Books I read 2017 – Part 3. Spirituality, Fun, Politics

This is part 3 of my book summaries, the introduction paragraph is repeated.  If you are interested in relationships and learning here is part 1, and Psychology and Management in part 2.

This year I read 79 or so books.  Also there are 24 more books that I put down without finishing.  That’s a lot to summarise.  2017 has become my baseline year for what to expect for myself in the future.

Here they are:

Before I get into the books, let me explain how this many books is possible.

In 2017 I discovered FBReader.  An app for ebooks on android phones (Natural reader is a good app for IOS).  That is FBReader and TTS plugin.  With a bit of getting used to, and tweaking of speed I have managed to read an obviously startling number of books – I even surprised myself.  So many in fact that I challenge myself to be able to remember them all and act in line with everything they have taught me.  This summary and the parts to follow are as much for me as it is for you.  For me – to confirm I took away what I wanted to take away.  For you – to use as notes and evaluations on what is worth reading.  I hope you enjoy, a review of all the books I read this year.

I get asked if I properly take in the information by audio-reading.  The answer is yes and no.  Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I read a book twice.  Sometimes even more times.  Sometimes I don’t need to re-read it.  Overall I am in a much much better position for having read books in the way that I have than not at all.

A sample of a book: Robert kegan, discerning heart


For the person functioning at Kegan’s stage 2, relationships entail the coordination of two sets of needs: what one person desires and what the other person desires.  There is a clear recognition of the other person as a separate individual with his or her own separate needs and interests.  But in a fundamental way, the stage-2 person’s experience of his partner remains an external experience.  What others think and feel may matter to them, but it doesn’t become a feature of the stage-2 individual’s sense of self. The monumental shift in perspective-taking that occurs with the advent of stage 3 is the capacity to make another’s experience of us a part of our own experience of ourselves.  The stage-3 “deep structure” that creates this new understanding of relationships is the ability to take two social perspectivessimultaneously.  We often see the first expressions of this capacity in early adolescence.  Consider the following incident.  My13-year-old daughter left for school one morning in apparent good humor.  A few minutes later I was surprised to hear her returning through the front door.  Going to see what brought her back, I discovered her in tears.  Thinking she’d probably had another encounter with the neighborhood bully, I asked her what was wrong.  Her reply was, “Everybody’s going to think my shoes look stupid.” 

217 words in 31 seconds.

Part 3 includes a loosely defined “spirituality, “Fun” and “politics”.  Take what you will from those headings – they were decided after I had read the books and sorted them into categories of their topics.


Mindfulness meditation.  Chade is known as “the jolly fellow of google” for being in the lucky position of being an early google employee and now probably a gazillionaire.  But also for being able to breathe out joy and loving-kindness on those around him with every breath he takes.  He also teaches the program of mindfulness around the world as he goes.  How to imagine loving-kindness on all those around you.  I read this book in the middle of my great citrulline-malate-enlightenment saga.  One that I would not recommend you follow.  But if you are on the journey to enlightenment you might as well indulge in a few methods of getting there (see PNSE as well).

See Zen koans.  This is a book of original traditional zen koans.  They are fun to play with, as described in my post/dojo.  It’s not a “book” book, but it’s a path to spiritual enlightenment if you choose it.

This is one of the very well talked about books on spirituality.  It’s very convenient that when you start reading into all of these and they agree with each other and they give you the feeling of “everything makes sense” not in the sense that it actually makes sense but in the sense that you think it does.  He covers the non-self also known as non-duality stuff.  and he does well.  Meditation, consciousness, it’s a hard area to lay it all out.  And he does it well.  If you need spirituality.  He has answers.

It’s Jordan Peterson.  He’s a great character with hundreds of hours of videos on youtube that you can lose yourself in.  This book is about finding meaning.  His thesis is that you find meaning by viewing your life through narrative.  Past, Present, Future.  Where you came from, where you are now and where you are going to.  Knowing this and being able to write it out and share it is what makes meaning.  Most of this book is quoting various biblical mythologies and fitting all that into a framework that “people have always created meaning using narrative”.  Which is fine.  It’s an idea.

