2020 Reading List

The following is a relatively live list of the books I plan on reading in 2020. I’m updating it throughout the year with dates of completion, star ratings, and brief notes. Crucially, however, I’m not removing any titles from the list as the year progresses. The list functions as a kind of informal prediction about my future reading performance: any book added to the list represents a prediction that I will, in fact, finish reading that book by 2020-12-31. In past years, I have read upwards of one book a week, so this list represents a substantial increase. My primary reason for believing that 2020 will involve more reading than prior years is that I’m in the second year of my PhD, and have committed to declining all teaching and non-research work in this calendar year. (My main cause for concern, here, is also thesis-related: my focus will likely be on writing and coding, over and above reading. While my schedule may be free, the hourly breakdown might not favour such intensive reading.)

As at 2020-02-25, I’ve completed: 11 of 95.


Planned (84)

  • Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett

  • Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking by Daniel Dennett

  • Deep Learning with Python by Francois Chollet

  • Human No More by Neil L. Whitehead, Michael Wesch

  • Software Theory by Federica Frabetti

  • Machine Learners: Archaeology of a Data Practice by Adrian Mackenzie

  • Stuff by Daniel Miller

  • Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett

  • The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan

  • The Mathematical Imagination by Matthew Handelman

  • The Emancipated Spectator by Jacques Ranciere

  • We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour

  • The Nature of Code by Daniel Shiffman

  • Plain Text by Dennis Tenen

  • Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination by Martin Holbraad

  • The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition by Martin Holbraad and Morten Axel Pedersen

  • Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically by Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad

  • Cannibal Metaphysics by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

  • Contingent Computation by Beatrice M. Fazi

  • Reconstructing Reality: Models, Mathematics and Simulations by Margaret Morrison

  • The Interface Effect by Alexander Galloway

  • Laurelle: Against The Digital by Alexander Galloway

  • The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think by Mary S Morgan

  • K-Punk by Mark Fisher

  • Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks

  • An Introduction to Statistical Learning (with Applications in R) by Gareth James, Daniela Witten, et al

  • All of Statistics: A Concise Course in Statistical Inference by Larry Wasserman

  • Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning by Christopher M. Bishop

  • The Elements of Statistical Learning: Data Mining, Inference, and Prediction by Trevor Hastie, Robert Tibshirani

  • Bayesian Data Analysis by Andrew Gelman, John B. Carlin

  • Statistical Rethinking by Richard McElreath

  • Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio

  • Foundations of Agnostic Statistics by Peter M. Aronow, Benjamin T. Miller

  • Simulation for the Social Scientist by Nigel Gilbert, Klaus Troitzsch

  • Machine Learning: A Probabilistic Perspective by Kevin P. Murphy

  • Deep Learning: A Practitioner’s Approach by Josh Patterson, Adam Gibson

  • Introduction to Probability by Joseph K. Blitzstein, Jessica Hwang

  • Logic of Statistical Inference by Ian Hacking, Jan-Willem Romeijn

  • Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E. T. Jaynes, G. Larry Bretthorst

  • R for Data Science: Import, Tidy, Transform, Visualise, and Model Data by Hadley Wickham and Garrett Grolemund

  • Text Mining with R: A Tidy Approach by Julia Silge and David Robinson

  • Think Julia: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist by Ben Lauwens, Allen B. Downey

  • Beyond Nature and Culture by Philippe Descola, Marshall Sahlins

  • The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective by Arjun Appadurai

  • Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions by Lucy Suchman

  • Coyote Anthropology by Roy Wagner

  • Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze

  • Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern by Seth Lerer

  • The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology by Langdon Winner

  • The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism by Elizabeth Grosz

  • Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities by Geoffrey Rockwell, Stéfan Sinclair

  • Materiality by Daniel Miller, Lynn Meskell

  • Counterfactuals and Causal Inference by Stephen L. Morgan, Christopher Winship

  • Distant Horizons by Ted Underwood

  • A World of Fiction by Katherine Bode

  • The Shape of Data in the Digital Humanities by Julia Flanders and Fotis Jannidis

  • Tool-Being by Graham Harman

  • AI Aesthetics by Lev Manovich

  • A World of Many Worlds by Marisol de la Cadena

  • A Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark

  • Laboratory Life by Bruno Latour

  • Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms by David J. C. MacKay

  • Habu: The Innovation of Meaning in Daribi Religion by Roy Wagner

  • Symbols That Stand for Themselves by Roy Wagner

  • The Invention of Culture by Roy Wagner, Tim Ingold

  • The Logic of Invention by Roy Wagner

  • Sacred Channels by Erich Horl

  • From Codex to Hypertext by Anouk Lang

  • Against Method by Paul Feyerabend

  • Metacreation by Mitchell Whitelaw

  • Introducing Python: Modern Computing in Simple Packages by Bill Lubanovic

  • Python for Data Analysis: Data Wrangling with Pandas, NumPy, and IPython by Wes McKinney

