What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)
I read some about football. I read more about other things. I told you about the football books I read in the third quarter of 2014. Now I will tell you about some of the more interesting of the other books I read that quarter, but not about the uninteresting ones or the ones I don’t feel like discussing.
If there was a theme for the quarter, it was early twentieth century physics (and some math). Books on those areas included (parts of) Michael Brooks’ Free Radicals, David Lindley’s Uncertainty, Rebecca Goldstein’s Incompleteness, James Gleick’s Richard Feynman biography Genius, and Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Ranking? Gleick was the best, and quite good. Rhodes is also good, though the introductory part on the background on developments in atomic physics leading up to the late 1930’s was old news to me given the reading I’ve been doing. Those are the two I would recommend more generally. There was a significant gap to Lindley and Goldstein, both of which are worth reading if you have a specific interest in the subject, while the Brooks was not to my taste. Bonus points to Gleick for ending with approximately the same Feynman quote I used in my On “Analytics” post. The big question is now whether I understand Godelian incompleteness or quantum mechanics; the answers are no, not really and probably about as well as I ever will without actually buying a quantum mechanics textbook and going through the math, something I know I’m extraordinarily unlikely to ever actually do.
When I acquire a non-fiction book, one of the things I often do first is page through the end notes, if there are any, and bibliography. This is not always a totally reliable guide (I enjoyed the References section of Tyler Cowen’s book then titled Create Your Own Economy more than I enjoyed the actual text), but it’s typically a good one. Each of the 39 pages of bibliography to Ian Morris’s War! What Is It Good For? had at least one title I’d read or was on my to-read list, a feat I’m not sure had been accomplished by any other title with a bibliography than ran more than a couple pages. Naturally, I really enjoyed the book. The argument, that war isn’t the worst thing ever, won’t appeal to everybody, but I’m perfectly willing to consider potentially unpopular arguments and think there’s something to it, or at least you’d have to explain to me why Morris is completely off base.
Unless I’m missing them, there are few good books for a popular audience on recent, or at least post-bubble Japan, and most of them seem to be by Economist correspondents. David Pilling’s Bending Adversity is for the most part quite good, as long as you accept the book for what it is-a look at post-bubble Japan with some more in-depth explorations of what happened to Fukushima.
My infatuation with the webcomic xkcd has faded, to the point where I check it perhaps twice a month instead of “It’s 12:05, why don’t we have a new comic yet.” But I have enjoyed Randall Munroe’s What If? column, where he takes scientific looks at occasionally absurd hypothetical questions, like what would happen if you tried to fly an earth airplane near different bodies in the solar system. The book is cleverly titled What If? and is a mix of existing material from the blog updated weekly and new material. There are no deep insights here, but I really liked it for what it was.
I also read a passel of fiction, little of it noteworthy. I am still pretending to read War and Peace, which mostly consists of having it on my coffee table and looking at it every so often instead of actually reading it; apparently, stating my plans to read it here has only a minimal or no pre-commitment effect on me. I have instead begun reading the heretofore-released books from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, something I knew I would do eventually after getting the first five books in e-book last December, and am currently most of the way through A Game of Thrones.
As always, de gustibus non disputandum est.