What are we reading?

September 22, 2019 • 12:00 pm

Well, I don’t know what you’re reading, and whether you like it, but that’s what this post is for. In fact, a lot of the books I’ve read, and a few I’m reading now, have come from readers’ comments on posts like this.

I usually read only one book at a time, and have been reading only nonfiction, but now I’m reading multiple books at once. The one I’m concentrating on—as it’s big and I need to finish it before I go to Antarctica—is this biography of Churchill (click on all books for the Amazon link). It was published in November of last year and was highly rated.

I’m reading it because I finally grew tired of not knowing all about Churchill’s life. I’d read the first two volumes of William Manchester’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, which was fabulous—along with Robert Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses, I considered it one of the three best biographies I’ve ever read. But Manchester died before he could finish the last volume, and that last volume was poised to begin at the apogee of Churchill’s career: when he became Prime Minister at the beginning of World War II. Someone was commissioned to finish Manchester’s bio from his notes, but I don’t have the heart to read it.

So I’m only 150 pages from the end of this 960-page behemoth, and it’s very good. Not as good as Manchester’s biography, mind you, but at least it relates his whole life, and is very good on WWII. I would recommend this very highly.

I’m about to start this one, which, as I recall, a reader recommended. It came out in May, and there are only 8 Amazon reviews, but they’re good. The description is enticing:

An argument that what makes science distinctive is its emphasis on evidence and scientists’ willingness to change theories on the basis of new evidence.

Attacks on science have become commonplace. Claims that climate change isn’t settled science, that evolution is “only a theory,” and that scientists are conspiring to keep the truth about vaccines from the public are staples of some politicians’ rhetorical repertoire. Defenders of science often point to its discoveries (penicillin! relativity!) without explaining exactly why scientific claims are superior. In this book, Lee McIntyre argues that what distinguishes science from its rivals is what he calls “the scientific attitude”―caring about evidence and being willing to change theories on the basis of new evidence. The history of science is littered with theories that were scientific but turned out to be wrong; the scientific attitude reveals why even a failed theory can help us to understand what is special about science.

McIntyre offers examples that illustrate both scientific success (a reduction in childbed fever in the nineteenth century) and failure (the flawed “discovery” of cold fusion in the twentieth century). He describes the transformation of medicine from a practice based largely on hunches into a science based on evidence; considers scientific fraud; examines the positions of ideology-driven denialists, pseudoscientists, and “skeptics” who reject scientific findings; and argues that social science, no less than natural science, should embrace the scientific attitude. McIntyre argues that the scientific attitude―the grounding of science in evidence―offers a uniquely powerful tool in the defense of science.

Finally, I read this book hoping to learn a bit more about Antarctica before I go (a month from yesterday!). It was a complete waste of time. Combine a scholar steeped in Social Justice Warriorism and postmodernism, along with his interest in the geopolitics of how Antarctica was “divided up” and colonized, and you get a worthless tome that tells you virtually nothing about the geological or evolutionary history of the continent, or about its weather or modern geology, or about what plants or animals are there. For a book purporting to be all about a continent (granted, a “Very Short Introduction”), it leaves out almost everything of interest. The poor quality of this book stands in sharp contrast to the other 400-odd VSI volumes put out by Oxford University Press. What a pity, and what a waste!

Now, what are you reading? Do you like it, and would you recommend it?

297 thoughts on “What are we reading?

  1. I’ll get top the Jesus Puzzle. currently reading The Modigliani scandal, it is the last Follett book that I hadn’t read. There arn’t enough Ken Follett’s in the world.

  2. “The Lunatic Express: An entertainment in Imperialism” (Futura, 1971) by Noo Yoiker Charles Miller: nugget-rich history of C19th Zanzibar and Tanzania. Goes into the scramble for Africa, dwells on the nobody-knows-what-the-hell-they’re-doing view of history & touches on the amount of gold the west spent in suppressing the slave trade.

    A constantly amusing writer with a gift for the coined phrase: an authoritarian tribal chief he describes as being “self-elected unanimously”.

  3. Interesting picks

    I haven’t read a book straight through for years. I’ve obtained 100’s though thanks to the library. I’ve been getting into problem or puzzle books, including things like SAT prep books. It works for me.

    Other examples:

    Howard Stern Comes Again

    Interesting because Donald Trump is featured in it with “And now, a word from our President…” segments. It is astonishing to read. Also there’s a section with celebrities revealing the details of their victimization by religion and woo.

      1. I’m not holding my breath

        Just for you though – well, I sent it to PCC(E) too – a probability puzzle, written by Lewis Carroll, in Martin Gardner’s book “The Universe in A Handkerchief” – a “counter” functions like a marble:

        “A bag contains one counter, known to be either white or black. A white counter is put in, the bag shaken, and a counter drawn out, which proves to be white. What is now the chance of drawing a white counter?”

        A detailed solution is here :


        I thought the puzzle had the same intrigue as the Bertrand’s Box paradox.

  4. I’m reading two complementary books. I just finished the old Steven Pinker book “How the Mind Works”, and last night I started the new Eric Kandel book “The Disordered Mind”.

  5. Extinction, Douglas Erwin.
    It is about the end-Permian Exctinction, the mother of all extinctions.
    Erwin gives us a number of possible causes and the idea behind them as a possible cause. Then he looks at all (well, a lot of) the available evidence and then The Murder on the Orient Express becomes part of the narrative…

    I would certainly recommend it to my fellow interested laymen.

      1. Erwin’s book is good, but worth bearing in mind that it was published in 2006, and a lot of new information on the Permian extinction has come out since then.

        For a more recent book on mass extinctions, including the end-Permian, I recommend Paul Wignall’s 2015 book “The Worst of Times”. It’s shorter and a bit less technical than Erwin, but highly readable.

        I’m currently about 20% of the way through Max Hastings’ “Vietnam: an epic history of a tragic war”. Like most of Hastings’ war histories, it’s a massive door-stop of a book, but it’s a great read, and hugely informative. If you want an up-to-date history of the whole Vietnam disaster, I thoroughly recommend it.

  6. Last book I read is ‘the Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve’ by Stephen Greenblatt, who also authored ‘The Swerve’. Both very much recommended. Currently reading ‘Household Stories’ by the Brothers Grimm, first published in 1882. Half-way through. My, how cruel were people as depicted in these stories. Still a good read.

    1. Oops, I forgot one very good book: ‘Erebus’ by Michael Palin. The story of one of the ships of the Franklin Expedition to the North-West Arctic sea passage. The expedition was completely unheard from and much effort was made to find any survivors. None ever found. The shipwrecks of the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ were recently found in the high arctic. Fascinating.

    2. Oops, I forgot. Read ‘Erebus’ by Michael Palin. The story of one of the ships of the ‘Franklin Expedition’.

  7. The Map of Knowledge by Violet Moller
    Fascinating discovery. Highly readable and illuminating.

    Mayor Pete’s book: The Shortest Way Home

    The Fifth Risk – Michael Lewis

    Gould’s Book of Fish – Richard Flanagan (wonderful Tasmanian writer – read maybe 6 of his)

    Vineland – Thomas Pynchon – oldie but goodie

    The Overstory – Richard Powers – brilliant writer, though this one gets a tiny bit didactic on eco-terrorism.

    The Book of Night Women – Martin James – this Jamaican writer won the Booker Prize a couple of years ago for A Brief History of Seven Killings (about Bob Marley)

    The Only Story – Julian Barnes – just started this.

    1. I was scrolling down and I saw ‘Maps Of…’ in the corner of my eye under Merilee. For a second I thought ‘Merilee reads Jordan Peterson??’. Then I checked, and breathed a sigh of relief as the universe came back into focus and the world once again made sense.

        1. Me neither, but he has a book called ‘Maps Of Meaning’, and for a weird, parallel-universe second I thought you’d given it a thumbs-up.

    2. I’m reading Lewis’s Fifth Risk now, too. I recently read his The Undoing Project. (I went to my local bookstore to buy the former, but it was sold out, so I bought the latter to read while waiting for it to be restocked, since I’d been meaning to get to it anyway.)

      Lewis is our era’s Great Explainer, addressing complex topics in transparent prose, wrapped around character-driven narratives.

        1. Every time I try to read books like that, I can’t get through them because I just get too depressed about it and go into escapism fiction. It’s where I am now. Once a regular reader, I find I don’t read as much anymore & when I do, it’s fiction, fiction, fiction. I spent two years straight on non-fiction & now it’s all fiction. Though I’ve found some very entertaining science fiction in the process, including the Murderbot series which was easy to read & interesting from a character perspective.

          1. I wasn’t reading fiction for a few years myself…immersed in Dawkins, Pinker, Dennett, Hitchens and other science and/or anti-religion writers. Now I’m reading a lot of fiction again and I welcome the escapism.

            Murderbot? I’m intrigued.

            1. “I wasn’t reading fiction for a few years myself…immersed in Dawkins, Pinker, Dennett, Hitchens and other science and/or anti-religion writers.”

              Me too. My dad gave me his old copy of The God Delusion for my birthday(he’s not exactly a lavish gift-giver) and it really blew my mind.
              It’s no exaggeration to say that I had no interest whatsoever in science, religion, philosophy or politics before I read that book and it precipitated probably six or seven years of non-fiction reading, teaching myself about a way of looking at the world that for most of my life was completely alien.
              Before TGD I was interested in music, football and video-games, nothing much else, but the way Dawkins wrote, the clarity and precision of the arguments in that book…it just…pinged my tuning fork.

              It’s only in the last few years that I’ve read any fiction at all.

  8. I’ve just finished ‘Behave’ by Robert Sapolsky, which was riveting. I recommend it highly.

    Also finished just now: ‘Blood River’ by Tim Butcher, about his journey down the Congo. Several people raved about it to me, said it was un-put-downable. I disagree, and I put it down frequently.

    I am currently reading:

    ‘A Strange Loop’ by Douglas Hofstadter.

    ‘Them: Travels With Extremists’ by Jon Ronson.

    and for the fifth or sixth time ‘Why Does The World Exist?’ by Jim Holt.

    All three are faintly ridiculous in their own way, and the latter two are very entertaining.

    1. …I should emphasise how fascinating ‘Behave’ was. It’s one of the best popular science books I’ve ever read. Sapolsky is utterly unromantic and microscopically scrupulous, yet the book is compulsively readable.
      It’s big, which means it covers pretty much everything about human behaviour, from political preferences to instinctive racism to peer pressure and more, but I breezed through it nevertheless. It’s mind-expanding and panoramic and I highly recommend it.

      Free-will comes up in it too – he’s a hard determinist with very strong views on the subject, but those views don’t intrude on the rest of the book and the section on free-will is pretty short.

      1. I’ve had Behave for a while. Must get to it. Went to a seminar of his at my Stanford reunion. I’ve got another one of Sapolsky’s called something like Why Zebras don’t get Heart Attacks.

      2. I read Behave a while ago, and had much the same reaction. He keeps it moving along very well. Lots of the stuff is quite interesting.

        One of my favorite bits was fetal brain development and the way hormones affect it. Estrogen action is blocked because there is too much from the mother. When male fetuses make testosterone, it gets transported into the brain, where it is converted into estrogen, which then affects certain fetal brain developments. The result is greater testosterone sensitivity in males after birth. All very confusing, and he sorts it all out very nicely.

