the high sierra: a love story (kim stanley robinson)

i’m a recent convert to KSR’s stuff. i’ve loved all of it and this is no exception. this is the first bit of non-fiction i’ve read by him. honestly, i don’t know if he has more. having done a limited amount of hiking in the sierra’s, i was hooked and burned through this faster than i expected to.

a book like this makes you question your life decisions.

notes of a native son (james baldwin)

i bought this on a trip and rediscovered it on the shelf in lanesboro. it’s a quick and engaging read. there’s a lot of spot on criticism in these essays. gone are the times where we had smart dudes on TV beating each other up with intellectual arguments.

the spy who came in from the cold (john le carre)

a spy story that ages incredibly well.

desert solitaire (edward abbey)

this dude was a park ranger in the 1960s in arches national park. at times funny, at times surprisingly liberal takes on race relationsions. he doesn’t like his fellow humans. in short, full of one dude’s philosophy. i think he had a pretty solid collection of books to read when he was squirreled away in his trailer in the desert.

the swedish art of aging exhuberantly (margareta magnusson)

she seems like a nice swedish lady with all her wits about her and a penchant for practicality. honestly, a pleasant read, but not enlightening.

her notion of death cleaning though … yeah, that shit’s gold.

the optimist’s telescope (bina venkataraman)

this could have been about 60% shorter. there were many illustrative anecdotes that bounced all over the place that at times the message was lost. it feels like this should have been a long form article of the last chapter with the balance of the book being deep links to all the supporting anecdotes.

notable items:

  • corporations are being led about by the need to hit quarterly earnings targets. (dur… welcome to late stage capitalism) the durable corporations and contrarian investors have a different view here. to which i say … “where is the contrarian AI that i’ve been promised?!?”
  • we need to be taking into consideration the impacts of our actions on future generations and enshrining this in our institutions. a cogent argument can be made for a UN council to that effect. (a la - ministry for the future)
  • there’s stuff we’re doing now that will have impacts on future generations for thousands if not millions, of years. if you’re optimistic about humanity. we need a different mindset in terms of how to enable this kind of thinking and planning. e.g., the long now project, how to mark nuclear waste sites for future generation, alien visitors, et al.

how to blow up a pipeline (andreas malm)

a quick read. malm meanders about in getting to their point … yes, there needs to be a point at which violence against property likely needs to be undertaken. he appears to be very much in the doer camp here as a member of end gelande. malm is sharply critical (i think deservedly) of strategic pacifists like bill mckibben. there were several - “oh shit, i need to google that” - diversions through the course of the book. malm did his homework and i learned some really interesting adjacent history here.

notable here for me, were interesting ramblings thru the history of non-violence and how it’s whitewashing (gandhi), riddled with hypocrisy (more gandhi) and where it seemed to be effective (e.g., the civil rights protests of the 60s) it was backstopped by what looked like far more violent engagement on the back side. so … non-violence with the ever looming thread of violence.

the last chapter on avoiding despair could have been lopped off. the jonathon franzen and roy scranton despair apologists probably aren’t compelling to someone who’s plowed through 130-odd pages of disassembling mckibben hand wringing.

having read this during the recent protests in france re: their moving the retirement age back to 64 instead of 62, i’m inclined to think the french are onto something.

oh. no instructions for actually blowing up a pipeline are provided within the book.

red mars (kim stanley robinson)

yeah, still rolling on KSR. this is a pretty epic ride. there’s a lot of world building going on here and some mind-bending politics that i would really like to dig into. i don’t know if i have the strength to motor through the balance of the series.

intimations (zadie smith)

picked this up on a trip and cruised through it in a day-ish on the train. this is a fun little collection of essays from the pandemic period on by zadie smith. i’m ashamed to admit that i haven’t read any of her novels. i keep getting distracted and leaving the book at some point. but i do love her essay materials.

ending fossil fuels (holly jean buck)

this book goes all over the place. the punchline is that net zero isn’t enough. well, duh. we’ve been pumping so much carbon into the atmosphere and will continue to do so that we’re pretty effectively fucked. this does examine the complementary propositions and the politics of this from a variety of angles. much of this needs unpacking.

there was an aside about building political coalitions with the rural areas that bears revisiting.

In Defense of Public Lands: The Case against Privatization and Transfer (steven davis)

i’ve been vaguely aware of the push extractive industries have been making to get their mitts on public lands. while i happen to agree with the author, it feels like a charicature of the privatization advocates has been put forth. but … the more i dig into this, the more dead on it seems.

The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation (cory doctorow)

if you’ve been following cory doctorow for any period of time, this rides a lot of the same hobby horses. on balance there’s a lot to agree with him here. there’s not much in terms of new ground that’s trod here. this had the vibe of needing to generate cash as opposed to coming up with new concepts that get explored deeply.

to be fair, i feel like i should go back and see if i missed something. on the other hand, i’m kind of close to this stuff on a daily basis.

the comfort crisis (michael easter)

it’s been a while since i’ve read something that exploded the subsequent reading list as much as this book. i thought this was a men’s health meets malcom gladwell thing about the first 50 pages in. it got a lot more interesting than that. with discourses into hunting that were on the trivial side of things, he hits on the importance of being outdoors, how we’ve been distancing ourselves from an active life lived outdoors and our societal distancing from death. which includes a hard look at what we need to do in order to be able to live our lives more intentionally. there’s a surprising amount to unpack here in a couple of hundred pages.

unsurprisingly, there’s a substack that you can subscribe to get more info and discounts on brands that he endorses and partners with. such is late stage capitalism.

update: the substack is not worth it. there’s the occaisional link to something interesting, but i got sucked into a middle-aged, male fly trap. it’s a sandwich of adverts and co-branding dreck with enough odd nuggets to make you think there might be something in it. will not renew.

