A ranked list of all EA-relevant (audio)books I've read

by MichaelA10 min read17th Feb 202153 comments

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Or: "49 EA-relevant books your doctor doesn't want you to know about"

This post lists all the EA-relevant books I've read since learning about EA,[1] in roughly descending order of how useful I perceive/remember them being to me. (In reality, I mostly listened to these as audiobooks, but I'll say "books I've read" for simplicity.) I also include links to where you can get each book, as well as remarks and links to reviews/summaries/notes on some books. 

This is not quite a post of book recommendations, because:

  1. These rankings are of course only weak evidence of how useful you'll find these books[2]
  2. I list all EA-relevant books I've read, including those that I didn't find very useful

Let me know if you want more info on why I found something useful or not so useful. 

I'd welcome comments which point to reviews/summaries/notes of these books, provide commenters' own thoughts on these books, or share other book recommendations/anti-recommendations. I'd also welcome people making their own posts along the lines of this one. (Edit: I think that recommendations that aren't commonly mentioned in EA are particularly valuable, holding general usefulness and EA-relevance constant. Same goes for recommendations of books by non-male, non-white, and/or non-WEIRD authors. See this comment thread.) 

I'll continue to update this post as I finish more EA-relevant books.

My thanks to Aaron Gertler for sort-of prompting me to make this list, and then later suggesting  I change it from a shortform to a top-level post.

The list

Or: "Michael admits to finding a Harry Potter fan fiction more useful than ~14 books that were written by professors, are considered classics, or both"

  1. The Precipice, by Ord, 2020
    • See here for a list of things I've written that summarise, comment on, or take inspiration from parts of The Precipice.
    • I recommend reading the ebook or physical book rather than audiobook, because the footnotes contain a lot of good content and aren't included in the audiobook
    • The book Superintelligence may have influenced me more, but that’s just due to the fact that I read it very soon after getting into EA, whereas I read The Precipice after already learning a lot. I’d now recommend The Precipice first.
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books, and here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.
  2. Superforecasting, by Tetlock & Gardner, 2015
  3. How to Measure Anything, by Hubbard, 2011
  4. Rationality: From AI to Zombies, by Yudkowsky, 2006-2009
    • I.e., “the sequences”
  5. Superintelligence, by Bostrom, 2014
    • Maybe this would've been a little further down the list if I’d already read The Precipice
  6. Expert Political Judgement, by Tetlock, 2005
    • I read this after having already read Superforecasting, yet still found it very useful
  7. Normative Uncertainty, by MacAskill, 2014
  8. Secret of Our Success, by Henrich, 2015
  9. The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, by Henrich, 2020
  10. The Strategy of Conflict, by Schelling, 1960
    • See here for my notes on this book, and here for some more thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books.
    • This and other nuclear-war-related books are more useful for me than they would be for most people, since I'm currently doing research related to nuclear war
    • This is available as an audiobook, but a few Audible reviewers suggest using the physical book due to the book's use of equations and graphs. So I downloaded this free PDF into my iPad's Kindle app.
  11. Human-Compatible, by Russell, 2019
  12. The Book of Why, by Pearl, 2018
    • I found an online PDF rather than listening to the audiobook version, as the book makes substantial use of diagrams
  13. Blueprint, by Plomin, 2018
    • This is useful primarily in relation to some specific research I was doing, rather than more generically.
  14. Moral Tribes, by Greene, 2013
  15. Algorithms to Live By, by Christian & Griffiths, 2016
  16. The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Pinker, 2011
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books.
  17. Command and Control, by Schlosser, 2013
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books.
  18. The Doomsday Machine, by Ellsberg, 2017
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books.
  19. The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, by Kaplan, 2020
    • See here for my notes on this book, and here for some more thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books.
  20. The Alignment Problem, by Christian, 2020
    • This might be better than Superintelligence and Human-Compatible as an introduction to the topic of AI risk. It also seemed to me to be a surprisingly good introduction to the history of AI, how AI works, etc.
    • But I'm not sure this'll be very useful for people who've already read/listened to a decent amount (e.g., the equivalent of 4 books) about those topics.
      • That's why it's ranked as low as it is for me.
      • But maybe I'm underestimating how useful it'd be to many other people in a similar position.
        • Evidence for that is that someone told me that an AI safety researcher friend of theirs found the book helpful.
  21. The Sense of Style, by Pinker, 2019
    • One thing to note is that I think a lot of chapter 6 (which accounts for roughly a third of the book) can be summed up as "Don't worry too much about a bunch of alleged 'rules' about grammar, word choice, etc. that prescriptivist purists sometimes criticise people for breaking."
      • And I already wasn't worried most of those alleged rules, and hadn't even heard of some of them.
      • And I think one could get the basic point without seeing all the examples and discussion.
      • So a busy reader might want to skip or skim most of that chapter.
        • Though I think many people would benefit from the part on commas.
    • I read an ebook rather than listening to the audiobook, because I thought that might be a better way to absorb the lessons about writing style
  22. The Dead Hand, by Hoffman, 2009
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books, and here for some thoughts on this and other Russia-related books.
  23. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Kahneman, 2011
    • This might be the most useful of all these books for people who have little prior familiarity with the ideas, but I happened to already know a decent portion of what was covered.
  24. Bioterror and Biowarfare: A Beginner’s Guide, by Dando, 2006
    • See here for my notes on the book.
  25. Against the Grain, by Scott, 2017
  26. Sapiens, by Harari, 2015
  27. Destined for War, by Allison, 2017
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other nuclear-risk-related books, and here for some thoughts on this and other China-related books.
  28. The Dictator’s Handbook, by de Mesquita & Smith, 2012
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.
  29. Age of Ambition, by Osnos, 2014
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other China-related books.
  30. Moral Mazes, by Jackall, 1989
  31. The Myth of the Rational Voter, by Caplan, 2007
  32. The Hungry Brain, by Guyenet, 2017
    • If I recall correctly, I found this surprisingly useful for purposes unrelated to the topics of weight, hunger, etc.
      • E.g., it gave me a better understanding of the liking-wanting distinction
    • See also this Slate Star Codex review (which I can't remember whether I read)
  33. The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, by Yergin, 2011
  34. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Yudkowsky, 2010-2015
    • Fiction
    • I found this both surprisingly useful and very surprisingly enjoyable
      • To be honest, I was somewhat amused and embarrassed to find what is ultimately Harry Potter fan fiction as enjoyable and thought-provoking as I found this
    • This overlaps in many ways with Rationality: AI to Zombies, so it would be more valuable to someone who hadn't already read those sequences
      • But I'd recommend such a person read those sequences before reading this; I think they're more useful (though less enjoyable)
    • Within the 2 hours before I go to sleep, I try not to stimulate my brain too much - e.g., I try to avoid listening to most nonfiction audiobooks during that time. But I found that I could listen to this during that time without it keeping my brain too active. This is a perk, as that period of my day is less crowded with other things to do.
      • Same goes for the books Steve Jobs, Power Broker, Animal Farm, and Consider the Lobster.
  35. Steve Jobs, by Isaacson, 2011
    • Surprisingly useful, considering the facts that I don’t plan to at all emulate Jobs’ life and that I don’t work in a relevant industry
  36. Enlightenment Now, by Pinker, 2018
  37. The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, by Harford, 2014
  38. Against Empathy, by Bloom, 2016
  39. Inadequate Equilibria, by Yudkowksy, 2017
  40. Radical Markets, by Posner & Weyl, 2018
  41. How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century, by Dikötter, 2019
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.
  42. On Tyranny: 20 Lessons for the 20th Century, by Snyder, 2017
    • It seemed to me that most of what Snyder said was either stuff I already knew, stuff that seemed kind-of obvious or platitude-like, or stuff I was skeptical of
      • This might be partly due to the book being under 2 hours, and thus giving just a quick overview of the "basics" of certain things
      • So I do think it might be fairly useful per minute for someone who knew quite little about things like Hitler and the Soviet Union
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.
  43. Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, by Broome, 2012
  44. The Power Broker, by Caro, 1975
    • Very interesting and engaging, but also very long and probably not super useful.
  45. Science in the Twentieth Century: A Social-Intellectual Survey, by Goldman, 2004
    • This is actually a series of audio recordings of lectures, rather than a book
  46. Animal Farm, by Orwell, 1945
    • Fiction
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.
  47. Brave New World, by Huxley, 1932
    • Fiction
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.
  48. Consider the Lobster, by Wallace, 2005
    • To be honest, I'm not sure why Wiblin recommended this. But I benefitted from many of Wiblin's other recommendations. And I did find this book somewhat interesting.

