Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I was turned onto this book by an online book group; it sounded interesting. I enjoyed the writing–it was very easy to read. Amusingly, given the subject of so much of the book, I found it read easily enough that it was a quick skim rather than sticking deeply to mind. To a certain point, that’s intentional–the author talks about it as getting better at water cooler discussions, and it seems like the overview that sticks (so far) could be very handy for that purpose.

For half of the book, the discussion is about Systems 1 and 2. System 1 is automatic, visual, great at averaging, vigilant for danger, etc. It functions automatically and often has opinions that can feel like considered judgement. System 2 is analytical and detailed, but lazy. It has trouble with any computation trickier than multiplying two two-digit numbers together. The trick is that we all think of our lives as mostly System 2 phenomena… but it’s usually System 1 throwing up an answer, with system two giving it a casual “yup, looks fine” certification.

There are a lot of interesting ideas that get explored at pop-culture length. (Which is probably all I could handle, since that both fields are distant fro my own.) There are a lot of fascinating asides and details, like intensity matching (which gets abused by System 1 for everything from evaluating how much to support a cause, or how long a prison sentence should be), WYSIATI (what you see is all there is), which leads to consistent biases in evaluation depending on “irrelevant” criteria like the order of presentation or adding extraneous, useless information, and more. One of the trickiest things is that S1 hates not having an answer… so, instead of prompting you to think hard, it answers a similar but related question. A trivial example is that “How is your life overall these days?” usually gets reduced to “How do you feel at this moment?”

Less of the book is devoted to two further persistent, consistent flaws. In the field of economics, there are a lot of assumptions about rational agents (ie, everyone) and how they act. Humans fail against that baseline in consistent ways. For example, reading contracts thoroughly is unusual–and while an Econ doesn’t care about the font size, Humans do. A huge effect is anchoring–we care more about how things are relative to our current status than absolutely. Which means that you can twist things, just by presenting something as a gain followed by a wager for a degree of loss, or just presenting it as a wager from current standings. (People are risk and loss averse.)

It’s a book that I’m glad I read, and I hope that some of it sticks, despite how easy it went down.

Shadowed Souls by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

A collection of short stories, mostly Urban Fantasy. A few stories were written to stand alone and a few were from series I already appreciate. (Like Jim Butcher’s Cold Case, about Molly.) In general, I enjoyed them, though most weren’t a huge impact–they almost all seem to have been written as easy to skip side adventures that don’t affect the main book series.

The vignettes of established characters from series that I don’t read had a much taller climb. Impossible Monsters was a good stand alone. Hunter Healer was new to me and intriguing. Impossible Monsters was much darker than the rest–it stood out, positively–though I doubt that I’d enjoy whole novels about the character. (The character also has an obnoxious feel of having leveled up that I dislike in non-game world fiction… and even there, usually.) Peacock in Hell also stuck with me.

Hitchers by Will McIntosh

The world goes weird. There’s terrorism, possession, widespread death, family, and memories. The end of the world is all about relationships, and guilt that can’t be put aside.

I enjoyed it and don’t want to spoil it too much.

1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline

A smart book told pretty well. The interconnection between the late bronze age empires was interesting–there’s evidence that the world was quite interconnected. Unfortunately, there were a lot of threats in the black space beyond their boundaries… but even that is questionable.

A major focus of this book is rewriting the conventional narrative of a wave of barbarians overrunning these empires. While there’s evidence of new cultures moving into areas where others had been, few of the excavations have revealed a time of war, with arrowheads embedded in walls and the like.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the world was becoming more cosmopolitan at the elite level; Egypt was hiring Minoans to paint their tombs, grain and gold flowed between the related empires.

The book is somewhat oddly structured, due to its anchor points in archaeology. Rather than a chronological or empire specific history, we instead thread forward then shift and restart. It left me with less of a clear view of the “start point” of 1750 b.c.; was it isolated cities rebuilding themselves into empires?

Anyway, it’s very accessible and has parallels to even the world today. The open questions at the end (figuring out what caused everything) are still quite open–in a lot of ways, the answer appears to be “a lot of small things” rather than a barbarian horde. I finished the book with a very different view of the cultural interactions between the ancient empires — there was a lot of peaceful trade and stable borders for 200+ years. It also left we with an idea of just how much more there is to figure out about that collapse.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

The beginning of a cool series, I hope. It follows Vaelin Al Sorna; most of the book focuses on his teens, where he is apprenticed to the Sixth Order. It’s a tough life of dedication–something of a cross between a military boarding school and a monastic order.

There are politics going on in the background–among the Aspects, the nobility, and more. They’re intriguing and complex, particularly from a young “don’t know the players” POV–but it’s not just politicking for the sake of screwing people over, or hat trick deaths.

I like the main character and his brothers… and look forward to seeing how the story progresses.

Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayen

Detailed and engaging, it’s the story of the mortgage crisis, centered on three people. One was a lawyer, but the other two were just willing to read and research… and uncovered terrible breakdowns in the mortgage and security processes.

It becomes clear just how extensive the malfeasance of the banks was, and how eager all levels of government were to sweep the shambles of our title system under the carpet and move on.

Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

You know what’s great? I remix version of a bunch of great essays that you read at the time, but retold and gathered.

It’s a great book, in a convenient format to press on people who don’t spend a lot of time reading online–or those who don’t have the time to read essays.

It was a fast read for me, probably due to the familiarity in part. There are some surprises, and it’s always interesting to see how she approaches media–both those that I’ve also encountered, but also stuff that I’ve only heard about. Similarly, her articles about Requires Hate feel very different now, instead of in the middle of the internet’s shock and horror.

Sadly, her asides about her grandmother growing up in Vichy France are even more pointed; her ability to deal with and dismiss abuse hurled her way seems too like a minimum qualification for being an outspoken woman on the internet these days.

If you’re interested but want a sample before you commit, her Hugo winning essay is here: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. (her blog)

Dead Out by Jon McGoran

A modern day thriller set in Martha’s Vineyard. It sounds like a book 2–there are lots of asides about the tolls of the events of 6 months ago, which makes me think that’s a better starting place.

Our hero’s a cop, hard driven–forced to take vacation time to deal with his stress, but reluctant to do so. His relationships are tricky and fraught; his opposition escalates to violence early–almost implausibly so. There’s a great undercurrent of suspicion and hidden motives; big money makes its play.

It was a fine book–I’d read more by the author, but I’d be sure to read book 1 next. There was too much void in this book, making it feel incomplete without the even more momentous events in book one.

One Jump Ahead by Mark L Van Name

Fast, straightforward and shooty, this is great golden era inspired sci-fi. The gates are alien and weird; the nano-technology is filled with hand waving, but feels limited (particularly by requiring time), while the other technologies feel like reasonable extrapolations–and are completely taken for granted by the locals. The hero is a craft, clandestine survivor–he reminded me a bit of the Stainless Steel Rat.

It’s a fun universe with a lot of “now” aspects carrying forward–Corporations are much like today’s multinationals, just expanded to mutli-planetary. Similarly, despite extensive body modding, gender is basically 20th century, while race has mostly dropped out of description and consideration.

Again, it’s fun and fast–I’ll read the sequels from the library and enthusiastically recommended it to Jennifer.