A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

A smattering of opinions on technology, books, business, and culture. Now in its 4th technology iteration.

Recent Books -- End Times, Unsettled, Elon Musk, Rigor of Angels, One Song, The Wager

02 December 2023

A real mix of books over the last 6 weeks or so. Some themes that I draw out:

  • Human ambition is a great driver of human advancement, and it will take you right off a cliff into the abyss. Musk has had incredible impact, but perhaps his ambitions have outstripped his competencies. Seafarers in the 1700s had huge impact on the development of the modern world (good and bad), but at huge personal cost. Turchin is trying to create an industry around his invented filed of “cliodynamics” and is overreaching.
  • Resiliency. Tweedy tells a great story of not letting ambition get in the way of creative work, how daily effort can create kind of resiliency for you. Koonin doesn’t really dig into it enough, but raises the idea that we need to be resilient to a warming world, and that we should be investing in technology to help us adapt to it.

The books:

  • End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration by Peter Turchin. What a stupid book. This will damage your brain reading it. A view of the economy as some zero-sum hierarchy with some small number of valuable jobs available at the top of corporations and politics. Ignores completely enterpreneurism, small businesses, etc. It reads like the author is trying to drum up attention and business for his invented field of “cliodynamics”.
  • Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters by Steven E. Koonin. I expected to hate this book but I did not. I found it incomplete. The author raises some good questions about the state of reporting on climate science, and tees up a discussion about how to adapt to a warming world or how to use technology to proactively cool the climate, but doesn’t follow up those discussions at all. And without digging into those, it is difficult to weigh them against the costs of reducing carbon emissions. A useful read tho.
  • Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. There is a lot to admire about Elon’s outputs. He has certainly pushed progress in industries, and the massive reduction in cost of space launches is a notably a tremendously good thing. Society wants and needs entrepreneurial energy like his. He may be one of the most effective engineered product leader of our times. He is also pretty terrible at human relationships, and his engineering entrepreneurial skills don’t translate well to social policy, to media, to politics. The book is a retelling of events in and around Elon, and doesn’t really dig into issues. An OK read.
  • The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality by William Egginton. A deep dive into philosophy and a little bit of physics. I would have enjoyed more physics content but the philosphy side is a hole in my learning so probably good for me. Not a light read.
  • How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. Brilliant book. Simple, pithy, direct. It is about songwriting, but it is also about life. His advice for how to work at your craft is something everyone should read.
  • The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder by David Grann. Man, sea travel was tough in the 1700s. The loss of life due to weather, nutrition, misadventure was incredibly high. Brutal times.