Honorable mention

  1. 1984, by Orwell, 1949
    • I haven't included that in the above list because I read it before I learned about EA.
    • But I think that this book, despite being a novel, is actually the most detailed exploration I've seen of how a stable, global totalitarian system could arise and sustain itself.
      • I think this is a sign that there needs to be more actual research on that topic - a novel published more than 70 years ago shouldn't be one of the best sources on an important topic!
    • See here for some thoughts on this and other authoritarianism-related books.

Other collections you may find useful

Or: "Hey Michael, I've now read all 49 of those books - even for some reason Consider the Lobster - but my pesky brain is still hungry. What do I do with the rest of my life?"

Suggestion: Make Anki cards, share them as posts, and share key updates

This year, I started making Anki cards as I read things. See here for the article that inspired me to actually start using Anki properly. (Hat tip to Michelle Hutchinson for linking to that article and thus prompting me to read it.)

I then realised that this meant I could easily post my cards about a book to the Forum once I'd finished it, as something like a very low-effort book summary. See here for an example and for discussion of whether this is worthwhile.

I then realised that it would probably be worthwhile - both for my own later reference and for other people - if I also made brief notes of "key updates" as I read books, and included those updates as part of my Anki card posts. See here for an explanation and example.

I now plan to do these things indefinitely, and to link to all of those notes posts from this post. 

Unfortunately, I hadn't been doing that until this year. So for most of the books in this list, I provide no summary and no explanation of why I ranked the book as I did.

I'd currently guess that many EAs would gain from making Anki cards as they read books, and that, if they're doing so anyway, they may as well post the cards from those books to the EA Forum and/or LessWrong. (I might write a short post making the case for and against this soon.) And if they're doing that anyway, perhaps they may as well collect their recommendations together in a post that's sort-of like this one? In any case, I definitely suggest using the EA Books tag for all posts about EA-relevant books!

See also Suggestion: EAs should post more summaries and collections.

Footnotes

[1] Some info on what I'm including in "EA-relevant books I've read since learning about EA":

  • By "EA-relevant", I mean that a substantial part of why I read this book was that I thought it might somehow improve my efforts to improve the world.
    • This applies to all non-fiction books I've read since I learned about EA (in late 2018), and some but not all fiction books I've read.
      • I think I may have actually never read a non-fiction book before learning about EA. So this list could also be seen as covering "All non-fiction books I've read, plus some dystopian novels and a Harry Potter fanfiction."
  • Some of these "books" started as sequences of posts, and one of the "books" is actually a PhD thesis, but I'm counting them as books anyway.

[2] Three key reasons why you shouldn't you take the ranking too seriously:

  • I had already read most of the books before the point at which I decided to make a ranked list, so I didn't have those books very fresh in my mind when ranking them
  • Even if my memory was perfect, my knowledge of which things in my life caused which good outcomes wouldn't be, and my predictions of which things in my life will cause future good outcomes will be even more imperfect
  • Some of factors making these books more/less useful to me won't generalise to most other people
    • E.g., a book may be useful mostly in relation to a specific research project I'm doing
    • E.g., if I read a good book on a topic before reading a better book on the same topic, the first book may be more useful to me, since the better book will be retreading some ground for me

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53 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:28 AM
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There's also an EA classic available as an audiobook: The Live You Can Save (the fully updated 10th anniversary edition) is  freely available (in audiobook or ebook format) making it a book to share with people you think might find it interesting.

Currently, excluding my automatic upvote, this post has 3 votes and -4 karma, if you exclude my automatic vote. I'm quite surprised by that (partly because the post doesn't really make claims or tell people to do things, so it seems harder for it to be controversial), and I'd be very interested to hear why people/a person who downvoted it did so. 

(I mean this sincerely, rather than just as a complaint or to start an argument or something.)

One hypothesis is just that I've posted several low-effort posts about books lately - asking for and collecting recommendations, sharing notes, and then this post - and maybe someone just doesn't find them useful and is sick of seeing them? By default, I'd guess that someone who simply isn't interested in a certain type of post would just ignore it. But maybe the fact I've posted several posts of this general type lately meant someone wanted to actively discourage me writing more posts of this type?

I think I was among the first three votes and upvoted, so there seems to have been one big downvote, or maybe a bug, because when I upvoted it didn't have negative karma and now again it also doesn't (with 4 votes). 

Yeah, when my own automatic strong upvote is included, this has 4 votes and 3 net karma. But if I remove my strong upvote, it's on 3 votes and -4 karma. (All posts automatically start with a strong upvote from the poster.)

I was an early voter and gave a weak upvote, so I think there is probably a single individual who strongly downvoted. I wouldn't worry about it or take too much from it. It's dangerous to extrapolate too much from a single individual and I think you'll find people will quite like this post overall if you give it a bit more time.

I liked this post because I think it probably has helped me decide a few things where I was previously unsure:

  • I've been thinking about reading Rationality: From AI to Zombies but wasn't too sure if it was worth it, but now I think I will just do it.
  • I've also been quite unsure about Human Compatible vs The Alignment Problem but I think I may go for the latter. I am somewhat familiar with the AI arguments but certainly not "4 books familiar".
  • I have The Precipice and have read some of it which I found useful, but I may now delve in again to ensure I've got everything of use. Also I want to have a look at what you've written about it (given that it has been so useful to you).

It's dangerous to extrapolate too much from a single individual and I think you'll find people will quite like this post overall if you give it a bit more time.

