What should I be reading?

by Henry Farrell on July 4, 2018

Having sent an academic book off to the publisher, I’m in what I hope are the final stages of writing a very long proposal for a commercial book based on this essay (the book will probably have less PKD, and more generic weirdness). For the last nine months or so, my reading material has been mostly recent US history, American paranoia (Jesse Walker’s book is very good), changes in American media markets, how Facebook actually works, the theory and practice of bots, history of traditionalism and lots and lots of creepy stuff on the WWW (Dark Enlightenment, MRA, GamerGate and other assorted varieties of sleaze and vileness). The result is that I’m desperate for new and different books to read, after I get the damn thing finished, as a class of a carrot to lure me over the finish line.

Books I know that I really want to read include:

Ruthanna Emrys – Deep Roots (have an ARC of it already, and it looks very, very good).
Vera Tobin – Elements of Surprise (cognitive psychology meets literature).
Dave Hutchinson – Shelter (though I’m looking forward even more to the next book in his Europe series)
Judea Pearl – The Book of Why (how we need causal reasoning and what it means).

Books that I don’t know that I really want to read, but should know, are multitudinous. Tell me about them.



Maria 07.04.18 at 4:55 pm

Well the first port of call might be recent books published by members of this parish (if you’ve not had sight of them already). I’ve got Chris’s Should States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants https://www.wiley.com/en-gb/Do+States+Have+the+Right+to+Exclude+Immigrants%3F-p-9781509521951 sitting at the top of my TBR pile.

And Daniel’s book about financial skullduggery is out tomorrow : Lying for Money. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lying-Money-Legendary-Frauds-Workings/dp/1781259658/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1530723111&sr=8-1&keywords=daniel+davies Looks like it will be a lot of fun.

And I think Ingrid has something forthcoming?

I’ve just received an ARC of ex Guardian science editor Tim Radford’s The Consolation of Physics and it looks like a real pearl. Also, repeating my jabbering on the phone last night, the 3rd in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series is out and looks fascinating and fun.

And I cannot recommend strongly enough Glen David Gold’s memoir I Will Be Complete, now out in both UK and US.


Lee A. Arnold 07.04.18 at 5:46 pm

Adair Turner’s short essay “Capitalism in the Age of Robots” is up to date and state of the art. Link to a PDF here:


Zora 07.04.18 at 7:13 pm

Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (pen name for Sarah Monette).


Chris Bertram 07.04.18 at 7:27 pm

Thanks Maria!

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Cohen’s The Political Value of Time.

I’m intending to read Bernard Zacka’s When the State Meets the Street.

As far as fiction goes, I’ve just finished Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, which is both cracking story about the love two people have for one another and a meditation on the so-called “migration crisis”. Enjoyed it immensely and went straight out and bought The Reluctant Fundamentalism on the back of it.


Catfish 07.04.18 at 7:39 pm

I’m interested in the books you read on the history of traditionalism. What are some titles?

Recommendations: Name of the wind, ancillary justice, and especially the Fifth Season


Matt 07.04.18 at 11:12 pm

I haven’t had the chance to read all of Elizabeth Cohen’s new book yet, but got to comment on some parts of it for a workshop while it was in-progress. It’s very interesting stuff, from what I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing. There’s a podcast with her on the book, done by Robert Talisse, on his “new books in philosophy” site, here .

A recent really good book in political philosophy is Daniel Halliday’s _The Inheritance of Wealth: Justice, Equality, & the Right to bequeath_. It’s pretty short, highly readable, and convinced me that the issue is more interesting than I had thought it was. He does a great job of teasing out different problems, showing how they are or are not related, and what might plausibly be done.

On literary reading, I’ve recently been reading the autobiographical works of Gorky. I didn’t actually expect to like it (for reasons I’m not sure of) but was blown away by his _My Childhood_ and _Fragments from my Diary_. They left me hungry to read more. It’s obviously not new stuff, but highly recommended.


marcel proust 07.04.18 at 11:56 pm

The Fate of Rome about the central role of epidemics and climate change in the fall of the Roman Empire, and how the former was almost guaranteed by the widespread trade networks that the Pax Romana made possible. Climate change played a dual role, contributing both to the rise of first the Republic and then the Empire through an increasingly benign climate and then to its fall through a dramatic shift several centuries later.


