Posts in Readable
Great near-future science fiction

I just finished reading Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson’s new sci-fi novel. The first half of this 850-page book is set in the near future and is among Stephenson’s best work. It’s got cryonics, uploading the dead into Bitworld, grand media hoaxes and anti-hoaxes and counter-anti-hoaxes. The second half is a different story-within-the-story where he re-images the Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve, and Greek demigods; although a great performance, it was less satisfying. I recommend the first half of Fall, which is still 400 pages of a plausible future. — KK

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Hard science fiction

Good sign: I stayed up all night to finish Delta-V, the latest techno-thriller from Daniel Suarez. Besides being a page-turner at the end, no one has researched or described in convincing detail the logistics and science of mining asteroids in deep space as well as this book. — KK

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Population heresy

A book that recently changed my mind is Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. In great scholarly detail the authors outline the near certainty of a population implosion all around the world in the next 50 years, starting right now in Japan, Europe, and quickly moving into the rest of the developing world in the coming decade. They calculate China will lose half of its population by the end of this century, and Mexico will need to import migrants. This inverts all kinds of political assumptions. The most newsworthy book I’ve read in awhile. — KK

My favorite $1.71 paperback novel

Flatland is a novel by Edwin Abbott Abbott, published in 1884. It’s written as a biography by “A. Square,” a two-dimensional creature who is literally a living square, thinner than a sheet of paper. He lives with other two-dimensional creatures on a surface called Flatland. In the book, Mr. Square tells of his adventures in worlds of different dimensions: Pointland (zero dimensions), Lineland (one dimension), and Spaceland (three dimensions) all inhabited with creatures suited for their respective worlds. Abbott does a wonderful job of world building, explaining how the society (a satire of the Victorian society) and infrastructure of Flatland works. Even though the book was written 135 years ago, I found it very easy to read. Amazon is selling the Dover edition of Flatland for less than the price of a cup of coffee. I just bought it for my daughter. — MF

How to fake influence

I blurbed this self-published book, Under the Influence, which explains how popular influencers on social media make a living by buying fake followers, fake likes, and fake comments. It will tell you how to do all that. It was written by Trey Ratcliff, a photographer who has actual followers and real influence. I blurbed the book because it is more than just a take-down of the dark side; it’s about how to have real, enduring, positive influence by being creative, producing real engagement, and being honest. — KK

Old but still new

Twenty-five years ago I published my first book Out of Control. In celebration of this anniversary, I re-read the whole gigantic thing and picked out 100 passages to tweet, which you can find at #OoC25 (still in process). I have to say, the book is still a great read, and probably more informative today than 25 years ago. I recommend it as an easy entry into robotics, artificial life, cryptocurrency, simulations, evolution theory, and the nature of decentralized systems like the internet. If you like the tweets, you’ll want to read the book. — KK

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Bad Blood

My wife and I tore through John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood. It’s the story of Theranos, the fraudulent Silicon Valley startup that promised to revolutionize health but instead perpetrated a potentially murderous scam. The founder surrounded herself with ultrarich powerful people who were blind to obvious warning signs because they were so enamored with the idea that they were going to make billions of dollars. This real-life tale beats any fictional corporate thriller. — MF

ReadableClaudia Dawson
New ways to work

I am not into management or business books, but this one is an exception: Brave New Work. It’s an intelligent and readable summary of the best practices (so far) in remaking what we used to call “work.” Aaron Dignan evaluates all the crazy ideas (open books, no bosses, etc.) to see which ones are effective in creating organizations that get us to do our best. He distills practical advice, too. — KK

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Newsletter App

I’ve been using the Stoop app to discover and read new newsletters. It’s great to have them all in one place where I can let them pile up and read when I have the time. I’m really enjoying the Clearer Thinking newsletter, which offers tools for better decision-making. You can also find Recomendo on there! — CD

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Sampling books

Several power users of the Kindle turned me on to a great tip: load up your Kindle, or phone, with free sample chapters of any and all books you are interested in. Read the sample (usually the first) chapter and then decide if you want to buy the book. In fact, don’t buy any book until you’ve read the sample chapter. The “Send free sample” button is under the “Buy Now” button on the book’s Amazon page. — KK

ReadableClaudia Dawson
An honest book about motherhood

The Female Assumption is a raw and honest look at becoming a mother and the pressures on women to reproduce. I couldn’t put it down. Mother of 3, Melanie Holmes interviewed mothers from all over to accurately portray what happens behind the curtain of motherhood. She also includes the stories of women who have consciously chosen to not be mothers. This book is a well-balanced pros and cons list for either path, and a reminder that whatever you decide for yourself is the right choice. Every young woman should read this. — CD

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Kindle hack

I often want to read a long PDF someone sends me on my Kindle. Here is the hack to get it loaded. Use your Kindle account name to create a Kindle email as yourname@free.kindle.com. In the subject line of an email message put < convert >. Enclose the PDF and hit send. Amazon will convert the PDF to their Kindle format and it will show up in your library. Then you can select it to download to your device. The PDF on a Kindle is clunky but readable. — KK

Further refinements on the Kindle hack by two readers:

I was trying to read Ellul’s Propaganda. I downloaded it from archive.org (which is now crucial to my PDF kindle hack, including old Arthur Koestler books and other hard to find titles) Sadly it was 30MB, and the emailed file couldn’t upload. For days I sat there frustrated. Then I realized the hack: I split the PDF into two files of 15MB each and named them Propaganda Part I and Propaganda Part II. Wham, solves it. — Bryan Campen

There is an even easier way to transfer a PDF to Kindle. If you download the Kindle app for Mac or PC you can drag a PDF to the app icon (which I keep in my dock on the Mac). You can configure the app to convert to Kindle format or keep the file as a PDF. You can also choose which of your Kindle /Fire devices you want it sent to. — Len Edgerly (The Kindle Chronicles Podcast)

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Your Kindle highlights

As you read a Kindle you can, with some effort, highlight a passage. The best way to extract those passages so that you can cut and paste them later, or so you can insert the text into an article, or otherwise use a highlight as text, is to go to this page and login with your Amazon credentials. You’ll see your highlights book by book. There you select texts and copy them. Or on that page use Bookcision, a browser bookmarklet, that will download each book’s passages as a text file. — KK

ReadableClaudia Dawson
Read first pages of novels

When you go to Recommend Me a Book you are presented with the first page of a novel, but you are not told the name of the book or the author. If you don’t like what you’ve read, click “Next Book.” If you do like it, click “Reveal Title & Author,” and buy it from Amazon. I wish it let you buy a book without finding out who wrote it, so it was a surprise when it arrived in the mail. — MF

ReadableClaudia Dawson