I agree with both of those points. But the reason I asked wasn't because the strong downvote hurt my ego or something (it probably would've earlier in my Forum journey, but now I've posted a lot and gotten research jobs I'm happy with so I'm more protected from that). Rather, it was that I was just really confused as to why there was a strong downvote, so it suggested that there was something I was failing to understand, which might be important somehow. 

(It'd be different if I made a post that I knew might be controversial for a particular reason, but hoped would be overall liked. Then if a downvote came in, it'd still contain new info, but I'd know what the info meant.)

(And it now turns out that the reason for the downvote was something I wouldn't have easily guessed, and the info it turns out to have contained is interesting.)

Anyway, thanks for giving that info on ways in which this post was helpful for you - that's good (and useful) to know! 

Thanks for sharing this list Michael, I added some of these to my queue.

I was looking for books on rationality. My top 4 shortlist was:

  • Rationality: From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  • Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (This covers a lot of concepts EAs are familiar with such as confirmation bias and overconfidence, so I didn't feel it would add much to my knowledge base)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (More focussed on cognitive biases rather than rationality in general.)

I ended up going with Rationality: From AI to Zombies.

Also, I think someone should make a list like this, but for EA-relevant documentaries, TV shows, and movies. I've consumed quite a few, so maybe I'll make one. But I'd like to see others make them too, so I can get more suggestions. (Feel free to upvote this if you think I should make that list!)

I'd guess that this is worth making.

Or perhaps it could be folded into my post Where to find EA-related videos? (I.e., you could make the suggestions as a comment and I edit the post.)

But that post currently collects mostly things like presentations, rather than documentaries, TV shows, and movies. So the scope does seem different enough that I'd probably lean towards you making a new post for that. (If so, there could just be cross-links between the two posts.)

Ah I had forgotten about that post of yours, but yeah that one is a list of YouTube channels. Anyway, I've spent 3 hours making the post and posted it here. Maybe you or others would find it useful!

Thanks for this list and linking to all the Audible books Michael! 

I'm from the Philippines and some of these Audible links said these titles weren't available in my region, but I found a way to bypass this through the instructions in this link. (I hope it's okay for me to share that information here and do this bypassing).

Anyway, are you planning on listing the reasons for why you find these books valuable? I think that would help make this list more useful for other people. 1-3 sentences per book should be enough.

I'm particularly interested about why the books How to Measure Anything, Steve Jobs, Destined for War, The Dictator's Handbook, Expert Political Judgment, and Algorithms to Live By  were useful to you. 

I'm 50% done listening to the How to Measure Anything audiobook, and it's been helpful, but I'm lacking some motivation to finish the audiobook. It's also quite dense to listen to as an audiobook, so I'm not sure if I should be consuming it that way. Did you listen to that as an audiobook?

The Steve Jobs book is one that seems most not EA-related in the list, so I'm also curious to hear why you found that useful. (I get that he was the driving force behind the most valuable company in the world, so maybe understanding him is relevant to EA too?)

I'm from the Philippines and some of these Audible links said these titles weren't available in my region, but I found a way to bypass this through the instructions in this link

Yeah, a friend of mine who looks and sounds a lot like me and also read these 48 audiobooks (definitely not me, though) is based in Australia, and just has both an Australian and an American audible account (I think using that method you linked to), and gets the books available in Australia on the Australian account and the others on the American account.

lol good for your friend!

Anyway, are you planning on listing the reasons for why you find these books valuable? I think that would help make this list more useful for other people. 1-3 sentences per book should be enough.

Yeah, I agree that that'd make this post more useful, and that 1-3 sentences should be enough. Unfortunately, until recently, I took no notes and made no Anki cards, so I don't actually remember off the top of my head why I found these books useful! (As I mention in the post, I now suggest making Anki cards, making notes of key updates [probably something like 3-15 dot points per book - nothing too extensive], and sharing them to the Forum, but I only started this recently.)

With some thought, I could remember some good guesses for what use I got out of these books, but it'd take a little time and not necessarily be accurate. But now that I've changed this from shortform to a top-level post and the post got somewhat more attention than expected, I guess it's probably worthwhile for me to do that, so I'll probably do it this week. (I'll then reply to you again so you get a notification.)

Did you listen to [How to Measure Anything] that as an audiobook?

Yeah, I did, while also looking at the accompanying PDF here and there.

I also found many of the books listed here somewhat dense or not that motivating to get through. (The worst offenders have been Age of Em and After Tamerlane, which is why they haven't made it from my list of downloaded books to my list of completed books yet...) I often have to jump back because I lost focus. But I also listen on ~1.8 speed, which both reduces boredom and gets me through the book faster despite frequently skipping back.

Thanks, I appreciate the effort, but downvoted because this reading list and those you link to are not diverse enough (edit to clarify: e.g. they skew heavily towards male authors) and also, relatedly, these titles should not become even more canonical in the EA community than they already are (I fear this might lead to an echo chamber). This is something my reading list tends to be guilty of as well, so I'd love for people to post reading lists with more diversity.

Some recommendations:

Hi Hauke, thanks for commenting to explain the downvote; I don't think I would've guessed that as a reason, so the comment makes the feedback more useful.

And also thanks for adding your own recommendations. As I say in the post, I welcome people doing that. 

Personally, I think the thing I'm most likely to read due to your recommendation is Barack Obama's memoir - in retrospect it seems obvious that I should've read a biography/autobiography/memoir of a modern leader of a liberal democratic country. (Also, btw, I previously wrote a commentary on the Beyond Near- and Long-Term paper.)

Where I think I agree with you:

  • This book definitely does include many books from the reading lists of three prominent EAs (Wiblin, Beckstead, and Muehlhauser), and relatedly many books that are often recommended in EAs.
    • And this applies especially to my top 7 books
  • EAs do share similar information sources and worldviews to a notable extent (though still with a lot of variety), and this can be limiting, and there can be great value in seeking out a wider set of ideas and views.
  • The above two points make the post less useful, relative to a post that contained similarly useful-in-an-abstract-sense books that are less often read by EAs.
    • Though is offset to some extent by the point Max Dalton makes above common knowledge facilitating discussion and communicating. [Edit: I originally wrote "Max Daniel" as I'd misread who the commenter was - apologies if this had confused any readers!]
    • I say "similarly useful-in-an-abstract-sense" because the very fact that the books are less often read by EAs makes them more useful in practice, at least at a community level (or at least that's what I'm claiming here).
  • It would be good for the Forum to include a wider range of book recommendations.
    • (I don't mean "It's bad for the Forum to include this post's list of books"; I think it's both good for it to include this list and for it to include a wider range of book recommendations.)

