What I've been reading
You might call a lot of this my Helen DeWitt reading list.
Because Internet, Gretchen McCulloch History and explanation of internet language, written by a linguist. Comparisons of the way different generations of people joined the internet and how that changes their usage, e.g. older people who separate parts of a message with markers like ,,,,,, or ..... which is incomprehensible to younger users. (It turns out, older people do that in their letters and postcards, so it's a transfer of informal language online.) Something interesting on every page including when emojis act as emblems, how punctuation gets verbalised, or how Japanese people use tildes (∼) at the end of words to create the equivalent of yessss.
Hackers & Painters, Paul Graham Probably all available on his website, along with all of his other excellent essays, this collection of Paul Graham's is worth having by your bed. Tech and its associated industries is so badly misunderstood by most intelligent people that a book like this ought to be more popular. Graham talks about how hackers are much more like creative people (painters and writers) than they are like technical people, contra the stereotype among humanities graduates.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte Every page of this book is a complete joy. You learn about the principles of presenting data properly and about whatever it is Tufte has used as his illustration, be it the losses of Napoleon's army as it marched through Russia or the correlation between the length of an organism at time of reproduction and gestation period. On the whole, corporate data presentation does not come out of this looking too good, by implication. I plan on reading his other three books.
Some Trick, Helen DeWitt As Tyler Cowen said, these are stories written for smart people. There are lines of code, graphs of normal distribution, and maths formulas in the stories. The humour is so pitiless she makes Jonathan Swift look like a children's entertainer. I wish she had published another half a dozen books.
Against the Gods, Peter Bernstein 'The revolution idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk.' Another idea that most otherwise intelligent people not only cannot explain bu show no awareness of in their lives, is risk, or probability. Everyone can read and understand this book and come away from it feeling like they just found twenty five IQ points.
High Wages, Dorothy Whipple Novel about a young woman whose energy and ability take her from impoverished shop girl to successful entrepreneur. Set between during and after WWI. More novels ought to be able to write with understanding about how economics affects peoples' lives. This is a good story without an agenda that shows us how business really works and how talent has to fight to succeed. Modern fiction of this sort tends to be a boring recitation of social democracy with rich characters who are greedy and the downtrodden virtuous working zero hours. Perhaps that's a sort of amateur reading of Dickens that makes novelists think they have to perpetuate some sort of tradition. As with many of these sorts of books (such as The Enchanted April) the writing and especially the dialogue are stiff and unnatural. Partly that's just the way writing was at this time. I found this book on a list of fiction about economics I am sporadically working through. I will probably read a few more of Whipple's books.
How to Live, Sarah Bakewell I'd been meaning to read this for ten years and finally got round to it recently. I wish I had read it sooner. What a wonderful book. Montaigne is so real and the prose is so clear. The book uses philosophy, information and discussion based on Montaigne's essays to write his life in twenty chapters. It's a readable, vivid, compelling book of practical philosophy.
Ghostwritten, David Mitchell A series of stories about entirely different people in different parts of the world linked by chance events. Mentioned as a good companion read to The Last Samurai by A.S. Byatt. I put this down and forgot to pick it up, but I plan to go back to it. The first third was excellent, covering people in terrorists sects, people seeing ghosts, teenagers who fall in love.
Two books I abandoned intentionally were The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K.Chesterton and The Secret Passage by Fergus Hume. The Chesterton is a sort-of thriller but with his trademark wit and I'm just not in the mood. There's only so much of that frivolous intelligence one can take. The Hume seemed like it was going to have an obvious ending and it was too long. However, for crime fiction readers they are both worth a go. I also flicked through Murder at the Manor, a collection of country house mysteries, which are central to the genre (Sherlock Holmes said the country has more wickedness than the city because people are isolated and free to be evil). Some of the solutions are very good but I prefer my country house mysteries to be a bit more of a weekend party poisoning, and these were often tangentially set in the house.