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 Transparent Society – David Brin
We live in an increasingly quantified, tracked and surveilled world. Power and size thresholds allowing networked computers to be placed anywhere are being crossed and now we are placing them everywhere. Constellations of imaging satellites are entering orbit that will allow us to see the Earths' surface in real-time. Drones are set to buzz about the skies. Wi-fi can see through walls. All of it linked together by an ever growing global network. Moving forward, the world around you will be constantly sensed and awash with information. Processing power continues to grow exponentially and humanity's ability to make sense of and gain insight from vast pools of data is growing. Search engines are giving way to Answer Engines. We are entering into a time when it is possible to know what is happening anywhere on Earth at any time. This power is coming to all, costing ever less and delivering ever more. The very idea of going "off the grid" will be demolished; we no longer live in a grid, we live in a mesh that will grow ever more dense until it blankets the whole Earth. What is the future of secrecy in a world where everything that transpires on Earth is observable and trackable? How will society adapt to the power to know nearly anything about anything at any time? Can we still keep secrets in the future?
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.
Central Station – Lavie Tidhar
The smell of orange lingers although in what time you cannot quite say. A light breeze, below a dusty engine putters by, and an ancient soldier more metal than man begs for vodka or gasoline, whatever will keep his light on. In the twilight that vast tower looms beyond the clouds: Central Station, portal to the stars which casting its long shadow over Tel Aviv. Up the stairs a boy approaches, or maybe a girl. Hair wild, the briefest spark of real lightning bolts from hair to hair and a small cloud begins to rain over their little head. "Hush child," you might say, and ask through your node into the Conversation what tea best soothes a sad heart.
Central Station is a masterpiece and you deserve to read it.
Enders Game – Orson Scott Card
Crush your enemies completely lest they ever try again. This young Ender learns well in school. When his character is measured by his implanted sensors and compared to all the children his age, he is deemed worthy of being brought to space to train in fighting humanity's greatest threat, an alien race that came, destroyed all and suddenly left so long ago.
Come for the main story of Ender's maturation in a military academy orbiting the Earth and stay for exposes of how easy it is for Ender's brother and sister to take the entire Earthnet's conversation hostage by playing both sides of a political debate they fabricate and control.
Chasing Shadows – Assorted Authors
Stories and essays meditating on the nature of privacy, power, intimacy and reality as we continue to plunge into this digital experiment of counting the world.
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
A seminal idea text for anyone wishing to work on building mixed reality content now that headsets and holograms are beginning to creep into the world.
Bicentennial Man – Isaac Asimov
This book began my love of science fiction, real proper science fiction. The touching story of a consciousness becoming itself and discovering its desire to love, Bicentennial Man is another take on 'AI' that will leave you a more nuanced view of what an entity born of humanity and raised in our midst might truly want.
Foundation series – Isaac Asimov
The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov
Short Stories with Links to Read:
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.