Long-winded thoughts on where I think I partially disagree with you  (or perhaps just some points that your comment doesn't emphasise, rather than things we actually disagree on):

  • This post is what it says on the tin: A list of all EA-relevant books I've read, ranked by how useful I remember/perceive them being to me.
    • E.g., I really just did find those top 7 books very useful.
    • And I do say "These rankings are of course only weak evidence of how useful you'll find these books,[2] but hopefully the list still provides a useful starting point."
    • (But of course, the key claims I have to defend are that these rankings do provide weak evidence - rather than no or negative evidence - of how useful others will find the books, and also that the post is net positive on a community rather than individual level. I do believe those things, and my following points will address why.)
  • I do think that there are many people for whom it would be net positive to be given even a list of solely the "canonical EA books".
    • Unfortunately, I think this applies mostly to "EA types" who haven't yet engaged with EA at all. But I think it will also apply to some Forum users. I do encounter EAs who haven't heard of even some of the particularly EA-canonical books from this list, who I think would gain from these concepts, and who don't know of other recommendation lists like this one.
    • To a significant extent, I think many of the canonical books are canonical for good reason.
      • Though it can still be partially bad for them to be so canonical, as this means the community as a whole is exposed to less variety in information sources and worldviews, as noted above.
      • I also think many EAs actively seek out a wide range of quite different ideas and views, such that going with common recommendations in EA reducing diversity of viewpoints less than one might at first think (though it still has that effect in some ways). I think some of these books present very different pictures of the world to others of them.
    • One thing that seems worth noting is that some topics I (and many EAs) care about aren't super widely discussed outside EA. This both increases the value of getting book recommendations on those topics (since we can't rely on people already coming into EA knowing the nuances or even basics on the topic), and decreases the number of great books available to be recommended on those topics.
      • For example, thinking of your book recommendations (not the 2 papers) and my top 10 books, I came into EA with much more pre-existing knowledge about the Obamas, the US government, GDP, economics, and writing than I had about existential risks, extreme AI risks, and moral uncertainty. And I'd guess that think that there are many high-quality books on the latter 3 topics that aren't already often recommended by EAs.
        • (I also had very little knowledge about forecasting, but your book recommendations do include a book on that.)
  • This list is not just recommendations but rather a complete ranking of all EA-relevant books I've read. So it could also help people get a sense of which commonly-recommended-in-EA books I found less useful than the average book I've read.
    • This includes Enlightenment Now, Inadequate Equilibria, Radical Markets, Climate Matters, and the Power Broker.
  • This list excludes some relatively canonical EA books.
    • E.g., I haven't read Doing Good Better, The Life You Can Save, or Life 3.0. And I started reading Age of Em but am finding it a hard slog so far.
  • This list includes some books that I expect relatively few EAs will have heard of (or maybe heard of outside of EA, but not heard recommended within EA), and some of them are ranked relatively highly.
    • E.g., The Strategy of Conflict, Blueprint, The Bomb, The Sense of Style, and The Dead Hand.
    • This is partly a result of me recently starting to actively solicit recommendations on particular topics (e.g., here), get recommendations from random people who are not established thought leaders in EA, and screen them myself by reading some reviews and maybe watching a lecture or listening to a podcast from the author.
      • I started this a little bit last year, and am now doing it regularly, so hopefully over time this list will come to inject more of a range of uncommon book recommendations into the EA space.
      • Though I acknowledge that I'm still mostly soliciting recommendations from EAs, at least to date.
  • This post says "I'd welcome comments which point to reviews/summaries/notes of these books, provide commenters' own thoughts on these books, or share other book recommendations. I'd also welcome people making their own posts along the lines of this one." I think that people doing that (as you've done) will help make the overall set of recommendations on the Forum more representative, so I'd encourage more of that.
    • I think another way to help move towards this goal is for more people to do things roughly like how I've recently started making posts to solicit recommendations on a particular topic (same example as above), then later making posts with my key updates, Anki cards, and overall thoughts on the books I end up reading (see the "Suggestion: Make Anki cards, share them as posts, and share key updates" section of this post).
      • I say "do things roughly like" that; I'm not saying that my precise formula is the best one.
    • I also like meerpirat's suggestions.

Another thought that came to mind: As the canonical echo chamber reading list of EA books currently seems to consist of maybe on the order of 50 books, I might be less worried about this because 50 popsci books are not that many books? This should especially hold for people who read a lot, and who relatively quickly will have to explore outside of the canon. E.g. this seems to be true for Michael already, and after roughly 6 years EA I also have covered a considerable fraction of the canon and read a bunch outside of it. This is also my impression from following roughly twenty EAs on Goodreads. And for people that don‘t read so much it could be fine to just read what the busy readers recommend?

This roughly seems right to me. 

I think it might often be good for new EAs to sample in some way from a set of "very EA books" (e.g. The Precipice, Doing Good Better) + books that are very widely recommended in EA, alongside reading things that are recommended somewhat less often and are more focused on particular areas of interest, and to over time shift towards doing more of the latter and less of the former. 

In my own "initial sampling", I skipped some books from that set (e.g., Doing Good Better, Life 3.0, The Elephant and the Brain). And after about 1-1.5 years of mostly sampling from that set, I shifted into ~half my reading still being sampling from that set, while the other ~half is seeking out books on particular topics of interest, informed by the recommendation of ~1 EA I know (a different one in each case) who knew about that topic.

Thanks for your reply, I really appreciate this and your other contributions!

Sorry that I've been unclear. There are actually two separate issues here: 

  1. You only list male authors and lists that only feature male authors: all of them are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). Sometimes it's fine for a reading list to only feature male authors. I vote on the margin: If you had gotten downvoted, I might even have upvoted. But on the margin, if this particular long general list became another canonical one as had been suggested, I think that'd be robustly bad. The previous Wiblin, etc. lists are already pretty canonical in the community.
  2. The issue of the EA canon: This is related but ultimately separate issue to 1). I actually agree with much of what you and Max say here. Everyone should read the Precipice and perhaps a few others. But I think when prioritizing their reading lists people should add a "neglectedness in the EA community score" to avoid echo chambers. Consider how much original insight and valuable disentanglement research you can really add if you spend years reading the same 50 pop non-fiction books that everyone else has read. Generally, people should read more papers and write more literature reviews themselves than reading more popular non-fiction.

Regarding your first point, I do worry that strong community norms against having book lists include only male authors risks the perception that female authors that do get included are only there to fulfill some imaginary quota rather than on their merits. Not saying that there isn't an important conversation to be had about fostering diversity of viewpoints and representation along gender or other demographic lines, but in my view that is at least a pretty strong downside to this approach.

I think this is true and that saying it is useful. 

Though when one is saying that, it's probably worth also noting that a majority of EAs are male (and also a majority are white and a majority are from WEIRD societies),[1] which could increase the risk of implicit or explicit biases towards male (or white or WEIRD) authors. (I think being male, white, etc. is neither necessary nor sufficient for being biased towards reading things by males, white people, etc., but it does seem likely to raise the risk somewhat.)

I don't think that implicit or explicit bias is what caused the list of authors I've read EA-relevant books from to be all male and mostly or all white and WEIRD. As noted elsewhere, I think the cause is primarily just that the books that are most prominent/recommended (and not just by EAs) in the areas I'm interested in have a strong tendency to be written by people from those demographics. (I'm of course not saying that it has to be that way - that could reflect sexism, racism, etc. in various parts of the talent or recommendation "pipeline".) 

