I haven't read a ton of "history of the world" books, but this was fascinating. Highly recommended. I think the author is incredibly good at explaininI haven't read a ton of "history of the world" books, but this was fascinating. Highly recommended. I think the author is incredibly good at explaining and simplifying big concepts. He take on complex things like religion & capitalism and explains them in very simple terms that you likely hadn't thought about before.
There was a fascinating bit on the scientific mindset, and how it was key to Europe taking power. After the scientific revolution, they believed in science and its ability to let man discover new things, make more money, etc. This made them into explorers, whereas many other cultures remained very static. Great example of China having had gunpowder for hundreds of years but not using it for anything other than fireworks, and didn't invent the gun. Reminded me a bit of the Mindset.
The chapter on capitalism was fascinating. There line about before its invention that the economy didn't grow, and was "frozen" as nobody poured money into new things, so there was no growth. Then the notion of credit was discovered, and as growth started, the combination snowballed. In 1500 the annual per capita production was $550 and today its $8,800 - this is an astounding increase, and all because of the virtuous growth cycle of capitalism: money is invested -> businesses grow -> people make money -> they invest their money. I never thought about the fact that reinvesting profits is a core piece of capitalism, but from this lens it really is.
What I didn't see coming is how the end of the book was dedicated to human happiness. Fascinating questions to ask if we are happier today than 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. By metrics of death rate, average age of death and general health, we ought to be. But clearly peasants after the agricultural revolution were on average less happy than they were before as hunter-gatherers. And now we live in an always-on internet age, with pressure to continue growing our economy. So are we happier? It is the right question, in my opinion. The book then gave the basics of the happiness framework that I've also read in other places and believe in: that people are happy when they have 3 things: (1) Friends and family that love them (2) Are part of a community that makes them feel like they below (3) have a purpose to their life and feel like they are doing something meaningful. However, the book then adds onto this in another way that I have been learning about but hadn't put together with this: meditation.
I really enjoyed this book, and there is a lot to recommend it. It did drag on a little at the end so I knocked off 1 star - but overall a wow book.
ItI really enjoyed this book, and there is a lot to recommend it. It did drag on a little at the end so I knocked off 1 star - but overall a wow book.
It's the story of a starship sent to Tau Ceti - the nearest star that has Earth analog planets - to colonize it. The journey there will take generations, and the story is told of the 3rd & 4th (?) generations, which are the ones that reaches Tau Ceti. It is a story of purpose, and how having a purpose affects behavior. A story of politics, and people.
The first cool thing about this book is the richness of its world. The ship is intricate and large in its design and ambition to shepherd ~1200 people for that much time. It had 3D printers that can print almost anything you can imagine - even DNA - or more printers - so little goes lacking that can't be recreated.
But the thing that makes this book brilliant is the Ship. The AI that controls the ship, who is narrating the book by the end. It's observations about humans and our language are just brilliant. It starts with the astute observation that human language is very imprecise, and relies heavily on metaphor and analogy. It is remarkable once you start to reflect on it, how true that is. To hear the AI reflect on this:
Basically we are a bunch of pattern matchers, trying to match things we've seen before to new things, and if they don't match perfectly, it doesn't matter, because matching helps us bucket and organize the new information. But this is incredibly fuzzy! The AI also makes hilarious observations like this:
Listening to the AI try to reason is also very interesting to my programmers mind. I especially loved it's discussion of the meaning of life - it really nails it. If a program (or a person) has no objective, it has no purpose, no meaning, no organizing principle, and it's existence will be in trouble. But if you have that meaning to organize your thoughts & actions - or your subroutines - than you have a purpose. Meaning is the hard problem indeed.
"We had a project on this trip back to the solar system, and that project was a labor of love. It absorbed all our operations entirely. It gave a meaning to our existence. And this is a very great gift; this, in the end, is what we think love gives, which is to say meaning. Because there is no very obvious meaning to be found in the universe, as far as we can tell. But a consciousness that cannot discern a meaning in existence is in trouble, very deep trouble, for at that point there is no organizing principle, no end to the halting problems, no reason to live, no love to be found. No: meaning is the hard problem."
(view spoiler)[My review focuses a lot on the AI, but that's not the main thrust of the book. The war between stayers and leavers, the political tensions, the slinghot maneuvers to get back - all make the book worth reading. And as a surfer, I love how it ends with Freya finding meaning in surfing waves. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more