Books Read January 2022

Jesuits A History by Markus Friedrich
The combination of a spiritual exercise and a practical cosmopolitan ministry is potentially very powerful, even without the vertical bureaucracy. In fact, if you believe the upside of hits far outweighs the downside of losses in your environment/sphere of activity then it definitely makes sense to downplay the need for centralized control. It is interesting to note that the order was not financially centralized. On the one hand that strongly reinforces the need for being enterprising and ingratiating oneself with local circumstances, and additionally it allows those successful at making rich powerful friends to go rogue. This seems like the type of structure that doesn’t actually help the vow of obedience. I don’t know. The incentive structure seems iffy. Better off probably doing just financial dependence and lessening other types of controls. That’s the inner economist speaking.
Maybe the inner sociologist will reply that the average situation will not tend to these extremes of rogue behavior because spiritual formation and social pressure will keep the members more aligned than financial matters will. The history seems mixed at best. Maybe the benefits of having large numbers of the order capable of and attentive to administration (including financial administration) outweighs the risk of a few rogue agents. As a result of the incentives, perhaps one will have a much deeper pool of administrative talent to draw on. This could actually strengthen the bureaucratic ability of the order and its ability to assign members.

Catholic Art and Culture by E. I. Watkins. Offers a prophetic view on how spirituality will recover from the shock of modern science, modern war, and the success of reductionism. One weakness of the book is how Anglophone and parochial its scope is. Nonetheless, it has deep cultural richness for the regions it covers.

The Witness of Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz. Powerful visions of how the poetic imagination moves over time. There is a special focus here on the sources of an aesthetics of a closed versus an open future. He also has a fascinating account of how the culture of poets has moved since the 1860’s.

On Marriage and Family Life St. John Chrysostom, not as old-fashioned and backwards as one might think. Some useful advice contained and interesting arguments. Still better than most Christian marriage theology.

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering Richard Hamming. Always good.

The Beginning of Western Science by David Lindbergh. It is very helpful to have confirmation of things about which I have long wondered. For example, we all know that Erotosthenes measured the circumference of the earth in 180 BC. But what did the medievals know about this? It turns out that the 5th century book The Marriage of Philology and Mercury by the African Martianus Capella on the seven liberal arts contained the calculations of Eratosthenes in Latin. This work was copied and distributed widely starting in the 9th century. And so medieval scholars both knew Eratosthenes’ calculation for the circumference of the earth and the possible circumsolar orbits of the inner planets.
Another highlight from the book is how necessary the seemingly slow medieval period is for building the foundations for further developments. Where else were precursor hypotheses about optics explored enough that Kepler would have several rival conceptions to work on and reconcile?

De Amicitia by Cicero for the Latin practice.

Xunzi his anthropology should be taken seriously. I’m enjoying the tensions between his and rival Western views. I don’t know where in the western canonical tradition one encounters this exact mix of values.

The Pragmatist’s Guide to Crafting Religion by Simone and Michael Collins – off-the-wall wanderings about culture, cults, family, morals and metaphysics. I would have never believed secular Calvinists 1) exist, and 2) could create a work like this. The vehement anti-Quaker arguments tickle me wholly. The insistence on morality, cult, and metaphysics strikes me as “asking the right questions” and the view of human nature and the goal of existence strikes me as a twisted version of human flourishing based upon the pagan blood-god of Calvinism. This book is firmly in the anti-canon of eschatology, metaphysics, and social life. It reminds me of the type of social writing found in Zephaniah Kingsley’s tracts. However, Zephaniah was a pro-Spanish-style slavery Quaker, a fact which actually supports Collins’ point about Quaker morals… worth reading if you are an SSC fan, Albion’s Seed seeker, depressed philosopher, or pronatalist hoping to resist or promote certain versions of pronatalism.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Good so far.

Kalevala. The rocks, the ice, the sleds, the demigods, the sauna, the suicides, the sea, the snow-covered trees. Tervetuloa Pohjolaan!


ESG Banking
Fantastic reflection on ESG banking and the lackluster thoughtfulness from conservative groups.

Genesis in Hebrew
Psalms in Hebrew
Hebrew listening.

