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What I’ve been reading this month

Hold up!

See that little date above?

This post was published years ago.

My opinions have changed over time: I think it's quite fun to keep old posts online so that you can see how that has happened. The downside is that there are posts on this site that express views that I now find offensive, or use language in ways I'd never dream of using it today.

I don't believe in airbrushing history, but I do believe that it's important to acknowledge the obvious: some of what I've written in the past has been crap. Some of it was offensive. Some of it was offensively bad. And there's may be some brass among the muck (you can make up your own mind on that).

Some of what I've presented as my own views has been me—wittingly or unwittingly—posturing without having considered all the facts. In a few years, I'll probably think the same about what I'm writing today, and I'm fine with that. Things change. People grow. Society moves forward.

The internet moves on too, which means there might be broken links or embedded content that fails to load. If you're unlucky, that might mean that this post makes no sense at all.

So please consider yourself duly warned: this post is an historical artefact. It's not an exposition of my current views nor a piece of 'content' than necessarily 'works'.

You may now read on... and in most cases, the post you're about to read is considerably shorter than this warning box, so brace for disappointment.

Nick Clegg’s Politics was enjoyable mostly for his compelling account (and defence) of his time as Deputy Prime Minister. It provided real insight into what went on ‘behind the scenes’ in coalition government, and Clegg was refreshingly open about the tactical errors he made along the way. He also made a strong and coherent case for the role of liberalism in the world at large.
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The Big Short, Michael Lewis’s famed book (now a film that I haven’t seen) gave a surprisingly understandable account of the causes of the subprime mortgage crisis. Lewis gave the first explanation of ‘short selling’ that I’ve been able to understand and retain for longer than about five minutes. I was slightly disappointed that Lewis didn’t delve more into the underlying psychology of the problem: his repeatedly expressed view that the people involved acted immorally clouds the more interesting question of what drove the immorality. But I enjoyed this nonetheless.
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Yuval Noah Harari’s highly acclaimed Homo Deus didn’t do much for me. It had very well-written prose, with an occasionally astonishing clarity and precision of expression, but the central thesis seemed confused to me. One of Harari’s central theses is that humans (and all animals) are biological algorithms, responding in predictable ways to stimuli. He also spends a lot of the book talking about ethics and morality, particularly around treatment of animals. But how can something be judged ‘immoral’ if the actor is simply following an algorithm?
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Exploring broadly similar themes, I enjoyed Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen’s Human Universe far more than Harari’s book. Cox did a good job of giving enough of the detail of the physics to be interesting, without becoming overwhelming and uninterpretable. In fact, even in the most technical parts, it remained compelling and engaging. This celebratory book left me feeling inspired and full of wonder.
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Edit (on day of publication): I see that I’ve included The Big Short two months in a row… luckily saying much the same both times. I’m not going to correct it, because I’m not bothered enough to re-edit the header image…!

This post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

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