Homelessness is a Housing Problem

This is the particular kind of science that ought to be encouraged and supported. It’s one thing to expand humanity’s understanding and knowledge in a general sense. It’s another to investigate competing claims about causes of and solutions to the ills of society. Public policy must be subject to scientific scrutiny. We shouldn’t guess, we shouldn’t appeal to emotion. We should do what works, or we will be overtaken by those that do. Colburn and Aldern have done the math, made some conclusions, and written them up for broad consumption.

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Cover of Noise by Kahneman

Kahneman has done some great research, and it is a tragedy that such useful research is represented by such poor writing. This book is a slog. The authors are still defining the titular “noise” come page 72. I do not know which of the three is to blame for this travesty (I’m generally inclined to point a finger in the direction of the editor), but this book is inexcusably long and laborious. I do not recall having such a hard time with “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, but as I am in no position to hold anyone directly accountable, I will not belabor blame. I will belabor the tragedy of bad writing.

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Cover of Exercised by Daniel Lieberman

Exercise in the modern world has been commodified. The people talking about it the most are some of the least trustworthy. Daniel Lieberman has taken a step back from the fitness-industrial complex and asked the elephantine question: Are homo sapiens even supposed to exercise? Through the lenses of anthropology and evolution, he has untangled exercise from modern culture. The result is an enlightening journey through history, civilization, and biology.

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Cover of Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil

This is a tight volume describing and decrying some of the ways we misuse technology, specifically mathematical models. O’Neil has both the academic and industry experience to give us a clear picture of what’s going on and why it’s terrible. And it is terrible. She wastes no time explaining models and their misuse, where they are being misused, and what it is costing us. This is a concise and thorough account, and there’s little more to say. The only criticism I will raise is the title. Calling these misused models “Weapons of Math Destruction” or “WMDs” is obviously easily confused with the other kind of WMD, and it is a clumsy name in both cases. Naming things is hard, but writing books is harder, and O’Neil can be forgiven the awkward name for she has written an important book.

Cover of The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future starts with bang, and then plods for the remainder of its considerable length. This is a strange book, even for KSR. It has a non-fiction feel but not to its benefit. It is reminiscent of Neal Stephenson at times with its giddy exploration of technology. In fact, it might be better to describe this as a collection of ideas for re-engineering society and geoengineering rather than a novel. This is a brainstorm-your-way-out-of-climate-catostrophe session brought to life. It’s the meaty fare late-night change-the-world conversations are made of, but while interesting, this particular meal is unsatisfying.

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Cover of Breath by James Nestor

History is a funny thing. We like to think that civilization advances, that progress only goes in one direction, but reality is more complex than that. New things are learned, discoveries are made, truths uncovered, but just because someone somewhere learns something doesn’t mean everyone everywhere hears about it or remembers it. In Breath, Nestor has done some invaluable detective work; looking closely at something we all do every minute of our lives but that few of us have thought much about. He has done some hard journalism in a world of mysticism. The result is some fascinating history, a few great anecdotes, a generous helping of compelling evidence, and new questions to go with every answer.

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Cover of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

While better than the first, “The Last Graduate” is still a little shaky. The waves of exposition have been replaced by swells of action, but the story still suffers from the struggles of a first-person narrative: we are smothered by an internal monologue. This leaves other characters feeling a little thin. When your main character is prickly and stand-offish, it’s hard to spend much quality time with anyone else.

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How to Raise an Adult by Julia Lythcott-Haims

It is hard to see yourself. More specifically, it is hard to see your biases in the context of the great sweep of history. It takes a concerted effort to realize your faults and failings when they are part of your identity. Books on raising children have been around a very long time and this is another one. Everyone has an opinion on what is best for a child, what they need. Lythcott-Haims has somewhat inverted this by writing about what kind of adults we are producing and working backwards to identify what we are doing wrong. This is very satisfying both logically and practically.

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