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Wednesday 2 April 2008

What I've been Reading

I've been a bit slack posting but I intend to rectify that to some degree as I'm reading a very entertaining book at the moment that is giving me lots of ideas about interesting things to write about.

In the meantime here's the latest update on my reading efforts.

In Flight:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan. This is the very entertaining book that is giving me so much to think about. It's basic premise is that humans pattern matching brains are poorly equipped to deal with the unexpected. I will be posting about a lot of his principle ideas but I'll pull out one quote that captures the basic idea of the book

The unexpected almost always pushes [projects] in a single direction: higher costs and a longer time to completion.

At a simplistic level this seems logical and inevitable but on the other hand it is a damning reflection on modern humanities inability or unwillingness to honestly assess risks and the "planning" profession in general. He's just as scathing about almost every other profession too which is partly what makes it so entertaining.

The book is full of annoyances and Taleb is outrageously arrogant however I have to give him the benefit of reading the whole book before I decide whether he is unjustifiably arrogant or not, I sincerely hope it is the latter as I'm enjoying this book more than any other non fiction that I've read in years.


Jon Ronson: "The Men Who Stare At Goats". It's funny and interesting but it really failed to grab me and I don't think that Ronson made as much of the material that he seems to have had at his disposal as he could have. Part of the problem is that he was writing a funny book and he tries to hard to make the characters he encounters comedic stars when many of them are at best sad and deluded and at worst insane and dangerous. 4/10.

Arthur C. Clarke: "The Songs of distant Earth" and "Rendezvous with Rama". Clarke's recent death led me to dig out these two for a quick read to see if his writing still holds up to my memory of it. In short, it does. He was an excellent story teller and both of these stories are great SF yarns that haven't dated badly in the decades since they were written. 7/10

Terry Pratchett: "Strata". This is one of Pratchett's two early SF novels. This one is particularly interesting as part of the plot revolves around a "discworld" that is built by some mysterious alien civilization. It's a pretty good run of the mill SF book but it's main attraction comes from seeing Pratchett's early ideas about how such a discworld would have to work in a universe that (sort of) played by the rules of our own. I liked it a lot but it is probably only a book that compulsive SF addicts or complete Pratchett fan's should read. 5/10.

Looking Forward To

Charlie Stross: Saturn's Children

Alastair Reynolds: The Prefect

Alastair Reynolds: House of Suns

Terry Pratchett: Nation

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