Books, 2016

1. The Peloponnesian War

2 The Empire of the Steppes

3. The Columbian Exchange

4. Breaking the Maya Code

5. War Before Civilization

6. The Discourses (Machiavelli)

7. Introduction to Algorithms

8. Rare Earth

9. The Wizard War

10. Night comes to the Cretaceous

11. Microbe Hunters

12. The Youngest Science

13. Plagues and Peoples

14. Project Orion

15. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

16. Godstalk, P. C. Hodgell

17. Footfall, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

18. On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

19. His Share of Glory, Cyril Kornbluth

20. Herodotus

21. The Secret History, Procopius

And you might be interested in my last booklist.

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53 Responses to Books, 2016

  1. dlr says:

    If you like Kornbluth, his ‘Not This August’ is available free on-line at gutenberg canada:

    • pyrrhus says:

      An old favorite!

      • gcochran9 says:

        Once upon a time, Not This August was on my list of books that were in library catalogs but couldn’t be found – copies were often missing. There were a few other books like that – they tended to have certain political stances, or more exactly tend to offend people with certain political stances.

        • Yudi says:

          Could you give us some more details about which books these were?

        • Darien says:

          At the first pages of the story, the Soviets are invading El Paso, and nuclear weapons still are not used, there is still Chicago and other cities. Is it set in alternate timeline where nuclear weapons were never discovered or somewhat rendered unusable? If not, my WSOD is broken at the start.

        • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

          I always wonder if the commies ever reflect on the level of popularity, faith and zeal, they have enjoyed over the last century and a half.
          And if any of them ever came to any conclusion when balancing all that “commitment to the cause” with the yields obtained.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Are you trying to tease me into posting my incredibly long list of all the people in public life that are utterly worthless?

        • mapman says:

          That would be fun. And I think you’d have fun too 🙂 Go for it.

        • Sandgroper says:

          Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing that list. It would make for entertaining reading.

        • Darien says:

          Wouldn’t it be better to post short list of public people who are not worthless?

          • gcochran9 says:

            Easier, but it more-or-less implies that everyone not on the list is some kind of idiot or bounder, which is not really true. Some people are really mixed: dead right on some things, toxic crazy on other things. Certainly in many cases I don’t know enough to have a valid opinion.

        • Jim says:

          I’m not sure PZ Myers is really a “public figure” but he is amazingly stupid.

          • mapman says:

            No, PZ is not “stupid”. He is about average for his position, perhaps with some upside in the verbal part. His common opinions are routinely stupid though, thanks to PZ’s extreme version of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

            • Toddy Cat says:

              PZ is a basically smart guy who holds stupid opinions. I work with a large number of people like this, it’s not uncommon, unfortunately.

              • gcochran9 says:

                If PZ had figured out some new and interesting things, discovered something, was a fount of sharp analysis, I could agree with you. I haven’t seen any of that. Looks like a schmuck to me.

                But there certainly have been many people that fulfilled those criteria while at the same time having opinions that were seriously, provably, practically wrong.

  2. Lee Wang says:

    Christmas comes early this year.

  3. Josh says:

    Ooh. I know this one! True!

  4. Jason says:

    I found War Before Civilization incredibly insightful. The guy can write, too.

    “Similarly, copper and bronzes axes from the Late Neolithic and Bronze Ages, formerly referred to as battle axes, are no longer classified as weapons but are considered a form of money. The 5,000-year-old Austrian glacier mummy recently reported in the news was found with one of these moneys mischievously hafted as an ax. He also had with him a dagger, a bow, and some arrows; presumably these were his small change.”

  5. dearieme says:

    #4 “the first great decipherment of an ancient script”. What a ludicrously ambiguous claim. It reminds me of some of the absurd labels I saw when I visited the Smithsonian decades ago.

    • Jim says:

      It’s a little puzzling but maybe it is connected with the lack of bilingual texts such as the Rosetta stone that helped with the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics. But I don’t think that the decipherment of Hittite relied much on bilingual texts.

    • syonredux says:

      “#4 “the first great decipherment of an ancient script”. What a ludicrously ambiguous claim. It reminds me of some of the absurd labels I saw when I visited the Smithsonian decades ago.”

      Yeah, editorial blurbs are rather notorious for indulging in puffing….Of course, that being said, cracking Mayan was a pretty impressive accomplishment.

      RE: The Smithsonian,

      Always liked the The Air and Space Museum. Looking at the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module makes even my cynical heart swell a bit….

  6. pyrrhus says:

    The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius…..

    • Patrick L. Boyle says:

      I used to give copies of Suetonius to all my staff at Christmas. Later I gave out copies of “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman”.