Sam 07.05.18 at 12:02 am

I’ll second The Fifth Season, it’s fantastic.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy is great, and he has a new book coming out in August also. I really highly recommend Bennett if you haven’t read anything by him, his earlier books are well worth reading also.

Recently I’ve really enjoyed Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough and Armistice, and am eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.


Abigail 07.05.18 at 5:45 am

A few from the last year or so that I really enjoyed:

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng – a Bronte-esque Gothic novel about missionaries in fairyland. A bit baggy, but makes up for it by being genuinely fascinated by the characters’ relationship to their religion, which is not something a lot of fantasy novels grapple with.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – a generation ship story in which the ship’s population is ruthlessly segregated by race. One of the most stunning novels I’ve read in the last few years, and a really timely reminder that the future doesn’t have to mean shedding certain prejudices.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru – a great ghost story rooted in white America’s history of monetizing black art and black suffering. Get a bit diffuse towards the end, but still really worth reading.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – I assume I don’t have to work too hard to sell one of the most successful short story collections of the last year, but Machado is the real deal, writing funny, scary, Shirley Jackson-esque stories about gender, sexuality, and how human (mostly female) bodies are viewed and policed.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente – a Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque romp about aliens who force humanity to prove its worthiness to exist by making us compete in a galactic Eurovision. Exactly as nutty as that premise sounds.

The Rift by Nina Allan – an SFnal story wrapped in a mystery, or vice versa, about a woman whose sister, who disappeared as a teenager, returns claiming to have spent time on an alien planet.


Joe 07.05.18 at 7:08 am

Wilkinson and Pickett just published a new book. Perfect Me by Heather Widdows sounds good going by her interviews on some recent podcasts. To Be a Machine is just a really good page-turner (reporting on transhumanists, biohackers, and the like.) It’s from a few years ago, but Joseph’s Heath’s Enlightenment 2.0 is still one of the best books about contemporary politics. On the concept of the extended mind used by Heath, Cognitive Gadgets is supposed to be interesting.


SamChevre 07.05.18 at 12:56 pm

In the sci-fi/fantasy world, I’d second Goblin Emperor; it was better than I expected, and I expected it to be excellent.

Others I’ve enjoyed recently, in the “not brain candy” category: Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series; Jo Walton’s Thessaly series. Both have3 been widely praised, so these may not be useful recommendations, but they are good.


Peter T 07.05.18 at 1:30 pm

I stumbled across D. J. Natelson’s Wizard: Deceased recently. Very good, and his Logic’s Emporium of Stolen Memories is also good in a different vein.

J Calvin Pierce died not too long ago, which means there will never be a fourth book in the Ambermere series.

David Pilling’s The Growth Delusion (on the measurement of the economy) is proving both entertaining and informative. Adam Tooze has a book on the GFC out in August.


JFA 07.05.18 at 1:32 pm

Depends on what you’re purpose is: escape, provoking thought, learning new things.

For escape, I’d second The Fifth Season by Jemisin (though it’s sequels were not nearly as good… I am always impressed by the propensity of the Hugo Award to be given to mediocre books), Name of the Wind by Rothfuss, and (if you’re into detective novels) IQ by Joe Ide.

For thought provoking, Season of Crimson Blossoms by Ibrahim was quite good (better than a lot of other Nigerian fiction I’ve read lately), Educated: A Memoir by Westover (the tales of abuse (though not sexual… thank God) can be a bit disturbing given their quantity), and Moxyland by Beukes (hyper-capitalist South Africa a few decades in the future with the usual “underclass vs. corporate” trope but presented in a more interesting way).

