Category Archives: Books

My 2009 Book List

Here’s the list of books I read during 2009.

I finished 49 books in 2009, ahead of my goal of 40.  In 2010 I will attempt 40 books again.

This only captures a sliver of what my eyes have consumed in 2009, since there’s just so much content online these days.  Hopefully at some point we’ll be able to measure every word consumed annually at some point, possibly with neural/optical implants.

The books are rated on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being awful in every respect, 10 being both interesting & readable.  This is very subjective but basically, if a book is a 10, everyone must read it.  If it’s a 7, it brings a good perspective but either isn’t rigorous or is too niche.  If it’s a 5, it was informational but otherwise boring.  Below that?  Avoid!  The list is in chronological order.

You can also read ratings of books I’ve read going back to before 2006 from my Google Spreadsheet.

  • (7) Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine, Locke, Searls, & Weinberger)
  • (5) Heart of Lightness:  The Life Story of an Anthropologist (Edith Turner)
  • (6) Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Robert Kennedy)
  • (10) Outliers:  The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)
  • (4) Innovation:  The Missing Dimension (Lester & Piore)
  • (9) The Third Wave:  Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Samuel Huntington)
  • (10) The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac:  Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today’s Game (FreeDarko)
  • (5) Celebrating the Mass:  A Guide for Understanding and Loving the Mass More Deeply (Alfred McBride)
  • (8) The Mystery of Faith:  An Introduction to Catholicism (Michael Himes)
  • (6) The Process:  1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East (Uri Savir)
  • (4) Rules For Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services (Guy Kawasaki)
  • (6) The World of Goods:  Towards an Anthropology of Consumption (Mary Douglas & Baron Isherwood)
  • (10) The Holy Longing:  The Search for a Christian Spirituality (Ronald Rolheiser)
  • (10) Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life (Richard Florida)
  • (10) The Gamble:  General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Thomas Ricks)
  • (10) The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Michael Pollan)
  • (10) The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower (Robert Baer)
  • (6) Tribes:  We Need You to Lead (Seth Godin)
  • (4) Roots for Radicals:  Organizing for Power, Action, and Justice (Edward Chambers)
  • (10) The Next 100 Years:  A Forecast for the 21st Century (George Friedman)
  • (4) The Whuffie Factor:  Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business (Tara Hunt)
  • (2) Leading Geeks:  How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology (Paul Glen)
  • (10) The Wealth of Networks:  How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yochai Benkler)
  • (9) The Wisdom of Whores:  Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS (Elizabeth Pisani)
  • (8) Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy (Judy Estrin)
  • (7) Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Theodore Bestor)
  • (10) Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (Paul Collier)
  • (5) The World is Flat:  A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Tom Friedman)
  • (8) No Logo:  No Space, No Choice, No Jobs (Naomi Klein)
  • (6) New Liberal Arts (Snarkmarket)
  • (8) Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger (Philip Marchand)
  • (5) The Gift:  Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (Lewis Hyde)
  • (5) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (Jack Donnelly)
  • (8) Free:  The Future of a Radical Price (Chris Anderson)
  • (8) Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)
  • (9) King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa  (Adam Hochschild)
  • (6) In the Name of Identity:  Violence and the Need to Belong (Amin Malouf)
  • (10) Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World  (Walter Russell Mead)
  • (9) Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Jon Krakauer)
  • (6) Zelda:  A Biography (Nancy Milford)
  • (5) Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Neil Howe & William Strauss)
  • (8) Little Brother (Cory Doctorow)
  • (8) A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Stephen Hawking)
  • (6) Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Cory Doctorow)
  • (6) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Sheryl WuDunn & Nicholas Kristof)
  • (7) Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (John Stauffer)
  • (10) The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons)
  • (9) Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Karen Ho)
  • (7) Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork (Maria Bustillos)

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A Thought on Masculinity

Some of my old classmates from Georgetown met up to discuss Nick Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”, a couple weeks ago.  Most of the group was women, but among international development folks, there’s definitely a tribe of guys who are male feminists.

That is to say that we are men but believe that educating girls and having more of an equal balance of men and women in society and politics will by causation improve conditions for society’s well-being as a whole.

Singles Map, from Richard Florida's "Who's Your City?"

I live in DC, the city with the highest proportion of highly-educated (and single) women in the country.  More girls are in school than boys now, and they are out-performing the boys.  What does this mean in the long run, if women are selecting the most fit mate?

And that introduces the Fight Club problem of future masculinity.  What qualities will be desired in a man?  Not too long ago, men derived their pride from fighting and being the bread-winners.  Now that many families combine two salaries, war is an undesired quality, and sports is an option only for the few, where will men go?  Will they have to re-commit to education and improve as well?