  • Introduction to Machine Learning with Python: A Guide for Data Scientists by Andreas Muller and Sarah Guido

  • Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow by Aurélien Géron

  • Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Umoja Noble

  • The Limits of Critique by Rita Felski

  • forallx by PD Magnus, Tim Button, and Antony Eagle

  • Logic: An Introduction by Greg Restall

  • Elements of Deductive Logic by Antony Eagle

  • Paradoxes by R.M. Sainsbury

  • An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic by Graham Priest

  • Control and Freedom by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun

  • Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels by Ian Morris

  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume


Completed (11)

  • Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (2020-01-01; 1 star)
    • This really gives minimalism a bad name. Despite the fact that I agree with (and get a great deal of value from) the underlying idea - keeping only what you value; discarding the pointless stuff in your life; not buying bullshit; avoiding late capitalist social signalling as much as possible - these guys seem like the worst possible mouthpieces for the message. The prose swings from mind-numbing truism to bloodless personal anecdote. The general points are neither actionable nor disagreeable. Too vague to actually help anybody. Somehow transformed ‘resisting consumerism’ into a gutless, corporate 30-something’s fashionable affectation.
  • Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester (2020-01-03; 3 stars)
    • Delightful, if forgettable, holiday reading. A Christmas gift from my father-in-law. Exactly the kind of book that the title suggests.
  • From Bacteria to Bach by Daniel Dennett (2020-01-04; 3 stars)
    • Tracking the update in Dennett’s view here, when compared to Consciousness Explained (which I’m planning on re-reading this year), is pretty interesting. A change in emphasis more than a total revolution, maybe, but it’s still an important change of view when considering current trends in AI.
  • Anthropos Today by Paul Rabinow (2020-01-05; 4 stars)
    • For what I’m doing, required.
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (2020-01-13; 2 stars)
    • Garden variety Gladwell: neat, eminently readable, and probably a set of overreaching generalisations from the social science research he’s skimmed.
  • Recursivity and Contingency by Yuk Hui (2020-01-17; 3 stars)
    • Fragments of interest — and offers certainly some compelling readings of Bateson, Shannon, and others early in the book — but the work as a whole is pretty thick and overwritten. It’s written in a kind of unnecessarily dense, name-dropping style that I associate with (bad) contemporary continental Humanities Theory. With this style stripped away, I imagine one could reduce the book to a single paper. I’m sure that it’s a style of writing that other people like and value, and I worked hard to get the useful-to-me arguments from this book, but (for me) it was a drag. Frustrating. Circular. Aimed, even in the best moments, towards “evocative” rather than “clear”.
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin (2020-01-22; 4 stars)
    • I disagreed with a substantial amount of the content, and the ~128 year gulf is noticeable, but actually studying Conquest in depth was valuable. I found myself agreeing with (and digging deep on) unexpected points, and the core theses are surprisingly timely. I think that a (broadly) anarchist approach to contemporary institutions is underrated.
  • The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich (2020-02-08; 5 stars)
    • A solid, readable, and compelling summary of the argument that ‘collective intelligence through culture’ is the main thing that distinguishes humans from less ‘successful’ species. Makes a pretty strong case that human technology and tool use (even ‘thinking tools’) is substantially a function of social learning rooted in now-pretty-well-studied evolutionary instincts. Slightly repetitive — some passages have the ‘I will show in chapter x’/‘As I have shown in chapter Y’ feel of good undergraduate course lectures — but I appreciated the structured case.
    • Despite my involvement in it, I sometimes find it tempting to see contemporary “social science” as a failed grand project: a once-unified search for a physics of culture, fractured by (very necessary!) confrontations with post-colonial and post-structural theory into a loose federation of partly-contradictory factions — here, the French sociologists, there, the American ethnographers, elsewhere, the aging-and-much-maligned economists — with each faction increasingly doubtful of its own epistemological foundations. It can feel as though we’re doomed to lifetimes of work, small gestures, wide bounds of uncertainty, and weak updates. While I still mostly feel that way about ‘the social science project’, this book served as a nice reminder: we have, as a community of scholars, made some progress towards a higher-order view. Culture isn’t the same mystery it used to be. Our uncertainties are more well-defined than they once were, in at least a narrow sense.
    • Also: we should talk more about how fucking incredible abacuses, alphabets, and arrowheads are. Humans are wild.
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (2020-02-14; 3 stars)
    • I promised myself I’d stop reading long form contemporary journalism, but this was a page turner and I was under the weather. In the end, yes, it was fine, I suppose. It was a grim portrait of a thing that mattered a lot to some people (recently), but about which I could do nothing, and of which my knowledge helps neither me nor the world. But it was easy and fun.
  • The World of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty (2020-02-15; 4 stars)
    • Brief and introductory, but also pretty vibrant. More than worth the afternoon I gave it.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (2020-02-25; 4 stars)
    • This was a comfort re-read for me. I’m not sure why, but there’s a few moments in this book that reliably make me cry.