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Let’s crowd-source a list of books that people have found useful — particularly books outside of the “EA canon.” So please share some books that you like or have found useful!

You could also ask for recommendations on particular topics. 

There are already some book recommendations on the Forum (see also LessWrong) — but many people probably haven’t seen those, and it’s been a while since the last thread like this. Even if a book has already been mentioned or discussed on the Forum, I’m probably still happy to see it here. (If it’s got its own topic page, it’s probably too well known, although I don’t mind those getting added, either, if you want to provide some commentary.)

Suggested format & info to include: 

Consider using the following formats, but feel free to modify them if that's more useful:

If you’re recommending a book — see also my comment:

[Hyperlinked title] by [Author]

What/who it’s for/context: [Go here]

Why/my thoughts: [Go here]

Other notes: [Go here (are there good reviews you’re aware of?)]

If you’re asking for a recommendation — see also my comment:

🔭 Looking for good books [on topic]

Some notes on why I’m interested: [Notes]

See also:

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8 Answers sorted by

The War with the Newts by Karel Čapek

What: This is a satirical science fiction book from 1936. (Link.)

Why: I think the book is excellent, is surprisingly on point for existential risk & non-human welfare (and the backwards way that this is approached), and more. I wrote a review of it on the Forum a while back.[1] Quoting myself: “Don’t read this book to efficiently learn what you need to know about non-human sentience or x-risk. But if you’re searching for different ways of thinking about those phenomena (and of making them real to yourself), I think this could be a great experience.”

  1. ^

    (The fact that I love this book is basically a meme in some social circles.)

People often ask me how to get started with user interviews. Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez is unusually practical and helpful (particularly chapters 4-6).

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking) by Christian Rudder

What/who it’s for/context: This is vaguely sociological, in that is describes human behavior, but this is focused on a field that many people care about very much yet have very little data about: dating. If you enjoyed The Signal and the Noise or Nudge or Predictably Irrational, then you'll likely enjoy this. It uses dating as a canvas, but my understanding of the book is the core ideas are about interpreting data and observing behavior, and data is simply the context used to explain these things. So to be clear: it isn't really a book about dating; it is about data. It is a fascinating look at how people actually act. Notably, it is from an era before Tinder exploded in popularity and changed the habits of daters, with most of the data gathered from about 2005 to 2014.

Why/my thoughts: While the factoids are interesting, I think that the biggest takeaway from this book is (simplified): look at what people do, not what they say. The fact that people are not always honest is a great lesson that can be applied to many areas of life.

Other notes: Many sections of the book are based on old blog posts which are not longer accessible from OkCupid, presumably taken down when Cristian Rudder sold/left OkCupid as a part of the new leadership managing their image/optics (because users don't generally like to be reminded that their data gets analyzed). Much of the content has been archived and is still accessible, so if you want a 5-minute sampling of what the topic of this book is like, you can see some of that here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

What: Non-fiction tour of the history and theory of information.

Why: The book makes you rethink information — what it is, how it functions, and the roles it plays in everything. Gleick does a fantastic job of breaking down technical subjects to a layperson's level. I think everyone who's broadly curious would love it, but those who'd get the most out of it are those who've been habitually stumped by anything technical. His writing is beautiful, understandable, and legitimately interesting — and the content is absolutely fascinating.

🔭 Looking for good content on the SEC and in general ~how regulation in the US works — I'd be happy for good content that focuses on a topic like reducing carbon emissions and covers sub-topics like how that's gone, how it happened, how the SEC checks anything and exerts pressure on companies, etc. 

Context: I don't know much about regulation beyond having read some articles and posts that I've come across, and am interested in having a better understanding of how it works for engaging with proposals for AI regulation/evals/standards

🔭 Same (also looking for good content on financial regulation), but for a different topic — forecasting/prediction markets. Would love reccs!

