2021 Recommended Reads
These are the books from the past year that I both read and enjoyed enough that I would encourage someone to get their hands on a copy. In my personal, arbitrary rating system, these were the books that I gave a 5/5 to.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
This was the first book I read after completing my master’s degree, and its dedication appropriately reads, “For anyone who could use a break.” It stands out as my favorite fiction book of the year because it presents a Luddite vision of the world where a non-violent Butlerian Jihad took place and the world got better. Each page has something lovely, refreshing, or revelatory.
The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
If you want an enjoyable space opera by an author who excels at exploring the interiority of both human and non-human creatures, Becky Chambers delivers. This is a great start to her Wayfarer Series.
Is AI Good for the Planet? by Benedetta Brevini
In about 100 pages, Benedetta Brevini explains how AI is harming the planet. The first two thirds of the book lay the foundations and economics of the current AI hype cycle. The latter third of the book details precisely how our current pursuits of AI will only worsen climate change and bring it about faster. There are plenty of great primers on AI, but if you want a text that covers a brief history that is replete with sources and focuses on climate change, this is a good first text.
How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism by Cory Doctorow
How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism is a book length response to Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Doctorow agrees that we face difficult challenges regarding technology and capitalism, but fears her diagnosis of the problem will lead us down an incorrect path.
Zuboff notes that everything that Big Tech says about itself is probably a lie, but Doctorow points out that she makes one exception: the stated efficacy of Big Tech products. He asks: is it possible that instead of them having products that persuade people to buy things, Big Tech instead has a monopoly over both communications and commerce?
Using a materialist analysis, Doctorow goes on to explore why these monopolies persist and what to do about them. He suggests our primary choices are to either regulate them in such a way that only giant companies could possibly comply, or return to an era of robust antitrust.
Minitel: Welcome to the Internet by Julien Mailland & Kevin Driscoll
Mailland and Driscoll take us through the history of Minitel, France’s early internet that preceeded the US system by a decade. While the Minitel system eventually shut down, the history presented is crucial for expanding how we think about the history of our present internet and what it could be.
Post-Growth Living For an Alternative Hedonism by Kate Soper
Kate Soper challenges the notion that the necessary reductions in consumption needed to address the climate catastrophe need not be a puritanical pleasure denying endeavor. By providing for our more basic needs (food, housing, recreation, etc.) in a way that is sustainably reproduced (sometimes through slower methods), she argues that post-growth living could return to us the pleasures we are currently denied. In order for resource attrition to decline, people, goods, and information must slow down first. Reducing the amount we consume, would reduce the amount we feel we need to work and encourage us to once again participate in the arts of living and relating to one another.
The Circle of the Snake by Grafton Tanner
In The Circle of the Snake Grafton Tanner takes on nostalgia. He looks at the events that have shaped the first two decades of the 21st century in the United States, namely, 9/11 and the Great Recession, and explores how our current systems have us yearning for a mythical past that never existed and how this yearning hurtles us towards fascism.
Blockchain Chicken Farm And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside by Xiaowei Wang
Through evocative prose, family history, and interviews across China, Xiaowei Wang’s work highlights the innovations, challenges, impacts, and triumphs of people and their relationship to the technology sphere. From chicken farms, to online pearl parties, to the ideology behind innovation in Shenzen, Wang details each of these stories with clarity and never fails to acknowledge the underlying social, political, or environmental problems that these stories are caught up in. The only other thing to say about this is that Blockchain Chicken Farm is hands down my favorite non-fiction book of the year.