Reading Classics

It’s coming up on a year since I graduated from NYU, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the benefits of college that are hard to reproduce once you leave. The two that I’ve been focussing on are (a) being around a lot of smart, driven people, and (b) learning a lot in a short space of time.

Despite their shortcomings*, I think that books are the best tools for acquiring knowledge. I think that we’re not discerning enough when it comes to choosing those books, but I suspect they’re still miles ahead of the competition — TED Talks, interviews, lectures on YouTube, or even blog posts from knowledgeable experts.

I’ve been thinking of strategies to optimize reading, making it less of a slog. I’ve joined a business book club to figure out if having that discussion and community is the secret to reading more, and I’m interested in seeing how it develops.

DYvPJMQVAAE9CWp.jpg large.jpegAs well as trying to read more books, I’m also trying to read better books. I didn’t take many classes in college that required me to read many classics, and I’ve been thinking of the best way to rectify that shortcoming. A few weeks back, I learned about the “Great Books” program at St. John’s College, which is focussed on reading the great works of Western civilization (you can get the book list on their Wikipedia page and see the schedule of the reading from their webpage).

Over the four years, students chart a course from Homer to Ptolemy to Descartes, through Smith, Kant, and Austin, and on to Du Bois, Woolf, and Faulkner. The list is daunting, both because these books aren’t exactly beach reads, and because of the expectation that you’ll read around 150 such works in four years.

So I’m setting myself a new goal, parallel to “read 100 books in 2018”, which is to have the St. John’s list finished in the four years they allot to students. As part of my tangential goal to blog more in 2018, I’ll also post updates on what I’m reading here. You can read some thoughts on “The Everything Store” here.

And now — on I go to Homer.

* One of the oft-repeated claims about books is that they’re becoming too long, but I think this criticism is generally misguided. Give me a tome over a TED Talk any day.

Review: “The Everything Store,” Brad Stone

I have more to write about books generally, but I wanted to check in and write some notes on Brad Stone’s chronicle of Amazon’s rise.

The book’s a solid contender to be the history on Amazon’s early days. It’s deeply sourced, well written (I read it in two four-hour sittings), and gives a good view-from-30,000-feet of Amazon’s first decade and change in existence.

There’s just one major problem.

If you’re looking for a history of Amazon’s development, it’s a solid read. If you’re trying to get a sense of the man in the eye of the hurricane, you’re going to be disappointed.

Two main reasons why this is bad:

  1. The book can capture the when, where, and how, but not the why. Jeff Bezos is central to Amazon, and many of his staff and family were interviewed, but not the man himself. We never get a look inside his head. Compare this book unfavorably to Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson.
  2. Jeff Bezos is so much more —and, in many ways, more interesting— than Amazon. He’s in Blue Origin, he’s in the Washington Post, he’s giving “$33 million” to dreamers. If you’ll excuse the space pun, he’s escaped Amazon’s orbit in a big way:

“He’s getting thanked at the Golden Globes and targeted by presidential tweet tantrums — not even Steve Jobs had that kind of pop-culture currency.”
—Margaret O’Hara, professor of history at the University of Washington, in a January 2018 profile of Jeff Bezos.

I read this book as part of Niall Harbison’s business book club. I’m excited to see what’s next, and I’ll have some more book-related news coming soon.

Hello World!

It’s 2018, blogging is dead — long live blogging.

(I refuse to use Medium.)

I don’t write as much as I’d like to, and so I’m returning to the scene of the crime and setting up a blog again. On WordPress. Yes, I know: 2008 called and they want their habits back.

But that’s okay! I’m working on becoming a better writer and a better thinker, and starting a blog again seems like a good way to encourage myself to do both.

I’m down in San Francisco this week, working on Tor stuff remotely as most of the crew heads to Rome for our biannual all-hands. It’s a good chance to burrow down and get some good writing done.

More TK, as they say.

Currently reading: Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, by Ryan Holiday.