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2020 Book Recommendations

For a few years now, a former colleague — a celebrated author and known book-hoarder — has suggested insisted I post an end-of-year reading re-cap. I promised to do so this year.

Here are the books I read in 2019, in the order I started them:

Here are a few 2020 book recommendations from this list:

The Tangled Tree – David Quammen

Most people are probably not familiar with Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) and, accordingly, may possess a slightly outmoded understanding of evolution. The Tangled Tree is a good introduction to HGT. David Quammen is one of my favorite nature writers, and I would recommenced his other books as well. (Quammen’s short story collection, The Boilerplate Rhino, is a good place to start.) The academic history of evolutionary thinking is quite interesting. The near future of biology — inevitably to impacted by the operationalization of genetic editing via CRISPR — is sure to be even more so.

No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference – Great Thunburg

She was on the cover of Time Magazine. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I was walking though San Francisco last week and saw her face 40-feet tall on the side of a building. Worldwide, people know the name “Greta,” and they didn’t last year. This short collection of her speeches is worth reading because it is perfectly of-the-time.

To better understand the facts, assumptions, and projections tied to the oft-referenced 1.5°C warming threshold, I suggest also reading the 20-page “Summary for Policymakers” section of the “IPCC Special Report on Climate Change”, which has set the tone for the broader discussion on climate change.

The Patch – John McPhee

John McPhee is one of my favorite non-fiction writers (and even tops the aforementioned David Quammen as one my favorite nature writers). What I love about this collection of previously unpublished snippets from McPhee is what I love about reading shorter bits by EB White. McPhee, known for his sprawling essays, is just as compelling in unpolished bits and bites. If you’re new to McPhee, I would recommend starting by first sampling a collection like The John McPhee Reader, or a single notable essay like “Atachafalya,” then eventually working you way back to The Patch, but The Patch was probably the book I enjoyed reading most in 2019.

The Metropolitan Man – Alexander Wales

People think I’m joking when I say that Harry Potter rationalist fan fiction is more enjoyable than the original. They also typically don’t take me up on reading recommendations a hundred thousand words longer than War and Peace. I tell the I-don’t-like-reading-on-a-screen crowd that their issue can be solved for as well, but it doesn’t seem to matter. For those who don’t want to commit several dozen hours to reading Yudkowsky — or reading at all, for that matter — The Metropolitan Man audio is now available for free via The Methods of Rationality podcast. It’s similarly entertaining and thought-provoking, clocking in at only 7 hours long.

Journal Of A Trapper – Osbourne Russell

Russell is a name you’ll hear less than Coulter, Lewis, Clark, or Jackson, but his first person account of 8 years as a trapper in frontier Yellowstone-country is as compelling as any other account. The edition I read was shaped like a giant floppy workbook with tiny print which added some additional novelty value to the read.


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