What I’ve Been Reading

Here’s some of the books I’ve read lately:

Flash Boys – Michael Lewis’s book about high-frequency trading and Wall Street corruption. I’m quite envious of Lewis’s ability to take a complicated story that hinges on weird financial derivatives and somehow make it a page-turner.

The Undoing Project – Also by Lewis, this one covers Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s scientific partnership. I’ve become increasingly fond of well-written biographies as a way of understanding history and science. Seeing how their discoveries were made, and eventually led to a Nobel prize, helps me understand the science more than if it is discussed apart from its discovery.

The Geography of Thought – I went back and forth on whether I agreed or disagreed with the thesis of this book. The basic idea is that East Asians and Westerners think differently. Part of me feels like this is almost trivially true (after all, I believe people in different professions think differently, even when they share all other cultural aspects), but part of me remained unconvinced.

The generalizations being made felt somewhat cherry-picked. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Andrew Gelman, but I found myself wondering how many forking paths and degrees of freedom some of their experiments contained. I left feeling like East/West thinking differences likely exist, but I’m suspicious that they conform to the story the authors suggest.

Buddhisms: An Introduction – I’ve been digging into Eastern religions more lately, with an emphasis on Buddhism. One of the challenges I’ve found is that the Buddhism as promoted in the West often seems very different from the Buddhism I see practiced in Asian countries. This book was great as providing a context for how Buddhism started as a religion, its diverging branches and the varieties of beliefs and practices around the world today.

The Gene: An Intimate History – Another great book. I enjoyed Emperor of All Maladies by Muhkerjee, and this book was even more interesting. It suffered a bit of controversy by a New Yorker article written by Muhkerjee which raised some questions, but it has since gotten a lot of coverage and I haven’t seen anyone objecting to the science in the actual book.

In Other Languages…

In addition to reading in English, I’ve also tried to maintain a little reading in some of the languages I speak to keep them up. Here’s two I’ve finished in other languages.

The Martian (El Marciano) – I read this book in Spanish. Overall I found it enjoyable, if somewhat less dramatic than the movie version. I really hope engineering science fiction becomes a new genre.

The Three-Body Problem (三体) – My first complete book I read in Chinese. I read this in my Pleco reader, so I could easily look up words I didn’t know. This kind of assisted reading was very helpful in bridging the gap between graded readers (which are usually boring) and real novels in Chinese (which are usually hard). I’m currently about 2/3rds the way through Moyan’s Frog (蛙) which will soon be my first novel read on paper with minimal dictionary assistance.

For past reading, see my previous lists here and here.

  • Katarína

    Thank you for your reading list. It is great that you read books in different
    languages and different areas of study. It is good idea to read books outside
    the norm. If you read the same material as everyone else, then you’ll think in
    the same way as everyone else. You can’t expect to see problems in a new way if
    you’re reading all the same things as your classmates, co-workers, or peers.
    So, either read books that are seldom read by the rest of your group or read
    books that are outside your area of interest, but can overlap with it in some
    way. In other words, look for answers in unexpected places.I try to read books
    from different branches of science https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_of_branches_of_science to
    enrich my knowledge.

  • zeneight

    Thanks for sharing! Have you read Buddhism: Plain & Simple? If so, what are your thoughts? I found it was a good introduction to the principles of Buddhism while being careful to explain the differences, but less of a historical context as “Buddhisms: An Introduction” looks to be.

  • Fernando Belmonte Archetti

    This is merely a curiosity: do you not take interest in Western religions? I figure that, we Westerners, are all to some degree a little disillusioned, having gone through Freud, irony, world wars, religious wars, hence we often end up having negative views about our own heritage. I think a treasure is lost in the process, but it’s an understandable mistake. A mistake, nonetheless.

  • Since you’re interested in China, have you read Sun Tzu’s Art of War?

  • Astrapto

    He’s an atheist, and Buddhism allows you to be atheist while still placating the need for spirituality and significance. Nihilism may be true, but it never increased anyone’s feelings of self-actualization.

  • Astrapto

    Great job reading those books in those languages!
    “Hard” science fiction like The Martian has existed for a long time. http://bestsciencefictionbooks.com/best-hard-science-fiction-books.php

  • Scott Young

    Hard sci-fi is a more general category than engineering fiction, but I like both. I found the Martian interesting because the plot hinged on solving technical problems the way an engineer might.

  • Scott Young

    Yes, in English. Might try in Chinese later, but it’s LS so I’d probably need a MSM version anyways.

  • Scott Young

    I’m very interested in Western religions. However, I’m less interested in (any) religion for its purported veracity, but rather asking how it might function culturally and offer psychological insight/tools. From that perspective I feel, as a Westerner, culturally I’ve inherited much of the Judeo-Christian traditions in that regard so I’m more curious about alternative systems.

    However, I’m not particularly interested in religion as a tool for understanding the truth of the world. This also goes for Buddhism as typically practiced in Asia which has a lot of intellectual baggage (reincarnation, Pure Lands, hierarchies of hells/heavens) that I feel are probably false.

    My focus on Buddhism/Hinduism lately is that it seems to have developed meditation to a large degree. I don’t know of a similar technique in Western religions (prayer perhaps?)

  • Scott Young

    Hmmm no I haven’t. There’s a lot of books for me to read on this topic!

  • Scott Young

    I work hard to read diversely. I think it’s doubly important for my job as a writer. I get paid (so to speak) for having original ideas, so it doesn’t benefit me as much to be reading what everyone else is. By reading from more unusual places I can synthesize that and hopefully offer value. I think reading benefits everyone, but for those whose jobs are in ideas (writers, intellectuals, academics, artists) I think it’s essential.

  • Fernando Belmonte Archetti

    The closest thing I can think of is the French-born 19th century Christian religion called “Spiritisme”. Best read either in French or in Portuguese (for some reason, this religion took roots in Brazil). St. Augustine’s meditations come to mind, too, as well as Hugues de Saint-Victor, though the latter may be more related to studying than meditation proper.

  • constance

    Asian cultures including the buddhism have been always interpreted into a very strange ways. I really believe if you want to truely understand the buddhism and asian religions, you have to understand their language first. when the culture is translated into english or any other languages, some things have been changed.

  • April

    The Three-Body Problem is my favorite book. I have to say that it’s really hard to read this book in Chinese for me as a Chinese speaker. You are really amazed. Hope you enjoy it.

  • Scott Young

    The difficulty is mostly technical, though, not linguistic. Strangely, such books tend to be easier to read in another language, since with the appropriate translation I know exactly what they’re talking about. Reading books which lean more heavily on Chinese culture are much harder since they often refer to terms or ideas that we don’t have, or contexts and attitudes that I wouldn’t take for granted.

  • Scott Young

    Possibly true. I’ve been reading a bit of the Dao De Jing, but I need the modern Mandarin companion to translate the classical Chinese. I doubt I’ll get into Buddhism enough to learn Sanskrit or Pali, but who knows…

  • Scott Young

    I don’t think nihilism is true. But I also don’t think there are “ultimate” meanings.

  • Bruno Seefeld

    At least in Brazil “spiritisme” is not that close to buddhism, they use some similar concepts, but are a way more theists. Though, both have some practioners that justify their beliefs with quantum woo.