Books I finished reading in October 2014

Decent books:

The Goal is the worst novel I’ve ever read, and the first long piece of fiction I’ve finished in the past 6 years. How is that possible?

The novel is actually an introduction to Goldratt’s theory of constraints, from operations research. The writing isn’t supposed to be good, it’s just supposed to drive home the principles of Goldratt’s theory clearly and efficiently. I think I was able to finish this one because the book wasn’t trying to do all the normal literary things that good novels try to do, and instead was clearly trying to teach me things, like a nonfiction book would. And because it was explained with a story, I’ll probably remember the core principles of The Goal better than I remember the key points of most nonfiction books I read.

The audiobook is especially amusing. Every character is played by a different voice actor, there are ambient background noises that fit the scene, and the musical queues are often hilarious, such as the vaguely romantic hold music that plays while the main character and his wife make up after a fight and speak corny romance dialogue.

Dweck’s Mindset — see this summary — was alternately decent and annoying. I do suspect there’s something to the growth/fixed mindset distinction, but Dweck downplays individual differences too much, glosses over conflicting studies, and waves suggestively in the direction of debunked blank slate hypotheses.

Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is well-written but the arguments aren’t consistently compelling.

Harris’ 10% Happier was moderately enjoyable but doesn’t have much content.

Assorted links

  • Google continues gobbling up AI talent.
  • New-ish psychology study method: “preregistered adversarial collaboration.” From the abstract: “Prior to data collection, the [disagreeing researchers] reached consensus on an optimal research design, formulated their expectations, and agreed to submit the findings to an academic journal regardless of the outcome… [they also] set up a publicly available… agreement that detailed the proposed design and all forseeable aspects of the data analysis.”
  • I just noticed the WTF, Evolution? book is out.

Symposium-style written debates

I like high-quality written debates for which (1) one ‘top thinker’ on the subject makes an argument, (2) four or more other top thinkers on the subject reply, and (3) then the first author writes a final reply to his or her critics. I think of these as “symposium-style debates,” as contrasted with e.g. the Oxford-style debates seen in Economist Debates and elsewhere. (Is there another name for them?)

Examples include:

Know of other examples?

Books I finished reading in September 2014

Decent books:

Pinker’s The Blank Slate was excellent, and is now perhaps the #1 book I want someone to have read before I will debate social justice issues with them. (Note that as with most cognitive science books that cover this much detail, a few findings claimed herein are now out of date. E.g. at Blank Slate‘s time of release, it looked like IGF2R was a major gene for IQ, but this result failed to replicate.)

Murray’s Coming Apart was interesting as usual. His arguments for the increasing cultural split between classes in America were fairly persuasive. I ignored the parts about his policy recommendations. In the middle of the book there’s an amusing quiz you should take to learn whether you are a bubble-living elitist. Sample questions: “Who is Jimmie Johnson?” and “What is Branson?” If you’re a bubble-living elitist, you probably have no idea.

I scored 35, nearest to Murray’s “typical” score for “a first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents,” which does in fact describe me best of Murray’s available score interpretations. I scored 29 points on the first 7 questions about my early life in rural Minnesota, and only 6 points on all the remaining questions, 4 of which came from watching lots of movies (including popular ones).

I also finished (most of) Lobbying and Policy Change, which I summarized here.

The Sense of Style, which I downloaded from Audible at 12:30am on September 30th (its release date) and finished before the end of the day, is clearly the best style manual now available, though unfortunately it is not also a complete guide to How to Write as Well as Steven Pinker.

Assorted links

  • The Center for Effective Altruism reports on outcomes from their 10+ meetings with UK policymakers so far.
  • Pinker on Ivy League education (very good).
  • A profile of Martine Rothblatt: “Futurist, pharma tycoon, satellite entrepreneur, philosopher. Martine Rothblatt, the highest-paid female executive in America, was born male. But that is far from the thing that defines her. Just ask her wife. Then ask the robot version of her wife.”
  • Okay, good, so I won’t read the new Fukuyama books.