How long can men coast through life being more aggressive, stronger, and louder than women?  I would agree that men and boys get their way just through sheer force of nature much of the time, but in a world of equal gender proportions, how will this change?

Women are able to give birth, and are natural nurturers and protectors of societal fabric.  What do men bring?

Perhaps the future man will be fighting still, but instead for universal rights, for equal rights, for the diffusing of power.  Today’s programmers may become those who bring transparency and accountability to those who would rather have no part in it.  Today’s warriors may become tomorrow’s pacifists, who seek diplomacy and providing space for tomorrow’s tribes to be able to have their own identities.

And there’s always honor.  I always think of Gangs of New York, that much-panned Martin Scorsese movie about “natives” fighting immigrant Europeans for the five points of New York.  In it, Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis) fights Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) and slays him.  But Bill, as evil a villain as he is, later remembers his nemesis by saying, “I killed the last honorable man 15 years ago.”  “He was the only man I ever killed worth remembering.”

He also expounded, “We hold in our hearts the memory of our fallen brothers whose blood stains the very streets we walk today. Also on this night we pay tribute to the leader of our enemies, an honorable man, who crossed over bravely, fighting for what he believed in. To defeat my enemy, I extinguish his life, and consume him as I consume these flames. In honor of Priest Vallon.”

Marine Staff Sergeant John Jones (see

That is, even though they were enemies, at least Vallon was a man of principle and honor, and that was noble enough even for Bill to recognize.

And now we send another 30,000+ (mostly male) soldiers to Afghanistan, who’ve been fighting wars for almost a decade, to get maimed or killed.  That hidden class of warriors, who participate in almost a shunned profession, will bear permanent scars of a machismo past, unable to hide missing limbs and large burns on their bodies.

I hope that a noble place is found for them, and for all men.


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Wall Street & Trading

I just finished Karen Ho’s “Liquidated:  An Ethnography of Wall Street”.  It tied together various experiences I had daytrading from 1998-2002 and 2006-2007 and the recruitment sessions that big banks and consulting companies would have for Georgetown Master’s students.

Some things the book helped to confirm:

1) Time differentials.  Wall Street works very often 100-120 hours a week.  This doubles the minimum hours worked by corporate America.  So that affects time scales; Wall Street is constantly trying to create profit through liquidity and exchange and deals.  Corporate America works on a much slower timeline, to create products or services.  It is a more human scale.  Wall Street works not for salary but for bonuses, which are created through quantity and size of deals.  It doesn’t get compensated for long-term corporate success.

2) A large number of students from Ivy League Plus schools chase the money into finance.  They get paid a fortune if they can cut it.  But the net loss is to society — these brilliant minds do not seem to be employing their money back into philanthropic pursuits, ambitious programs, or bettering the world.  The money is put into unsustainable, wasteful lifestyles which the east coast thrives off of. (read the Washington Post’s article about Rhodes Scholars herding into finance)

3) CEOs and executives care about “shareholder value” and the stock price, but these things are no longer linked to the internal health or long-term success of a firm.  It is corporate raiding.

4) Wall Street is transferring wealth away from those who create it, by facilitating “deals” which leak commissions to the banks.  How many deals have you seen executed by public companies lately which actually make any sense?  Remember AOL and Time Warner?  That was the pinnacle.

5) Wall Street wasn’t destroyed in 2007 — it did what it always does; quickly it reinvented itself, laid people off, and adapted.  No other sector is able to reconstitute itself so quickly. It does this by pursuing talent at any cost.  It recruits the best, unattached minds in the nation from the top universities, and promotes a cult of personality of “smartness” — you will be among the best people if you go to work on Wall Street.  I saw the degree to which Wall Street pursues talent; one of my classmates at Georgetown had a standing job offer even throughout the 2007-2008 financial crisis!

6) Downsizing is good to Wall Street. If a company lays off workers, this means the company is reducing its overhead.  Wall Street does not care about Main Street.  It pulls from the elite, and the job does not care about how Main Street is doing or whether workers are suffering.  Wall Street enjoys higher unemployment as long as productivity increases and costs are reduced — and as Professor Ho points out, this job insecurity mirrors what Wall Street is constantly under the threat of.

7) Even within Wall Street, there is segregation. Cost center people, like support staff, take different elevators within buildings than the people who make the profits for the banks.

8) Investing in the stock market is a sucker’s game.  Owning stock in a company is not worthwhile, because common stock is so diluted that it doesn’t constitute any sort of ownership in the firm (and Professor Ho points out it never did).  The stock market is its own entity and should be treated as a quick trading vehicle:  volatility and liquidity are the only things that matter.

9) Neo-liberal economic theory permeates Wall Street, but it is unsustainable for most people.  While Wall Street is made up of the best and brightest who easily transition from job to job, Main Street would not be able to withstand this “creative destruction”.

