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Books – 2019

I wanted to add a bit of a personal flair to the site. One of my hobbies is reading and listening to audiobooks so I figured I’d throw down mini-reviews of each book I read throughout the year and leave them here. This is mostly an exercise for me to improve my writing skills and for me to better remember the books I have read.

I’ll append to this post throughout the year as more books are read; please recommend your favorites or tell my why my reviews are terrible! Last year we hit 80 books, lets see how this year unfolds!

**NATURALLY THIS MAY INCLUDE SPOILERS**

The year so far…

Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
I believe this book came to my attention as a recommendation from one of the Gates Foundation letters. Overall, I thought the book was extremely thought provoking and looked at some very important topics. In particular it looked at the history of Humanity as it passed through 3 approximate “revolutions” – the Cognitive revolution around 70,000 BCE when human societies became more capable and communication became more complex; the Agricultural revolution around 10,000 BCE, and the Scientific/Industrial Revolution which is still in progress today.

Yuval probes many uncomfortable questions such as our species likely involvement in the extinction of other human-like species, like the Neanderthals, as well as our track record of wiping out huge amounts of species throughout history, and our modern poor quality of life provided to animals such chicken and cattle.

While I don’t agree with all of the premises which Harari presents he does provide many well articulated and challenging interpretations of events throughout history, the role of ‘group delusions’ such as the believe in Capitalism or Socialism or things such as intrinsic human rights/equality of all people which, while I’d argue are GOOD things to believe and accept are certainly not things which a Darwinian existence requires or even would seem to support throughout history.

Other interesting perspectives throughout the book dwelled on questions of general human happiness and satisfaction and if that has changed much through time. There are some metrics – availability of food, diminished of wars, extended lifespans which are all seemingly objectively good changes but are those things making our race ‘happier’ or was the average hunter-gatherer approximately as happy as the average human today?

The end of the book was by far my favorite and dealt with potential upcoming challenges and questions our species will face as things like genetic editing, mechanically enhanced life, and the capabilities of general- or super-intelligent AIs come to prominence. Some of the challenges are around distribution of gene editing technology – how do we make sure the rich are not the only ones to benefit from it? As human lifespans become increasingly long – potentially indefinite – are we equipped to handle that responsibility? Will we tremble in fear from even trivial risks due to our expected indefinite life, will that make us better or worse people?

I certainly would recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a book to make them think. While I don’t agree with a number of the predictions and a few of the statements made throughout the book I found it a thrilling exercise to try to work out what merit/flaws is/are in his hypotheses and the book overall made me think more than most books I’ve read recently.

We are Legion (We are Bob) – (Book 1 of the Bobiverse series)
by Dennis Taylor
I found this to be a phenomenally enjoyable book! It is the first of a light-hearted sci-fi quadrilogy which deals with the unexpected ~second-life of Bob.

Bob made an investment in a company who would, on his death, freeze him and attempt to revive him once medical technology was capable of doing so. Little did he know that he would shortly thereafter be struck by a car and die. About 120 years after his death (his death being the early 21st century) he is awoken in an unexpected way. He is revived as a computer intelligence with all the memories, feelings, and essence of Bob.

However, things aren’t quite what you might expect. The world had been taken over by a variety of sects, the United States being replaced by a North American religious/faith based authoritarian government. In addition, due to recent scientific breakthroughs there is a new space race underway to go and colonize the stars in the name of the various global superpowers.

Ultimately, Bob is one of only 3 AIs to launch with ships and the act of launching these ships eventually leads to a nuclear winter on Earth and the near extinction of the species. Once Bob makes it out to the first new star system he starts to produce copies of his AI in to other ships he manufactures. As this happens various personality differences between his copies are evident and a gradual community of Bobs emerges.

These Bob’s end up deciding to help humanity rebuild, seek out habitable planets, and ultimately find another Earth based AI personality who is bent on destroying the Bobs as well as another species which harvests planets for minerals; despite the presence of life.

This book is filled with numerous sci-fi references, witty and absurd situations, and interesting questions which ultimately point to hard questions about what it means to be a conscious person, to be human, and how that connects to ethical and moral responsibility.

For We Are Many (Book 2 of the Bobiverse series) 
By Dennis Taylor

The second book in this series delves in to some of the various responsibilities and tasks the Bobs set for themselves. Some of the pertinent situations covered are observing and possibly preventing the possible extinction of a pre-agricultural humanoid species possessing intelligence and language; the challenge and responsibility of saving and relocating the human race; the dilemma of what to do against a species bent on harvesting planets of all resources and exterminating life on those planets; and the challenges of relationships with “ephemeral” beings who live only a finite duration and how to handle that as a more-or-less immortal being.

All These Worlds (Book 3 of the Bobiverse series)
By Dennis Taylor

The third installment of this book provided some very nice resolution of arcs which were developed in the first and second books. This book had two primary themes which were the evacuation of humanity from Earth and the defeat of the “Others” who threatened all systems in the vicinity of Sol.

The writing in this installment felt cleaner with a more fluid narrative than the prior book. It felt easy to read and each narrative segment/Bob personality felt more natural and absorbing. The solutions were believable and the victory against the Others was somewhat novel. Most compelling for me was the divergence of Bob’s identity as a human and how that was reflected cognitively, morally, and with how the Bob’s perceive interacting with humans.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this as a fun sci-fi trilogy to anyone who is a fan of the genre. Can’t wait to see the next book Dennis Taylor writes in the series!

The Man on the Mountaintop
By Susan Trott and Libby Spurrier

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
By Douglas Adams

Law School for Everyone
By The Great Courses

As someone who does not know much about Law and what goes in to the legal system, this was an eye-opening and enjoyable introduction to the field. The course focused a large amount on litigation and I found the first half to be the most enjoyable. Understanding the process and procedure around filing suits, presenting evidence, presenting arguments and so forth.

Kindred
By Octavia E. Butler

This was my first book by Octavia E. Butler and I found it to be very good and different than much of the sci-fi I have read before. The subject matter was broadly focused on racism and there was some sense of drawing comparisons of racism in the early 1800s and the undertones that still live today. The story was very interesting and focused on the main character and, to a lesser degree her husband, bouncing back and forth in time to a distant relative who was white and lived on a plantation with slaves they owned.

Scenes felt very well researched and authentic and the story moved along at a good pace with a number of interesting explorations of life, times, and conversations as people realized what was happening. Some of the scenes were hard to read but never seemed too grotesque. I’d definitely recommend this book and plan to read more by Octavia Butler in the future.

A Little History of Philosophy
By Nigel Warburton

American Gods
By Neil Gaiman

The Andromeda Strain
By Michael Crichton

Contact
By Carl Sagan

Gilgamesh: A New English Version
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

I am Malala
By Malala Yousafzai

Money Management Skills
By The Great Courses

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