But it's hard to rule out implicit or explicit bias on either my part or the part of the EAs who I've gotten recommendations from, so it seems worth noting the possibility. And that possibility means it's at least possible that something like "making a mild effort to fulfil an imaginary quota" may push against a bias in the opposite direction and thereby land us in something that's more like an unbiased meritocracy, all things considered. 

I'm currently unsure how best to handle this. So my current plan is to make a mild effort to increase the demographic diversity of my reading list going forward, but primarily via being more conscious to seek out ideas of books to read from authors with other demographic characteristics, as well as sometimes using demographic diversity as something like a "tie-breaker" between books that seem like good reading choices anyway. 

(And I hadn't been thinking about any of this before Hauke's comments, so I think they've been useful for me.)

So perhaps we indeed shouldn't have "strong community norms against having book lists include only male authors", but should have a norm of gently and non-judgementally pointing out to people when their book lists (or whatever) are very demographically non-diverse, in case they hadn't even thought about that before? It does seem hard to strike the right balance/tone in an online, written medium, though!

[1] Of respondents to the 2019 EA Survey 2019, "71% reported their gender as male" and "87% reported that they identify as white" (source). Of course, "the EA community" can be defined in many ways, and not all of its members will have responded to that survey, but it gives an indication. And "74% of EAs in the survey currently live in the same set of 5 high-income English-speaking western countries as in 2018" (source).

Thanks -I think this is a good point and something to watch out for people not feeling tokenized. Also, again, I'm not necessarily advocacting for "strong community norms" - I was not saying we always need to have complete diversity everywhere.

In this specific case I was not very worried about this because:

  • There are 50+ books here including those linked to (as opposed to say 10), so there's a bunch of reading by non-white men that clearly dominates this reading list. I'm not recommending people read the Obama's memoirs or Thinking in Bets over David Foster Wallace, the Hungry Brain, or Moral Mazes etc. for the sake of more representation - they're just clearly more valuable to read from a EA point of view.
  • Relatedly, some of the books are  arbitrary because they're personal choices by Beckstead etc. - based also lists that are old recommendations from their personal websites. For instance, I suspect 'Consider the Lobster' etc is only on there because Nick Beckstead recommended it years ago to read "for fun", which Wiblin then recommended, which is now recommended here... it's just a bit echo chamber-y.

[This comment of mine focuses just on two specific statements of yours which aren't very related to the topic of demographic diversity; i.e., this comment is sort-of a tangent from the main point of the thread.]

I'm not recommending people read the Obama's memoirs or Thinking in Bets over David Foster Wallace, the Hungry Brain, or Moral Mazes etc. for the sake of more representation - they're just clearly more valuable to read from a EA point of view.

FWIW, I started listening to Barack Obama's memoir after you mentioned it the other day and I'm now a quarter of the way through, and currently it seems likely that it won't end up seeming as useful for me as Moral Mazes or The Hungry Brain. I'm very much enjoying it - he's an excellent writer and narrator, and his story is very interesting, and I'm very likely to recommend it. But so far it doesn't seem to be substantially updating my beliefs or my frameworks for viewing the world.

And in general, I think "clearly more valuable to read from an EA point of view" is a quite strong claim, given how much EAs will differ in what they already know about and what they are working on or will work on in future. I'd be comfortable saying "[book 1] would be very likely more valuable for most EAs to read than [book 2]" in some relatively extreme cases, like Superforecasting vs Consider the Lobster, but not just "clearly more valuable", and not for more balanced cases like Moral Mazes vs B. Obama's memoir.

I do think it's almost certain that I'll end up having found B. Obama's memoir much more useful than Consider the Lobster. (Also more enjoyable and interesting.)

But note that Consider the Lobster is ranked very last out of all 48 EA-relevant books I've read since learning of EA. And I say "To be honest, I'm not sure why Wiblin recommended this", and also "This is not quite a post of book recommendations, because [...] I list all EA-relevant books I've read, including those that I didn't find very useful". So it isn't the case that Consider the Lobster "is now recommended here"; my mention of Consider the Lobster is actually an instance of my reported views differing from those in Beckstead and Wiblin's lists.

Obama's memoir [... ] won't end up seeming as useful for me as [...] The Hungry Brain

I agree what's most useful to a person is to an extent a function of their background. I agree that there are edge cases (Moral Mazes vs. Obama). But I'm standing by my strong claim that Obama's memoir and some of my other recommendations as clearly more useful than the Hungry Brain and some others on your list. It is implied that this holds true for the average reader. One of the reasons for this is that some of these recommendations are based on arbitrary personal recommendations of audiobooks specifically (from a few years ago when there weren't even that many good things on Audible). It would be suspicious convergence if the Jobs biography recommendation, which is likely based on an 8-year-old  recommendation by Muehlhauser, should still be ranked highly for EAs to read. 

it isn't the case that Consider the Lobster "is now recommended here"

I agree that you've emphasized that your list should not be taken as authoritative in several places. Yet I stand by my claim that one can reasonably interpret Foster Wallace and other titles further down the list as recommended reading.

[I think the disagreements we have here don’t matter much. That said...]

I think the point about suspicious convergence is correct. I also think it’s very reasonable to claim that B. Obama’s memoir will be more useful to the average EA than many of the things on my list - especially the things which are rated as below average usefulness to me.

But I still think it’s worth saying “more valuable to the average EA” rather than “clearly more valuable from an EA perspective”. One reason is related to precisely the point about intellectual/worldview homogeneity and echo chambers which you highlighted; I think we should be careful about saying things that could easily sound to people like “all EAs should do X”.

(This is also related to issues like 80k highlighting a career pathway or problem area as particularly important on the margin on average, and there sometimes being an overreaction to this, including people switching out of other good paths towards this new path that isn’t a good fit for them. My impression is that 80k is now more careful to add caveats and stuff to reduce how much this happens.

Of course, the stakes are far lower for a Forum comment, about books rather than careers, deep into a very large thread!)

I agree that you've emphasized that your list should not be taken as authoritative in several places. Yet I stand by my claim that one can reasonably interpret Foster Wallace and other titles further down the list as recommended reading.

I’ve emphasised not just that it’s not authoritative but also that it’s “not quite a list of book recommendations”, and that it includes things I didn’t find useful. I think it’s plausible that someone could interpret the bottom ranked book as a recommendation, but not that that would be reasonable - they’d have to have ignored text right near the top and right below that recommendation.

First I want to say that I think your original comment and this one both express reasonable views, and do so in a civil manner. (Also, just in case you or anyone else was wondering, I've neither upvoted nor downvoted either comment.)

Also, while I think I disagree with you to some extent on some points, I think your comments have made me think more about things worth thinking about. I think they've also improved this post, via prompting me to add the following to the introductory section:

(Edit: I think that recommendations that aren't commonly mentioned in EA are particularly valuable, holding general usefulness and EA-relevance constant. Same goes for recommendations of books by non-male, non-white, and/or non-WEIRD authors. See this comment thread.) 

(I added part of that after your first comment, and the second sentence after reading your second comment.)

Also, I acknowledge that there are two separate (though related) points you're highlighting, and that my reply didn't explicitly address the gender diversity part. 

