CyberMonday Substack sale + book recs

Just a heads up, I’ve got a CyberMonday discount at my Substack and a bunch of book recommendations on a free post.

Update: Substack wouldn’t let me post the full list without truncation so I edited it down. Here is my full list of books….

My top 10 books that bear repeat re-reading

  1. The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization (I’ve re-read this half a dozen times)
  2. Principles of Population Genetics (all you need in a pop-gen reference)
  3. In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (cognitive anthropology primer as well)
  4. From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life
  5. The Reformation (all you need)
  6. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (my man, Gregory Clark)
  7. The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (Dawkins’ narrative best)
  8. The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Language (essential Pinker)
  9. Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past (David REICH, ladies and gentlemen!)
  10. The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

 

Books I read as a teen and still remember….

  1. Einstein’s Dream: The Search For A Unified Theory Of The Universe
  2. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (Diamond in a more candid mood)
  3. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design
  4. In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics And Reality (no one understands quantum mechanics intuitively…but Gribbin is good)
  5. Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human
  6. The Sumerians
  7. The Hidden Face of God (Friedman’s meditations on the Bible are excellent)
  8. The History and Geography of Human Genes (LLCS!)
  9. The First Man in Rome (the first three books, in particular, are great in this series)
  10. Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (Naipul prefigures post-9/11 observations)

 

Books that changed my views

  1. Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present
  2. When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management (because let’s be real: smart can be evil)
  3. The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain
  4. The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics
  5. The Truth About Everything: An Irreverent History of Philosophy (a good introduction to philosophy for people who find it too dry)
  6. Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society
  7. War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires (indispensable Turchin at his best)
  8. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World
  9. Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not
  10. The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (from a legal perspective)

 

Books by some of my illustrious podcast guests

  1. The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (Marie Favereau)
  2. T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us (Carole Hooven)
  3. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)
  4. ​​Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX (Eric Berger)
  5. No One Will Miss Her: A Novel (Kat Rosenfield)
  6. Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters (Steven Pinker)
  7. The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice (Freddie DeBoer)
  8. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley (Antonio Garcia Martinez)
  9. Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War (Myra MacDonald)
  10. How the World Became Rich: The Historical Origins of Economic Growth (Jared Rubin)
  11. Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory Can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences (Alex Mesoudi)
  12. Species: A History of the Idea (John F. Wilkins)
  13. The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (Gregory Clark)
  14. Lone Survivors (Chris Stringer)
  15. Climbing the Charts: What Radio Airplay Tells Us about the Diffusion of Innovation (Gabriel Rossman)
  16. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (Matt Ridley)
  17. Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (Cathy Young)
  18. How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog (Chad Orzel)
  19. The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life (Ramesh Ponnuru)
  20. Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19 (Alina Chan and Matt Ridley again)
  21. The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (Armand Leroi)
  22. The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are (Libby Copeland)
  23. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (David Anthony)
  24. Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World (Shadi Hamid)
  25. The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (Glenn Loury)
  26. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity (Carl Zimmer)
  27. The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World (Patrick Wyman)
  28. Self-Portrait in Black and White: Family, Fatherhood, and Rethinking Race (Thomas Chatterton Williams)
  29. The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet (Ramez Naam)
  30. Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo Naledi and the Discovery That Changed Our Human Story (John Hawks)
  31. The Origins of the Irish (J. P. Mallory)
  32. 1177 B.C. – The Year Civilization Collapsed (Eric Cline)
  33. Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class (Charles Murray)

 

My top 10 books on ancient Rome

  1. History of Rome
  2. The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire
  3. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
  4. Marcus Aurelius: A Life (he’s not as admirable as you might think)
  5. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
  6. The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146 BC (the description of Cannae!)
  7. Life in Ancient Rome
  8. Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion (dry, but dense)
  9. The Last Pagans of Rome
  10. A History of the Byzantine State and Society (all you need to know a lot about the Byzantines)

 

My top 10 books on China

  1. China: A New History
  2. Early China: A Social and Cultural History
  3. The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han
  4. China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties
  5. China’s Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty
  6. The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China
  7. The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties
  8. China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing
  9. Imperial China, 900–1800
  10. Confucius: And the World He Created

 

10 classics of the wisdom of the ancients

  1. Genesis (I love the Robert Alter translation!) 
  2. The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation (The Analects are pretty compact)
  3. The Republic (very influential text, though not a huge fan personally)
  4. The Iliad: A New Translation by Caroline Alexander
  5. The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering (the source material is long, so the novel itself isn’t for the faint of heart)
  6. Gilgamesh: A New Version (the first great epic)
  7. The Thirteen Books of the Elements (Euclid is never not relevant!)
  8. History of the Peloponnesian War (it feels so modern)
  9. Summa Theologica
  10. Indika, by al-Biruni (our species’ first anthropologist)