He goes on to suggest some tropes like, The hero enters the chaotic world by leaving safety, where he is first beaten to a pulp and terrified.  While in the chaotic land he learns to tame it, slays the dragon and brings back the pelt as armour.  He then return home to celebrate victory.  Except dragon is any challenge and the pelt is any learning that you gained when you grew from adversity.  That’s it.  That’s meaning.

Except for one thing.  JP has a very very high verbal IQ.  That means he’s a great story teller and an even better lecturer.  But what he would have difficulty taking into account is his own lens.  His way of seeing the world through story, his thesis, is literally his lens of the world.  In classic typical mind behaviour he insists that this works for everyone, and acts very convincingly to say so.

It’s up to you.  It’s a dense read, maybe you can skip the quoted blocks and just read the bits that are not quotes.  But I think he is biased to his own worldview.  And good on him!  But that’s not how I get my meaning.  There is also a big community out there if you want to talk to JP’ers.

Well.  The comforting thought is that it just happens.  Nothing personal.  It’s not you, it just happens.  And aside from the fact that this is just not meant to be comforting and is just about making known the fact that just so things are just so.  I think the book would be a lot better if it wasn’t 90% bagging out organised religions in the process of saying “death is. and that’s okay”.  I would say skip this book.  It’s not that comforting and yeah, death happens. people die.  ’tis life.

This is a paper not a book but really it’s an excellent presentation of information clustering enlightenment experience onto a continuum and comparing different people’s enlightenment to each other and being able to say “yes” people do end up in the same place when they end up enlightened.  It’s short and it did nothing for me for 6 months till suddenly it clicked and a lot about enlightenment made sense.  But that’s a story for another day!

Not Finished:

Yea. The short says it. I suppose looking back I didn’t understand exactly how taoism sees talk about taoism.  The short version is – Taoists don’t think very highly of talking about the tao, with an attitude of “talk about the tao is not the tao”.  That’s right.  Your goal is this thing but we can never really talk about it or tell you about it and maybe it will make sense if you get closer to it but how do you do that? well we can’t tell you because talking about the tao would be not the tao so good luck with the journey because we can’t give you any clues because it’s not tao if we tell you.

Which is just a really annoying way to say, “don’t try to hit me, actually hit me” or “do or don’t, there is no try” according to Morpheus and Yoda.  So that leads to the guy in this book thinking he is hilarious when he is smirking to himself about how he can’t talk about the thing he wrote the book about.  It’s a real shame because he could have just said that but instead he gives cryptic diatribes about how the Tao is not the Tao for a while until you lose interest.

I feel like a cynic trying to put that together but the honest truth is that I didn’t make sense of the book at all and I gave up part way.

I only wanted to read a chapter or two of this.  In short it says that god (in various religions) was about tolerance and peace and not mass murder and anyone using god to justify their holy wars is wrong because that’s not what God said and that’s not God.  But anyone about to read this book is going to be someone who realises that you are preaching to the choir.  Why would anyone who disagrees with that concept ever pick up this book?

In enlightenment territory there is the path of “meditate on a mountain for 10 years” and then there is the path of, “it was here all along, you just need to get it to click”.  TBH if I had to choose I would choose the easy path.  The, “It’s here”.

Gateless gatecrashers (love the name) is exactly that.  It’s about gatecrashing and shortcutting enlightenment.  why not have it all right now?  And I agree.  The book is a series of guided conversations on how to think differently about the enlightenment being here already and examples of other people unlocking their enlightenment like that.  Which is pretty great.  If you can use this method I definitely would.  Don’t waste your time for 10 years with meditation.  Just work out how to click on to the sheer nothingness, irrelevance and “everything will be okay” of enlightenment.  Go on!  It’s fun!