The Last 20 Years in Japan
What is the breakdown of causes that cause depreciation of housing on Japan? That’s my question. Can such a regime locally compete within a Western city? For example, could one of New York’s boroughs implement Tokyo rules and rise above Manhattan? I doubt it. This seems like a path dependency thing, you have to already have great returns from moving into the city that offset the depreciation of purchases. (Maybe San Francisco could do this successfully, since building more would not reduce rents as much as encourage greater productivity through more high-skilled immigration? Maybe the same is true of Brooklyn?)

The Spiritual Benefits of Material Progress So juicy. Baptize this.

Can Computers Actually Create Growth, When Humans are the Ones Stopping it? A heresy that is actually orthodox. The real big problems of governance and growth are not technological. We could be doing a lot better in creating a prosperous and transcendent culture!

Books Read December 2022

The Jesuits: A History by Markus Friedrich

The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

The Network State by Balaji Srinivasan

Leafing through various Raymond Smullyan riddle and puzzle books.

  1. Edmund Burke on Learning and Culture. Very beautifully written and eloquent.
  2. Why biology and medicine are hard to innovate in.
  3. How Utopian Should We Be? and Defining the Feasible Set by Tyler Cowen
  4. Growth in India is more important than a lot of other things.
  5. Perhaps It Is A Bad Thing That The World’s Leading AI Companies Cannot Control Their AIs
  6. The rise and fall of peer review – by Adam Mastroianni
  7. The Media Very Rarely Lies – by Scott Alexander
  8. The year in AI is astounding.

Books Read November 2022

Hebrew: The Eternal Language by William Chomsky – some unbecoming hyperbole throughout, but the story of the preservation and reestablishment of Hebrew as a national language is fascinating.

Wealth of Nations Book 5 by Adam Smith – I read part of this as a rejoinder to John Locke’s overstated anti-papist sentiments.

Metaphysics by Aristotle – Just dipped in. But I discovered that Aristotle has something to offer again! The man was so ahead of his time.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhael Bugakov – widely considered to be one of the top two Russian novels. Premise: The Devil pays Moscow a visit in 1930 to see how the people are getting on. It is terrifying, hilarious, bitter, and lovely.


Some more stories of the great tutoring tradition.

Nonexistence as a fuzzy philosophical concept.

October Reads

These were the best:



Becoming Trader Joe by Joe Coulombe.

1. What made America the greatest technological country?

2. Was it size of industry? Was it social control by the government?    

3. A Columbian Exchange. Making Columbus Day arguments cool again.

4. Finding good influences on the internet. 


“The Highways Considered as Gods” Dana Gioia 


“Ted Gioia” Conversations with Coleman

“Of Boys and Men” Conversations with Coleman

Shaw on Physical Hardihood and Spiritual Cowardice

“If there are dangerous precipices about, it is much easier and cheaper to forbid people to walk near the edge than to put up an effective fence: that is why both legislators and parents and the paid deputies of parents are always inhibiting and prohibiting and punishing and scolding and laming and cramping and delaying progress and growth instead of making the dangerous places as safe as possible and then boldly taking and allowing others to take the irreducible minimum of risk.

“It is easier to convert most people to the need for allowing their children to run physical risks than moral ones. I can remember a relative of mine who, when I was a small child, unused to horses and very much afraid of them, insisted on putting me on a rather rumbustious pony with little spurs on my heels (knowing that in my agitation I would use them unconsciously), and being enormously amused at my terrors. Yet when that same lady discovered that I had found a copy of The Arabian Nights and was devouring it with avidity, she was horrified, and hid it away from me lest it should break my soul as the pony might have broken my neck. This way of producing hardy bodies and timid souls is so common in country houses that you may spend hours in them listening to stories of broken collar bones, broken backs, and broken necks without coming upon a single spiritual adventure or daring thought.”

A Treatise on Parents and CHildren

It’s better to teach someone to swim, chainsaw, and parachute through practice and explanation and practice rather than deadly Darwinian experience. The same goes for the moral and intellectual hazards of life.

August Reads


The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

Liber Regulae Pastoralis by St. Gregory the Great


Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Hammond

Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric

  1. Russ Roberts critiques utilitarian economics.
  1. Will MacAskill denies he’s a utilitarian, just as I predicted.
  1. Charitable giving advice from Tyler 
  1. The dissolution of the monasteries and economic growth. Interesting.
  1. Difference in gullibility between nonbelievers and believers.
  1. Prompting yourself to be a better writer.
  1. Media outlets that didn’t pass High School writing and research.
  1. Aesthetics matter.
  1. Athens and Jerusalem and Silicon Valley: Three Cities 

Podcast episodes that made my mind dance to the exact chord that animates creation:

Tyler grills Will. Will responds well. It’s a glass bead extravaganza.