        1. It’s full of details like that. I found the bit on instinctive prejudices fascinating but I think what I like most about it is the way he gives you a kind of highlights-reel of the coolest experiments of the last century, all the most counter-intuitive and elegant results and what they mean. It’s very moreish, and you can open it practically at random and find something intriguing.

      3. I read Behave a few months ago, and it’s on my coffee table waiting for a second read. There was so much detail that I couldn’t retain much of it. Must be issues with short-term memory!

      4. I too liked “Behave” a lot. In fact, it makes the argument that finally convinced me about determinism, not calling on physics. It’s all those influences from my current mood and going back into the past. Loved it.

  9. I’m currently reading “Leonardo Da Vinici” by Walter Isaacson. I’ve always been intrigued by Leonardo. One quibble is that he mentions Steve Jobs in the same breath as Leonardo which I’m not happy about.

    1. I got that book some time back. Learn a lot about Da Vinci. Printed on fancy paper so I have to keep that one.

  10. As the World’s Slowest Reader Who Loves to Read,
    I do like my read. I would recommend it.
    I am only near its beginning yet and figure
    it’ll quite likely take me upwards of a year to finish.

    But I continue at what some ‘ld call actual reading.

    Ms Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments.


    1. There was an excellent 3/4 hour interview on Friday. Mary Beard (Cambridge, professor of Classics and occasional combatant on the feminism public commentary front) interviewing Margaret Atwood. If you can get BBC programs it might be here, otherwise the usual games of whack-a-mole will be going on in Youtube.

      1. Oooo, thank you, gravelinspector – Aidan, I even
        tried registering with the BBC but no, not
        “permitted” in the USA. Will look on youtube then.


        1. You may like Alias Grace (also a TV series). Atwood’s partner just died recently at 85.

          I’ve liked her poetry for years. One of my favourite poems is This is a Photograph of Me

          It was taken some time ago
          At first it seems to be
          a smeared
          print: blurred lines and grey flecks
          blended with the paper;

          then, as you scan
          it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
          a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
          (balsam or spruce) emerging
          and, to the right, halfway up
          what ought to be a gentle
          slope, a small frame house.

          In the background there is a lake,
          and beyond that, some low hills.

          (The photograph was taken
          the day after I drowned.

          I am in the lake, in the center
          of the picture, just under the surface.

          It is difficult to say where
          precisely, or to say
          how large or how small I am:
          the effect of water
          on light is a distortion.

          but if you look long enough
          you will see me.)

            1. You’d probably like some of her retelling of ancient stories. I also have Hagseed but haven’t read it yet.

  11. …Also ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ by Jon Ronson too. I always have a couple of his books on the go at once because they’re both interesting, intelligent and satisfyingly trashy.

    1. On the bedside stand – but not yet opened – is “Stalin’s Englishman”, a biography of Guy Burgess (Andrew Lownie, ISBN 978-1-473-62738-3). Bit by bit I’m working my way through “Major Transitions in Vertebrate Evolution” (Anderson & Sues, 978-0-253-34926-2) – very dense and technical. I’m trying to finish James Downard’s “Evolution Slam Dunk” (mentioned by the author here several times, ISBN 9-781540-736291). I’d like to send him my review privately before saying anything publicly, but it slow going.
      Oh, and for fun, I’m just about to start volume 3 of the Game of Thrones (no I haven’t seen any of the TV series).

      1. Re Game of Thrones, the first three volumes are good but after that they got very repetitive and there was no end in sight. I stopped reading after the fourth one. I also have not seen any of the TV series.

        1. I’m already getting the repetition. Swords – check. Sandals – check. Sorcery – check. More back-stabbing than at the AGM of the Infernal Society of Backstabbers when there’s an election in the offing – check.

  12. I would not want to get negative on any good history book but Machester’s book on Churchill is getting a bit old now. Also, he wrote a big book on Douglas MacAthur, American Caesar that was extremely favorable to the General as I recall. I wonder if he went the same way with Churchill. Much of the stuff I have read on Churchill is very favorable and not so much on the negative things. Historians should cover both the good and the bad but sometimes they do not, or at least go light on the negative side. During the War (WWII) Churchill did some great things, 1940 and all that but he also had some failings and fought very hard against Roosevelt on the strategy (D-DAY). History must be accurate and fair.

    I would recommend a very current book on cyber security – The Fifth Domain, by Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake.

    Another one – Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Goodwin.

      1. I am only about half through it but very good. Goodwin has done books on all four of the presidents she uses for this book and has a great amount of info on all of them.

  13. I recently finished “Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson”. Leo was definitely an interesting guy! I was less impressed by this book though. It was hard to make it through to the end. I think the basic problem is the scarcity of knowledge about Da Vinci’s life rather than Isaacson’s lack of writing ability.

    I’m currently halfway through “Rebooting AI” by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis. Not much of it is really news to me I already agreed with Marcus’s analysis and it is a field that I am trying to do real work in. It basically deflates the latest round of hype surrounding AI. As anyone who reads this website knows, the press is somewhat gullible when it comes to science and technology and, since there’s so much money in AI right now, there are many willing to take advantage of them. It’s still an interesting read.

    I am slowly reading “Emergence”, edited by Bedau and Humphreys. This is a collection of articles on the idea that there are levels of description in science and how the higher level emerges from the lower level. This has implications for free will and understanding of physics and science in general. I will leave it there. 😉

    Waiting to get to “Something Deeply Hidden”, the latest by Sean Carroll and about multiple universes and such.

    1. I’ll probably end up getting Carroll’s new one, although there have been so many good books about the multiverse already, especially the ones by Brian Greene and Max Tegmark.
      I can’t read enough about the subject, it’s just endlessly interesting. He sort-of covered it in From Eternity To Here, if only briefly, and it was fascinating. He postulated a kind of temporally-symmetrical back-to-back dual universe, with a big bang in the middle ‘between’ them, setting them both off in different temporal directions, so that the asymmetry of the arrow of time is no longer an issue. Mind-boggling.

      I wasn’t a fan of his last one though, The Big Picture. So many incredibly dense subjects were covered, and before he’d even skimmed the surface he was off onto a different topic. It just didn’t work.
      And his use of ‘poetic naturalism’ as an epistemic worldview felt like a kind of compromise specifically dreamt up so that he could fudge the unpalatable reality of determinism.
      He really doesn’t want to concede that we don’t have free will, so rather than do so he altered the meaning of truth to make his compatibilism scientifically defensible.

      1. I agree with Carroll on free will. I think you unfairly characterize our argument. If you define free will as part of the human condition and our culture, science really doesn’t come into it. Free will is a term used to describe our sense of agency which is as real as anything else in our experience, including baseball (Carroll’s example). The incompatibilists want to make it all about science in order to make their position seem more virtuous. 😉

        1. To be fair you can start any sentence with ‘if you define x as…’, and then go on to make pretty much any claim under the sun.

          “Free will is a term used to describe our sense of agency”

          I just don’t agree that that’s what ‘free will’ means, or that anyone(save incompatibilists) believes it to mean that.

          Ask someone on the street what free will means and they’ll give you a definition that simply does not make any scientific or philosophical sense. You can say they’re wrong to use that definition, but you can’t really say it’s not the common definition, because it is. Besides, if yours and Carroll’s definition was always the definition that people instinctively used there wouldn’t be a disagreement about free-will in the first place. The issue just wouldn’t have come up.

          “The incompatibilists want to make it all about science in order to make their position seem more virtuous.”

          I don’t see it as virtuous or not-virtuous. It just is. It’s quite depressing frankly, but I can’t see a way past it.

          Thanks for implying I’m interested in seeming virtuous though. That’s a first 😉

          1. “Ask someone on the street what free will means and they’ll give you a definition that simply does not make any scientific or philosophical sense.”

            This is because you really don’t understand it. Incompatibilists want to define free will as something completely alien to everyday experience. You can define it to mean whatever you want but don’t expect others to buy into it.

            A great example of what I’m talking about is how most people interpret “Could you have done otherwise?” Incompatibilists want that to mean a totally abstract thought experiment where we imagine going two different directions from one state of the universe. Instead, most people take it to refer to a decision made under different circumstances, differing states of the universe.

            1. That’s the little people argument. The regular person understands free will to mean “I could have done otherwise”. What most people also believe, unfortunately, is that their agency is true and that there is a ghost in the machine separate from the physical.

              1. I don’t know about most people but I certainly don’t believe in any ghost in the machine and neither do Carroll and Dennett but we do believe we have agency and the ability to choose otherwise given the everyday definition. This bit about saying you either deny free will or believe in ghosts is the kind of sciencey virtue claiming that is unreasonable, IMHO.

              2. First of all I never said that you believe in science or ghosts. But I’m going back to what I have always argued. I’m not even talking about compatibilists or non compatibilists. I’m talking about regular people who go to church and think that you choose to be who you are. These are the people who think it’s all about working hard and making effort. It’s a good percentage of Americans who buy into the American dream. I’m talking about determinism. And compatibilists and non-compatibilists both accept it. If you’re going to argue what most people believe, they aren’t even close to what you’re arguing.

              3. Except for the church part, I do believe we at least partially choose who we are. I don’t deny nature but nurture still counts too. We do make choices but, like free will, its domain is human endeavor, not fundamental physics.

              4. We do respond to inputs for our behaviour and we are bound by physics and many other variables (this is why determinism is not fatalism) but there are many who believe that we are separate from our physical selves. That there are eyes peering out of our bodies and that we have a “soul”.

            2. “This is because you really don’t understand it.”

              That’s a pretty cheap, lazy game to play. I could say exactly the same thing to you.

              I don’t agree, I’m going to leave it there, before I write something I regret.

            3. A great example of what I’m talking about is how most people interpret “Could you have done otherwise?” Incompatibilists want that to mean a totally abstract thought experiment where we imagine going two different directions from one state of the universe. Instead, most people take it to refer to a decision made under different circumstances, differing states of the universe

              That’s not true! The popular meaning of “Free will” is the belief that agents [people] are free to choose a different path in the past from the one they actually took. The popular & mistaken interpretation of reality is that conscious agents are different from inanimate billiard balls in that they have a real choice [not an illusionary choice] – unbounded by physics to some extent i.e. agents can nudge the physics.

              1. I disagree entirely. That’s the definition of free will the incompatibilists try to foist on the rest of us. Try asking someone who is not already up on the free will discussion whether they could have chosen otherwise and, assuming they answer “yes”, ask them if when they answered they assumed that absolutely everything was to be held constant even their feelings and internal thoughts. If you press the issue, you will find they were not assuming that and once they fully understand how you meant the question they’ll probably say “no” or consider the question basically a tautology. It’s equivalent to asking “If you lived your life over again and everything (and I mean absolutely everything) was exactly the same, would your life have unfolded differently?” The answer is either “no” or “WTF are you talking about?”

                I better stop here or get in trouble with the powers that be.

              2. I think the word “choice” allows slipping into the notion that there’s a free will – it’s not “choice”, it’s one reaction in a longer chain reaction.

