Five Books To Help You Make Sense of 2017

This passing year was confusing for many. These books helped me understand it better.

The Mandibles

Lionel Shriver’s novel is set in the not so far future when America is going to hell in a handcart. Lionel Shriver plays on topical themes: fake news, identity politics, cultural polarisation, the radical elimination of jobs, the demographic transition, challenges of social care and a racially-divisive President. This book explores some of the challenges that we will face in the coming decades in an engaging, and often frightening, way. (Amazon UK | Amazon US)

The Three-Body Problem

Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem” is a masterful work of Chinese science fiction. The series asks questions about humanity, and explores what our place in the Universe might be. It questions our notions of anthropocentricity and tackles the very real issue, not merely of whether we’re alone, but what if we’re merely a mote compared to other civilizations. Liu’s imagination knows few bounds: not even the limits of mathematics are out of question. This series was published a couple of years ago. (Amazon UK | Amazon US).

Energy and Civilization

Vaclav Smil is an interdisciplinary researcher with a focus on energy & innovation. In “Energy and Civilization” he describes our long-term relationship between those two concepts, and how energy acquisition has shaped our culture, society and power relations. Smil’s framework has added a fresh arrow to my quiver. The book itself is encyclopaedic with plenty of detailed evidence to support many a speech ;) (Amazon UK | Amazon US)

Four Futures

The “Four Futures” in Peter Frase’s short text outline potential scenarios for the coming decades, along two dimensions. One dimension is about the nature of the economy and the social contract. Do we have a moment of abundance where wealth and output are widely shared or do we maintain this sort of starker, greater mechanisms of inequality? The second dimension is climate change, and how do we handle climate change? Are we able to maintain the degradation of our biospheric enclave? In each of those areas, he sees four futures, ranging from a kind of Mad Max striated world of deep inequality and a zoological race to survival to a Star Trek abundant future. He explores how we might get to each of those, and what the outcomes may be. It’s a book which deserves the EV thought-provoking moniker. (Amazon UK | Amazon US)

Homo Deus

Yuval Harari’s “Homo Deus” was where I started the year. I like Harari’s historical, belief-centric approach to finding explanations (not everyone does). You can find emerging evidence for his notion of dataism in many of the advances in digital business models, governance, AI and blockchain that I have written about over the past three years. He and I explored Homo Deus in a podcast earlier this year. (Amazon UK | Amazon US)

Here are two others that are worth mentioning:

  • Max Tegmark’s “Life 3.0” is a good take on AI from one of the greater brains thinking about it.
  • Geoffrey West’s “Scale” helps us think about some of the emerging properties of complex systems that we live in.

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