🔭 Looking for good book on Octopus Behavior

Criteria: Scientific (which rules out The Soul of an Octopus), up to date (which mostly rules out Octopus: Physiology and Behaviour of an Advanced Invertebrate.

Why: I've heard claims that octopuses are quite intelligent, with claims going so far to attribute transmitting knowledge between individuals. I'd like to know more about how similar and different octopus behavior is from human behavior (perhaps shedding light on the space of possible minds/fragility of value).

🔭 Looking for good book/review on Universal Basic Income

Criteria: Book should be ~completely a literature review and summary of current evidence on universal basic income/unconditional cash transfers. I'm not super interested in any moral arguments. The more it talks about actual studies the better. Can be quite demanding statistically.

Why: People have differing opinions on the feasibility/goodness of universal basic income, and there's been a whole bunch of experiment, but I haven't been able to find a good review of that evidence.

🔭 Looking for a good textbook on Cryobiology

Criteria: The more of these properties the textbook has the better. Fundamentals of Cryobiology looks okay but has no exercises.

Why: I have signed up for cryonics, and would like to understand the debate between cryobiologists and cryonicists better.

One book that might interest you is "Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness" by Peter Godfrey-Smith. This book explores the evolution of large brains and complex behavior in octopuses and their relatives (cuttlefish and squid) and compares human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives.

This one looks cool :-)

You might check out “When Animals Dream” — its not exclusively about octopus consciousness, but I think it references them fairly heavily. Note: I haven’t read it myself, but I’ve heard good things about it.

Linked here: [ https://www.amazon.com/When-Animals-Dream-Hidden-Consciousness/dp/0691220093/ref=asc_df_0691220093/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=564758369270&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=7130455776876592595&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9001990&hvtargid=pla-1457455118323&... (read more)

Looks cool, thank you.

Based on your criteria, one book that might interest you is "Exploring Universal Basic Income: A Guide to Navigating Concepts, Evidence, and Practices" published by the World Bank in 2020. This book provides a comprehensive review of the evidence on universal basic income and unconditional cash transfers. It discusses the potential benefits and challenges of implementing a UBI program and provides an overview of current UBI pilots and experiences.

https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/socialprotection/publication/exploring-universal-basic-income-a-guide-to-nav... (read more)

Thank you! This one looks exactly what I'm looking for.

🔭 Looking for good books (or other sources) that cover something like “how some organizations work (and fail).” This might be a book that lists case studies, essays that basically describe the internal structures of different organizations, etc. I don’t really mind what the organizations do or whether they’re nonprofits. Content that goes deep on one organization is also good. 

Some notes on why I’m interested: I don’t have a lot of experience, especially in terms of understanding how big organizations are structured (unless you count universities). When I gain some experience or knowledge on this front, it often seems to change my model of how the world works, or just turns out to be useful, which makes me think that I would gain a fair bit by learning more. I've looked at some business books, but it's hard to tell what's good, there. (I've also ordered this book, as I saw a review somewhere and it seemed promising.)

One such article is "Strategies for Learning from Failure" by Amy C. Edmondson, published in the Harvard Business Review. This article discusses how organizations can learn from failure through activities such as detection, analysis, and experimentation. It also talks about the importance of creating a culture of psychological safety where failure is not always associated with blame.

Another article that might be of interest to you is "Organizations Can’t Change If Leaders Can’t Change with Them" by Ron Carucci, also published in the Harvard Business Review. This article discusses the importance of personal transformation for leaders in order for organizational change to be successful.

How to Create a Vegan World by Tobias Leenaert

What: A book about effective strategies of the animal advocacy movement.

Why: I know of no other book that deals explicitly and in such detail with strategies of the animal advocacy movement. It is characterized by a very clear argumentation, good comprehensibility even without prior knowledge, and the recourse to scientific studies (if available).

Other notes: You can watch a video that is loosely based on that book. The book is presently available in English, Spanish, Czech, Turkish, (traditional) Chinese, Korean, German and Polish. Upcoming are French, Swedish and Russian.

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