I think Jaron Lanier is among the most interesting people in the world. This, his memoir, shows just how fascinating he is. Raised largely by a single father in a house Jaron built himself as a child (yes, really) he has carefully carved out a life of creativity and innovation. He is in many ways the last true weirdo of Silicon Valley milieu.
The book is broken into two interchanging parts – memoir and then a sort of technical / philosophical history of VR. I loved the memoir but was far less interested in the VR parts. Lanier himself says you can skip that if you want and I’d take his advice. Still worth the price of admission for a glimpse into a fascinating person.
I have been keeping a journal off and on since I was a teenager, this year I started experimenting with using a bullet journal and got this book.
In basic, Bullet journaling is a system for journaling that is flexible enough to handle project planning, standard journaling, note taking and to-do lists but has enough set rules that it all holds together. This is a great short video on it.
Bullet journaling is great, I’ve found it very helpful for tracking habits and projects and the book was helpful for understanding the system. More than that, the book is a sort of manifesto for working slow and by hand. Not much new here (besides the system, which you can find elsewhere) but I enjoyed it.
William Cooper you have so much to answer for. The author of Behold a Pale Horse, the ur-text of modern American conspiracy theory gave birth to a thousand late night stoned conversations, perpetuated antisemitism, encourage the militia movement, is adjacent to the sovereign citizen insanity and much, much more.
He is an example I think of the con man turned true believer, which is a trope that appears often in the world of conspiracy. He starts lost, a disappointment to his family, and selling “insider knowledge” to the UFO crowd. He ends alone, drunk, and broke being killed by the local police in a mishap that never had to happen. In between he goes from slide shows at UFO conventions to writing the most popular conspiracy book of all time and hosting a surprisingly popular short wave radio show. He never gets rich, but he does get famous in the world of the weird and along the way, he believes more and more of his madness.
It’s a pretty depressing story from start to finish but one I found fascinating. I was involved in left wing radical publishing circles when Cooper was at his height of influence and while I had heard of him, I knew none of the gory details. Now I do. A sad, but fascinating life.
Exhaustive, fascinating dive in the history of Scientology from the brainchild of disturbed novelist and serial grifter L Ron Hubbard to the leadership of disturbed control freak David Miscavige. I found this absorbing from start to finish and I’m still not sure if scientology was a con or a belief system from its creation or not.
I think, like many cults and conspiracies, it was (and remains) a bit of both. Yes, Hubbard needed the money, but there are lots of ways to get money. I expect early on, he was largely making it up, but as it went along, he began to get high on his own supply as it were. This is a theme in a number of books I read this year. It’s in the water, with Qanon grifters everywhere I am seeing everywhere the thin line between true believers and con artists all but disappearing. Scientology is an early example of this, and I thoroughly enjoyed this deep dive.
A collection of Krakauers early works, pre best seller, stuff focused on the world of rock climbing. Some of this is hilarious to read now (have you heard of this new thing called “bouldering”? Its getting kind of popular) and some of it still feel fresh (canyoneering remains awesome and under recognized). The writing is good throughout, but this one is the definition of a recommended for the enthusiast. If you’re interested in the world of climbing, then go for it, but not much here for the general reader.
A reporter is assigned to write an article on the Manson murders and Hollywood for a movie magazine. He somewhat reluctantly begins to dig into the story and finds that things don’t exactly add up. He gets interested, he blows the magazine deadline, he gets a book deal, and becomes obsessed. He blows that deadline as well and keeps digging. He follows threads through the drug trade in 1960s Hollywood, the MK Ultra experiences, various criminal networks, scores of shady characters and more. All in all, he spends more than twenty years investigating who exactly Manson was and why exactly the murders were committed.
But after all that, he’s never sure. Yes, he has theories, but he is too much of a principled journalist to treat them as fact if he can’t prove them. So, he writes a book about it all. About the theories he can prove, those he can’t, and about his own personal journey as a reporter getting deeper and deeper into some weird shit — biker gangs, pedophiles, the CIA.
Its an odd ride, rabbit hole after rabbit hole, but I certainly enjoyed it.
An incredible book. The story of a man who lived a lie for years and years until it all came crashing down around him and how reflecting on this life effected the writer. I’d never heard of before this book, but the writer is so eerily clear and self reflective that I’ll track down everything else.
I don’t want to reveal too much here, but seriously this one is a corker.
Ohhh boy this one is niche. The story of the rise of Posadism, perhaps the strangest of Trotskyite political sects, and trust me when I say Trotskyite sects can get pretty weird.
Here is Posadism – a Trotskyite sect arising first out of the leftist resistance to South American dictatorships becoming slowly and then all at once a personality cult centered around its leader, J. Posadas and his increasing fringe ideas about how to build a fourth international, but also the connection between UFOs and a socialist future and, eventually, the intelligence of dolphins.
It’s a wild ride, but one Gittlitz travels in a clear, compassionate way. This isn’t a sensational book, it’s one that traces in detail how a group goes from a committed group of leftists to a deranged personality cult. I found it fascinating, but I am also well aware that this is some pretty niche stuff. Totally fascinating if post war communist sects is your thing.
I hope someone does this for the Sparticist League and the RCP.
Dad book. Tick tock of the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar written by the dude who brought you Black Hawk Down. In hindsight, I don’t know why I even bothered to read this book – I already know more than enough about Escobar and I learned nothing new here except the best way to get sources to talk to you is to make sure they appear like heroes in the book. Basically a very surface look at the drug war and the life of Escobar. Juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze.
I always feel absurd writing these little reviews when what I am reviewing is a work of genius, a masterpiece of literature. Like what do I have to add to the conversation around Beloved? Basically, nothing. I’ll say that it’s massive popularity may lead one to think it’s an easy book. It isn’t. Emotionally, and intellectually, the reader has to work here, but my god is it worth it.