You only list male authors and lists that only feature male authors: all of them are [also] WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic).

I believe this is indeed true. (The part I'm slightly unsure of is whether all authors meet all WEIRD criteria, but in any case it definitely heavily skews WEIRD.) I also hadn't specifically noticed that this was the case for all/almost all of these listed authors, so it does seem useful to me that you highlighted it. And I do agree that, all else equal, it'd be better to have more diversity on each of these dimensions on someone's reading list.

One thing I'd say in response is that there's more demographic diversity in the other forms of content I consume (in particular, papers, podcasts, and posts) than in these books. Though those other forms of content I consume do still skew somewhat towards male and WEIRD (and also white).   

I think three ways to address that are for me to:

  1. Get more recommendations for content to consume that's by authors (or podcasters, or whatever) with other demographic characteristics
  2. Make more effort to actively seek out ideas for content to consume that's from authors with other demographic characteristics
  3. Factor in the demographic characteristics of an author when deciding which of multiple specific pieces of content I should spend time consuming

I'd be very happy if (1) happened. And I think hopefully this post should contribute to it happening, especially now that I've added an edit prompted by your comments. I think your own first comment already helps with that, which I appreciate. 

I think I should also do a bit of (2) and (3). (For a start, I've just now downloaded Obama's A Promised Land, and made a note to maybe read Strangers Drowning.) But I'm unsure how much, because I'm unsure how much weight I should give to demographic diversity relative to other factors when making tradeoffs about how I spend my time. And it just does seem to be the case that, in many of the fields I want to learn about, most of the most prominent authors - meaning prominent among e.g. the relevant academics, not just EAs - are male, WEIRD, and white. And I think there's value in reading things from the most prominent authors. 

But I'm personally inclined not to debate here precisely how much of (2) and (3) people should do, and the precise extent to which the prominent authors in these fields skew male, WEIRD, and white. This is because I'm concerned that that might result in a long and tense thread, partly due to this being a written medium with an audience and a lot of people not personally knowing each other, rather than a face-to-face conversation. 

(I'm not trying to silence such a debate; it can be had here; I'm just personally inclined for it to not happen here. Readers may also be interested in posts tagged diversity and inclusion.)

(I'd also like to pre-emptively ask readers to keep in mind that it's easy to interpret things overly harshly when they're written down on the internet by someone you don't know personally. If you think I or Hauke are saying things that are stupid or horrible, please seriously consider the hypothesis that that's not really what I or Hauke mean, or that we just phrased things poorly, or something like that.)

Thanks for the courteous reply. Agree with much of this! 

To be clear, I didn't mean to criticize you or anyone personally. Though judging by the downvotes I got, people might think that I'm EA's wokest and hardest virtue-signalling SJW, but I actually only realized and was able to flag this issue because I'm guilty of recommending a very similar set of male authors too much myself. So this is something that should be improved more generally (in the community). Also, I agree that we shouldn't spend much time on finding a precise 'quota' and I'm not saying that we should have 50% of women on AI safety syllabi (which would probably leave people scrambling and is more a society-wide issue) or cancel Toby Ord, but on current margin, we should probably err on the side of having a little more diversity in what we recommend. Not upvoting a list with 50 white males trending on the front page and implicitly endorse this as the EA cannon seems a really low bar. Hence the initial downvote, which I've now changed to an upvote, given that there's a productive discussion in the comments, in particular thanks to Michael.

To be clear, I didn't mean to criticize you or anyone personally. [...] Also, I agree that we shouldn't spend much time on finding a precise 'quota

Yeah, to be clear, I didn't get the impression of being criticised in a way that singles me out quite specifically, and my points about being inclined not to discuss the precise amount of (2) and (3) I should do was not me saying "You've said too much about this already!", but rather "I'm a little concerned that this thread could become overly spicy and contentious" (and I primarily had in mind other people jumping in; I wasn't worried about comments you'd write). I think the comments so far have been civil, as I mentioned.

on current margin, we should probably err on the side of having a little more diversity in what we recommend

Agreed.

Not upvoting a list with 50 white males trending on the front page and implicitly endorse this as the EA cannon seems a really low bar.

I'm not totally sure I agree, partly because every Forum post starts out on the front page, and I think it'd be really easy for EA to be flooded with a bunch more recommendation lists. So I think (a) I estimate a lower chance that this list ends up being extremely prominent than you do, and (b) if we're worried about this list being too prominent, I think the best solution is just to vigorously encourage the posting of more lists (including ones with more demographically diverse authors). 

As you noted, the Wiblin, Beckstead, and Muehlhauser lists are already quite prominent, and also skew towards male, white, WEIRD, etc. So I think it may be the case that "the only way out is through" - i.e., the best way to prevent there being too much focus on a small set of lists is to post more, not to avoid posting. 

But, that of course wouldn't fix the demographic diversity issue, unless those other lists either happen to include or are encouraged to include more demographic diversity. So you highlighting this with your comment seems useful.

(But I genuinely just mean "I'm not totally sure I agree"; I think your sentence is a reasonable claim.)

judging by the downvotes I got

Yeah, I don't like that your comment is currently on net negative karma. I'm going to strong upvote it for balance's sake, and make a separate comment about that.

But on the margin, if this particular long general list became another canonical one as had been suggested...

Do you mean suggested by me? I definitely didn't mean to suggest that. My hope is that this list will be useful for some people, and that it'll prompt more people to publish book recommendations/anti-recommendations, not that this comes to be one of 4 lists that pretty much all EAs draw from. As I say near the start:

These rankings are of course only weak evidence of how useful you'll find these books

[...]

I'd welcome comments which point to reviews/summaries/notes of these books, provide commenters' own thoughts on these books, or share other book recommendations/anti-recommendations. I'd also welcome people making their own posts along the lines of this one.

And I think it should be easy to avoid this list becoming overly canonical; I think it'd be really easy for a lot of people to make lists like this. I think most people could put together something like a scaled-down version of this (perhaps as a shortform) in ~30 minutes if they wanted to, especially if they don't try to include all relevant books but rather just the top picks, and don't try to rank them all but rather use rougher buckets like "top" and "also good". And people who've read a lot could put together something as extensive as this post is a couple hours.

Or people could even just post on the Forum links to Goodreads profiles, or things like that. (Personally, I'd be more likely to look at such profiles if they were highlighted on the Forum.)

And I think that doing the above things is also probably one of the best ways to address the fact that "The previous Wiblin, etc. lists are already pretty canonical in the community".

(Edit: Oh, maybe you were referring to Aaron Gertler's comment? If so, I'd point out that he's commenting at a point when very few lists like this exist on the Forum; if more people create lists like this - which I hope happens - then that'd reduce the special prominence that this particular list gets.)

Yes, I was referring to Aaron's comment, but not saying that anyone wanted to intentionally canonize this list, but rather take on a life of its own. I agree with much of your comment (though still think the central point of my criticism is a valid and as a community we need to be more mindful about this).

To clarify my comment to Michael: I was excited to see him share his list because I'd like lots of people to share their lists, and I think that people are more likely to share once they've seen someone else do it. I don't think Michael is a particularly good judge of books or anything like that -- the whole point is to get a broad set of viewpoints on a variety of books.

