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About me

What I’ve been reading this month

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 2,317th post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

Some recently published posts

The Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnels: eight years on / January 2020, 8 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / January 2020, 7 minutes long

Faber Stories / December 2019, 4 minutes long

My favourite books of 2016 / December 2019, 26 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / December 2019, 12 minutes long

Some random old posts

Woman ‘tore off ex-lover’s testicle’ / January 2005, Less than a minute long

End of the line / December 2013, Less than a minute long

Make Poverty History response to G8 result / July 2005, Less than a minute long

Guy Browning: Never Push When It Says Pull / October 2005, 6 minutes long

The frequent fliers who flew too much / October 2012, Less than a minute long

Boris Johnson’s Website / January 2005, Less than a minute long

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