              3. Blimey Thyroid! If you read what I wrote again you’d perhaps realise I’m not saying what free will is, or how it is defined by philosophers/scientists – I’m claiming that most people think that “free will” is real [defies physics] & that they have it.

              4. The kind of free will “most people” think they have doesn’t defy physics as it lives in a different domain of discourse and thought. Similarly, “art appreciation” follows the laws of physics but they aren’t terribly relevant to the subject.

              5. When Joe or Joanne says they could have chosen a different cake yesterday at the garden centre they think they could have done so if the clock was wound back to that moment & events relived. They can hold that false belief perfectly well within the physics that permits thought & thus I don’t know why you bring up that irrelevance.

                I say again: the majority of people hold the irrational belief that they can choose a path differently [if the universe allowed reruns] everything else being equal. And to them that is what free will means.

              6. We cannot escape physics. Free will just isn’t art. It may have started off in a philosophical domain only but, as with many things, science has something to say about that now. Those that hold contra-causal free will (ghost in the machine) believe it is purely the domain of the arts.

              7. I am arguing in good faith. That is contra causal fee will. You may not like it but look up the term. It isn’t what you accuse me of. It’s accurate. A little soul pitched behind eyes. That is what most believe. Confirm the stats. I’ll wait.

              8. We are arguing past each other. Although you aren’t claiming that I believe in ghosts in the machine, you are implying that if one doesn’t believe as you believe regarding free will then one must believe in ghosts in the machine. If so, then I violate that rule as I definitely do not believe in any ghosts in the machine but also I don’t agree with your take on free will. I think that is the end of this discussion.

              9. Prove that’s what I say. Go ahead. I’ll wait for where I said if you don’t believe in what I believe I. You are a dualist. Please go ahead. I will wait. I was simply defining terms. Look up “dualist”. Look up “ghost in the machine”. That is the common belief of most people. You can’t simply cry “bad faith” argument and assert what you believe I think (based on no evidence) because you don’t like what I’m saying.

              10. Again – stop playing the victim. I never said what you believe. We were talking about what most people believe. Please quote me where I said what you believe. FFS and then to say my conversation is “silly”. Jesus Christ.

              11. Come off it. Why bring them up then if you don’t think they are what I believe? As far as I’m concerned, neither have a place in this discussion.

                I’m going to end with this. Sean Carroll’s views seem pretty close to mine. He’s a CalTech physicist so no one is going to accuse him of being a dualist. I recommend his excellent post on free will, “Free Will Is as Real as Baseball” https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball/

              12. If anyone is arguing in bad faith, it is not me. I’ve repeatedly asked you questions throughout this discussion:

                1) Why science should not comment on claims about nature, about which free will is because it involves physics and the physical world. No answer here other than to assert it’s the realm of philosophy.

                2)What people in general believe when they think of free will. This is why I brought it up. Scroll back and instead of having an emotional reaction, look at what I wrote. Here, I’ve stated it’s dualism – contra causal free will. To this you told me I was accusing you of believing that and arguing in bad faith. You never addressed my position or answered my question. Instead you’ve accused me of arguing in bad faith and now said that I should never have brought this up when it’s a main point of the argument.

                Finally, appealing to authority by quoting Sean Carroll is not engaging in the argument. The way you have conducted yourself in this discussion with both me and others is shameful.

              13. I ask for an exception because I’m waiting for an interesting point to be made, and already there have been some interesting ideas pitches out.

                Also, I’m waiting to know how Paul can know if his answer from above is true – how he _knows_ he could have done otherwise.

              14. How I know that I could have done otherwise is the fact that if my desires for tea vs coffee had been different, I would have made a different choice. In other words, it is the same as most people.

                I guess this is where someone says “But most people are dualists.” That might be true but nothing about my free will has anything to do with dualism. The ability to make choices is simply part of how a brain works. Some people call it agency.

                Here’s the hard part. Whether or not determinism is true, my brain still processes information, has an internal state (my thoughts and memories) and makes decisions based on them. Sure, all of those things are determined if physical determinism holds but it just doesn’t matter. Free will is a cultural concept that we use to describe how we make decisions and whatever the physics. Just as we simultaneously have thoughts about baseball AND baseball is subject to the laws of physics. Both coexist but are at different levels of description. Just as we describe water being wet yet if you look at a single water molecule, wetness is nowhere to be found. Sure, the molecules have properties that combine to make water wet but no one finds it useful to talk about the wetness of a single water molecule.

                I still recommend Carroll’s article as I’m sure his explanation is clearer than mine.

              15. Sorry, I have no shame, at least in this instance. I’m not appealing to authority by mentioning Sean Carroll’s article, except perhaps to say that he’s not a nut case or “most people”. I referred to his article as it reflects what I also believe. You don’t seem able or willing to understand my position on free will. Perhaps you might find his writing more compelling or at least understandable even if you don’t agree with it. It’s certainly not dualism so I hope we can forget about that.

              16. And bloody hell “ghost in the machine” that so offends you is a philosophical term to describe the dualism you keep pushing with free will. It’s really unfair to tell me I’m arguing in bad faith simply by describing a position of most people. Really google it. Most people are dualists.

              17. Um I’ve clearly said that most people are dualists. Look back. I’m not sure what you believe but claiming science has no place to test the claim on nature and physics made by philosophers is misguided. That isn’t a bad fair argument, it’s just one you don’t like.

              18. “The kind of free will “most people” think they have doesn’t defy physics as it lives in a different domain of discourse and thought.”

                Consider operations a person might execute, like drinking tea, walking, or picking up a pencil. Would those be examples of free will? Such that, to prove the free will, one could drink tea over and over, walk longer, or put the pencil down and pick it up over and over again?

              19. Relax Paul. If you are in trouble with the powers that be, there was nothing you could have done about it.

            4. Instead, most people take it to refer to a decision made under different circumstances, differing states of the universe.

              That’s just false. I’m copying the rest of this comment from something I wrote on reddit, mostly using sources by PCC(E). Hopefully it doesn’t get caught in the spam filter:

              Christians on the whole believe in libertarian free will, i.e. indeterministic free will, and I believe this generalizes to most Abrahamic religions, if not all, so that should be a huge chunk of the world population holding incompatibilist notions of free will already.

              Typically, compatibilists cite [this paper by Nahmias *et al.*](https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09515080500264180), however, [this study by Sarkissian *et al.*](https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1468-0017.2010.01393.x) cites many studies that cast doubt on the conclusions above. The concrete examples given to probe intuitions of free will give affective responses, which causes biases in folk judgement (e.g. Lerner, Goldberg, and Tetlock, 1998; Smart and Loewenstein, 2005).

              [This study by Nichols and Knobe](https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1468-0068.2007.00666.x) also tells us that intuitions of free will are incompatibilist, and the incompatibilist response was reproduced when subjects were asked if determinism was incompatible with free will in subsequent studies by Rolskies and Nichols in 2008 and Feltz *et al.* in 2009.

              Some have argued that the way in which the questions were phrased is what caused the incompatibilist response, but [a manuscript by Misenheimer (pdf link)](http://philosophy.berkeley.edu/file/551/misenheimer-free_will.pdf) shows this is not the case.

              But even before Nahmias *et al.*, multiple philosophers have claimed that intuitions lean incompatibilist, e.g. Strawson in 1986 and Kane in 1999, as well as after, e.g. Vargas in 2006.

              So the evidence just doesn’t support that compatibilist free will is the intuitive version of free will.


              1. Thanks for all the references. I will check them out. I’m not convinced yet but my thoughts on what most people believe were the least important part of my argument. For obvious reasons, what I believe about free will matters more to me. Still, as I said, I will check these papers out.

              2. I’ve read the first paper. As you say, it supports the Compatibilist position. However, I would certainly not refer to it to support my arguments even though the students’ responses were as I expected. First, I doubt people accurately answer such fairly abstract questions. Second, neither of the cases really deals with the hypothetical characters’ mental state and decision-making process even though they are crucial to the test subject’s thinking, IMHO.

                In their “Study 2”, they are told that both Fred and Barney have the same genetics but a different home environment. I suspect that the test subjects view this as establishing that Fred and Barney have different mental states at the start of their decision-making process. However, once they start thinking about the wallet, they are each free to choose whether to return it to its owner or not and, therefore, they are exercising free will.

                On to the other papers.

              3. I’ve now read the Nichols and Knobe paper. One immediate problem is that they first ask their subjects which of Universe A (everything is deterministic including human decisions) and Universe B (everything is deterministic EXCEPT human decisions) matches our universe best. They then refer to Universe A as the deterministic universe and Universe B as the indeterministic universe. Since most reported B as matching our universe best, I guess this does establish that people are dualists based on these descriptions alone. However, they do not include a universe choice where everything is determined AND we are free to make choices. I suspect that this is because they believe it is logically unsound. However, this is only because they assume a definition of freedom of choice that is NOT how most people think of it.

                Most people do not think about determinism when making decisions unless forced to by experimenters. Why would they? I would add “Nor should they.” That the fundamental laws of physics are determined (or not) is just not relevant to our everyday existence. This is for the same reason that most of us are not fatalists. Even if things are determined, we don’t know what they are determined to be. Given our ignorance, we are free to make choices however we make them. We are also morally responsible for those choices, unless society looks at our circumstances and decides otherwise (mental incapacity, gun held to head, etc.).

              4. The Misenheimer paper is an interesting one that seems to get closer to the core of the question, IMHO. I do think predictability (and knowledge of the prediction), as opposed to mere causation, is important.

                One important aspect of these studies that is not mentioned is the significance of asking subjects to solve a logic problem. They (perhaps unknowingly) brush this under the rug by calling their questions “abstract”. It is well known that logic is NOT how humans think. By that I don’t mean that they think illogically as that has implications that I am not making. It is easy to program a computer to do logic but difficult to make a program that thinks like humans do. This is why the first wave of AI failed.

                Humans can do some logical thinking. They just aren’t designed to do it and find it difficult. With our billions of neurons, and lacking paper and pencil or computer and the training to use them, the can handle only tiny logic problems.

                The point I am making here is that asking subjects abstract questions is testing their ability to apply logic to a problem involving some of their beliefs. It is not surprising this gives mixed, unstable results. To name just one problem, it is unclear whether the subjects really understand what universal prediction or causation implies logically. Even the academics doing the testing and writing the papers can only think abstractly about these things because of their years of training on these specific issues.

                Bottom line is that they really have no idea what they are actually testing.

        2. I think those that see incompatibility between free will and determinism simply want to understand the nature of the claim “I could have done otherwise”. I don’t think virtue has anything to do with it. Science is our way to understand the natural world. Changing what one means by “free will” is not helpful to figuring out if we could choose to do otherwise.

          1. The virtue I’m talking about is that which comes from bringing science into a question when the real argument is over the definition of free will. If we can’t agree on what we mean by free will then we can’t argue reasonably as to whether we have it.