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity (peter attia)

one of the more engaging books i’ve read in a while around taking care of yourself and planning for aging. there’s a lot to dig into here. a solid review of the 4 horsemen of the american health apocalypse (diabetes, cancer, alzheimers, heart disease - not in that order.) along with mechanisms that can be employed to reduce your susceptibility to these and “training” for aging.

if anything this provides the best framework i’ve run across for thinking about how to take care of yourself as you age and things that you should be doing now.

peter attia also has a subscription podcast, etc. that feels like it might be worth the squeeze.

the thing in the snow (sean adams)

a quick and amusing satire on corporate culture and boss/peer interactions. amusing in parts, not something that i think i’d run through again.

the undertow: scenes from a slow civil war (jeff sharlet)

lots of hype, a collection of vignettes from sharlet’s travels. the following quote summarizes things here.

I mock because I can. We’re blood, after all-I am a White man. Or, at least, half, according to a neighbor of mine, Nazi Ralph, who dings me 50 percent for my Jewish father. Ralph’s a real-deal Nazi-swastika tattoos, meth eyes, and an open- carry loaded Glock 9 he says he’ll use to take care of me should I cross any of his invisible lines. But all this makes him arguably more marginal to the greater proj- ect of Whiteness than a White man like me: educated, Ivied, granted the real estate of paper and ink by a mainstream publisher. I enjoy the White male privilege that allows me to emerge from a potential scrum with the Proud Boys unscathed, to sit with Nazi Ralph and his loaded 9 while he rants White power, to mock the menace for the entertainment of my readers.

– footnote: p171

you don’t really get a sense for how pervasively held the beliefs of the whack-os featured in this book are. you can’t write these vignettes off as being all that fringe since there’s a lot of folks that seem perfectly willing to look beyond the failings and the dysfunction of the previous president, not to mention the house GOP. but i don’t know that i’d be so hyperbolic as to call this a slow civil war at the moment.

lots of cosplay, yeah. but are we now dealing with a new floor for dysfunction?

minescapes: reclaiming minnesota’s mined lands (peter kero)

a surprisingly uplifting and encouraging book. i bought it hoping to get insights into the creation of the various mountain biking trails that have been popping up around the state. (we’ve been enjoying cuyuna this year) i ended up getting a surprisingly compelling discourse on the history of mining in minnesota, early 20th century takes on conservation, and a far broader take on what the lifecycle of an iron mine looks like.

it’s pretty neat to see a shift to active management of mines as multi-purpose assets with the mining process taking this into consideration. i don’t know whether this approach survives the ravages of late stage capitalism, but the book was a fount of information and engaging history. i ended up a list of places to go mountain biking next summer.

the monkey wrench gang (edward abbey)

this is purported to be the proto-eco warrior novel. honestly, it was a bit of a slog for me. the antics seemed ill thought out and poorly conceived, but i’m down with the protagonists concerns with the natural world and the rampant industrialization that they wanted to pause, or ahem, throw the monkey wrench into the said works of. i couldn’t bring myself to grind this one out quickly. lots of stops and starts.

the idea factory: bell labs and the great age of american innovationthe idea factory: bell labs and the great age of american innovation (jon gertner)

i had to abandon this. i just could not bring myself to care and the writing was incredibly dry and uninteresting. this languished on the side table pretty much all year. only after thanksgiving was complete and i ground out “the monkey wrench gang” was i able to look at this and say, “no, just no”. it’s a shame. i have a lot of respect for bell labs and the stuff that’s come out of it. but this was an homage to middle management that had me constant glancing to the end to see how much i had to slog through still.

slouching towards bethlehem (joan didion)

worked through this whenever i opened my kindle app. it’s interesting to read some of these essays with the distance that we have in time and development from when these were written. i’ll confess, i don’t quite get the “hype” from the writings from this period, but i suspect it has more to do with a fresh young woman’s voice at the time. something that i/we take for granted now. well, that’s not accurate either. not as compelling to me as it likely is for the NY literati.

black sun (edward abbey)

definitely different from his other books. purported to be his personal favorite. he certainly appreciated the wilderness rake’s lifestyle. the writing is definitely more polished than the other stuff i’ve been reading by him, and it was (mercifully) short.

letters from a stoic (seneca)

honestly, better than i was expecting it to be. there are plenty of quotable nuggets in here. i mean everyone’s grooving on the roman empire these days. it’s even made it to SNL. what are you thinking about if you’re not thinking of rome?

on a more serious note, the letters can be a bit of a grind at times but there are some solid notes for living in this book. keeping things in perspective, not seeking excess pleasures, enjoying what you do have … etc. worth revisiting many of the themes.

his truth is marching on (jon meacham)

this was a very quick read and it, frankly, just sucked me in. there was so much i didn’t know about the late 1950s early 1960s civil rights work and conflicts. the sheer volume of shit i didn’t know is/was embarrassing. i strongly suspect we don’t want to think about the sheer volume of violence that was directed at black americans through this period. i’d like to think that it’s better by some degree now.

i suspect we kind of absorb various bits of this history from the various popular sources that we have engaged in over the years. the insights into the discussions that were taking place, the interplay between the various actors, and the violence that was taking place contemporaneously was fascinating. there’s a lot here that will stick in the mind for a while.