Fun (Fiction mostly)

Ferrett is my favourite author.  Fix is the one novel I will have read this year, it’s the 3rd in the series of Flex, Flux and Fix.  I have been calling The Ferrett my favourite author for over 10 years despite him only having written his first books in the very recent few years.  He has been blogging for a very long time – writing hilarious stories for all of that time and generally living a hilarious and ridiculous life the whole time.

Apart from him being an excellent author who was going on to do great things, his actual book is set in a world like our own however it has ‘mancy.  Which is the super powers that humans sometimes get when they obsess about a topic so bad that they burn a hole in the universe experiencing their topic.  Sounds a bit like our world only if you Special.Interest that hard here people just avoid you and maybe put you in a mental asylum or tell you to hang out on tumblr.  In the world of Flex, you get magical physics bending powers that are mediated by whether you think that karma is your bitch or you are at the mercy of karma.

Various world destroying events cause people to freak out and governments to lock down all the magic they can so magic is illegal and the government wants to kill anyone they find because sometimes when you rip a hole in the universe it doesn’t stitch back up and people get hurt and you accidentally the whole Europe.  The main character is a bureaucracy-mancer who gets away with his tricks by being agenty and going full munchkin on his powers (the kind of story that rationalists will love).  The thing about bureaucracy is that it has roots at the core of every record and every tracking system.  Including time travel requests both forwards and backwards to collect forms and information from sources that might not exist yet.  I don’t need to tell you that it’s both hilarious and brilliant the way the story pans out.  To top it all off Ferret is a tragic kinkster who slips in wild sex moments casually.  While they don’t add to the story all that much, and there are some dead plot hooks where “suddenly buttsex” because he has a great vision for that character that really did not get to play out in these books, it’s nice to see the normalising of the things that “we can’t talk about yet”.

All in all a great read.  The next time The Ferrett publishes a book I will once again stop my life for as many hours as it takes to read that book too and enjoy being immersed in his world for as many words as he gives.

Theological fiction in an alternative reality where the kabbalistic and magically powerful “names of god” are active.  And then you get capitalism to basically freak the shit out of that kind of hunger-free world-peace world you might get if humans didn’t have co-ordination problems.  And a main character who is funny to read about and loves puns about whales.  Enjoy.

This is a collection of stories about Feynman and the shenanigans he got up to by accident by being honest, simple minded, and genuine through his life.  Highlights include a hobby in safe cracking, accidentally becoming and important space-travel person, trying to work out what a good math book is, and many many more.  He had a wonderful way of looking at the world that is maybe under-appreciated.  If we were all 1% more Feynman the world would be a better place.

Political/Cultural movements

This is the bible of the rationality movement.  Written by the prolific Eliezer Yudkowsky in basically a death march of a million or so words in as short a time as it’s possible to write a million words.  It covers some amazing basics of thinking skills.  Map and territory, epistemics, politics, words and how we use them to confuse ourselves.

EY wrote RAZ on the way to making MIRI and building himself a career in the cutting edge of AI safety research.  He needed to first explain to everyone why it was important, then he needed enough support to do what he wanted to do, and how he is doing exactly that.

I call this a cultural movement because the Rationality movement is a culture.  It’s not so much a political movement as it is a subculture and a way of thinking that cares about clarity of thought and truth seeking.  Aside from being a huge book and a reread, the community is alive and very active and it’s worth checking out.

A fascinating look into the history and gradual progression into aged care facilities and how we got to where we are today.  Once upon a time people would die at home, then as medical technology advanced we could prolong life better and better.  Eventually various kinds of retirement living homes and systems were set up to accommodate getting older.  This was interesting because it was a regulator’s nightmare.

You try telling people that they have to build a nursing home facility with certain provisions in mind.  Good luck to the lawyers because you know that’s who’s making money on that kind of regulation.  The real trouble is that people get old and less able in different ways so a facility designed for someone who can still drive a car is going to be radically different to one designed to cater to someone who just lost the ability to read.

The mistake we made was living in the golden age between when people would just drop dead of “unknown causes” and the golden age where people just live forever by replacing organs and bodies as often as necessary to fix whatever is not working.