This is a sobering book, but also a fascinating move for anthropology:  I think most people associate anthropology with studying small, backwards, tribal groups.  But this studies incredibly modern, adaptive Wall Street tribes.

As a citizen I’m deeply concerned about how easily the finance sector controls what happens in this country, and even President Obama has succumbed to a lot of the banks’ demands.  What’s worst is that finance is intellectual magic to create new ideas and derivatives and “products” while the actual economic base of development in the US has taken a back seat.  How long can that last, with our greatest minds essentially creating nothing but instability, instead of new technologies, theories, and breakthroughs?

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2008 Book Reading

I read 50 books in 2008 after setting a meager goal of 20 books.  I was assuming that I would be too slogged with schoolwork, which was for the most part true.  I read a ton of books over the summer, though.

This year, in 2009, I am setting a goal of 40 books.

Below is a list of what I read in 2008.  The list isn’t really a good reflection of the reading I’ve done.  Some of the things below aren’t proper “books”.  I’ve also read probably thousands of blog posts, hundreds of news articles, and many long documents for school.  Perhaps one cool app would be to calculate roughly how many words one reads a day.

The number before the book info is my rating from 1 to 10.  I tend to vote higher for what I consider to be original ideas or research…although sometimes I get really bored with some books and rate them lower as a result.

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I opened up a Shelfari account and populated it with most of the books I’ve read from 2005 on — I don’t have a list of what I read before then.

It’s quite an easy service to use. Search for your book and edition, then add it to your shelf. Then add in some other metadata about it easily. I have little interest in writing reviews for books because that would take too long — I never wrote reviews on either. I guess I don’t have enough particular experiences from a book (save for the passages I dog-ear that I wish I could digitally copy into my computer or something) to want to write about it.

Contrast this with Yelp, which I just started using to rate and review stores and restaurants in the US. My dining and shopping experiences are very particular and very keyed in to all my senses, whereas a book isn’t. So I’ve felt like writing quite a few reviews on Yelp.

But one thing I noticed at Shelfari was that they show your books from the front cover art. I thought this was dumb at first, since you can’t display as much data quickly as you could if you just had a list of text.

But then I realized that I identify a lot of books purely from the cover art. It irks me in fact to see older cover art, or modified cover art for re-issued books. The cover is as much a part of the book as what’s in it, in terms of identifying it.

When I go abroad to Europe, all the books have different cover art in the bookstores and it really throws me off. It’s like reading in a different language you’re not fluent in — I have to slow down and read each book title instead of glancing at the cover and knowing what it is.

Here’s a quick experiment. Take the paper cover off your hardback books and look at that ugly hard cover that it has underneath. The book’s meaning and feel change completely.

I thought about how this affects experiences in e-books and on the Kindle. Books sort of become faceless through digital readers because you don’t see the cover every time you open the book. It’s just another digital file. Is there some way to replicate the experience through good design?

I then thought about whether music albums have this same imprint. I have not bought an album in ages — I download a lot of my music. So I don’t even really know what the cover art looks like for the music I listen to.

But that doesn’t matter because the personalities I listen to have large media presences and style themselves in flamboyant and stereotypical ways. I know my music through photos and TV. I also know my music through the way a band sounds — you can identify music pretty quickly from the guitarist’s sound or the voice of the lead singer.

Maybe albums need to take a cue from the visual imprinting of a book’s cover art and develop a musical imprint to put on albums and songs and artists.

This is essentially creating a brand appropriate to the media it promotes. Can I brand my web site better? Can I brand “Ben Turner” better?

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Quote of the Day: Feb. 28, 2006

From Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash:

“Hiro, you are such a geek. She’s a woman, you’re a dude. You’re not SUPPOSED to understand her. That’s not what she’s after. She doesn’t want you to understand HER. She knows THAT’S impossible. She just wants you to understand YOURSELF. Everything else is negotiable.”

“You figure?”

“Yeah. Definitely.”

“What makes you think I don’t understand myself?”

“It’s just obvious. You’re a really smart hacker and the greatest sword fighter in the world — and you’re delivering pizza and promoting concerts that you don’t make any money off of.”

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Quote of the Day: Feb. 27, 2006

From The Great Influenza:

“As Einstein once said, “One of the strongest motives that lead persons to art or science is a flight from the everyday life… With this negative motive goes a positive one. Man seeks to form for himself, in whatever manner is suitable for him, a simplified and lucid image of the world, and so to overcome the world of experience by striving to replace it to some extent by this image. This is what the painter does, and the poet, the speculative philosopher, the natural scientist, each in his own way. Into this image and its formation, he places the center of gravity of his emotional life, in order to attain the peace and serenity that he cannot find within the narrow confines of swirling personal experience.”

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