Zohar elicits deep insight about the nature of Torah and economics.

This. Agnes Callard offers a vision of a new literacy which allows us to know ourselves.

July Reads

Devoured all these:

Hybrid Homeschools by Mike McShane

A quick and tasteful overview of one fast-growing model of school. The type that is 1 day a week or more in a traditional classroom, but not 5 days a week. It’s a good book, and a great model. More people should try both.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer 

I can’t tell if I like the style, in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. The condescending tone of the narrator at times bleeds into the condescension of the author. Though there are some things about the tone I do very much appreciate. I can’t tell if I like the author. She sometimes seems to be a total show off and other times convinces me of her brilliance. I know that I like the world that she created, and find it believable, albeit melodramatic. And I know that I am intrigued by the themes she’s developing.

The Deluge by Adam Tooze.

Adam Tooze’s epic globe-trotting foray into the politics and economics of the interwar period. The book sometimes suffers from a heavy reliance upon characterization, but the genius of the work is how states interact with each other as though they are unitary actors, yet each state knows that the political conditions on the homefront determine the boundaries of the diplomatic negotiations, and so there is deep complexity about what each state can credibly commit to. Some moments were absolutely cinematic. The negotiations at Versailles, the domestic politics of Japan, basically everything about Lloyd George. The vision of the post WWI liberal order changed my historical worldview about the force of ideology in history, upgrading it a good deal. It’s not only the Soviet’s who were possessed by an Idea. At the same time, I also adjusted my views about the relationship between economic crises and internal political decay in the US and abroad.


Already a classic biology essay.
Today is better than then!
Modernism is history.
Time to Rekindle Poetry

June Reads


A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. A phenomenal compendium about designing physical space to promote and pull people into human flourishing. Some of it is starry-eyed wishful thinking, other aspects deeply practical advice. Everything from how neighborhood streets should be arranged, to a living room, to front porches and offices.


Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian. I’m searching for clues into the process of great great formation in education. Quintilian was a staple for a reason!


Autobiography by John Stuart Mill. Some great examples of how forced elaboration hones the understanding of a subject. His father would go on walks delivering him a lecture on political economy, and then have him dictate back the lecture the next day – a grueling exercise that caused learning.

Some works are so good that you can’t devour them. Instead they nibble at you. The Bible, the best poetry, and Moby Dick are like this to me. Like a fine glass of bourbon, I can’t drink but a sip before my head gets dizzy and my mind goes chasing after some invisible infinite thread. But I am almost finished with Moby Dick, at last. I say ‘at last’ because I have been on its line for a long time, unable to wriggle away, yet unable to devour the whole hook, line, and reel. A fast fish, soon to be loose again.

Best Articles in June

Don’t let the students “choose their own adventure.”
Evidence that Science is Hard and getting Harder.
Bengal almost industrialized.
The state of the art of nuclear power construction costs.
Secret Theological-philosophy.

March Reads

This month I wrote far more than normal. Three complete articles, two drafts, and comments on some papers. No dips and no devours; just some semi-weekly dives.


Utopia by Thomas More. Thomas’ in the Prologue of how difficult it is to find time for self-study and intellectual wandering was like a TUMS, calming my nerves.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Here are some choice cuts from this past week.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life.

Chapter 72 The Monkey rope

[The context is that the giant head of a sperm whale hangs attached to the side of the ship. The crew has killed a Right Whale, and plan on balancing it out with another head of a lesser Leviathan].

In good time, Flask’s saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Chapter 73 Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

February Reads



Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott – This is a great introduction to these two men. Excellently written. The prose style creates tension and drama.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser. I love Ed.

Economic Hierarchies by Gordon Tullock.


Alternatives in Assessment of Achievements, Learning Processes, and Prior Knowledge* Helpful in the discussion about how coherent a curriculum needs to be.


Keynes’ General Theory: Reports of Three Decades

The Land that Never Was: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History by David Sinclair. I hope to return to this and devour it.