This kid has the right idea.  But until that day; this book is a fascinating glimpse into what goes wrong when the incentives in the system are money and you are regularly guilted into “sparing no expense on grandma”.  This is also relevant to the fact that on average a quarter of a person’s lifetime healthcare costs are spent in their last year and it doesn’t usually provide any benefit to the patient.

Importantly this book will teach you to ask the questions; “what is quality of life?  When is life not worth living?”, for this person in particular – with some excellent stories about trading bad choices for worse ones and trying to get the most out of life that a patient wants to get out of life.

If eating food with family is your quality of life and your choices are to do a risky surgery which may see you eating through a tube or spend another month letting the cancer get worse – sometimes the better choice might be to let the cancer get worse while you enjoy that month.  It’s not like we can stop death.  What we can do is enjoy and maximise the time we have.

I really got out of this book – asking that question.  Asking what matters (See also – the NVC book)

Swarmwise is about the pirate party.  A political movement that worked to mobilise the lazy people on the internet that were willing to contribute a little bit here and there.  They developed some fascinating strategies for keeping things moving, despite being run, organised and managed by effectively a swarm of humans with short attention spans and lots of little ideas all over the place.

They talk about having a pipeline.  For example if you have someone willing to print fliers for you, and another person willing to hand them out, you need to make sure you find someone in the middle to get the fliers from A to B.

They talk about asking for support in terms of specific funding.  “we need $X to print the fliers, if you gave $11.50 we’d need 100 people like you to make this work”.  This makes it easy for people to be willing to help.

This and a few other small tips means that if you are looking to run a political or social movement with boots on the ground, you should definitely read this book about how to mobilise people.

Saul Alinsky is the father of left-ish protesting movements.  With some fascinating ideas that strike at the hearts of making executives uncomfortable.  Saul suggests that you can make the issue personal with naming-and-shaming tactics.  Pick a figurehead and target them for action.  He also makes sure to suggest tactics that use your power against the other parties power.  For example – do something fun like a barbecue.  Don’t do something hard-work like a walking rally if your constituents are old and don’t walk well.  If your enemies are debaters, don’t let them talk!  Take it off their turf and catch them off guard.

Fascinating to read about “play dirty then justify your actions later”.  Definitely has some insights into human psychology and behaviour.

The bible of effective altruism.  If you want to do good, how do you maximise the good that you do?  The book is not a magically enjoyable read but that’s not why you read a book like this.  It’s got all the classics like the drowning child argument, but it’s not nearly as convincing as I would have liked.  Still better than nothing.

A political diatribe about how migrants are the cause of all Australia’s problems and we should let less people in.  I thought it would be about housing, it was not and it was charged with an agenda and not that exciting.  DS is a famous Australian who has strong opinions and is a good speaker and has a growing following as a household name.  That doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong about things.  I read this because I was hoping to find him pleasantly sharper and on the ball than I expected and I found him without justifications and with poor data when he had data.

Not Finished

This was suggested to me by a very good friend, several years ago.  I got about two chapters in and was very disappointed.  When I raised it with the friend they said that the book was not nearly as good as they thought it was back then and the arguments raised seemed to be about emotional pull and not good reasoning.  It’s kind of on the side of if you already agree then you don’t need to read the book but if you don’t agree then you are probably not picking up the book in the first place.

I didn’t finish because I didn’t find it enjoyable or compelling and I got the feedback from my friend that it would not suit me.

This landed in my direction on the back of the 2017 crypto madness.  It’s not a bad book but it’s not a good book either.  It’s got some crypto foundation but for a person connected to the internet you probably know most of what’s in here.  It does go into depth about some of the history and have some information that I didn’t have, but also didn’t need.

The thing about crypto is that someone worked out that they could print money.  And they do this for a while.  that’s fun until the government decides it does not want other people printing money.  Then you have a problem.

This is part 3 of my book summaries, the introduction paragraph is repeated.  If you are interested in relationships and learning here is part 1, and Psychology and Management in part 2.

Part 4 coming soon.

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