  7. cthulhu says:

    Is “Introduction to Algorithms” better than Knuth’s TAoCP?

    And if you’re going to have two books featuring Orion, then why not the third – Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem”; for my money, just as good as “Cryptonomicon” and maybe a little better.

    • Space Ghost says:

      Is “Introduction to Algorithms” better than Knuth’s TAoCP?

      TAoCP is a landmark work that no one has actually read. I joke, slightly, but in 2016 I don’t know who the target audience really is. If you’re a working programmer without much exposure to math or theory, the math & theory is presented much too briefly for you to really learn it. If you’re a mathematician who wants to learn about algorithms & programming, the math & theory is mostly going to be things you already know (or elementary extensions / uses of things you already know) and the MIX assembly language stuff is, in practice, useless and needlessly obscures what is going on.

      The best analogy I can think of would be using Russel & Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica to learn math. It’s way too low-level to be of practical use, even if it was a hugely influential work.

      Intro to Algorithms focuses on asymptotic analysis of computational complexity (the key, fundamental idea in the field of algorithms, one that was pioneered / popularized by Knuth – Cormen et al. just present it better) and they use a significantly more readable pseudocode to present the algorithms.

      TAoCP is the book(s) people put on their shelves to signal that they are “serious” computer programmers; Intro to Algorithms is the book that anyone who went through a half-decent or better computer science curriculum actually used in their classes.

      • Notmyname says:

        I got the Intro to Algorithms book at someone here’s rec not too long ago. Haven’t cracked it.

        I’m pretty sure I used Knuth as a reference guide for hash table implementation in early 2000’s (although its possible that was from Numerical Recipes in C which i definitely used for FFT). Both those books have been in boxes from house moves 10+ years ago, so I can’t check. I think the C++ STL made it’s way into GCC about 2000 (although briefly searching on-line isn’t answering that) and that obviated the need for home-spinning so much.

        That reminds me that no one had a good recommendation on a serious treatment of wavelets. I was looking for something equivalent to Dym&McKean on Fourier Series and Integrals.

    • anon says:

      Both those books are notoriously difficult. I wouldn’t be surprised if Greg Cochran struggled with Intro to algorithms, and i doubt he’d be able to understand Knuth’s book.

      I would recommend as a prerequisite to the cormen book.

    • Glengarry says:

      If nothing else, it’s always amusing to see that those working in algorithms are utterly terrible programmers. Possibly not as bad as physicists or suchlike, but still.

  8. Learner says:

    What do you think of this book? According to this review, it seems interesting.

    “Is g heritable? In a certain sense, yes. In the 1950s, a series of reports suggested a strong genetic component. Of these, twin studies were the most definitive. When identical twins who had been reared together — i.e., with shared genes and shared environments — were tested in the early fifties, psychologists had found a striking degree of concordance in their IQs, with a correlation value of 0.86. In the late eighties, when identical twins who were separated at birth and reared separately were tested, the correlation fell to 0.74 — still a striking number.

    But the heritability of a trait, no matter how strong, may be the result of multiple genes, each exerting a relatively minor effect. If that was the case, identical twins would show strong correlations in g, but parents and children would be far less concordant. IQ followed this pattern. The correlation between parents and children living together, for instance, fell to 0.42. With parents and children living apart, the correlation collapsed to 0.22. Whatever the IQ test was measuring, it was a heritable factor, but one also influenced by many genes and possibly strongly modified by environment — part nature and part nurture.
    The most logical conclusion from these facts is that while some combination of genes and environments can strongly influence g, this combination will rarely be passed, intact, from parents to their children. Mendel’s laws virtually guarantee that the particular permutation of genes will scatter apart in every generation. And environmental interactions are so difficult to capture and predict that they cannot be reproduced over time. Intelligence, in short, is heritable (i.e., influenced by genes), but not easily inheritable (i.e., moved down intact from one generation to the next)."

  9. Learner says:

    I am sorry for the format of the comment. It is not very clear. The title of the book is: “The Gene: An Intimate History”.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Mukherjee is a moron. Next question?

      He’s suggested that gene interactions are real important in IQ [epistatic rather than additive effects] but he is incorrect. If new to the field, it could take as much as an afternoon to find that out.

    • mapman says:

      Greg is totally right. The book is a joke and the author is surprisingly incompetent describing various aspects in the history of genetics. (Yes, I read the book)

  10. benespen says:

    I bought a copy of His Share of Glory two years ago, and even when Kornbluth was writing a short story under a pseudonym to fill space in a magazine, he was pretty damn good.

