Summer Reading List 2023
Oppenheimer; Policy Implementation in the Digital Age; Power and Progress; History of the Opium Trade
These are books I read over the last few months and enjoyed (and not necessarily all new books).
Oppenheimer: The movie has reignited wide interest in this fascinating, flawed genius to whom the free world owes so much. I am personally more interested in the nuts and bolts (and science) of the Manhattan Project-how was the US able to pull off this enormously impactful mega-project (with the finest minds in the world-Feynman, Fermi, Teller, Szilard besides Oppie himself), less in the vicious McCarthy-era hounding. To that end, I found Ray Monk’s bio (A Life Inside the Center) more interesting than the Pulitzer-winning Kai Bird bio (American Prometheus). Here is an interesting article on Oppenheimer’s fascination with the Bhagavad Gita. And a fantastic thread on the famous “Now I am become death…” quote. Richard Rhodes magisterial Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” is a must-read. And here is a 1965 documentary on the decision to drop the bomb with the leading figures of the time.
Recoding America: I would gift this book to anyone who works on policy. Jennifer Pahlka argues that government is hamstrung by a rigid, industrial-era culture in which elites dictate policy from on high. The book puts forward a deeper theory of why government services are so awful, how policy implementation so often goes awry and what it would take to fix those systems so that government could better live up to its promises. If you want to make a difference in the world and make government work for the people in the digital age, this book is a must-read. Recoding America will challenge your assumptions, inspire your imagination and empower your action.
Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity By Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson. This book challenges the common assumption that technology automatically leads to prosperity and social progress. It argues that the choices we make about technology, and the power structures that shape them, are crucial for creating a more equitable and democratic society. Anyone interested in the history, economics, and politics of technology and wanting to learn how we can harness its potential for the common good should read this book.
Smoke and Ashes: Opium's Hidden Histories by Amitav Ghosh: This is a book that explores the history of the opium trade, its impact on the world, and its relevance to the present day. It is a book that combines travelogue, memoir, and historical analysis, and reveals the hidden connections between opium, capitalism, colonialism, and globalism. I also enjoyed Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse. Both books explore the history and politics of technology, and how they have shaped the world and the environment. In The Nutmeg’s Curse, Ghosh focuses on the spice nutmeg, and how its discovery and exploitation by Western colonialism led to violence,
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