Books, music, etc. from April 2015


Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed was decent.

Carrier’s Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus were decent. Of course, if they contained a bunch of bogus claims about matters of ancient history, I mostly wouldn’t know, but the published criticisms of these books that exist so far don’t seem to have identified any major problems on that front. I think the application of probability theory to historical method is less straightforward than Carrier presents it to be (esp. re: assignment of priors via reference classes), but he’s certainly right that his approach makes one’s arguments clearer and easier to productively criticize. Also, I continue to think Jesus mythicism should be considered quite plausible (> 20% likely), even though mainstream historians almost completely dismiss mythicism. As far as I can tell, these two books constitute mythicism’s best defense yet, though this isn’t saying much.

Goodman’s Future Crimes is inaccurate and hyperbolic about exponential tech trends and a few other things, but most of the book is a sober account about current and future tech-enabled criminal and security risks, and also accidentally constitutes a decent reply to the question “but how would an unfriendly AI affect the physical world?”

I got bored with The Powerhouse and gave up on it, but that might’ve been because I didn’t like the audiobook narrator.

I read Taubes’ Why We Get Fat and some sections of GCBC. I’m no expert in nutrition, but my impression is that Taubes doesn’t accurately represent the current state of knowledge, and avoids discussing evidence that contradicts his views. See e.g. Guyenet and Bray.

Vaillant’s Triumphs of Experience seemed pretty sketchy in how it was interpreting its evidence, but I probably won’t take the time to dig deep to confirm or disconfirm that suspicion. But e.g. the author often makes statements about the American population in general on the basis of results from a study for which nearly all the subjects were elite white Harvard males.

Zuk’s Paleofantasy covered lots of interesting material, but also spent lots of time on arguments like “Remember, evolution isn’t directed!” (Do paleo fans think it is?) and “Sure, farmers worked more than foragers, but foragers worked more than pre-human apes, so why not say everything went downhill after the pre-human apes?” (Uh, because we can’t make ourselves into pre-human apes, but we can live and eat more like foragers if we try?)

I skimmed Singer’s The Most Good You Can Do very quickly, since I’m already familiar with the arguments and stories found within. At a glance it looks like a good EA 101 book, probably the best currently available. Give it as a gift to your family and non-EA friends.

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  1. Scott says

    Hi, Luke.

    I share your impression of Taubes. If you want optimal nutritional guidance (which you should, because it could add more than a decade to your healthspan and lifespan), I highly recommend the writings of Joel Fuhrman. You would probably get the most out of his book Super Immunity. His work is grounded in the latest in nutritional science, and he’s not beholden to any ideology (i.e., he goes where the science takes him). His work is the best path we currently have to optimizing our diets.

    Btw, I’m a former Plymouth Brethren Christian–now an atheist. Thank you for writing about your background and deconversion; it has given me hope that more of my loved ones will walk the rational path, too.


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