If someone ever compiles all the lists together and tries to establish some kind of "canon" based on that, I'd be wary, but this personal list created by a single person to describe his own reading experiences doesn't feel at all canonical to me.

*****

Possible point of confusion: In my comment, I said that I hoped Michael's list would become one of the most-upvoted in the "EA Books" tag. That's because I expect that tag to be used by people looking for book recommendations, and I expect this post to be useful to them, because it recommends many books. 

I'd hope that a more diverse or comprehensive list would get even more upvotes in the tag -- I just want posts with tags to be useful to people looking at those tags.

But I think when prioritizing their reading lists people should add a "neglectedness in the EA community score" to avoid echo chambers. 

Yeah, I agree with this.

Consider how much original insight and valuable disentanglement research you can really add if you spend years reading the same 50 pop non-fiction books that everyone else has read. 

As noted in my other comment, I really don't think that all things on this list are widely read in EA. 

And I think that reading (let's say ) 5-30 books on lists like this one (of which there will hopefully be more in future!) can also be seen as somewhat akin to doing an undergrad unit or two to get up to speed on a new field. It seems worth noting that:

  • Many fields have a set of works that most people working in that field are expected to have read some fraction of
    • although people can each read different particular works from that set
  • EA contained a lot of very unfamiliar ideas to me when I first joined. 
    • I actually did almost immediately start thinking of original research and post ideas, but it turned out that most were reinventing the wheel or missing key considerations. I think reading books from this list really did help me "get up to speed" and start contributing in better ways.
      • I acknowledge that it's possible I could've gotten similar or better gains from reading books that are currently less often recommended. But I do think some of the often recommended books are unusually useful for the sort of work I want to do. And I think I would've almost certainly been worse off if I'd had no recommendations from EAs (as opposed to "the standard recommendations plus additional, carefully chosen but less common recommendations"; I'd be keen to see us move towards that state, as noted elsewhere).
    • It may be worth noting that I got into EA from Western Australia and without having studied much university-level econ, philosophy, math, computer science, etc. The process I went through might be less necessary for someone based in Oxford, London, or San Francisco, or someone with a more math-y background.

Generally, people should read more papers and write more literature reviews themselves than reading more popular non-fiction.

For me, there's hardly a tradeoff between these things: I listen to audiobooks in times of my day when I can't do much else, e.g. when doing chores or on public transport. I could consume papers during this time using text-to-voice, but obviously text-to-voice isn't as good as an actual voice actor. (I do spend a decent chunk of the rest of my time reading papers.)

Also, that comment seems to presume that most or all readers of this list will want to be researchers? I think a lot of EAs should be doing things other than research. And for them, it may really make sense for them to: 

  • mostly consume nicely packaged and engaging summaries of key ideas from a wide range of fields
  • sometimes supplement that by reading papers on particular things
  • rarely or never write literature reviews.

(Less importantly, although this reading list does lean heavily towards popular non-fiction, it isn't entirely popular non-fiction. E.g., it includes MacAskill's thesis and The Strategy of Conflict.)

Yes agree with much of this!

Also, that comment seems to presume that most or all readers of this list will want to be researchers? I think a lot of EAs should be doing things other than research. 

I see your point and agree to an extent. My point was that I recommend people to focus more on active learning is often better than passively consuming content, even if they do not want to be a researcher. Just like at university you do not merely read things but also write essays. 

I think the best way to learn things is roughly:

  1. write a review of something yourself
  2. read papers
  3. read (popular) non-fiction books
  4. listen to podcasts

But I agree that podcasts and non-fiction books can be more entertaining and not as cognitively demand especially when you have some time to while doing chores etc.

The point about active rather than passive learning, even just for learning's sake rather than producing original work, is a good one. But I think there are many more ways to do that than writing literature reviews. 

One way that seems especially time efficient is making Anki cards (as I suggest in this post), since that can be done quickly in little gaps while doing chores etc.

Another is writing up "key updates" from a thing one has read - not just copying key passages, but saying how the ideas in the book have changed one's beliefs or plans. This is something I'm now trying out, and an example can be seen here

Another way would be writing relatively low-effort commentaries, criticism, analysis, original thoughts, etc. as EA Forum posts, without doing proper literature reviews. 

So maybe we can imagine a dimension from very active to very passive learning, and another dimension for how much non-background time is required, and we'd like people to find activities that hit the best tradeoffs on those two dimensions for the various parts of their day/week.

But I agree that podcasts and non-fiction books can be more entertaining and not as cognitively demand especially when you have some time to while doing chores etc.

These are indeed the main benefits of podcasts for me, but one other benefit is that they sometimes contain ideas that haven't yet been properly written up anywhere. (That obviously doesn't apply to non-fiction books.)

Another way would be writing relatively low-effort commentaries, criticism, analysis, original thoughts, etc. as EA Forum posts, without doing proper literature reviews. 

 

I agree that active learning and writing doesn't have to be a literature review-and all these formats actually also work. Perhaps we're coming full circle and it does actually connect to the point in the other thread: we need to encourage people to write more commentaries.

Not only are all the authors male and WEIRD, they're also all white presenting. 

(Just wanted to quickly say that, FWIW, I think that this is true and worth noting. I'd guess you and I would disagree about precisely how worth noting it is, but I do think it's worth noting. 

A fuller picture of my views are contained in my replies to Hauke.)

Thanks Michael! And I should note that FWIW I think my observation is more of a commentary on the "EA canon" than your list per se.

I agree there are some costs to having some canonical books, but I think there are also some real benefits: for instance it helps to create common knowledge, which can facilitate good discussion and coordination. Also maybe some books are sufficiently important and high-quality that ~all EAs should read them before reading a broader variety of books (e.g. maybe all EAs should read The Precipice and a few other books, but then they should branch out and read a variety of things). 

I don't think that everything on Michael's list should be canonical, but I think probably some of his top recommendations should be.  I agree that some of the things on the list are probably over-canonized too.

I agree with these points.

I'd also be interested to hear which of the books I listed you think are probably over-canonised, or more generally which commonly recommended books (whether mentioned here or not) you think are overrated. (I'd also be interested to see your top book recommendations, or top recommendations for particular sets of topics.)

I haven't read everything on your list, but I broadly agree with your rankings for the things I have read (with some tweaks - e.g. I'd probably put Inadequate Equilibria higher and Thinking Fast and Slow lower). 

I feel a bit confused still about how many/which things should be canonical. Maybe I want canonical ideas rather than canonical books? E.g. I think some of the ideas in the sequences are  important, and should be more widely known/used even in EA. But I also think it contains some less important stuff, and some people find the presentation offputting (while others love it). So I guess I'd ideally like there to be a few different presentations of the same ideas, and people can read the presentation that works best for them (bold academic book, super-well-evidenced academic papers, spicey blog posts, fanfic etc.). Maybe we now have this in some domains - e.g. you listed several presentations of AI safety?

