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.