[Excuse blatant copying from last year's post.] Just in case you're interested in what I found informative, interesting, thought-provoking, etc. last year. Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Amazon page (where I get a cut if you buy); clicking on the title will whisk you to my blog posting for a fuller discussion.
I read a lot of good books this year, and it was hard to limit myself to 10, an arbitrary (but traditional) number. Apologies to those who didn't make the cut. I could have come up with a slightly different set on a different day. Feel free to peruse the full list of books I read in 2020 (including fiction).
In order read:
|Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need by Randal O'Toole. A combination of history and public policy. Randal loves the choo-choos, but he's honest enough to admit their time has passed.|
|Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll. A good discussion for the layman about different "interpretations" of quantum mechanics; Carroll is in favor of "many worlds", see if he can convince you. Some handwaving is involved, since he avoids math.|
|Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes. Amity looks at LBJ's massive social engineering project, meant to end poverty, establish racial harmony, beautify the interstates, … It didn't work; you may have noticed. Vietnam, of course. But also the implementation was left to socialists full of hubris and huckster activists with their schemes for power and to grab some of that sweet taxpayer cash.|
|Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey. Deirdre's overall purpose here is to update and defend her thesis about the cause and nature of "The Great Enrichment", started in northwest Europe in the 18th century: it was due to a newfound and unique respect for the tools of the marketplace, bourgeois moral values, and individual liberty. Marred by her illiberal turn against people who fail to buy into her transgender ideology. Try to ignore that.|
|The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It) by Michael R. Strain. A short book, but very fact-dense. Michael's argument is that various economic doomsayers on left and right are (largely) wrong, that the American economy is delivering for most (but not all) people, and that various nostrums peddled (by those doomsayers) would make things worse.|
|How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe. A lot of fun: Randall (yes, another Randy made this list) takes "normal" questions, answers them by going to amusingly absurd lengths using scientific insight and very dry humor.|
|Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth by Stuart Ritchie. It's necessary to say that the author is not an anti-science loon. But he's profoundly disturbed by the lousy research incentivized by the current system. He does a masterful, meticulous job of investigating examples of shoddiness and detailing how "Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype" are encouraged. With results that hurt, sometimes kill, people.|
|Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class by Charles Murray. And when he says "Diversity", Murray means it in the classic sense: differences. A noble effort to bring science into the discussion, tempered by a classical-liberal view of essential, underlying, human equality. As the subtitle implies: when it comes to issues of "gender, race, and class", biology plays an important role in explaining observed differences. Avert your eyes if that shocks or offends you, but ignoring it will ensure that your efforts to improve/reform/transform society will be misguided, ineffective, wasteful, and almost certainly invidious.|
|Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the "Real America" by Kevin D. Williamson. A compilation of 22 of Kevin D. Williamson's National Review articles 2012-2019. Each is a little gem, and if you're wondering what all those asterisks in the magazine meant, they're spelled out here. Clichés avoided, plenty of insight and pyrotechnic prose.|
|Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay. A critical examination of how postmodern epistemology mutated into today's raging dumpster fire of "wokeness", "identity politics", "anti-racism", and associated ideologies. Not a polemic, the authors bend over backward to be "fair" to the deep thinkers they criticize, quoting them extensively. Unfortunately, this means the reader has to navigate piles of barely coherent academic gobbledygook.|