            We don’t have the kind of free will that involves determinism but that’s not the everyday definition of free will. With the everyday definition of free will, the “choose to do otherwise” question is easy to answer. If I say I had coffee for breakfast and someone asks if I could have had tea instead, I would say “Yes, if I’d wanted it”. If instead you say, “No, I mean if absolutely everything was the same including your desires.” Then I would say, “No, I guess not.” If you could repeat everything with absolutely no differences, why would you expect a different outcome? This would probably be the case regardless of whether determinism holds. Perhaps my decision would depend on a single quantum state but, even if that we true, I would still have no way to decide the outcome. But, and this is a very big BUT, this is not everyday free will but, as Dennett says, it is the only free will worth having.

            1. “… but that’s not the everyday definition of free will. With the everyday definition of free will, the “choose to do otherwise” question is easy to answer. If I say I had coffee for breakfast and someone asks if I could have had tea instead, I would say “Yes, if I’d wanted it”.“

              You can make an answer but how do you know it is true?

              Isn’t the “everyday” world constantly changing, largely without our knowledge of it? I don’t see a difference in this distinction.

              1. The problem is that the Compatibilists and Incompatibilists are arguing two different definitions of “free will”. Usually this is resolved by inventing a new term for one of them but, in this case, neither side seems to be willing to give up on their definition. The next best thing is to add a qualifier, as I have done with “everyday free will”. It is not ideal, I’ll admit. Perhaps “emergent free will” would be more accurate. Of course, the Incompatibilists show no interest in qualifying their definition of “free will” (“deterministic free will”?), perhaps because they deny its existence.

              2. I’m confused from keeping track of all these parties and distinctions. Couldn’t parsimony alone rule out any free will?

              1. Of course we can use science. However, my view is that “free will” more belongs to culture, the human condition, and morality which are not very amenable to scientific investigation.

                I refer to “science” in this context in reaction to Incompatibilists making the claim that their ideas are truth because they involve science: “To believe in free will is to ignore the science!” or statements to that effect. I maintain that we have free will even if determinism is true. This is not a denial of science but a different definition of “free will”.

  14. I am almost finished reading Diaspora by Greg Egan after our own Michael Fisher mentioned it here. It’s hard science fiction and right now it’s extra tricky to understand but very interesting with all its theoretical physics. The story is all about the existence and activities of AI individuals that live in “polises” and spend millennia indulging in whatever activities they choose, usually physics, in their programmed scapes with access to information and locations at the speed of light. There is a whole plot around a neutron burst that drives the narrative.

  15. [1] GARY LARSON: NOT a bedside pair of books and not for those weak of wrist! Sturdy table & good lighting recommended. I’m reading a double page spread per day – I have a Larson dedicated small table just for this double volume. An altar!

    He is coming back BTW – an online resurrection is in the works & I assume it’s new stuff. I think it will be animal rights & climate change orientated, but so was his pre-retirement stuff when one looks back with the knowledge he has cared for decades about the planet, the ecosystem & so on.


    “A masterpiece of comic brilliance, The Complete Far Sidecontains every Far Sidecartoon every syndicated-over 4,000 if you must know-presented in (more or less) chronological order by year of publication, with more than 1,100 that have never before appeared in a book. Also included are additional Far Sidecartoons Larson created after his retirement: 13 that appeared in the last Far Sidebook, Last Chapter and Worse, and six cartoons that periodically ran as a special feature in theNew York TimesScience Times section as The Far Side of Science. Creator Gary Larson offers a rare glimpse into the mind of The Far Sidein quirky and thoughtful introductions to each of the 14 chapters. Complaint letters, fan letters, and queries from puzzled readers appear alongside some of the more provocative or elusive panels. Actor, author, and comedian Steve Martin offers his pithy thoughts in a foreword, and Gary Larson’s former editor describes what it was like to be “the guy who could explain every Far Sidecartoon”

    [2] STEWART LEE: I have this in Kindle for the bedside so i can laugh & cry pre-kip [not ukip ffs!]. I have seen three of his shows [one new show every two years or so] live. He is reviled by the right leaning segment of the British press & unknown outside the UK. He is a mini-genius within his niche & I hate Clarkson, Farage, Boris & Tree-Frog as much as he does! The first half of the book is his newspaper stuff which is inevitably repetitive since the author must assume his audience needs some updating on Brexit each column. I am looking forward to the 2nd half stand up transcript.


    “As a Metropolitan Elitist Snowflake, Stewart Lee was disappointed by the Brexit referendum result of 2016. But he knew how to weaponise his inconvenience.

    He would treat all his subsequent writing, until we left the EU, as interrelated episodes of a complete work. The cast of characters include Lemming-obsessed Michael Gove, violent tanning-salon entrepreneur Tommy Robinson and Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Bumboys Letterbox Cake Disaster Weightloss Haircut Bullshit Johnson. A dramatic chorus is made up of online commenters and Kremlin bots. And Lee himself would play the defeated, unreliable narrator-hero, whose resolve and tolerance would gradually unravel as the horror show dragged on. Until the 29 March, 2019, when it would all definitely be over.

    Drawing on three years of newspaper columns, a complete transcript of the Content Provider stand-up show, and Lee’s caustic footnote commentary, March of the Lemmings is the scathing, riotous record the Brexit era deserves”

    [3] RECIPE BOOKS: These are my pr0n at the moment since I’m on a heavily restricted diet until Spring 2020. As an ex-RCC I find I must have denial, torture & guilt in my life – this does the job admirably.

    I am reading a lovely, chatty paperback by Jane Grigson on “English Food” which has a historical bent with recipes sprinkled throughout. Recommended.

    Also reading Nigel Slater who has a similar style of chatting between recipes. At the moment it’s his autobiography “Toast” that has my attention. It has been turned into a stage play. The book is a great read.

    1. My girlfriend gave me the complete Larson, and I actually found it useful. I taught classes in microbiology and, when introducing virology, I would point out that I knew the students didn’t know much about it because I knew that there were only two Larson panels in which viruses are mentioned and neither is about virus biology. Since much of Larson’s humor is based on shared knowledge of biology, that must mean that there isn’t much shared knowledge of viruses. (Not that there’s no virus humor. Virus walks into a bar. Bartender says, “We don’t serve viruses here.” Virus says, “We do now.”)

      1. Interesting observation! Now that you mention it, I agree that Larson uses popular, common place memes just like all cartoonists. It would be an interesting experiment to compare cartoons across cultures for objects, ideas & themes. [Middle East cartoons excluded – too depressing & predictable & not funny.]

    2. I have to say, even though politically and culturally I’m pretty much on his side in everything, Stewart Lee annoys the shit out of me. Someone gave me a couple of his books and I got that ecstatic little shiver of revulsion you get when you come across someone you truly despise in every way. He almost made me like Richard Hammond.

      I find it hard to describe it rationally, because he’s clearly clever, clearly right on so many things. And yet I want to nudge him into traffic.

      1. He plays at being extreme liberal elite inside being an actual liberal elite & a champagne socialist & an old fogey & a passionate hater of those he sees as enemies. All this while working his bollocks off away from home on a nine month solo tour every year – staying in shite, inhumane, empty, soulless ‘Premium Hotels’ in the likes of Telford & Welwyn Garden City new towns.

        He has a drink problem, a dick problem & he’s not hopeful about his future nor his young kiddos nor ours. I doubt he’ll live five more years – the heart will give him I right old kicking.

        I suspect he revolts himself much more than he causes revulsion in you.

        He’s a great man doing his best not to be too fake nor too honest [which would no longer be comedy].

        1. Don’t take anything I say too seriously. I’m exaggerating things a bit for caustically bitchy Withnail effect.

          As for the addiction problems and the self-loathing…let’s just say I can sympathise.

          I hate the idea that he would be revolted by himself, I really hate that. It makes me want to scream at the sky a bit.

          1. I know you’re Withnailing [love it] & being of the left you & I are somewhat revolted by ourselves. That’s what it’s like among the self-reflective element of the left – impossibly high self-expectations that don’t survive contact with real life nor politics. 🙂

            On top of all that Stewart Lee has all the personality & behavioural traits that have culled a large swathe of his stage compatriots & they tend to pop their clogs in the 45 to 55 years of age bracket. He’s right in the middle of that miserable valley & he’s not slowed down a jot.

            I think [solely my opinion] he’s decided to maximise his earnings rate for Bridget & kids & bugger the consequences. Plus I think he enjoys his long winter London residences, but then he’s got the school run for those three months, which must be a weird contrast Night/Day.

            1. Amen to all that, or a secular word that means the same thing…Totes. Defo. F’ sho.

              I do appreciate just how much Stewart Lee seems to annoy Daily Mail readers though; for that I really want to like him. Actually, d’you know what? I’m going to give him another go. There. What d’you think of that? You’ve guilt-tripped me into it you clever bastard.

      1. Thank you Charlie, looks interesting. I have taken a punt & ordered both in nice hardback editions, the reviews being good or very good.

  16. I don’t know if English history is in your field of interest, but I just finished a biography of Henry VI (The Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI). I found it quite riveting, and really helped me understand what had to be one of the most turbulent times in English history.
    Another very interesting book I recently finished is “The Trouble with Gravity” – a good overview of our changing/evolving understanding of this force of nature, and how we still don’t understand it really.

  17. I am reading The Surgeon’s Obol, a hilarious book about an intern in surgery who loses her religion during her intern year. There is a beautifully written chapter about a church deacon who dies during a heart transplant that cements the heroine’s absolution of her faith. Really good.

  18. A pretty eclectic mix:

    The black Jacobins by CLR James-a very thorough history of the slave rebellion in What is now Haiti.very clear writing and a very broad grasp of the political and commercial forces at work at the time. Published first in 1938.

    Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal- a long look at the emotional lives of animals and what we might mean by that anyway. I found it absorbing and it subtly changed my own attitudes.

    The NOMA guide to fermentation. René Redzepi.
    A really intriguing set of traditions and stuff to try. I have been making wine and saké for years and fermenting pickles etc and this book is a much richer approach to fermenting just about anything you can get your hands on.. suits me down to the ground.

    Plus I just picked up, after searching a bit, a copy of ‘Evolution Illustrated by Water fowl’ by David Lack which Jerry recommended a short time back.

    Plus quite a few more. I think I will get me a copy of ‘Emergence’ Recommended above by Paul Topping. Sounds intriguing.

    Long winter ahead and a stack of books is a necessity.

  19. Reading Wilkie Collins’, The Dead Secret (1856). I love 19th century Gothic and have become a big fan of Wilkie Collins since reading The Woman in White.

    Not only do I love the genre, but it’s a pleasant respite from the politics and news of the present.

  20. I just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments”. I read “The Handmaid’s Tale” when it was first published, and re-read it for the first time in 34 years before reading the sequel.

    I’m now reading Tom Holland’s “Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind”, which is an exploration of the influence of Christianity on Western thought.

    In parallel, I’m working my way slowly through Hilaire Barnett’s “Constitutional and Administrative Law”, which is an undergraduate textbook on the British constitution. I figured, with my country’s government in meltdown over Brexit, that it might be useful to get an expert’s view of how it is supposed to work.

  21. Anne Harrington’s Mind Fixers. It’s a history of psychiatry and it’s fascinating. Andrew Seidel’s The Founding Myth. That’s been covered here before and it’s as good as they say. Justin E.H. Smith’s Irrationality. Just rich reading. Yves Gingras’s Science and Religion.

