2022 Reading List
Once again I’m sharing my annual reading list and once again I’m late to do it! What can I say; I’m a delinquent.
This (2022) was a weird year of reading for me. I got a dog (more on that later) which significantly cut into my reading time as I like to read in the morning before work and just generally found myself stretched for mental bandwidth. So I read less and coincidentally liked what I read less than I did last year. 2023 put up a bunch of stinkers for me. Having less time to read and being annoyed by the last book I read pushed me into a safe corner over and over again: crime/spy novels, especially by John Le Care.
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Now that I’ve done this for four years, I also thought it would be fun to track some metrics around what I’m reading and see how my tastes change year to year.
Clearly my intuitions around the quantity and nature of my reading this year were right. Bully for me. Now without further ado, here’s the 2022 list. Thanks to all who recommended and gave me books. I’m sorry I didn’t read all of them.
Dark Money - Jane Meyer: Dark money is an arresting picture of democracy imperiled by corruption. Meyer really elevates the evil of the Kochs (so much so that they dispatched PIs to discredit her) and makes plain the fundamental brokenness of the GOP, a brokenness that can only be fixed w campaign finance reform. Thanks to Nat Levy Westhead and Henry Bradley for the rec/pushing me to read this huge bummer of a book.
Culture Clash - Jean Donaldson: Idk if you heard but we got a dog this year. Frankly nothing could have prepared us for how much work adopting a highly anxious former street dog would be (we wouldn’t have believed you if you tried). Jean at least did a good job of helping me understand what positive reinforcement training really is and probably helped save Manny from more trauma.
Interior Chinatown - Charles Yu: it definitely has a point to make about both how Asian people are excluded from the concept of race and oppression and also what a novel is but I can’t say I had a good time. I have absolutely no idea how this is going to be adapted into a TV series but I’m interested to see the attempt. Thanks to Henry B for the rec.
The Obelisk Gate: Still a page turner like the first but just not great. Honestly let us (my sister and I read it together) questioning all the people who had recommended this series as a “must read.” It’s just all over the place. But more importantly, why is everyone so horny? Basically cringe erotica…
Little Eyes - Samantha Schweblin: This sci-fi novella about loneliness and connection is freaky then tender then freaky again. It takes you places you wouldn’t expect when it seemed like it would be really formulaic. Thanks to Justin Duke for the rec.
Our Kind of Traitor - John le Carre: Fun le Carre as always. This one particularly so for the unique setting and circumstances with some “normal” people and crime at the center rather than hardened spies and pure espionage.
Termination Shock - Neal Stephenson: It took me a really long time to get through this book because I was so overwhelmed with the dog and it’s so long and dense with technical descriptions (though not as much as other Stephenson books). Some super cool science ideas and the politics of climate/geo engineering. But not his best. Particularly didn’t like how the CCP comes off as all knowing, all powerful gods of espionage and competence, which for some reason seems to be a theme among climate science fiction...
City on Fire - Don Winslow: Winslow stretches to adapt the Iliad for a New England crime drama and it’s not his best. It’s just too cheesy and you can only read the same archetypes across all his books so many times before they get a bit tired. Henry, Nat, and I read together which is fun even if it wasn’t my favorite book.
Power law - Sebastian Mallaby: Other than one lengthy aside about how we have to cut cap gains taxes or China will win, this is a great read and I genuine think everyone working in venture today should read it. Mallaby captures and puts words to dynamics that many of us probably understand intuitively but have never been rigorous about. The central thesis of the book is that networks (loosely defined) belong in a triumvirate with the classical actors - firms and markets - for how we understand the economy, especially its more entrepreneurial and innovative corridors. Marc Rubinstein’s review got me to actually read it though many had suggested the book.
Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson: reading this was a long exercise in overcoming Gell Mann Amnesia. There’s some really unsophisticated (naively optimistic vaporware fan fic) takes on how social media and crypto will solve climate change and inequality that are so bad it makes me skeptical of everything in the book. His vision for a CBDC is predicated on the idea that “gee whiz, wouldn’t it be great if everyone everywhere could track everyone else’s money and spending easily and in real time.” Robinson also goes beyond the claim that “real communism has never been tried” and into full-throated endorsements of totalitarianism (??). He indulges in the fantasy that China Was Right All Along; the CCP is the rational actor who cares about climate change as opposed to the profligate and corrupt West. He’s explicit that Russian central planning was right all along. Pinkos gonna pinko, I suppose. The book is also explicitly anti-natalist/Malthusian, which i think is WRONG on the merits but at least isn’t genocidal. Finally he talks about fish oil being essential for brain health which isn’t important but is a personal bugbear. This was a Very Influential Book and I’m just left baffled that supposedly smart people can read this and nod along enthusiastically.
How to Hide an Empire - Daniel Immerwahr: A very readable survey of American imperial/colonial ambitions from the turn of the 20th century onwards. The effective renaming of the country from The United States to America around the Spanish-American War is probably the most salient detail that stuck with me: you’re no longer a union of states when you also have a constellation of colonial possessions. Thanks to Grant Cohen for the gift.
Call For The Dead - John le Carre: This is one of his first books and if it’s not the introduction of George Smiley it’s very close to it. A central element to the mystery is the etiquette around speaking to phone switch operators and ordering phone calls in advance so I just really couldn’t follow it at times. This is probably one of the only le Carre books that I’ve read that really felt dated in how much it relied on technology.
Agency - William Gibson: No Spoilers! This is a super cool premise about possibly sentient AI and how it would perceive itself but most of the book is just logistics of shuffling people around for unclear reasons and with unclear impacts until the end when the book reveals a literal deus ex machina. Thanks to the very nice person at Greenlight in Fort Greene who picked it out for me whose name I cannot recall.
Bliss montage - Ling Ma: You really feel the sophomore album curse with this one, which is not nearly as good as Severance. Severance felt like it had been germinating for years only to emerge fully formed and at the absolute perfect moment (right before the pandemic) whereas the follow up just kind of falls flat for me. There’s some good stories in it but it does not live up to expectations after her first book.
Five Decembers - James Kestrel: fun, pulpy, hardboiled murder mystery x espionage novel set in Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Japan in the lead up to and aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My only complaint is that the cover (which is styled like a 1940s mystery novel) makes it kind of embarrassing to read in public. Thanks to Henry and Nat for the rec.
Red Famine - Anne Applebaum: I can’t exactly “reccomend” this book to anyone even though you’ll learn a lot because it’s very long and boring. But what do you expect from a 500+ page book on the Soviet occupation and expropriation of Ukraine. Thanks Henry for the rec (I asked for a Soviet history book and knew what I was getting into)
Silverview - John le Carre: This is the last book he finished before he died (he’s all but certain to have some novels finished and published posthumously) and it follows a trend in his writing. Toward the end of his life and career his characters got older and more bitter. Their uselessness and restlessness in retirement along with the a deep and growing cynicism of the Cold War and post-war order became the key driver and surely reflect something of his own politics and worldview. Silverview is a mystery on its face but its really more of a character study of a spy who got too disillusioned with all he’d seen.
Chip War - Chris Miller: Like Red Famine this falls under the umbrella of I-wanted-learn-about-a-thing-so-I-found-a-book. It’s sort of transactional reading and Miller delivers on his end of the bargain. If you are like me and want to understand about the history and state of semis, this is a great book to pick up. It also pairs really well with The Power Law. One important lesson is the need for government to be unafraid of failure. There are huge incentives against ambitious research funding because no one wants to get skewered for wasting taxpayer money but without some “waste” we’ll never get any hits. My only pointed criticism is that Miller kind of takes for granted what the stakes are in the titular chip war; he never addresses why it’s so important that The Chinese Communist Party does not become the sole global superpower with unmatched technological, economic, and military might. He makes it seem like it’s about mercantilism rather than the (mostly) cold war between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Otherwise, strong endorse.
As always, thanks for letting me indulge myself here. Hopefully you can pick some winners out from my list and share some ideas for what to read next (this) year know that you know what I like.
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