Happy Halloween! I read 8 books in October! Now that the month is over, it’s time to give a short review for each book, and then post all of these reviews to my big list of reviews.
An essay about advanced/post-human civilizations and “ancestor simulations” (high-fidelity supercomputer simulations that are advanced enough to simulate previous historical eras and all of the human brains of those eras – overly simplified, think Sid Meier’s Civilization meets The Matrix). Bostrom argues that one of three things is true: 1. all advanced civilizations go extinct before making ancestor simulations, 2. all advanced civilizations decide not to make ancestor simulations for mysterious reasons, or 3. there is an absurdly high chance (I infer it’s something like 1 in a trillion or a 99.9999999999% chance) that we are currently living in an ancestor simulation right now. One of the most influential essays of contemporary philosophy – and one of the most interesting. Most probably won’t count this as a book, but 1. Goodreads does, and 2. this little essay is arguably more thought-provoking and influential than 99% of books being written. The problem I’ve seen is that most people don’t understand probability very well (or at all) and can’t wrap their head around why Bostrom gives such a high chance to you and I living in a simulation – as long as you understand probability even just a little bit, you should absolutely read this essay.
A simple book about a simple idea: people in relationships express love in different love languages – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Keeping the “love tank full” in a relationship requires speaking your partner’s love language, and your partner speaking yours back to you. Mark Manson calls this the “Harry Potter of relationship books” for a reason: it’s a simple idea, everyone’s read it (or says they’ve read it), and you can find this book in every airport bookstore in the world. If you’re in a relationship, read it. Even if you’re not in a relationship, it might be a good idea to spend an afternoon reading it to figure out your own love languages.
Brad Blanton wants you to tell the truth – all the time, about everything. Blanton lays out the case that lying is the major cause of all human stress and illness, and for the sake of your health (and literally the survival of humanity), you should adopt radical honesty. Honestly? I’m not sure I fully buy it. I agree that lying will destroy you inside, and it’s best practice to tell truth. I’m skeptical of lies causing all illness and stress though. I’m skeptical of other stuff: Blanton tirades against moralism, resulting in moral-relativism-in-everything-but-name – which is followed by a 14 part political agenda that basically combines Bernie Sanders with Eckhart Tolle (which seems a little moralistic to me). Even if I think Blanton is a bit of a hypocrite (Blanton also thinks he’s a hypocrite), I think Blanton is onto something, and Radical Honesty is a thought provoking book.
Tony Robbins’ first book, written right at the beginning of his career as a self-help juggernaut. It has a lot of interesting ideas (some of which match other good advice I’ve read), plus some unique advice (he’s the first I’ve read recommending trampolining for superior health). Make no mistake though: Unlimited Power is a deeply flawed book. There are many references and quotes, but few citations. The book is unmistakably a product of the 80s, and many parts are severely outdated. Plus, the book is dominated by Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a form of psychotherapy that isn’t widely respected outside of self-help books. From what I can tell, Robbins’ later books are better (or at the very least contain less NLP), and you should just skip Unlimited Power unless you love Tony Robbins.
An absolutely riveting tale of a woman on a mission: stop having bad online dates, define exactly what she wants in a husband (from height and build, to his opinion on cruise ship traveling), and crack the code of online dating to find the Jew…ish Prince Charming of her dreams. While this book is mostly aimed at women, it combines three things I love reading about: data science, relationships, and neurotic smart people solving problems. I’ve been fascinated by this book ever since I saw Webb’s TED Talk, and read it in an afternoon (not because it’s short, but because I couldn’t put it down). You’ll laugh, you’ll be embarrassed for her, you’ll learn something about the algorithms that dating sites rely on (which might not apply as much to recent swiping apps), and if you’re like me you’ll facepalm over Webb stress-smoking after bad dates (to be fair, these were some really bad dates). The book probably won’t be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. Spoiler: She finds her Jew…ish Prince Charming.
A classic book about being conscious during your dreams, and even learning to control them, from the pioneer of lucid dreaming. This is not a book about dream interpretation, Freudian psychology, or about anything magical like astral projection or souls: this is a book about lucid dreaming. LaBerge keeps his book focused on scientific information and practical steps for achieving lucidity, drawing from his PhD work in lucid dreams and from ancient texts related to lucid dreams. Even if there are newer or better books about lucid dreaming (this was written in 1990), this seems to be the classic book on the subject, and one I plan on rereading.
A novella about individuality, self-perfection, and the willingness to be different – told with seagulls. I *suspect* a lot of people who know me wouldn’t expect me to like a book like this – it grew on me. The first part wasn’t very promising – Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a special seagull! He doesn’t want to spend his days working for food! He wants to be free, and master the art of flying! The other seagulls don’t understand him, and then they kick him out of seagull society! And then he spends the rest of his days flying until he dies. But then it turns out he *didn’t* die, and things get way more interesting. It’s deeper than it sounds, at least to me. I can understand the mixed opinions people have about this book, but I liked Seagull – I just hope I don’t reread this later, and react to it the same way a lot of people react to rereading Catcher in the Rye.
A collection of essays by master historian Will Durant, covering a handful of topics from the most important thinkers in history, to the 100 books to read for a complete education. After reading The Lessons of History (which is a masterpiece), I’m now dedicated to reading as much of Durant as I can get my hands on. There are parts of Greatest Minds that are incredible – Durant’s soaring rhetoric about humanity and heroes, the list of 100 best books (I’m attempting a similar project), and the brief inclusion of Marquis de Condorcet (who in my opinion is the most underappreciated thinker in all of western philosophy). There were parts I didn’t like as much – while I love how Durant talks about humanity in general, I’m not as enthusiastic about how he talks about “savages/primitives.” And while I love Durant’s book list, I’m not as interested in Durant’s long chapter about the best poets. With all that said, read Greatest Minds with an open mind, right after reading The Lessons of History.