What I've been reading
I’ve been meaning to make a list of the admittedly few books that I’ve been reading, so I don’t forget which pages I’ve already turned. (I have the memory of a gold fish.) On top of that I’m a bit of a slow reader, so it can feel like I’m reading my first book in a while… all the time. Thus, the following list will be expanded with old and new literature of mine whenever I have the time and muse to comment on any of it.1
Less is More by Jason Hickel
My goal for 2023 has been to be a bit more optimistic about the world at large. The first part of this book did not help with that, as I was again reminded of what some people still don’t seem to know: Given finite resources, perpetual growth leads to disaster. This was by no means a waste of time though, as Hickel quite ingeniously illustrates the mechanics behind historic capitalism and neoliberalism and its relation to exploitation without coming off as an ideologue. I was very delighted when the book presented me with a few, short chapters of concrete proposals at the beginning of the second part, brightening my short commute every morning. Although I feel it romanticizes indigenous societies a bit too much in the end which could alienate some readers. As much a book about environmentalism as it is about economics, philosophy and social justice, it is a must-read for anyone who wants to critically examine the status quo with the hope of meaningful change.
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
Already Douglas Adams wrote of the Golgafrinchans in his Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who rid themselves of their “useless” workers such as telephone sanitizers. However, Adams frames useless jobs as judged by others, whereas Graeber’s book is about uselessness as perceived by the worker. There is not much more to say about this book, as the reader will probably just keep nodding along all the way through, but what consequences should one draw from this? Are we really brave enough to make the necessary changes to solve the underlying systemic problems? COVID-19 was a chance to see which jobs truly are not bullshit and which might be, but it was so comfortable to just go back to business as usual.
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Oh boy, that one’s a doozy. As somebody who is very much convinced of working quantitatively, this book struck a chord with me. While I will tell you that I did not fall for all of the (trick) questions that Rosling poses in his opening survey, I was amazed at the use of statistics and visualization with which he illustrates recent human development. This however sadly concludes my praise for the book, as I find its anti-alarmist message is just too easily abused and those who too work with data day in and day out can attest to how easy it is to pick and choose what you like. I will, of course, extend Hanlon’s razor to the late Rosling and assume that he is unaware of his own bias and that of fellow “new optimists”. And so, while I think this book is undoubtedly an entertaining and also informative read, I would have much preferred a more critical approach highlighting potential pitfalls and biases as is customary in good scientific work.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Read by many, this book has been a viral sensation ever since it came out in 2011. Having only read the German translation, but also having watched some of Harari’s speaking engagements, I can attest to the engaging style of his work. For me, the main realization was the importance of stories for human societies which is emphasized throughout the book. Viewing religion, political ideologies and economic structures through this lens is a compelling idea and I feel that this approach by the author may be very compatible with other philosophies, which could explain its popularity.
Der Beginn der Barbarei in Deutschland by Bernard von Brentano
This historic account of the precarious conditions in Weimar Germany during the twenties is a sobering reminder of what a powderkeg awaited the match that would be the fascist uprising. Brentano describes the impossible economic realities facing German workers in excruciating detail. At times, it can be a bit hard to read through pages of tables and statistics in German, but this does not take away from the message that is being conveyed. Everyone interested in history, economics and anti-fascism should consider this book about history, written as it was happening.
…and other stuff I didn’t get to yet
This means probably not very regularly ;) ↩︎