  22. I always have a few books going at once. I’m getting near the end of “Lake Success” by Gary Shteyngart, I’m in the middle of “Untold Stories” by Alan Bennett, and I just started “Arguably” by Christopher Hitchens. I intend to get back to Peter Singer’s “The Expanding Circle,” and I need to finish Michael Waldman’s “The Second Amendment: A Biography.”

  23. I’ve just started reading “Factfulness” by the much-missed Hans Rosling (with his son and daughter-in-law Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund) – a surprise gift from WEIT reader Dominic, a long-time friend. The book is a reminder, like Pinker’s “Enlightenment”, that the world situation is better than many think although there is still much work to do.

  24. Just finished The Moor’s Last Sigh — the book Salman Rushdie wrote when he was in hiding. I haven’t read all of his work, but think this must be one of his best (i.e. immortal).

    Previously read his 1001 nights book (Two Years Eight months etc) — also highly recommended. Very funny, quite deep and extremely easy to read. He said it just wrote itself, and it reads like that.

    Non-fiction: I’m going through Ernst Mayr’s 800 tome The Growth of Biological Thought. Basically a history of biological ideas. His prose is a bit clunky (but fine for a non-native speaker), but he expresses his ideas clearly.

    Apart from that, on my website I’ve been reviewing, in a series of blogposts, a book by a cell biologist who doubles as a cancer quack –one of the most successful today. I’d say his sales rival Deepak Chopra. He tries to “scientifically prove” that you can cure cancer using affirmations. It’s an absolute train-wreck of a book, so much so that debunking it has taken 73 posts so far,(each about 1500 words) and I’m only up to page 190. It really is a sight to behold how many factual errors and metaphors that he takes literally and which then wind up contradicting the point he was trying to prove with them. (The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton)

      1. I have a fairly strong background in New Age spirituality and various other traditions. He is by far the stupidest writer and thinker I’ve ever come across. His success is built entirely on people thinking they know what he is talking about, and liking what they think he is saying.

    1. Have you rad the good cancer book, Emperor of All Maladies? I highly recommend it. I start and stop it but it’s well written.

      1. I read the book shortly after it came out, as it unfortunately coincided with my father’s diagnosis of colon cancer (of which he would die 4 years later). It really helped me understand the source(s) of cancer and the treatments that my father went through. Above all it taught me the importance of regular screening to catch cancer early!

        1. Likewise. Although I read it while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Perhaps not the most cheering of books at that time, but my cancer was caught early and now (eight years later) I’m still here! Although the author wrote a subsequent book on genetics that was thoroughly panned on this website, ‘Emperor’ was an excellent book, in my view.

        2. I like how it explains how different the cancers are & how different cancers were more prominent at different times – for example, stomach cancer before refrigeration & the consumption of pickled everything. There is a good interview with the author on Sam Harris’s Making Sense podcast (when it was still called Waking Up). I find media reports about cancer often wrong. For example, saying someone like Olivia Newton John went into remission from her breast cancer. No, there is no remission from breast cancer. They treat you & may see no sign of disease but it can metastasize 20 years later & you’re looking at stage 4. Metastatic breast cancer is a real enigma with little money put into it. They aren’t sure how it hides like it does only to bite you later like that.

            1. Not all. There are recurrences and there are metastatic ones. Breast cancer is different from the others. They never tell you you are cured. I’m going through anxiety right now because of some shitty blood results after being 4 years post treatment. Many cancers can become metastatic but BC is one that can do it 20 years later and they can tell it was the original not a recurrence. IE the many years later is key. With my dad’s cancer they stop monitoring after 5 years.

              1. Sorry to hear about your results- best wishes to you, please report back if you are willing. Not sure what to say but I figured I ought to say something….

              2. Just to clarify a few terms. Recurrence means that the original cancer has returned. Recurrence can be local, or it can be distant from the original site, which is the definition of metastasis- spread to distant sites. Metastasis sometimes are detected at diagnosis of the primary, and can occur decades after the primary cancer has been treated. Indeed cure is not a term that should be used with most cancers. A more realistic presentation is probability of recurrence. Disease-free survival is another term that is commonly used, but it is very misleading because it really means is that the disease is not detectable by laboratory and clinical tests. Unfortunately the usual level of disease detection is around one centimeter of tumor which is about a billion cells. Predicting recurrence is dependent on myriad prognostic indicators, which are helpful but certainly not definitive.

              3. I thought I had distinguished between metastatic and the other recurrence. Anyway, the Sam Harris interview talks about how breast cancer in particular is a tricky one that perplexed researchers for its ability to hide for decades. Even the early detected stage 1 grade 1 versions.

              4. My daughter, at 35 years old, has breast cancer and was treated (successfully?). What you are saying is that she will live the rest of her life with the distinct possibility or likelihood that it will recur eventually. That seems to be her feeling. I am very unhappy about it but must accept it. There is always the hope, and almost the guarantee, that treatment is always advancing, and a recurrence 5 years from now may be more manageable due to progress in the science.

              5. It follows you like a dark shadow. It’s especially bad for ER & PR positive which most breast cancers are. Did she take tamoxifen? I was very naughty & only did mine for 1.5 years instead of 5 because the side effects were so severe that I couldn’t work because of crippling fatigue. We tried other things but it wasn’t working. She will be tested all her life of course. I was 44 when I was diagnosed & even I was considered young. Those hormones will kill us. I guess we aren’t supposed to really stick around as long as we do & it is not good to be exposed to them without a break (I had no kids).

              6. Yes, she has been on tamoxifen. It’s been about 2 years and I’m not sure what she’s taking now. But, fortunately, she has fairly mild side effects so far. She has fatigue, mild night sweats, etc. but she’s handling it very well. She’s able to work effectively and enjoy trips to the mountains, etc. I think we are very fortunate.

              7. That’s lucky. I had severe sweats all the time so they put me on an anti depressant that has a side effect of stopping sweating. I went off that cold turkey. OMG what a nightmare that was and I was working full time during it because of course I was.

  25. Underland by Robert Macfarlane.
    Conscious by Annaka Harris
    Symphony in C, Robert M. Hazen
    And historical fiction of course.

    1. Robert M. Hazen – the geochemist? “Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything” makes more sense than a musical book – I didn’t recall any hint of a music obsession in his other works that I know of. ISBN 978-0008292386 (HB) 978-0008292416 (PB)

    1. I used to respect Douglas Murray a lot.

      Then Brexit and Trump happened, and the far-right surged everywhere in the western world, and he developed selective mutism.

      He was always very eloquent on the subject of Islamic terrorism and the obvious hypocrisy and quietism of the left, but then, as the political atmosphere changed and the right became more and more extreme, violent and dangerous, and more of a threat than Islam, he simply continued to do what he’d always done, which is ignore the problem of right-wing extremism completely.

      Either that or he’d claim the resurgence of the far-right was a ‘secondary problem’, the primary problem being immigration, Islam, etc.

      Which is exactly the same rhetorical tactic he decried on the left when they used it to describe Islamic terrorism as a secondary problem, the primary problem being western foreign policy.

      1. ” … the right became more and more extreme, violent and dangerous, and more of a threat than Islam, …”

        Has it really? Islam controls many whole countries, hundreds of millions of people. “Right wing terrorism” seems to be a few handfuls of malcontents.

        1. Douglas Murray doesn’t live in an Islamic country, he lives in the west. That’s what I was referring to and that’s what Murray’s arguments are expressly about.

          “Islam controls many whole countries, hundreds of millions of people. “Right wing terrorism” seems to be a few handfuls of malcontents.”

          Again, I wasn’t referring to Islamic countries, but even so you’re comparing Islam and the countries under its rule, with far-right _terrorism._ The valid comparison would be either

          – far-right terrorism with Islamic terrorism, or

          – countries ruled by the far-right with countries under Islamic rule.

          I grant you that Islamic terrorism and Islam are more of a threat in Islamic countries, and I grant you that Islam is a barbaric religion that dramatically curtails human freedom almost everywhere it’s in charge, but that’s not particularly relevant when we’re talking about the west.

          And even if we folded the rest of the world into the argument, how does that explain his utter silence on the subject of the recrudescent far-right, a far-right which also “controls many whole countries, hundreds of millions of people”?

          The book might be brilliant, but I’m disappointed to discover he has little of the moral or intellectual character that was for a time ascribed to him – after all, he was once heralded as an ‘heir of Hitchens'(the good one).

          1. “I grant you that Islam is a barbaric religion that dramatically curtails human freedom almost everywhere it’s in charge, but that’s not particularly relevant when we’re talking about the west.”

            It is pretty relevant when talking about mass immigration into Europe, which was the main theme of his previous book.

            “… how does that explain his utter silence on the subject of the recrudescent far-right, a far-right which also “controls many whole countries, hundreds of millions of people”?”

            Which countries do you mean?

            1. “It is pretty relevant when talking about mass immigration into Europe, which was the main theme of his previous book.”

              Why should the fact that many Islamic countries are hellholes stop him from criticising the resurgence of the far-right and its brand of populism across the west? He can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?

              “Which countries do you mean?”

              Well, America for one.

              As for more, you could take your pick from eastern Europe, starting with Hungary and Slovenia, working from there through to Italy (and – arguably – my own country of the UK). And that’s without going into the various countries where the far-right are resurgent or have become kingmakers. (Notice that, contrary to the beliefs of many in the US, Islam is not in charge of any European countries.)

              Again, why the silence on this issue from Murray? You can try and downgrade the importance of the resurgence of far-right populism if you like but even if you want to claim it’s not as important as other issues(which is going to be tough considering it’s powered the two biggest political shifts in modern western politics, in Brexit and Trump) then don’t you think it’s strange that it doesn’t warrant any proper mention at all by an apparently scrupulously fair-minded centre-right proponent of liberal democracy like Murray?
              Doesn’t it deserve some attention? A strongly worded letter, say, or a raised eyebrow? Something besides spineless, mealy-mouthed apologetics?

              (apologies if I don’t reply today. I’m off to bed with a horrible fucking toothache.)

              1. Erm…no. I don’t think I do, what with far-right populism affecting most of the west and having control of large swathes of Europe as well as the world’s foremost superpower. And what with the American far-right being responsible for something like 3 times as much political terrorism as Islam over the last decade.

                But I’ll leave it at that. Enjoy the book, he’s a gifted polemicist at least.

      2. Same here. He makes some good points, but just when you think he’s going to talk about universal human rights, he starts talking about “Western values” instead.

    1. Let me know what you think of Sourdough. I’ve been meaning to read it for a long time, as his first book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is one of my all-time favorites, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  26. The two best sellers by Yuval Harari.
    “Sapiens” – a history of man.
    “Homo Deus” – a history of man in the future.
    Both are thoroughly researched and informative.
    He’s a historian but knowledgeable on a plethora of subject matter.

  27. This evening I will finish Rachel Kadish’s “The weight of ink”. Fascinating story about a young Jewish woman living in London around 1665, the plague, atheism, Spinoza — and the 21st-c. scholars discovering her existence thru recently-discovered old letters.

    I always have several books going. Among them at the moment are two on the French Revolution, Jonathan Israel’s “Revolutionary Ideas” and Jean-Claude Martin’s “Nouvelle histoire de la Révolution française”. Israel takes a very different view from many contemporary french historians, viewing Robespierre as a populist authoritarian. And the issues at stake are often the same as today.

