Bookshelf

The bookshelf below is now outdated.  I am currently experimenting with making my reading and book recommendations public on GoodReads.  


Bookshelf Archive

Inspired by Nick Beckstead I have decided to list the books that I have read recently, along with some brief comments. I do not devour books at the speed that Nick does though, so I’m afraid this will be a somewhat shorter list.

If you are looking for something interesting to read, and you are not already familiar with the ideas behind effective altruism and existential risk, then I recommend Tyler Alterman’s reading list here.  The ideas described in the articles and books on that list have had a strong influence on my values and epistemology.

Below are books that I have read or listened to recently.  Titles are listed in chronological order of my reading them, with the latest additions at the top.

2016

Title: The 4 Disciplines of Execution
Author: Sean Covey
Recommendation: Yes, if interested in the topic
Why did I read this book?: The Giving What We Can book club read it
Notes: I made some rough notes here.  At its core this book describes a methodology for maximising a chosen metric with a team, including discusion of how to pick that metric.

Title: The 4-Hour Chef
Author: Tim Ferris
Recommendation: Yes if interested in the subject and relatively new to cooking
Why did I read this book?: I was quite influenced by Tim Ferris’ “The 4-Hour Work Week” when I read it many years ago, and I enjoy cooking.
Notes: A fun journey from the very basics of cooking through to attempting to replicate some ‘restaurant quality’ advanced dishes with little training. As a vegetarian I skipped the sections on hunting and the various meat-based recipes, but particularly enjoyed the section on culinary chemistry tricks and the advice and examples for how to develop your own dishes. I plan to experiment with many of the ideas here in my cooking over the coming months.

Title: Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman
Author: Richard Feynman
Recommendation: Yes, if interested in the topic
Why did I read this book?: Recommendation from Nick Beckstead
Notes: A wonderful array of stories and anecdotes from the life of a surprisingly mischievous Nobel prize winning physicist. Highlights include Feynman’s account of his time at Los Alamos working on the atomic bomb.

Title: The Everything Store
Author: Brad Stone
Recommendation: Possibly, if interested in the topic
Why did I read this book?: I am interested in logistics, and I enjoyed Elon Musk and Steve Jobs biographies
Notes: This is a cross between a biography of Jeff Bezos and a history of Amazon. I would probably recommend Musk’s and Jobs’ biographies over this one.

Title: The Master Algorithm
Author: Pedro Domingos
Recommendation: Probably not.  Gwern’s negative review does a decent job of explaining some of the downsides of the book.
Why did I read this book?: Bill Gates recommended this book as a companion to my boss Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence.
Notes: I was hesitant to read this after Gwern’s negative review, but was curious to see what all the fuss was about. The book does appear to make mistakes in a number of places (for example, I remember feeling frustrated when he said something about climate scientists determining the target concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere using machine learning). Nonetheless I imagine this book could be a useful layman’s introduction to machine learning algorithms, though Gwern recommends other books such as Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” for that purpose.

Title: Peak
Author: Anders Ericsson
Recommendation: Yes
Why did I read this book?: Recommended by Ben Todd of 80,000 Hours
Notes: Essentially an argument that a major component of expertise among high achievers is the amount of time spent in deliberate practise. I think that Ericsson overstates his case and ignores a bunch of the evidence against his claims, but I found it useful nonetheless. Reading the book has caused me to spend more time on self-improvement using methods as close as I can get to deliberate practise.

Title: The New One-minute Manager
Author: Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer John
Recommendation: Yes
Why did I read this book?: I enjoyed “The one minute manager” and attempted to incorporate many of its ideas into my management toolkit. I was curious to see what had changed in this revised edition, and to get a refresher on the material.
Notes: Blanchard and colleagues now adopt a less commanding style, perhaps adopting by a more “democratic” management style. This is a welcome shift in my opinion. Still a reasonable quick first introduction to management.

Title: The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager
Author: Kenneth Blanchard and  Margret McBride
Recommendation: Yes, if interested in the subject
Why did I read this book?: I found the original “One Minute Manager” quite useful and was interested in a more of Blanchard’s back-to-basics discussion of management
Notes: The original title for this book was apparently “the one minute apology” which is a more accurate title, but didn’t test as well. I like it’s simplistic back-to-basics approach, and found it useful.

Title: Count Zero
Author: William Gibson
Recommendation: No
Why did I read this book: Sequel to Neuromancer (see below)
Notes: A relatively dull storyline compared to Neuromancer IMHO, and rehashes many of the old ideas.

Title: Your Brain at Work (didn’t finish)
Author: David Rock
Recommendation: No
Why did I read this book: Seemed like an interesting psychology-informed book on productivity
Notes: I was already familiar with many of the ideas in the book, so it didn’t grip me enough to finish it.

Title: Neuromancer
Author: William Gibson
Recommendation: Yes
Why did I read this book?: I had heard several people reference this book, and when I read that it had won all three of the major science fiction awards I thought I should read it. I have also enjoyed cyberpunk sci-fi in the past, e.g. from Neil Stevenson, and this apparently defined the genre.
Notes: A fun ride which apparently helped popularise the term cyberspace. I can see why so many people have enjoyed reading it.

Title: The Box
Author: Marc Levinson
Recommendation: Yes, if interested in the subject
Why did I read this book?: Recommended by Bill Gates, and I am interested in logistics
Notes: A history of the shipping container and how it has transformed economies, landscapes, and accelerated globalisation.

Title: Organising Genius
Author: Patricia Ward Biederman and Warren Bennis
Recommendation: Yes, if interested in the subject
Why did I read this book?: Apparently recommended second-hand by Demis Hassabis
Notes: Thoughts on how to manage collaboration in high-performance teams. A key take-home point for me was that as well as a visionary leader, high-performing teams also often have someone well positioned to shield the team from bureaucracy and to secure resources for the project. This role appeals to me as someone who enjoys working with a creative high-intensity team, but who doesn’t mind interfacing with large bureaucracies.