What I'm Reading

A list of books at various stages of my reading pipeline.

Last updated: September 2016. If this gets more than a couple months out of date, I'd appreciate a gentle reminder to update it (@kevinsimler or email).

Currently reading

On the radar

I'm looking for additional opinions on these books! If you've read any of them, please get in touch to recommend, recommend against, or link me to a good summary, review, or podcast.

  • M. E. Thomas [pseudonym], Confessions of a Sociopath. MR review. NYT review.
  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition.
  • Richard Alexander, The Biology of Moral Systems.
  • Matt Ridley, The Evolution of Everything.
  • George Ainslie, Breakdown of Will.

Recently finished

  • Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, Perfect Health Diet. Write-up coming soon.
  • Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Solid self-help book on how to cultivate a more deliberate relationship with your possessions. Full of quirky advice inspired by Shintoism. Here's my full book report.
  • Tudor and Pearson, North Korea Confidential. Write-up coming soon.
  • Philippe Rochat, Others in Mind. I was pretty excited for this book, especially after reading Sarah Perry's riff on it. Its thesis is right up my alley — namely, that we develop self-consciousness by interacting with others and internalizing their models/judgments of us. Unfortunately I didn't get a lot out of the book, and gave up halfway through. I recommend reading Sarah's blog post instead of the book. You can also read my notes and highlights here.
  • Pieter Hintjens, The Psychopath Code. (Amazon paperback; free e-book.) Easy read, pretty insightful. Full "book report" here.
  • YouTube channels. I realize this isn't exactly "reading" material, but it's been intellectually stimulating nevertheless. I recommend PBS Space Time (astrophysics), 3Blue1Brown (math), and Caspian Report (geopolitics).
  • Podcasts. Also not "reading" material, but there's some truly amazing content out there — in particular, Hardcore History and EconTalk. These two podcasts have both been around for a while, but for some reason I didn't start listening to them until just recently, despite many recommendations. Well, let me add one more voice to the chorus: these are both excellent.
  • Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield, SuperCooperators. Read half of it, then got distracted. Excellent overview of the many different ways Nature has found to cooperate. I explored one of these mechanisms in this post, but it's good to understand all the different mechanisms. In particular, the idea that cooperation can evolve because of spatial configurations was new to me (chapter 3).
  • Michael Chwe, Rational Ritual. Read half of it, then got distracted — but it's very good. Subtitle is "Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge." If that piques your interest, you will almost certainly enjoy this book.
  • more...

Other people's "reading" pages

On hold, probably abandoned

  • Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching.
  • Timur Kuran, Private Truths, Public Lies.
  • Robert Bucholtz, A History of the Modern Western World [audible.com lecture series].
  • Joseph Jordania, Tigers, Lions and Humans: History of Rivalry, Conflict, Reverence and Love.
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
  • Frances Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order.

All time most influential

These are the three books I recommend to everyone, largely because they're awesome, broadly appealing, and mercifully short:

  • Keith Johnstone, Impro. Packs more fascinating nuggets of insight per page than almost any other book. It's weird to be so enchanted by a book about how to teach improv. But when you're improvising, you need very quick, very accurate rules for parsing a scene and understanding your role in it. As it turns out, those rules are useful both on and off the stage.
  • Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History. Clocking in at just over 100 pages, it's a concise, elegant summary of the authors' 11-volume, 10,000-page series, The Story of Civilization. The ideas are broad without being shallow, and the language is absolutely breathtaking. I recommend this book to just about everyone.
  • Alan Watts, The Tao of Philosophy. Takes me very much outside of my Western/scientific/Aspie comfort zone, but in a way that really resonates with me.

And here are the rest of the books that have had the greatest influence on my thinking (in no particular order):

  • Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness. Worth reading even if it's wrong. Here's my review.
  • Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual. Illustrates, probably better than any other book I've read, the intricate logic of social interaction.
  • Joseph Jordania, Why Do People Sing?. You can read my summary here. An absolute mindfuck of a theory. Like Jaynes, worth reading even if it's wrong.
  • Jean-Louis Dessalles, Why We Talk. Starts out slow and perhaps tedious, but picks up speed at a compounding rate, each chapter more insightful than the last. Chapters 17 and 18 explain the deepest principles of human social behavior better than any other 30 pages I've read.
  • Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest. If you don't really believe, deep in your bones, that human beings are animals, this book will fix you.
  • Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind. How humans actually, empirically, think about morality.
  • Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption. Why parents have less influence over their children than they think. Her follow-up book, No Two Alike, is also great, and was the basis for my series on personality.
  • Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations. If epistemology is the crux of a worldview, then this is what everything else hangs on.
  • Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett, The Mind's I. A collection of essays and stories illustrating all that is puzzling and fun about the philosophy of mind.
  • Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea. A college-level course in evolution, taught in Dennett's clear and engaging style.
  • Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions. Some good, solid theory about how institutions (rather than individuals) process knowledge and make decisions.
Last updated September 21, 2016.