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July 25, 2017

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Recent reading

  • Kim Stanley Robinson: 2312

    Kim Stanley Robinson: 2312
    More Hard SF (well, I have been on holiday) and yet another personal first. Robinson is one of the giants of modern SF I've somehow missed... more fool me. 2312 is apparently full of the left-leaning Robinson's recurrent themes - ecological disaster on Earth, the emergence of new political systems on off-world populations - and also throws in some timely concerns about General AI. But Robinson is also a fantastic storyteller, who puts human (or post-human) relationships at the core of the book. My generation's Asimov?

  • David W. Barber: Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys

    David W. Barber: Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys
    OK, so Barber's 1986 wilfully irreverent romp through the lives of the great composers, from Perotin to Cage, is eminently silly, full of in-jokes, and really has only one setting. But I have to say that it continually made me laugh out loud, which you can't say about many histories of Western Classical Music. It's also thoroughly knowledgable (if a little random in some of its choices) and clearly written with real love of the music.

  • Raymond Chandler: Farewell, My Lovely

    Raymond Chandler: Farewell, My Lovely
    Another first for me - and slightly more shamefully: Chandler. This is of course widely thought to be Chandler's masterpiece, the second of his Philip Marlowe books and I have to concur with the consensus for once. I read it in about two nights flat and was grinning from ear to ear all the way. Pretty much every sentence of Marlowe's famous first-person narration is a jewel, and the evocation of (low) life of 1940s LA utterly compelling.

  • David Brin: Existence

    David Brin: Existence
    This is my first Brin, and I came to it as a result of his appearance on the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast (which I loved, despite the hosts clearly not enjoying the experience). The book slightly suffered from being read straight after Seveneves, as Brin occupies something of the same space without having (to my mind) quite Stephenson's verve. But it's great stuff for all that, a multi-headed piece of storytelling that charts the consequences of alien life appearing at some point in the next hundred years. I'll definitely be reading more.

  • Neal Stephenson: Seveneves

    Neal Stephenson: Seveneves
    Seveneves is possibly Stephenson's only strictly hard SF novel to date, charting the human race's reaction to imminent destruction and the results some 4500 years later. I'll tell you no more than that to avoid spoilers. It's got all the Stephenson hallmarks that annoy many: it's very, very long, with showy-off science- and technology-based exposition at every turn, and there's an element of the shaggy dog story about it. But, inevitably, I loved every page of it - not least as it's very funny. As with Meshuggah albums, I'm now left bereft that I'll have to wait 5 years for the next one.

  • Jason Calacanis: Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups

    Jason Calacanis: Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups
    Calacanis is a hard-nosed, occasionally trash-talking Silicon Valley angel investor and the man behind the Week in Startups podcast. His debut book charts his own rise to success (including early investment in Uber) from his working class Brooklyn origins. Billed as something of a "how to", it's not exactly that (so ignore the book jacket), but it is an insightful and at times extremely funny introduction to the world of angel investment.

  • Anthony Storr: Music and the Mind

    Anthony Storr: Music and the Mind
    Occupying something of the same space as Oliver Sack's Musicophilia, psychologist Storr's earlier book is more grounded in (of course) psychology and philosophy of mind. Although it privileges Western Classical Music a little too much for my tastes, it's nonetheless a great read, brimming over with enthusiasm, deep knowledge and at times deeply counterintuitive insight.

  • Sam Harris & Majid Nawaz: Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue

    Sam Harris & Majid Nawaz: Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue
    This short and of course controversial book captures an ongoing conversation between philosopher Harris and campaigner (and former Islamist) Nawaz, in which the two, initially wary of each other (to say the least), gradually cohere in a powerful, insightful and hugely timely exploration of the potential (and need) for Muslim reform.

  • Philip Pullman: The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage

    Philip Pullman: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage
    Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials with this Lyra origin story and it's every bit as good as one would hope, introducing a whole new cast of characters and with series of weird, dark and utterly captivating set pieces. The first third of the book (at least) is pretty much set up, so when the story finally gets going, it truly explodes.

  • David Goodhart: The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics

    David Goodhart: The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics
    Goodhart takes a long hard look at the massively divergent lives, opinions and desires of the two British tribes: the cosmopolitan, rootless elite ("anywheres") and the more traditionally-inclined, rooted and family/community loving ("somewheres"). For those of us in the former camp, this is confronting stuff, but if we approach it honestly, there's much undeniable truth here.