The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World

I really enjoyed this book. Wohlleben works in forest management, and has written a wonderful book on all the weird ways in which trees adapt to their environments and communicate with each other (using chemical signals, electric signals, etc.). It contains a ton of strange info – for example, apparently some bug-infested trees will chemically signal parasitoids to come eat the bugs that are harming the tree. The author also claims that old trees are more disease resistant because they can communicate with each other about what pathogens have entered the area.

Wohlleben occasionally gets a little sappy and mystical about forestry, but all of his serious claims are either backed by scientific evidence or have a disclaimer that they’re just something he suspects is true.

The Hidden Life of Trees (Wohlleben)

Cartoon History of the Universe Volumes 1-7

I decided I’m gonna plow through these. This one was as good as the first, but with the same (in my opinion) tendency to sometimes rely entirely on myth for parts of the story. To Gonick’s credit, he tends to point out when he does this, but to me it makes the stories less enjoyable, insofar as they’re presented as history. Still, quite good, and I feel like I’m learning a lot from his art style.

A Cartoon History of the Universe (book 2) (Gonick)

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

This is A+ non-fiction. This book is a history of the idea that you can sell attention for money, using content as merely the attractor of the attention. Wu traces the whole history of this concept from early newspaper sales tactics, through war propaganda techniques, on through Google, Facebook, and so forth.

One thing I really appreciate is that Wu isn’t explicitly arguing that the paradigm of attention sales is a bad one – he’s asking us to deal with what it means. I wish everyone in tech would take a peek at this book.

The Attention Merchants (Wu)

Born on the Fourth of July

One of the great Vietnam memoirs, which I hadn’t yet read. This book is a bit more dreamlike than some of the others, dealing not just with war stories, but with his attempt to adjust back to society afterward despite an injury that leaves him paraplegic. In a sense, that makes this book a bit more unique (and perhaps timely) than a lot of other Vietnam memoirs, in that it’s really more about what war does to you *after* you get home.

Born on the Fourth of July (Kovick)

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution (Pt. 1)

I vaguely remember reading this as a kid, but I picked it up again on a friend’s suggestion and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s really not so much a history of the world as a bit of illustrated info on a bunch of really interesting points in time.

The one strike against it is that it’s often, well, a bit wrong. Some of this is because it’s simply out of date, but (for example) at one point he mentions the infamous Aquatic Ape hypothesis, and it wasn’t (I don’t think!) as a joke.

The Cartoon History of the Universe (volume 1) (Gonick)

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)

A very good book, which is in some sense a different take on Tyler Cowen’s Great Stagnation theory. Gordon’s book is much longer and quite extensive in detailing why, in his view, growth was abnormally high during the middle 20th century and part of the early 21st century, but has otherwise been disappointing. Somewhat depressing, but very enlightening. If it’s not something you’re interested in, you’ll find it painfully tedious, but if it’s a topic you’re curious about, it’s fantastic.

Nov 11 – The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Gordon)

Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works

Gruber is the economist who was the architect of the ACA, also called Obamacare. This comic was apparently written as a sort of guide for the public. It’s unfortunately pretty awful. It summons up complex topics, then dismisses them in a hand-wavey sort of way. The art doesn’t do much to supplement the topic. And, in general, it feels like it was crafted hastily without much thought for the craft of a good comic. Too bad, because I was interested in the topic!

November 8 – Health Care Reform (Gruber, Schreiber, Newquist)