The Jury Talks Back

4/28/2019

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 8:51 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “What I’ve Been Reading” post. I thought I’d post a few of the titles and give brief reactions.

Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t by Edward Humes. I have read many books by Humes. He’s a good writer and smart, and makes some interesting points, but his overwhelming antagonism towards the criminal justice system, police, and prosecutors is distracting. I read the book because I know some of the participants and something about the case described.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Jonathan Hari. Hari has faced allegations of plagiarism, but the book was recommended by Sam Harris and I enjoyed it. Hari has a penchant for making one-sided arguments, however. His disdain for pharmaceuticals is understandable and may be correct, and his observations about the underlying causes of depression certainly have validity, but his polemic style can be off-putting. I ended up casting aside Hari’s Chasing the Scream after about 80 pages because it got boring and lost its credibility with its unrelentingly hyperbolic tone. Maybe I’ll return to it, but I doubt it.

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom. I didn’t enjoy this as much as I enjoyed Bloom’s previous book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, but I liked it OK. I got both books after Bloom was recommended by Jonah Goldberg in a talk I saw him give at UCSB. Bloom’s title is designed to be a Hot Take, but his opposition to empathy depends upon a technical definition that is not always what people mean when they use the word. He spends a lot of time explaining this, and reminding the reader that he is not actually against compassion, sympathy, and many of the concepts that the term often connotes. Also, the two books use a lot of the same stories. I’d recommend reading “Just Babies” and skipping “Against Empathy.”

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert Sapolsky. Very heavy on the science, particularly physiology, but interesting. If you forgot a lot of your high school physiology but find such things interesting, it’s a good book. It’s also a good reminder to meditate and get your equanimity in order.

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris. Some of these books deserve (and may receive) their own posts. I disagree with Sam Harris on his atheism, obviously, as well as his (to me) rather goofy and impossible-to-understand views on free will. But I admire much about his honesty and he has a lot of interesting things to say. Here, I’ll say mainly that the title is bad (and I think Sam might agree at this point): what he means by “science” is really what Jonathan Rauch meant by “liberal science” in his book Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition, which I also read recently and loved. Rauch’s view is that “liberal science” means a system of rational debate in which everything is decided by evidence and nothing is off the table. This one might merit its own post too. A great book that I don’t totally agree with but that opened my mind a lot.

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, and Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff. Great books. Saw the movie, which I really enjoyed and should have received more awards than it did.

Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by Cliff Sims. Reviewed already, here.

A Man’s World, by Steve Oney. Still making my way through this one. A collection of portraits of manly men by my erstwhile acquaintance whom I have not seen in years, Steve Oney. Great guy and great book so far.

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes by Frans de de Waal: I’m most of the way through this. A fascinating take on the social interactions of intelligent apes.

I finally finished The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger — a book I started in late 2017 on the recommendation of Ed from SFV (which, where did he go?). Good book that explains why there were so few prosecutions after the 2008 financial crisis.

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson. One of those books that was recommended by Amazon and looked interesting, so I got it. I liked it but I can’t say I found it to have a terribly profound impact on my worldview. I like the thesis: that a lot of analyzing goes on unconsciously and efficiently.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, and Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How to Heal by Ben Sasse (both affiliate links). I mentioned the Haidt book here and here and saw a lecture by him. I was accompanied at the lecture by our guest blogger Dana, and that was a treat. The Sasse book was excellent, as was his other book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. Sasse is a big fan of gumption; it’s shocking that he wasn’t born in New England. I like him. He’s a good guy.

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, and A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea, by Masaji Ishikawa. Both books reviewed here.

I say all this partially by way of saying that I am finally tackling Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action, which is a 900-page monster. I think it will probably take me until July to finish it. I plan to finish off the series summarizing Bob Murphy’s summary of the book once I’m done, but I figure the summaries will mean more to me once I have read the whole thing.

It’s a masterful work, difficult to follow at times and wildly entertaining at others. I already have a couple of posts envisioned based on things Mises says about political and social affairs.

What have you guys been reading?

1 Comment »

  1. You certainly read a lot. Well done!

    As for me, I’m currently reading Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes. It’s a history of the development of the hydrogen bomb. I highly recommend it. (not least because I can’t tell the author’s politics from it, which is a refreshing change).

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 4/29/2019 @ 11:39 am

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