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Important and Useful Books

(IMHO)These Books are the Most Authorative Works in their Fields


The Retreat to Committment By W. W. Bartley III

Most of the philosophers who wrote about epistemology thought the questions they were trying to answer was "What do we know?" or "How do we know anything?". Karl Popper explained that the important question to address is closer to "How should we decide what to believe?" His answer was Critical Rationalism, which says that you subject all your (proposed) answers to criticism, and see which ones stand up best.

Bartley fixed a bug in Popper's system. Religious people had responded to Popper by claiming "Everyone has to have faith in something. You have faith in your Critical Rationalism, I have faith in the Word of God." Bartley's fix is Pan-Critical Rationalism. The fix is to subject the Critical Rationalism to criticism as well. The book has a very long section explaining what Bartley thinks the best attacks on PCR would be, and then defending it against them. At the end, he concludes that PCR is the most effective system he can find for getting better answers to questions, and that that's the best criteria he's found for evaluating a way of thinking.


The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Pinker argues eloquently and well that language is innate in humans. Fascinating.


Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett

Dennett has been trying to understand and explain consciousness for a long time. He succeeds here in showing what consciousness is and why it feels the way it does. One of the most impressive parts is that he manages to convince readers (well, at least me) that our intuitions don't hold much water.


Leadership: Managing in Real Organizations by Leonard Sayles

My favorite book on managing. Explains why manager's jobs are important even when they are constantly being interrupted from what they think is their real work, and why it should be that way. Also explains how to be effective in managing real people in real organizations. This is a book I always buy multiple copies of to give away to new managers I work with.


No Sense of Place by Joshua Meyrowitz

I never understood what McLuhan was trying to tell us about media. Meyrowitz makes sense. His explanation is that one of the most important effects of media is based on which social boundaries they erase and which they reinforce. He goes through several examples and shows what he means.

The most important example obviously, is television. Meyrowitz explains that the effect of TV is to erase and obscure social boundaries in a completely uncontrolled and uncontrollable way. Programs that are intended for adults will be seen by children, those intended for professionals and the sophisticated will be seen by the uninitiated, etc. The effect is to take away the ability for groups to have shared secrets, if they communicate using this medium.

He doesn't manage to explain why television is aimed at the lowest common denominator, why it makes people passive, and other important aspects, but what he does explain is very important.


The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

Read Dawkins if you want to understand evolution. There are other writers who understand, but Dawkins explains it better. Evolution is blind and random. It's a process that has no goal; it's not striving to produce "better creatures" or anything else. Fitter creatures appear and reproduce because they survive better.

The Theory of Investing

A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel

Some will disagree, but I've become convinced that anything I know that the SEC will let me use in the stock market is already known to the market. Count on long term growth, but don't plan on beating the market in any short term trading.

The Practice of Investing

The Handbook for Noload Investors by Sheldon Jacobs

The complete guide for investors in no-load mutual funds. His monthly newsletters helps you track the performance of funds within sectors. If you don't have time for this or Malkiel, put your money in a broad market index (like the S & P 500) and wait.


The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher

Everything you need to know to hike safely on your own or with a group and have fun.


How to be Your Dog's Best Friend by The Monks of New Skete

Thinking about getting a dog? Already have one? The Monks of New Skete can explain how to select a dog, how to take care of it, and what you need to know to get along with it.

Innateness of IQ

The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray

I didn't want to read this book, because I expected Murray to convince me that IQ was innate and at least somewhat related to race. I was right.

The important substance of the book doesn't really have much to do with race, though. (It's only dealt with in one of the chapters.) The rest of the content is much more important.

The book's most important contention is that in modern society, intelligence matters more than in previous societies. As a consequence, we've gotten much better at detecting and rewarding intelligence. The larger rewards cause a very high percentage of intelligent people-no matter their backgrounds-to gravitate to occupations where they will earn greater rewards.

Together with the evidence the authors present that intelligence has a significant genetic component (quite apart from the racial/ethnic component), one of the most serious implications arises from their observation that the great success in locating smart people and selecting them for more rewarding occupations means that many groups will lose their wise leaders. Imagine how society will look if there are significately fewer wise old people in poor neighborhoods, smart gang bosses among manual laborers, experienced hands on the machine shop floor, etc.

It's not clear that anything can be done, but it's a scary prospect for us all to consider all these important occupations in which, even more certainly than that the average level of intelligence is lagging, it's clear that the first people to go will be the ones that everyone else used to go to advice.

Traveller's guide to European Art

Europe 101 by Rick Steves

Planning to travel to Europe? Forgotten most of what you ever learned about history and art? Steves does a wonderful job of explaining the development of techniques and styles over the ages so you can better understand what you'll see in the museums and cathedrals. As I explain in my page on my favorite local place for art, you have to understand what the artist was trying to do or to rebel against and what else was being done when the work was done in order to have a sense for great art.


I'm part of a reading group that meets approximately monthly.