on primates.
  • The Sacred beetle and other great essays in science / edited by Martin Gardner

    • I love reading science writers’ collections of insider science writing, and I had no idea Gardner had one. How fun!
  • The Cambridge companion to Nozick’s Anarchy, state, and utopia / [edited by] Ralf M. Bader, John Meadowcroft.

    • Got to continue my unsympathetic reading of Nozick, especially for the ways that he might be right.


  • A mammal’s notebook : the writings of Erik Satie / edited and introduced by Ornella Volta ; translations by Antony Melville.

    • Has sketches and cartoons!
  • A cross-cultural summary, compiled by Robert B. Textor, 1964

    • This is mostly a list of numbers, but there’s some book in there too. This was hard to find.
  • The anthropology of complex economic systems : inequality, stability, and cycles of crisis / Niccolo Leo Caldararo.

    • Interesting argument about physical+historical limits influencing economic practice in very subtle ways.
  • The new dinosaurs : an alternative evolution / Dougal Dixon

    • Silly and sick pictures driven by a wildly creative vision.
  • Coping with chaos : analysis of chaotic data and the exploitation of chaotic systems / [edited by] Edward Ott, Tim Sauer, James A. Yorke.

    • Methods for the data-driven analysis of time series


  • Rereading Wodehouse
  • Reading more Ursula LeGuin
    • She’s so important, and still my favorite representative of sci-fi that is more interested in political than technological frontiers.


This entry was posted on Sunday, January 1st, 2017 and is filed under Uncategorized.