To learn new things: Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore by Rockman (a bit Marxist at times, but even as a person who leans libertarian, I thoroughly enjoyed it).


rootlesscosmo 07.05.18 at 1:45 pm

Adam Hochschild, Spain in our Hearts


Ronan 07.05.18 at 1:48 pm

Pascal Boyer’s new book ‘Minds make society’ (whichI havent yet finished, but is decent so far)
Justin Gest’s The New Minority (about ‘WWC angst’ is pretty good and much ignored for some reason.)
Clair Wills Lover and Strangers (about post war immigration to the UK.)
Rania Abouzeid No Turning back (about Syria)
Ivan Krastev After Europe

(Novels wise I liked Lincoln in the Bardo, though guess most have read it by now. The Return by Hisham Matar is a good memoir. I have either Small Country
by Gaël Faye or Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi to read next..but as I havent read either yet I cant say any more)


Martin Schafer 07.05.18 at 6:59 pm

Fiction: Graydon Saunders’ Commonwealth Trilogy: The March North, A Succession of Bad Days, and Safely you deliver.

I’ve reread these multiple times in the past couple years. Unique magic system. The only fantasy I can think of where civil engineering is a vital part of the plot. A highly cooperative polity. A world full of hostile weirdness from 250,000 years of magicians trying to kill each other.


SC 07.05.18 at 10:10 pm

My favorite read of 2018, so far, is Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World (Princeton UP, 2015, PB edition 2017, https://www.amazon.com/Mushroom-End-World-Possibility-Capitalist/dp/0691178321).

I’m sympathetic to Tsing’s slice of Donna Haraway studies to begin with but I was not expecting TMATEOTW to be a book that I reread and continue to dig back into while reading other, seemingly unrelated, books. It’s illuminating about a surprising range of topics–capitalism, the US ecology movement(s), human survival, Hayak, Japanese history, the Hmong, and much more–despite being focused on one seemingly little thing, the Matsusake mushroom. Slices of TMATEOTW, taken out of context, read a bit like some of my favorite recent science fiction; I wasn’t surprised at all to see that Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a rave blurb for the PB edition.

Brief Guardian review here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/19/mushroom-end-world-anna-lowenhaupt-tsing-review

Longer (2015) Jedediah Purdy review: https://newrepublic.com/article/123059/foraging-meaning


Adam Roberts 07.07.18 at 7:26 am

It’s a fight in which, as the phrase goes, I have a dog, but I can confirm that Dave Hutchinson’s Haven and his final Europe books are both excellent.


bos 07.07.18 at 10:17 am

The Transmigration of Bodies, Yuri Herrera. Has a ‘down these mean streets vibe’, but these are properly mean streets.


LFC 07.07.18 at 11:47 am


I read The Return (well might have skipped a bit here and there). Well written, I learned some things about Libya, and parts are moving, but when it became fairly clear that the main question was not going to be answered definitively (through no fault of the author’s), I found my interest waning somewhat. Which might not be fair to the bk, but…

Plus my pb copy got kind of beaten up, which of course can’t be blamed on anyone except me.


Glen Tomkins 07.08.18 at 2:20 pm

John C. Calhoun — A Disquisition on Government

Not for its take on the real world, but so that you will be able to anticipate where the new SCOTUS majority is going to be taking us shortly.


Emma Goldman 07.08.18 at 9:31 pm

I’m just about to dive into Improbable Destinies by Jonathan Loss. It’s a survey of ongoing debates in evolutionary theory as to whether evolution under like conditions over time converges, or whether mutations admit some degree of randomness, and thus evolutionary pathways inevitably tend to diverge. The whole thing is written for the scientific layman such as myself.

One of the best books that I read this year was Marshall Berman’s All That is Solid Melts into Air. I’m very late to the party with Berman, but I was profoundly impressed by his a ability to weave together literature, sociology, history and biography into something teeming with genuine insights on every page.


Peter T 07.09.18 at 4:01 am

re 22

Forgive me, but I believe the author is Jonathan Losos. And thanks for the reference.

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