  28. I re-read a multi volume Chinese wuxia novel by Jin Yong this summer. Enjoyed it, but I also had to unwillingly accept the fact how much I’ve forgotten. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jin_Yong)

    I just finished reading “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover. Westover accounts for her decision of cutting ties with her Mormon fundamentalist parents. In the end, she believes that she has “found herself” through education.

    I am currently reading Michele Obama’s “Becoming.”

    I had never read a non-academic English book before I received my graduate degree. I started by reading Mary Higgins Clarks’s novels, which were accessible in terms of my English proficiency then. Now, more than a quarter century later, biography is my favorite genre.

  29. I am half way through Chasing New Horizons, by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon, about the eponymous mission to Pluto. it was cancelled three times, and had to overcome many problems before and after launch. It is a miracle that it succeeded! I am enjoying it.

    1. It is a miracle that it succeeded!

      I think Stern, SWRI and NASA would claim a little credit for good engineering! And it has succeeded twice, with the possibility of a third target.

  30. “But Manchester died before he could finish the last volume,”

    An anecdote: When my son, Nicolas, was 23, he went on a walk-about (actually a drive-about in an old VW van) from Portland to the east coast and back. Finding himself in Middletown, CT, he decided on an impulse to find William Manchester and tell him how much he loved the first two volumes of the Churchill biography (as did I).

    Nicolas found the address, arrived in his van, and knocked on the door, which was opened by a young nurse in uniform. Nicolas told her his intention and was informed that Mr. Manchester was very ill and wasn’t accepting any visitors. But while Nicolas was sitting in his van trying to decide where to go next, the young nurse came out and told him that Mr. Manchester would see him (what dying author would refuse to see a young fan under such circumstances?). So Nicolas went in and met Manchester, who was indeed on his deathbed, and chatted with him for almost an hour before leaving. Manchester died two weeks later on June 1, 2004, Nicolas’s 24th birthday. I love that story.

  31. Recently read:
    -Persian Fire and Under the Shadow of the Sword
    both by Tom Holland.
    -The Fens by Francis Pryor
    -Arabs, A 3000 Year History of Peoples, Tribes,
    and Empires by Tim Mackintosh-Smith.
    Current read:
    -Forgotten Scripts by Cyrus Gordon.

    1. -The Fens by Francis Pryor

      He did an abridgement of it in the 15minute midmorning slot on Radio 4 for a couple of weeks – I assume about the time of it’s release. Sounded interesting. I’ve got his Seahenge book on the shelf behind me (actually Dad’s copy, but I pilfered it before he got to reading it. Must return it.).

  32. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. I just finished it.

    I was looking for something else and thinking of going back to The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. I started the first few pages maybe a year ago. It might be good to pair (ha) with The Jesus Puzzle.

    1. For an immersive experience do get the Nag Hammadi library to go with Pagels. No problem finding new and used paperback copies, and it’s on Kindle; also several full texts available free online.

  33. I switch my reading between fiction and non-fiction.

    I just finished HST’s Generation of Swine. A collection of Thompson’s “Gonzo Papers” from the 80’s. I was in middle and high-school during the 80’s and much of what he writes about I “missed”. I wasn’t much into politics in those days. But reading these short essays gave me a glimpse into those dark times (an apocalyptic glimpse) from the desk of a professional. And unbelievably, things have gotten worse. Hunter S. Thompson checked out too soon!

    My last fiction novel was The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons. While Hemingway lived in Cuba in the 40’s, he decided to “play spy”. He created the “Crook Factory”, a team of misfits for his espionage ring; among other exploits, the novelist really wanted to capture/destroy a german U-boat! Hoover wants to know what Hemingway is up to down in the Caribbean, so sends an undercover FBI agent to infiltrate Hemingway’s team and find out. It is typical Simmons: crackerjack writing, twisting plot, and larger-than-life characters.

    Now I just started For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is mentioned quite often in Simmons’ novel, and I’ve never read what many consider Hemingway’s finest novel. So far, so good, though I’m not to page 20 yet.

    1. I was going to include For Whom the Bell Tolls as a book I’m presently reading, but I think I’d be lying! It sits, half read, on my bedside table, whilst I try to rekindle some interest in it. If I’m honest with myself (not always easy) I have a problem with Hemingway and his love of bullfighting. It shouldn’t reflect on him as a writer but I find I can’t completely switch off from his personality.

      1. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Hemingway novel. 20+ years? We’ll see if I stick to this one, or eventually let it languish on the nightstand as well.

    2. In my opinion, For Whom the Bell Tolls is Hemingway’s best work, only rivaled by The Old Man and the Sea and The Green Hills of Africa.

      I read it as an adult and was very moved by it. The way he captures the undercurrents amongst the characters without clubbing you over the head is wonderful. Probably time for a re-read.

      (Homage to Catalonia is also excellent.)

  34. Study after study on child development. So far I have ascertained that:

    – Humans should probably eat more offal meat, as it strikes me as strange that it’s very difficult to meet one’s choline requirement without them (it’s a bit easier with eggs, but I consider them pseudo-offal as they contain a blueprint for a whole animal). If we seem wired to require amounts of choline not found easily in muscle meat, it probably means we evolved to eat these things and not muscle meat entirely, and who knows what other undiscovered nutrients might be hiding in liver (sincere apologies to any vegans / vegetarians on that one.)

    – Children should play with a) Fewer toys at once in an uncluttered environment b) “Retro” style toys with fewer lights, sounds, electronic components, etc. and c) Toys that are traditionally for the ‘other’ gender, as traditional boy’s toys result in higher quality creative play while traditional girl’s toys may build theory of mind skills. Although another study by Angeline Lillard at UVA says that pretend play might not actually be all that beneficial, and Montessori tradition has taught for years that real life experience is superior to pretend play. Sigh. I got my son Little People sets and my niece some blocks and a toy airport / airplane just in case.

    – Literacy activities, music activities, and exposure to a second language are all good things.

    – A newborn’s sleep quality and sleep safety are inversely proportional, apparently. The best quality sleep is being held upright skin to skin; the best safety is placing them supine and alone on a rock-like mattress. This strikes me as a strange conundrum from a biological point of view – it seems like infants should be fully adapted to one style or the other.

    – Babies respond to music in the womb and recognize music they have previously heard after birth, although whether or not this is beneficial is up for debate. Also, unborn babies really like Mozart and Bohemian Rhapsody, according to one study. Who knew?

    – Although I am for it, the benefits of breastfeeding actually seem shockingly exaggerated when you look at studies that attempt to factor out selection bias. Despite this, many programs to help underprivileged children seem to focus a lot on promoting breastfeeding at the expense of other things (maybe because it’s free?)

    – Children’s interest in science seems to be linked, tentatively at least, to parental encouragement and real life science oriented experiments / experiences as part of home life.

    I could go on, but I must go research how my child’s life will be forever changed by the specific type of mashed squash he eats and if it’s introduced at 4, 6, or 8 months, ha ha.

  35. I am presently reading Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition by Patricia Churchland. Churchland, a noted neuroscientist, explains how our moral sensibilities arise naturally from the workings of our brains and the influence of the environment.

      1. Thanks. That can probably save me reading the rest of the book. It is a bit academic and dry. I am reading it because, as an atheist, I am trying to better understand the source of our moral sentiments. I think she is simply arguing that kin altruism gets extended. But I will struggle through.

        1. Have you read Matt Ridley’s The Origin of Virtue? The version I read had some appalling typos but it was a pretty straightforward explanation.

  36. Currently reading Salman Rushdie’s “Quichotte”. So far, it’s good. “The Scientific Additude” is next.

    1. Oh, if you can, watch the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown episode on Antarctica: season 9, episode 5. Really neat. It’s not a book but it’s pretty entertaining.

  37. Two books on the boil at the moment. If Churchill was the greatest British wartime PM, then Clement Attlee was the greatest peacetime. He, more than anyone else, founded the modern British welfare state and is one of my heroes. So I have no hesitation in recommending one of the best biographies I have read in recent times: John Bew’s “Citizen Clem” about that remarkable man.

    The other is one of the best naval history books that I have read recently: Evan Mawdsley’s sweeping, magnificent history of WW2 at sea: “The War for the Seas: A Maritime History of World War II”……

  38. Recently finished:

    Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom– David Blight

    Cloudsplitter — Russell Banks (historical novel of abolitionist John Brown

    The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry — Rachel Joyce (Novel about a man who believes if he walks from his home to a hospice where a colleague and friend is a patient (~600 miles) she will live. He starts without a plan, leaving his home with a letter to her but stops for a “light refreshment” where a young person behind the counter tells him a story that gets him moving. A lovely novel.


    The Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe–John Mcphee.

  39. I’m halfway Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” , do I still need to recommend it? Highly recommended
    I’m also reading “Twee Spiegels op Cambang” (in Dutch) basically a portrait of the Japanese 18th Dutch contemporaries, from the island of Deshima (the only contact point between Japan and the rest of the world for two cwnturies, after ejecting -or killing- the Portugese and Christian converts with Dutch help in the early 17th Century).

  40. PS–I’m sure you are familiar with all books Antarctica but just in case–because it is older:

    The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica by Stephen Pyne. He is a historian who writes mostly about fires here and around the world.

    1. I read a selection from Quichotte in The New Yorker (I think), and it seemed pretty good. Have not loved all ofRushdie’s work. Don’t like magical realism.

    2. I read a selection from Quichotte in The New Yorker (I think), and it seemed pretty good. Have not loved all ofRushdie’s work. Don’t like magical realism.

  41. But Manchester died before he could finish the last volume, and that last volume was poised to begin at the apogee of Churchill’s career: when he became Prime Minister at the beginning of World War II.

    Let us hope a similar fate doesn’t befall Robert Caro (who’ll be 84 next month). He had three lengthy volumes under his belt before he even got LBJ to the vice-presidency, and the fourth took him only through the first hundred days of Johnson’s own term in office.

  42. I don’t really see how historicism is considered “deferential” in the context of Christianity. Surely if in there future a group of Joseph Smith mythicists cropped up who said that the people who merely think he was a fraud and a conman who made up a bunch of fantastical stories about his life were being overly deferential to Mormonism by thinking he could have existed at all that would sound absurd.

    1. I think in a way it’s just accepted because it’s been part of the Western culture for so long. In this way, you can say it is deferential because it is considered taboo to investigate it and say otherwise.

      1. That sounds too much like a conspiracy theory of the type people wouldn’t tolerate in other areas of academia. Mythicists don’t do their cause any favors by starting the conversation with a bad faith smear on mainstream historians.

        1. What?! I’m talking about culturally which also affects academia but is much bigger. And what branch of academia are you referring to because I’ve honestly never seen one that deals with the authenticity of Christ. Classics departments come close but they don’t really deal much in Christianity, treating it as yet another mystery cult. No. There is no conspiracy theory.

      2. But it isn’t taboo to investigate the possibility that Jesus was a myth. Lots of people have done it. A lot of times their conclusions aren’t accepted by mainstream historians because their scholarship is quite sloppy. Freke and Gandy come to mind as an example.

