Some books I love

These books contain wisdom and draw one's inner wisdom out. These books can help free your mind. I think you'll enjoy them.

I will say upfront, I believe that you can read nonfiction books in parts and perhaps never finish them and still derive amazing value and insight. However fiction books, once started, have to be finished. You have to complete the trip.



The Wisdom of Insecurity – Alan Watts

In all my studies I have found only probabilities and flow; the only constant in the universe is change. Watts helps us make sense of this truth and offers a new stance for living a happy life by alleviating the desire for stability and having faith in the flow.

The Nature of Technology – Brian Arthur

An ambitious and deeply helpful approach to viewing technology as modular combinatorial evolution driven by human imagination. Those words will make sense after reading this book! Arthur articulates one of the most usefully humble assertions of human designs: technology is harnessed phenomena. We did not invent fire, we harnessed it. We did not invent electricity, we deployed it. A must read if you seek to truly understand what it is that humans can do in this world.

Network Power – David Grewal

Why is English such a dominant language? Why did Facebook become so large so fast? What is it about certain standards that make them so appealing to everyone that they have to participate, even those who would rather not? This book is required reading if you want to have any hope of understanding where real power lies, especially in the modern world. 

Who Owns the Future? – Jaron Lanier

Even in a world of 3D printing, someone still can sell you the printing goop, always there is a chance to extract rent and profit wildly. In this serious yet fanciful account, Lanier takes you through the challenges of balancing power in the emerging technological reality. This book will leave you demanding better answers for how wealth is accredited and distributed, and can help guide you to thinking of your own. I was channeling it in my response to Jeremy Rifkin's "Zero Marginal Cost Society;" it is not enough to have technological systems, we must also have systematic justice.

Bastard Culture – Tobias Shafer

It seems like a great time for creatives, after all our work is seen everywhere now! In this book Shafer asks us to look twice before we consider the Internet an empowering force. He shows us that we must pay close attention to the design of the systems we use to communicate and share our art. The age of the monopoly is still here, it is only a transmutation. This book is a kind of response to accounts like The Wealth of Networks by Benkler, and I used it in my ambitious (if meandering) attempt to explore why capitalism still creates such wealth inequality.

The Second Machine Age – Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee

The first DARPA self-driving car grand challenge was a joke, self-driving cars, it seemed were impossible. Twelve years later the entire automotive industry is bracing for a near future where cars drive themselves, insurance companies are crunching the numbers and policy-makers are even starting to stir. Exponential change is illusory, everything stays the same, until it doesn't. This book is a practical primer to the shape of changes ahead for us economic actors.

The Origin of Wealth - Eric Beinhocker

What is wealth? Why do some have so much while so many have so little? This is a text of reference for anyone seeking to understand the nature of the world. Evolution and economics, it shows, are not separate but rather deeply tied.

Surfaces & Essences - Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander

Analogy is the fuel and fire of thinking, argue Hofstadter and Sander, it is the ability to create novel solutions to novel problems using a finite set of knowledge. When you see something as being like something else, you are being intelligent. 

I am a Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstadter

What is consciousness? I am conscious. This "I" though, what is that? It seems important to this whole consciousness business... A brilliant exploration of the interplay between simplicity and complexity through the lens of your own mind, mathematics, and analogy.

Finite Games and Infinite Games – James P. Carse

A wonderful romp through the nature of games with asides about the seductive draw of control leading to evil paths. This book offers a new way to see the society around us, and presents us with productive opportunities to re-evaluate our interpersonal and political relationships.



Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Each city reveals the traveler to himself as much as the traveler reveals the city to itself - always the process is incomplete and subjective. A poetic account of place and letting go of the desire to know all that can be. 

The Little Prince – Antione de Saint-Exupery

Through the eyes of children the world makes sense. Keep those eyes, they are the gift.

My Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Some time in the past, dear reader, members of our culture decided to lock the food up - to privatize that which was once public; we have been suffering in mounds of excess ever since. Be warned: this book will change your view of the world and your place in it.

Happy are the Happy – Yamina Reza

In our rush for grandeur and acceptance we can overlook that life is living. I found this book like a perfect splash of refreshing water upon my face. Cool down, everyone is living. Judge less, everyone is living. There is joy if we let it in.

City of Thieves – David Benioff

A political prisoner, Lev is given an assignment: get eggs for the Colonel's daughter's wedding cake, behind the German line. Stark walks through winter, small respites, and omnipresent yet varying degrees of danger make this novel sparkle with a gritty glow. The absurdity of Lev's assignment juxtaposes perfectly with the gravity of living in conflict.

The Giver - Lois Lowry

This story shaped my childhood. I still see the scene of the sailing ship that Jonas illegally gave to his baby sister to soothe her mind. Especially in the modern world where emotion seems the loudest voice in discourse, and its banishment seems like the only path to peace, The Giver speaks louder still, reminding us that emotion is the texture of life and the core of humanity. Reminding us that forgetting our history does not save us from it, it only robs us of the potential to see more clearly.

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. La Guin

On the winter world of Gethen the people are androgynous until their mating season. These people may be "male" on year and "female" the next, each one may be a mother and a father to different children. They have not yet waged large scale war. Their culture is rich with tales of the danger of future-telling. This book is essential if you desire to see around the gender binary and consider what love might really be. Also make sure to read the forward. There is a great audiobook out there that I have listened to and thoroughly enjoyed.

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson

Aboard a ship bound for a new world around a distant star, the inhabitants of the ship know no life other than drifting through space in their enclosed biome. A journey they did not choose to begin they must complete. Aurora is a powerful meditation on our relationship to our environment and our home planet, along with providing a compelling character in the Ship itself.

Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) – Kim Stanley Robinson

Politics follow humans wherever we go. In the Mars Trilogy we find a wonderfully detailed account of claiming, inhabiting and fighting for a new world with new values in the midst of the weight of history streaming in. I still find myself missing the surface of Mars from this world, Stan Robinson takes the time to show you the vistas, to place you on Mars. This is a must read for anyone who dreams of building a better world here on Earth or beyond.

The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson

The Plague destroys Europe, how does human history progress? What constants might there be, what twists? This book is a beautiful exploration of history making and human spirit woven together with characters who we follow through reincarnation era and era again. 

Enders Game – Orson Scott Card

The Circle – Dave Eggers

Transparency will usher in a new era of equanimity, a new potential for peace, a world where all of us are aware of each other. A world revealed to itself. A utopia where politicians are accountable and knowledge of your loved ones' safety is always just a tap away. But wait, what's that dark spot in the middle where all the information is routed through?... A must-read for anyone who uses the Internet.

Nexus trilogy (Nexus, Apex & Crux) – Ramez Naam

A drug is sweeping the streets, Nexus. The first trip is a flight through your own subconscious, and after this usually very jarring experience you can now touch the minds of other Nexus users. Imagine feeling someone else's full emotions directly in your mind and them feeling yours. A young Bay Area hacker makes improvements to the street drug creating Nexus 6, and kickstarting a global revolution. His version is stable enough to take Nexus from emotions to concrete experience, and allow users to run applications on their mind. A powerfully exciting and thoughtful exploration of a near future world where the humanity that was born begins to conflict with the humanity that is designed.

Existence – David Brin

Earth – David Brin

Otherness – David Brin

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash is an amazing romp through a 90s-chic future world that would make intense Libertarians swoon. In the world of Snow Crash everything is drive through, everything is corporate, and everyone’s in it for biz. Our main characters are Hiro Protagonist, master sword-fighter, expert hacker and co-inventor of the Metaverse, and YT, a radical skate Kourier who surfs the wild traffic of LA. Written in 1992 the book has aged a little, with some questionable caricatures of certain ethnic groups, but really the world of Snow Crash is itself a caricature of trends in the “free market” happy and race-relations-challenged United States. I came in to read about the Metaverse, which is still inspiring modern day Virtual Reality efforts, but I stayed for the semiotic viruses, ancient Sumerian legend, the unstoppable harpoon-wielding mercenary Raven, high speed traffic surfing, and sword fighting. Snow Crash is a damn fun read.

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson

Rainbow’s End – Verner Vinge

Bicentennial Man – Isaac Asimov

Foundation series – Isaac Asimov

The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov


Short stories:

The Last Question – Isaac Asimov

What would happen once the last question is answered? This story keeps helping me see human endeavor anew almost every day. This is a source of wisdom.

Stones of Significance – David Brin

So you think you want to keep 'progressing' do you? You want to achieve new heights of understanding and control? Go for it I guess, but don't say I didn't warn you... 

The Machine Stops – E.M. Forster

When we have developed the world, when the last of us is connected to each other through a grand tapestry of standardized machinery, what then will become of the creatures that built the tapestry? From 1909 Forster gives us the most prescient story I have ever read - this tale will continue to ring more true into the deep future; keep it close to you and remember what it is to be embodied and free.

More than the Sum of its Parts

As we enter 2014 on the Gregorian calendar, I feel we should take a moment to reflect on the monumental achievement that is this network of networks. Our lives and our world are now irreversibly changed, they are now enveloped by the Internet. As we continue to journey into it, the Internet is achieving a level of raucous activity that has a beautiful parallel in nature, one that reveals the true genius of our creation.

Right now this network of networks is still in the process of developing, new connections are being made and existing ones being strengthened. It is being empowered with new and ever more intricate ways to query its depths and measure its activity. This network is made of silicon and light, forged from and filled with human ingenuity and desire. Far from artificial, it is beautifully natural. Its progression is following the path of the great network, the one that started our journey of discovery: the human brain. The human brain is composed of relatively simple pieces, neurons, that connect and aggregate to be much more than the mere sum of their connections. Individually, a neuron is just a cell, but together in one system they are conscious. While our brains are made of cells that are akin to mere switches, this new brain is composed of entire brains, both human and computer. This new brain’s activity is made of our data, knowledge, thoughts, imaginations, and feelings. This new brain remembers everything that it ever was. This new brain is exponentially smart. Just as each of us grow and learn from experience, so too is the Internet growing and learning.

In building this mesh of connections between humans and computers, we are creating an intelligence beyond any possible single machine; we’re turning the Earth into our collective brain, channeling our power, and that of our inventions, into a single conduit. Far from some hive mind dystopia, we’re just replicating and expanding what we each already are: billions of individual units aggregating to a whole, which manifests as greater than the sum of its parts. Individuality isn’t lost, instead it thrives, as it unleashes the incredible power of immense complexity. Humans and software working together to be more than they ever could be alone. Where ideas once took many rotations around the Sun to spread, now they ripple through the global mind as quickly as they are formed. Ever-changing and uncontrollable, an endless foaming roar of activity. Creating memories, thoughts, even dreams.

The Internet is coming alive, its mesmerizing din rising toward the ubiquitous, rapid, beautiful, and barely orchestrated cacophony that characterizes the complexity of a mind. This new brain has already proven to be immensely powerful, and even a small bit foreign, reflecting our input but with its own sometimes baffling interpretation. All of us connected together has emerged as so much more than the sum, and there are still many billions of new connections to make. This journey has only just begun. 

- JH


Further reading on consciousness from Cristof Koch in Scientific American.