Review: Tegmark’s Life 3.0

This is a terrible cover for a good book

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Max Tegmark

I’m not an expert in AI, but I dabble, and I found this book to be amongst the best introductions to this complex field for the lay reader.

Life 3.0 investigates a world of intelligent machines that may be utopia of life without work, a hellscape of AI overlords, or (most likely) something in between. I have a professional and personal interest in A.I., and machine learning specifically, and this is the best book I’ve read on the subject. A.I. is currently changing my professional world, and its likely to change yours to. Understanding what comes next, and how to thrive in that environment, is crucial for all of us. Tegmark explains the field and its implications for humanity in a way that’s accessible to the non-expert, but still sufficiently complex to not miss the nuances. I learned a lot here.

Recommended.

Review: Brown’s Dare to Lead

Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts

Brene Brown

Brown is everywhere now and a force in the world of leadership development / business psychology / personal development. Part self-help guru part executive coach, part cool mom, Brown has hit a certain sweet spot among a certain type ambitiously present upwardly mobile types of which I am almost certainly a part.

This, her latest book, is focused on the leadership aspect of her work. Her advice is clear and simple, yet deeply challenging to implement. We must lead from a place of emotional honesty, treat ourselves and others with kindness, and be relentless in getting to the root causes of what is hampering our development. Brown’s work is deeply rooted in emotions, but it’s also very hard nosed. Implementing a culture that rewards honesty and emotional availability is not easy, but it can be transformative. This book was passed around the leadership in my organization and I can say, utilizing its lessons have changed us for the better.

Recommended for the enthusiast

Review: Harari’s Home Deus

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari 

The second in Harari’s trilogy on the past and future of our specifics. This isn’t quite as jaw dropping brilliant as Sapiens, but still well worth your time.

Sapiens takes all of human history and distills it down to a clear story powered by a compelling thesis – that what makes us human is our ability to create narrative. Homo Deus takes that story into the future and attempts to explain what the world will become now that humans have developed near divine powers of creation and cognition. Spoiler alert — the future is exciting and terrifying. We will extend life for the most advantaged of us, but make the less skilled irrelevant. We will need to address our treatment of animals and the planet, or face dire consequences.

As always with Harari, this book is chock full of challenging ideas presented in crystal clear prose. Some might find the tone of this too all knowing, but I appreciate a writer willing to stake a position and defend it well, even if at times I disagree with their conclusions. This and everything Harari writes is, from where I sit, a must read.

Recommended.

Review: Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
David Wallace-Wells

David Wallace-Wells is here to tell you that not only is climate change very real, it is already worse than you think. Its happening at a rate that we’re not ready for and its effects will be more destructive in more overlapping ways, than you’re probably imaging.

Most writing on environmental issues tries to keep a positive attitude (if only we recycled more, we can change things!). Wallace-Wells takes a much darker view.  He argues we are in for life altering climate change, with devastating effects for the world’s poorest most vulnerable people, and drastic changes to the way the world operates — that isn’t up for debate. Our only hope is to mitigate its likely horrible consequences.

For a lay person, I think of myself as relatively well versed in the science of climate change, but this book hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t considered the over lapping catastrophes we’re likely to see (droughts to wildfires to refugees migration to disease outbreak) and now that I’m thinking about it, I see climate change everywhere. What to do about remains the central question, and one not easily answered. As Wallace-Wells explains, its in everyone’s interest if someone else does something about climate change, but not in anyone’s interest to lead the way.  There’s a lot of good, real science here, but the strands of hope are thin.

Not an easy read, but a necessary one.

Recommended.

Review: Williams’ the Dinosaur Artist

The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy

Paige Williams

I have a friend who categories books such as this as “better as an article” and perhaps there is some truth to that.  Williams takes the compelling story she wrote for the New Yorker of a fossil hunter, the government of Mongolia, and a contentious dinosaur skeleton and layers on top of it Mongolian geopolitics, family drama, the history of paleontology, debates between academics and amateurs, and more to create a book that’s consistently fascinating, but a bit of a hodgepodge.

I  enjoy digressions and side stories, the odder the better, but if you prefer a straighter arrow, you might think this should have stayed a magazine article.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Newport’s Digital Minimalism

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
Cal Newport

I’m a big fan of Cal Newport’s work (I’ve read Deep Work, twice). This feels like his best book yet. Part evisceration of social media and what it does to our brains, part guidebook on how to live a less distracted life, this book is essential for someone like me who has trouble standing in an elevator for five minutes without checking his phone. Newport puts together an excellent mix of practical advice, reporting, and science.

Deep work felt like an author feeling his way toward a philosophy of dealing with the age of distraction. Digital Minimalism feels more thought through, more reasoned, more practical. I’ll almost surely re-read this the next time I go off the social media rails.

Recommended.

Review: Zelnick’s Becoming Ageless

Becoming Ageless: Four Secrets To Looking and Feeling Younger Than Ever
Strauss Zelnick

Part memoir of the super-rich and successful Strauss Zelnick, part guide to aging well, this book is just like many many others that claim to have some new information but are really saying – eat well, exercise regularly, sometimes hard, sometimes easy, have a strong community, go see a doctor regularly. That’s basically it. If you’re just getting started on a healthy journey, this is as fine a place to start as any, but no new ground is really broken here.

Not recommended.