        It’s one thing to say “the sources on the life of Jesus are nowhere near as good as you might have been led to believe”. It’s another thing entirely to say that the early Christians thought of Jesus purely as a spiritual being who never was a human on Earth.

        Christianity exists and it therefore seems reasonable that it had a founder. For me the only question is how much if any of the original founder is in the documents we do have.

          1. I’m sorry, but this is exactly the kind of thing that makes mainstream scholars decide a lot of mythicists are not worthy of serious consideration.

            If you read Paul’s own writing you would come to the conclusion that he did not found the Christian church. It was clearly there before his conversion.

              1. That doesn’t change anything. Paul might have been a major influence on Christianity but he did not found it. Somebody else did and, as I’ve already stated, I think the real question is whether that person is the person the stories we have are based on.

  43. Midway through Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. Overstuffed with detail (an issue I have with many biographies)but valuable insights on the woman, the issues she raised and the ongoing complexities of urban planning. Still, a better place to start to get a sense of her would be her own The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

  44. I tend to read two or three books at a time (one fiction, often in German), a technical one and one that requires some thought, but is not taxing. Currently I am reading “White Fragility,” which puts together many concepts I have been aware of, but not as a congruent whole. Here’s a review:


    1. Got any recommendations for not-too-difficult German fiction? Right now, I’m reading some of the Alpenkrimis by Joerg Maurer – they’re set in a part of Germany that I know fairly well, and the language is such that I only reach for my dictionary once or twice a page.

      I’ve got Berlin Alexanderplatz waiting for me after the Maurer warmup. (BTW, AbeBooks has lots of used German fiction at reasonable prices.)

      1. Berlin Alexanderplatz is great, and the German is not too onerous. I kind of read it in German and English in parallel, and even though there’s a lot of Berliner dialect, it’s pretty easy. It’s mostly dialogue so there aren’t any of those one page long sentences. Try to see the mini series too if you can find it.

  45. “The Hindus: An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger.

    Originaly bought to protest people who wanted it banned or pulped.

    Not a book I would have read otherwise.

    A super-detailed presentation and exegisis of the Hindu belief cosmos. One that I have zero interest in entering, and few of whose voluminous details I will retain as I read quickly.

    But the book shows how, unlike other ancient epics like the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, which no one any longer believes in as accurate representations of human reality, Hindu scriptures and texts, with their dizzying, incredibly intricate array of gods, antigods, creatures who take turns being gods and humans, and legends about how this or that part of reality was formed, continue to govern the daily lives of millions even after several millenia.

    For this reason, this hefty volume is eye-opening and invaluable.

    1. That’s been on my reading list for a while, partly fore the same reasons you give, but also because I would like to know more of the history of that stuff.

      Fanatical Hindus have even teamed up with moon landing-deniers, because if humans had really gotten to the moon they would have met (or been zapped by) the gods who live there.

      1. Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, was a moon-landing denier. Among his reasons for saying that the moon landing was a hoax is that the moon is too far away–it is much farther away than the sun. He said that while atheist scientists will tell you that the moon is closer than the sun, they are clearly wrong because Hindu manuscripts say that the sun is closer. I don’t know how he explained eclipses.

        This clown was George Harrison’s guru. I don’t know if George agreed with him on this point.

      2. Have you seen the new documentary “Vivek” about various aspects of Hindutva? It’s amazing and frightening. I stumbled across it. It’s available free online https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL05qSwQnAG9gaMAuoVM3i8wacYmrAEuTQ.

        It’s in several parts, each around 13-15 minutes long, and to date there are no English voice overs and/or subtitles. Hope that will be rectified soon. I can understand three episode titles, one being “RSS,” radical right Hindu vigilantes; another “Cow Dalit” is intelligible; and “JNU” stands for Jawaharlal Nehru University.

        I think this is a critically important documentary for a number of reasons, with cautionary import regarding politics and religion well beyond Hinduism and the Indian subcontinent.

          1. I’ll check her out, thanks. I know of her and have heard a bit of her on the radio but haven’t read any of her writing. Now’s the time to change that.

  46. So many interesting suggestions above! I hesitate to add something less current, but I have just got round to reading The Raditsky March, by Joseph Roth, his 1930 novel about the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to my surprise I found it very moving.

    Anyone who’s interested in Earl Doherty can find most of his writings here: http://www.jesuspuzzle.com

  47. Apologies if my current reads appeared here earlier as suggestions, and a thanks to Victoria Public Library in Victoria, Texas, the provider of most of my reading:

    Amor Towles’ novel A Gentleman in Moscow, an homage to Russia and to the Metropole hotel in Moscow,

    Stephen Smith’s The Scramble for Europe, so full of useful facts about subSaharan Africa that I will have to buy my own copy,

    Kelli Harding’s The Rabbit Effect, about kindness and health care, too optimistic about human nature, I fear,

    and Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written with enthusiasm!

  48. Half-way through Hew Strachan’s The First World War. Despite being a compact history first published in 2003, it has proved a surprisingly comprehensive, informative and up-to-date overview of my favourite historical interest.

  49. A friend recently loaned me “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester. Fairly quick read and quite informative re the early days [decades] of the OED. Also learned that it apparently is a fairly bad movie with Mel Gibson and Sean Penn 🙂

  50. Do let us know how The Jesus Puzzle is. I’ve been aware of it for years, but could never tell if Doherty was a crank.

    On a Founding kick right now. Just started reading The Federalist Papers, which I’ve never read completely. I just finished reading Lynch’s Fifty Years of Party Warfare, 1789-1837 (1930).

  51. Sean Carroll’s ‘Something Deeply Hidden’ is currently occupying my iPad/cafe reading time. I’m grateful that such clever people try to explain this complex stuff to interested non-mathematicians like me.


    1. Read it. Not Sean Carroll at his best, IMO. Bottom line—the case for MWI is philosophical rather than scientific. I happen to like MWI, but at the end of the day we have no way of showing it to be true by experiment or observations. In the second half of the book, Carroll has some speculative ideas on how it can account for spacetime, but it is the job of professional physicists to assess, not a layman like me.

      1. Just downloaded it for my phone this morning.

        Hope it’s as intense and cohesive as From Infinity To Here. I wasn’t keen on The Big Picture.

  52. Sean Carroll’s ‘Something Deeply Hidden’ is currently occupying my iPad/cafe reading time. I’m grateful that such clever people try to explain this complex stuff to interested non-mathematicians like me.


    1. I fully agree. It would be a much diminished life without Dawkins, Carroll, Dennett, Sagan, and many other explainers of the physical world.

  53. WEIT followers book readers? Who knew? (Just kidding)

    I’m reading “As Serious As Your Life” Black Music and the free jazz revolution 1957-1977 by Val Wilmer. Good words about good music.

  54. I’ll add to this wonderful list of recommendations. First, recent books (i.e. 21st and 20th century):

    War of Two. John Sedgwick, great-great-great grandson of Thomas Sedgwick, colleague of Alexander Hamilton. This fascinating, intimate and exciting book about the Hamilton-Burr rivalry…but MUCH MORE..about the politics and foibles of the period leading up to the US’ founding.

    This Land. Christopher Ketcham. The appeasement of wild west ranchers and loggers destroying our public lands. A tough and outraged look at one of our biggest scandals.

    Noble Savages. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon’s recounting of how cultural anthropoligists and post modernists tried to destory his career.

    Bad Blood. John Carreyou. Surely you know about the weird Elizabeth Holmes’ wool-over-the-eyes attempt to foist a nonworking blood test onto Americans while deceiving her board, government and researchers. Soon to be a major film and deservedly. Like a modern day spy novel.

    Loren Eisley. The Star Thrower. Enough said.
    Man and Nature without false sentiment. A classic.

    Redmon O’Hanlon. Through the Wilds of Borneo; In Trouble Again. Greatest writing candidate who slogged through tropical tangles and managed to examine and understand Nature as well as cope with amusing (in retrospect) hardships. One trip included British poet James Fenton….who was persuaded to go on a second trip with O”Hanlon and then dropped out halfway through. A TREASURE of a book, right up there with Roba di Roma in my collection.

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Everything. All the time. Anytime. Along with Nabokov’s Lolita, Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera always hits me in the solar plexus.I really miss him.

    Older books.

    Through the Brazilian Wilderness. Teddy Roosevelt’s arduous voyage up an uncharted Amazon river with Rondon, the Brazilian general sent to map the river (now called the Rio Roosevelt). Utterly hypnotic in its
    descriptions of this incredible voyaage in which Teddy almost lost his son and which probably led to his death two years later.

    Roba di Roma.W.W. Story’s gripping report on life in mid 19th century Rome. Story, a sculptor who forsook law for art, was the son of a leading Supreme Court justice. This is the single book I wll grab as I run out of my burning house. Among the greatest writing of English I have ever read.

    1. I love Redmond O’Hanlon! Giggling just thinking of him, and you learn a lot of biology at the same time.
      I’ve read a fair amount about the whole Bad Blood thing. So many very bright people seem to have gotten hoodwinked. Will probably make a decent movie. I wonder if Holmes believed in what she was doing- at first?
      I have read I think another book about Teddy R’s Amazon adventure. Fascinating!
      Never heard of Roba di Roma, but must now look for it ASAP. Thanks for the tip. Love Nabokov but somehow cannot take Garcia Marquez’s magical realism (sorry).

      1. “I have read I think another book about Teddy R’s Amazon adventure. Fascinating!”

        You may be thinking of The River of Doubt by Candice Millard, who also wrote a biography of Garfield,Destiny of the Republic (her best IMO), and Herof of the Empire, about Churchill’s exploits in the Boer War. You can hardly go wrong reading anything by Millard.

        1. You are absolutely right about River of Doubt, mirandaga. I might neex to check out his other ones.

          Just btw, I’m currently immersed in an article in the latest New Yorker about plans to deliver blood and medicine and eventually much else to remote villages in Africa by drone. They started in Rwanda and are now working their way around Lake Victoria (which has 3 different countries around it). Lots of planning necessary, but could be quite successful.

        2. You are absolutely right about River of Doubt, mirandaga. I might neex to check out his other ones.

          Just btw, I’m currently immersed in an article in the latest New Yorker about plans to deliver blood and medicine and eventually much else to remote villages in Africa by drone. They started in Rwanda and are now working their way around Lake Victoria (which has 3 different countries around it). Lots of planning necessary, but could be quite successful.

    2. You’ve got several titles that I must add to my list of books to read: Sedgwick, Carreyrou, O’Hanlon, also Teddy Roosevelt in Brazil.

      I’ve been meaning to read Carreyrou’s book on Elizabeth Holmes. I’ve watched a couple of documentaries on all that and I was hooked, but I’m not at all interested in a “biopic.”
      There’s nothing like beholding her in the flesh.

  55. I’m currently (re)reading Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy”, which I first read over 30 years ago. I think I have a better appreciation for it now than I did then.

    Having just finished reading “The Wandering Earth”, a collection of short stories by Chinese SF writer Liu Cixin, I’m now partway through his “The Three-Body Problem”. (In English translation, alas – my Chinese isn’t up to reading it in the original.)