  11. dave chamberlin says:

    The internet has evolved some wonderful resources that allow readers of non fiction to find the best books at great prices. Millennials don’t know how good they have it. Back in my day I had to travel to the few really good used book stores that were sparsely located around the country.

    Now you click on Amazon books and not only do you have every book often at great prices but they are delivered to your doorstep. The reviews can be very useful as well. I used to have to buy four books to find one really good one because I didn’t know until I started reading which book was well written and scholarly and which one wasn’t. Sometimes you get a sense to a book that it was a good read but there are some ideological slants that you don’t completely buy. There might be 243 reviews of a popular book over at Amazon and you don’t want to read all of them but what is very useful is reading the highly recommended negative reviews of a book to find the flaws in a book that the writer might be artfully hiding.

    Razib Khan at his blog Gene Expressions over at Unz Review has a list of a couple hundred of the best non fiction books he has read and like Greg Cochran’s 20 books they are the best of the best and he links them up to Amazon books as well. Scroll down and you will find them in red on the right side of his blog.

    I can’t forget to mention kindle although I am an old fogey who likes to have the real book. Thanks Greg for your guidance. I read Anubis Gates by Tim Powers that Greg recommended last year and it was a wonderful read. That book would make a great movie.

  12. emdriveisnonsense says:

    rare Earth is obolete, wrong and not up-to-date

  13. melendwyr says:

    I’ve always thought The Secret History was overrated. Although it does illustrate just how little we ought to trust both official histories and the people who write them. Procopius seems to have believed that Justinian and Theodora were demons in human form – actual demons, not just people acting in ways he abhorred. Which is insane. His public history reveals nothing of this. So the public version is lies, and the private version is delusional.

  14. syonredux says:

    A fine Christmas list. Here’s mine:

    ALBION’S SEED, Fischer



    THE COUP, Updike




    WHY MEN RULE, Goldberg




    • gcochran9 says:

      I correspond with four of those authors. speaking of: long ago, in Steve Sailer’s closed list, I was explaining that almost all of modern science/mathematics was invented by Europeans and their diaspora, with a significant & surprising amount from Ashkenazi Jews, and some, not a lot, from China, India, And Japan. Very little from other populations. I was surprised at the big fraction of the members that really did not know that: I came up with some numbers on real Nobel prizes and such and mostly beat down resistance.

      • NoWeltschmerz says:

        I’m not suggesting that one of those four authors is Charles Murray, but…..I am curious as to what Greg and others think of his approach to the dissemination of information about group differences in IQ. I’m not referring to “The Bell Curve,” but instead to the way he presents the evidence to the general public in speeches and interviews. It’s no so much that what he says is necessarily wrong, but that he couches what he says in such a way as to blunt the force and implications of what is being communicated and gives the appearance of being a bit paternalistic. As an example, look at the Brainwash episode on race that was uploaded to YouTube (Greg also appears in some very interesting segments). Throughout his segments of the interview, Dr. Murray sort of soft sells the data, but has to change tactics a bit at towards the end (e.g., You’ll notice that Dr. Murray continues to try and convince people that the heritability of IQ is “uninteresting,” but then shifts mien when shown a video of a Norwegian social scientist completely dismissing the influence of genes.

        I have respect for Charles Murray and I believe he has shown a great deal of bravery (relatively well-known public intellectual bravery, not necessarily Normandy Landings bravery) and am not looking to declare open season (although his claim during the promotion of “Coming Apart” that he purposely chooses to live outside of the beltway with the common folk did not help him anticipate the Trump phenomenon or react well to it).

        I can understand why Dr. Murray has taken the approach that he has and i’m not suggesting that if I were in his position I would behave differently. Nevertheless, I do wonder if his approach is, in the main, furthering the cause of the elucidation of population genetics.

      • tautology123 says:

        Dr Cochran,
        what do you think explains this relative underachievment of east asians in spite of their good standardized test scores?

  15. deuce says:

    Excellent non-fiction selections there, Mr.Cochran. If you’d like to follow up Grousset with something a little more readable, I highly recommend Lamb’s THE MARCH OF THE BARBARIANS:

    It reads like Grousset’s book as written by Robert E. Howard (Lamb was a big influence on REH).

    Out of Tim Powers’ more recent books, I highly recommend DECLARE. Only he could link Philby’s search for Irem to the Berlin Wall and make it believable.

  16. Karmakazy says:

    Breaking the Maya Code is a great book. If you don’t read books the PBS doc on same subject is also great.

  17. James Powers says:

    Constant Battles: Myth of the Noble Savage by Steven LeBlanc is good. Also this site has some good articles.

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