 

If I must choose only 10 books on evolution, they’re these:

  1. Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate
  2. The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness
  3. Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives
  4. Nature’s Oracle: The Life and Work of W. D. Hamilton
  5. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (How many Matt Ridley books can I list?)
  6. The Cooperative Gene: How Mendel’s Demon Explains the Evolution of Complex Beings
  7. The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter
  8. Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
  9. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
  10. A Reason For Everything

 

Ethnographies and Anthropology

  1. Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras
  2. Arabs: A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires
  3. Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World
  4. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760
  5. All Is Change: The Two-Thousand-Year Journey of Buddhism to the West
  6. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
  7. Tribes: How Race, Religion, and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy
  8. Conquests and Cultures: An International History
  9. Catholicism and American Freedom: A History
  10. American Judaism: A History

 

Books you might be surprised I’ve read (I still recommend them!)

  1. Woman Hating
  2. Book of Mormon
  3. Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism
  4. Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church
  5. Siddartha

Subhouse clubstack, an unholy hybrid?

I recently decided to try the platform Clubhouse (you can follow me there, I’m “Razib Khan”). 

On Friday, February 12th, I’m going to hold a discussion on my two Substack Indian Genetics pieces from last month and the genetic history of India more broadly with David Mittelman and Carlos Bustamante. If you have the Clubhouse app (iPhone only so far) and would like to join us, here is the link: https://www.joinclubhouse.com/event/myoRj90W

The original pieces are available for paying Substack subscribers here:

(I’ll be online starting a few hours earlier as well, as David is hosting an event where Nick Thompson, now CEO of The Atlantic)

…meanwhile on Substack


I tend to assume my long-time readers are the first to find my content in other far-flung forums, but just in case not, I want to alert everyone to a free daily series of five pieces I’ve been releasing this week on Substack. Think of it as a little thank you to everyone who was so quick to subscribe when I launched, and a quick sampler of some of my core themes and obsessions for those still weighing whether to sign on for the Substack paid content stream (a combination of occasional deep dives in a written format + weekly (or more frequent) podcasts, as well as the gated comment community).

Whether I remember to cross-promote here on the blog or not, you’ll get automatically alerted to these occasional free releases if you’re on the free Substack list, so whether paid or free, I hope you’ll take a second to get on my Substack list today.

Day 1, I surveyed the evolving landscape of biotech:

In the late 2000s Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen made waves arguing that technological progress had declined since the middle of the 20th century. Having spent my adulthood in the period between 2000 and 2020, I was quite open to the idea. I watched the Jetsons. We don’t live in the world of the Jetsons.

Day 2, I made the case that to begin to understand China today, you really need to know your Zhou, a pervasive influence on Chinese society down to the present day that dates back 3000 years:

It’s a meme that China has “5,000 years of history.” This is false. The first historically attested dynasty is the Shang, which emerged approximately 3,600 years ago. And even the Shang are semi-historical, insofar as many of the details of the Shang society and state are known only superficially. The Shang are shadows to us, not flesh and blood narratives.

Day 3, Today, IQ gets its due: I look back over centuries of human achievement and interest in such measurement. And then I examine what history suggests might await us as we pitch out this long-used bulwark against entrenched elite hoarding of prestige opportunities:

Homo sapiens are very smart. They are very smart because they have large brains. This is not controversial. In relation to our body size, humans have bulging craniums housing large brains. About 20% of our caloric intake feeds our brain when we’re resting even though it’s only 2% of our body weight. It’s a calorically expensive organ.

Day 4 and Day 5 remain.

And if you’re one of those still considering whether to sign up for the paid Substack or whether to give it as a gift this holiday season, now’s a good time to lock in the forum’s lowest allowed pricing. I’ll be adjusting it up after the new year.

Unsupervised Learning Update

Just a quick update. I’ve put up a couple of podcasts at the substack for subscribers. I’ll be “front-loading” the podcasts before getting into a ~1 week groove. I will ungate after a few weeks and port them over to a new podcast that will push to Apple, etc.

The first substack essay I’m planning is a “short history of the world: genetics edition.” Basically, it will be a “core dump.” I think it will be “news you can use” for a lot of people.

Thanks to all the readers who subscribed! Lots of familiar emails.