  56. Not exactly a book I’m reading, but the closing passage of Virginia Woolf’s ‘How Should One Read a Book’, which came up in a discussion with a friend today

    Yet who reads to bring about an end, however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practise because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards – their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble – the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’

  57. Herding Hemingway’s cat- Kat Arney
    Innate – Kevin Mitchell
    The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect- Judea Pearl

    All there highly recommended. The Book of Why has been a revelation.

  58. ‘Cherry’ Ingram, The Englishman who saved Japan’s blossoms by Naoko Abe. An interesting amalgam of biography, Japanese history and horticulture.

  59. I’m re-reading Randall Jarrell’s Poetry and the Age (1953), a classic of literary criticism that has been in and out of print over the past 40 years. The essay on Whitman is the only piece I’ve ever read that actually turned around my opinion of an author. The book is full of quotable passages, a favorite of mine being this one on why Americans don’t read poetry:

    “One of our universities recently made a survey of the reading habits of the American public; it decided that forty-eight percent of all Americans read, during a year, no book at all. I picture to myself that reader — non-reader, rather; one man out of every two — and I reflect, with shame: ‘Our poems are too hard for him.’ But so, too, are Treasure Island, Peter Rabbit, pornographic novels — any book whatsoever. The authors of the world have been engaged in a sort of conspiracy to drive this American away from books; have in 77 million out of 160 million cases, succeeded. A sort of dream situation often occurs to me in which I call to this imaginary figure, ‘Why don’t you read books?’ — and he always answers, after looking at me steadily for a long time: ‘Huh?’”

  60. Almost finished Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, who sadly died earlier this year. Sort of an update on his Confederates in the Attic, and likewise depressing for showing that racial relationships haven’t improved a heckuva lot since the Civil War. I’d also recommend A Voyage Long and Strange, and Blue Latitudes. Humor, history, and travel writing combined.

  61. Halfway through Sean Carroll’s “Something Deeply Hidden”. Sean is in my opinion the foremost popularizer of cutting edge physics, and this book exemplifies that. If you aren’t familiar with Schroedinger’s wave equation or Hilbert space or Bell’s inequality it may be challenging, but well worth the effort. I’m also enjoying his lectures in Great Courses.

  62. I was interested not only in the specific books mentioned, but also in the fact that some people read one book at a time, and others more than one.

    I always have four books going:
    One non-fiction (nearly always science, or something related, such as history of science, or science vs. religion). I just finished Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan. As I don’t read that much non-fiction, I have a hard time making up my mind which one to start next, but I’m thinking of starting one of the books I have, but haven’t read yet, by Richard Dawkins. I have a choice between the Selfish Gene and River Out of Eden. I got these, and NdGT’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” at a library sale last week for a buck each!

    One novel (I’m just finishing up an omnibus of the Elric books by Michael Moorcock).

    One book of short stories (Ray Bradbury at the moment).

    One book that I read to my wife while she’s cooking or cleaning up (today we finished The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross, the fourth in his series The Laundry Files. The whole series has been great (the usual description is that it’s a mashup of Lovecraft, James Bond, and Dilbert), but this book is absolutely off the charts, the best fictional analysis/demolition of religion I’ve ever read.

    1. I’ve read the first three Laundry Files novels – better IT security than Dilbert’s generic stuff. (But still good if one only has general IT stuff.)

      And they are funny. 🙂

      1. I suspect, given that you subscribe to this website, that you will like the fourth one even more. Not quite as unremittingly funny as the first three (though still very funny), it’s even juicier in its demolition of religion in general and fundamentalist christianity in particular, than was the third book, with its introduction of the “One True Religion” (the worship of Lovecraftian-style elder gods, for those who have not yet read the series).

  63. I usually have 3 or 4 books going at one time. One that impressed me earlier this year is ‘Midnight in Chernobyl’ by Adam Higginbotham, a detailed history of everything that went wrong.

    By some odd coincidence, I seem to be reading fiction where people who are sort-of-dead are talking to each other: I started with ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders, I’m halfway through ‘Fall’ by Neal Stephenson, and next up is ‘Graveyard Clay’ by Mairtin O Cadhain.

    1. How are you liking Lincoln in the Bardo? People seem to love it or hate it. I was unfortunately in the latter camp and didn’t finish it.

      1. I’d heard both opinions of LitB, and I was a bit wary of it when I started reading. But I got into the whole style of it pretty quickly, and enjoyed it. de gustibus and all that…

        Graveyard Clay (a.k.a. the Dirty Dust in another translation) should be similar – just dialog, with no identification of who’s speaking. We’ll see how I get along with that one.

  64. Bart Ehrman gets taken to the woodshed:

    • Doherty, Earl (2012). The End of an Illusion: How Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest. Age of Reason Publications, Online Kindle. asin B00A2XN7EQ.

    • Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

    The recent defences of Jesus’ historicity by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey lack lucid and competent methodologies, rely on highly questionable documents, and further make use of sources that no longer exist, if they ever did. (p. 129) […] If the consensus view that a historical Jesus certainly existed is based on such tenuous methodology, it would seem reasonable that the consensus view should be reviewed, while not necessarily immediately rejected as false. (p. 149)

    1. It just occurred to me that the mystery and controversy of whether Jesus existed is one reason why people are attracted by the religion. If Jesus was as palpable as, say, Joseph Smith, Christianity would seem quite dull and uninteresting to those who seek wisdom from stories and texts.

  65. The War on Normal People – Andrew Yang. Well written, well referenced, and scary as hell. The USA is going down the tubes and only an FDR style reset of wealth inequality or a violent revolution will change this.

  66. FYI, Doherty renamed the 2009 second edition of The Jesus Puzzle.

    Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Ottawa: Age of Reason Publications. 2009. ISBN 978-0-9689259-2-8. “New edition, Revised and Expanded, Originally published under the title: The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? – Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus

    Doherty’s position on “Q source” is outdated, it is apparent and simpler that Matthew, Luke, and John are not separate independent sources as Bart Ehrman claims. But are embellished redactions of Mark (the first story/narrative of Jesus), there is no need for a hypothetical “Q source” anymore. Mark Goodacre is the leading scholar on this position, see his blog post “How similar are the Synoptics, and how do we represent it?” @ https://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2019/05/how-similar-are-synoptics-and-how-do-we.html

  67. Lucy Dodds, The Big Ones – about natural disasters & how humans react to them & [fail to] plan for them.

    For example, did you know that the worst Californian natural disaster was the 1861-2 floods? A huge lake formed in the Central Valley – communications were so destroyed that people did not get the extent of the damage & even today it is a forgotten disaster in California -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMyYYauWDBc

    1. Hi Dommy – I mentioned a l-o-n-g way above that I’m currently reading the copy of Factfulness that you just sent me!

  68. On Antarctica, I can highly recommend The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.

    But you’ve probably already read them.

  69. My Recent reads that I recommend:

    Command and Control by Eric Schlosser. Hard to believe we didn’t nuke ourselves.

    Midnight in Chernobyl by Higgenbotham. Oh, wait, we did nuke ourselves.

    The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

    One-Way Ticket, Nine Lives on Two Wheels by Jonathan Vaughters about his life in professional cycling.

    Everything In Its Place posthumously by Oliver Sacks. A collection of short work. Very good.

    Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. Entertaining book about memory competitions (!!).

    The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley about his experiences growing up in Africa and reporting from Africa and the Middle East. Very good.

    Limits of the Known by David Roberts. Roberts writes beautifully about everything.

    The Last of His Kind by David Roberts, the life of Bradford Washburn.

  70. I just started Sean Carroll’s new book, Something Deeply Hidden. I’m only a few chapters in, it has been good so far. I’m a big fan of Carroll’s writing and the Mindscape Podcast.

  71. I just finished Collapse by Jared Diamond. It’s a well written, interesting historical book about how societies fail. It serves as a useful counterpoint to what I believe is the wildly overly optimistic views of our future in books by Pinker. Parallels to our present situation are clear, but the coming collapse will probably be global and very much worse than those described by Diamond. We have no place to migrate to, or other resources to tap.

  72. I’m reading a volumes VI and VII of one of the Loeb editions of “The Deipnosophists” by Athenaeus, about a bunch of old Greek dudes sitting around drinking, chowing down, and shooting the bull. Doubt that I’l ever manage to read the many-volumed tome in its entirety (I’m going to try) but it is an amazing work; absolutely crazy, hilarious, ribald, full of the most bizarre things imaginable, “The Deipnosophists” is a ‘desert island’ book for me.

    I’ve been reading and rereading Bandy Lee’s anthology, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which I recommend to everyone as an indispensable vademecum for understanding evaluating Trump’s presidency and the mess he’s gotten the entire world into.

    I’m in the queue at the local library for “Sontag: Her Life,” the new biography by Benjamin Moser, which is said to be quite revealing (to put it mildly). I’ve long found Susan Sontag off-putting, unremittingly ponderous, gravid with overbearing gravitas, impossible to read, or even read about, until recently, when I read her NYRB essay/review “Fascinating Fascism,” a review of Leni Reifenstal’s “Last of the Nuba,” and a book “SS Regalia”. The article was indeed fascinating. I also read critiques of the article and of her as author, some of which charged her with being fascinated with fascism, which could have been the case. Must admit that I’m shocked by descriptions of Sontag’s behavior in reviews of the book.

        1. Thanks for that reference. I’ll check it out right now. Your mention of Janet Malcolm reminds me that I’ve been meaning to refresh my recollection of her feud with Jeffrey Mason about Freud. That was something.

  73. Presently: rereading Aristotle. (Yes, the entire corpus. Right now I am about 2/3 of the way through the logical writings, which are the first in the Barnes collection.)

    I will probably interrupt this to get something interesting; the list above has been helpful.

  74. Although I, too, have given up on most fiction, I am just finishing Bart Ehrman’s “A Brief Introduction to the New Testament.” I find myself constantly shaking my head wondering how people continue to believe all that nonsense.

  75. Some of Earl Doherty’s successors:

    • Rutherford, Jonathan (2015). “The Gospel of Mark as Theological Allegory”. Rational Realm. “An eighteen page essay” Online PDF @ http://www.rationalrealm.com/downloads/science/GospelMarkTheologicalAllegory.pdf

    • Dykstra, Tom (2012). Mark Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel. OCABS Press. ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2.

    • Price, R. G. (2018). Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed (2nd revised ed.). Lulu Publishing Services. ISBN 978-1-4834-8782-3. —Not to confuse with Price, Robert M.

    In his work, Dykstra proposes that, “Mark’s primary purpose was to defend the vision of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle against his ‘Judaizing’ opponents.” I agree with that assessment, but would extend it by saying, “Mark’s primary purpose was to defend the vision of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle against his ‘Judaizing’ opponents, [in light of the outcome of the First Jewish-Roman War].” (p. 61)

  76. I finally have some purchasing power independent of my parents, so here’s to-buy list:

    The Blank Slate
    Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll
    What Is Real? by Adam Becker, a history of the foundations of quantum mechanics.
    Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue, as recommended by PCC(E).
    Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson. Really looking forward to this one.

    And a spin-off novel (Avatar: The Rise of Kyoshi) set in the universe of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was and still is an absolutely fantastic TV show, even though it’s a cartoon.


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