I won't do a full  list of things I like right now, but some quick thoughts: 

  • I think The Great Courses can sometimes be great: I remember particularly liking one on biology. My understanding of biology overall is still quite imprecise, but the course gave me images of how a bunch of cellular biology works mechanistically which I think would be good scaffolding for a better understanding. I also really liked one on Chinese history (I think this one, which is a bit broader but still quite China-focused). I think the quality varies a bit between courses though.
  • I also love the In Our Time podcast . Especially the science ones - they have a version of the podcast that's only science. I like that they have several academics, which means you can get a variety of perspectives, and which makes me less worried that I'm only hearing one side of a debate.

P.s. I agree with a lot of your points in the other comment too, and I'm glad you posted this list!

So I guess I'd ideally like there to be a few different presentations of the same ideas, and people can read the presentation that works best for them (bold academic book, super-well-evidenced academic papers, spicey blog posts, fanfic etc.). Maybe we now have this in some domains - e.g. you listed several presentations of AI safety?

This seems like a good point. And yeah, I think we've now got that for AI safety (especially as there are other presentations that I've heard recommended but didn't include, in particular Life 3.0), which seems like a good thing.

And thanks for those recommendations; I'll probably try those out.

I think the quality varies a bit between courses though.

Yeah, FWIW, Science in the Twentieth Century: A Social-Intellectual Survey is from The Great Courses, and I didn't find it very engaging or useful per minute (hence its low ranking on my list). (That said, Beckstead labelled it "Outstanding", so perhaps other people would find it more useful than I did.)

The worry about EAs reading too much of the same ideas is a good point. I wonder if there are strategies that could help us as a community to explore more literature. For example somebody could scrape the reading lists from members of the EA goodreads group and create an exploration reading list with the books that many people have on their reading list but haven't actually read. Or maybe a reading list with non-fiction books that are suspiciously lacking from EA reading lists.

Both of those ideas seem good to me.

As I note in my reply to Hauke, I think another thing we can do is have more people to do things roughly like how I've recently started making posts to solicit recommendations on a particular topic (e.g.), then later making posts with my key updates, Anki cards, and overall thoughts on the books I end up reading (see the "Suggestion: Make Anki cards, share them as posts, and share key updates" section of this post).

And another option (perhaps the most obvious one) is to take the same approach but without soliciting recommendations from EAs at the first step - instead soliciting recommendations from non-EA friends or other communities one is part of, or just googling for books on a given topic. I'd guess that that will tend to result in less useful reading for the individual and/or involve a more time-consuming screening process, but that cost might be made up for by the benefits on a community level. This could be seen as providing a public good.

This is a fair point, Hauke -- sounds like you used the downvote as a way to signal "I think this should be somewhat less accepted/get less attention from the community", which makes sense given your concerns. 

While I share your concerns, I still thought this post was a really good initiative and upvoted it; I think it's likely to expose people to useful suggestions, and I think it's extremely unlikely to accidentally enshrine a "canon" (instead, if it inspires more people to write about other books that they liked, it hopefully has the opposite effect).

Here are some more diverse sources that I've found useful for learning about the world and/or personal development in a work context:

  • Strangers Drowning (probably my favorite book about the "EA mindset")
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers (good portrayal of life in extreme poverty, though it isn't at all focused on solutions)
    • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is another immersive portrayal -- the section on poverty is only a small portion of the book, but the full story still gave me a strong sense of what it would be like to grow up in a place very different from the West
  • Nothing to Envy (on life in totalitarian conditions -- a book I often think about when the totalitarian variety of X-risk comes up in discussion)
  • The Charisma Myth (I'm still stunned that a book on a topic like "developing charisma" turned out to be this good; I should revisit more often)
  • Maverick (very interesting book on leadership/org management, though hard to tell how much of the story is painted more rosily than the reality)

Unrelatedly, On Writing Well is much better than The Sense of Style if you just want writing advice.

This is a nice idea,  but I agree with Hauke that this risks increasing the extent to which EA is an echo chamber.  Perhaps you're not aware of the (over)hype around some of these books in EA.  

 I think  Rationally Speaking is particularly good at engaging with a range of people and perspectives.  

FWIW, I think -7 karma is an inappropriately low karma level for Hauke's comment. I don't totally agree with Hauke's views in this thread, and I'm inclined to think it would've been slightly better if he commented his points without also downvoting my post. But I think it's good that he made his comments, because I think they:

  • express reasonable views
  • do so in a civil manner
  • have made me think more about things worth thinking about
  • prompted me to edit this post in a way that has made the post better

Relatedly, I think that downvoting his comment to negative karma is probably a bit bad for the community.

So I've now relinquished my Swiss neutrality to strong upvote his comment and bring it back to 0. (Alas, that is the limit of my karmic powers - I assume this is what Nate Soares meant by saying we are not yet gods?)

On a meta note, I wonder if it's a bad idea to think in terms of „How much total karma should this comment have?“, instead of treating it like a vote where each person only reacts in terms of how valuable he or she personally found the comment. With the former approach other people might be inclined to use their strong up- or downvotes to counteract this strategy again because they think the vote should represent what „the people“ individually think versus what a single high karma user thinks should be the correct number of points.

Yeah, I'm unsure, and think it's a good question. I'm also guessing it's been discussed on the Forum before, though I can't recall such discussions off the top of my head. How to use the Forum seems to not mention this issue - which is understandable, as it's not one of the most important things about how to use the Forum.

I think I usually just vote based on my own views, without taking into account the current karma level of the post/comment. 

I think the exception is when a post/comment is at negative karma. (Though, off the top of my head, I can't remember the last time I upvoted to "correct" a post having negative karma - perhaps it actually hasn't happened before.) The difference between -7 and 1 (for example) feels much larger the difference between 1 and 9; hitting the negatives seem to send a strong signal that the community really doesn't like this, which is sometimes warranted, but I feel like there should be a relatively high bar for that. I think this is partly but not only because negative karma means a comment isn't visible by default (without actively expanding the box). 

I guess there are probably also cases where I think a comment is bad enough to warrant a downvote, but not so bad that it warrants being pushed into the negative. Then I'd probably downvote if the current karma is above 1, but not if the current karma is 1 or below. (I can't remember specific instances of this, but I'm guessing it happens.)

One thing that seems worth noting is that I suspect that it's already the case that people aren't simply judging comments and posts on their merit. Instead, I suspect there can be positive or negative momentum, either from the fact that things with more karma appear higher up or from the same things that drive information cascades and fads. And I think negative karma is a somewhat stable equilibrium, partly because the comment isn't visible by default. If these things are true, then pushing karma back up from negatives or down from quite high positives might in a sense make it so that other people assess the comment in a more "independent" way. 

(Though I'm not sure I'd ever be inclined to push karma down from quite high positives solely for this reason; I think I'd only do it to push things up from negative.)

(Also, I acknowledge that this comment is just a long discussion of the dynamics of somewhat meaningless internet points!)

This has been discussed on lw here: www.lesswrong.com/posts/xBAeSSwLFBs2NCTND/do-you-vote-based-on-what-you-think-total-karma-should-be

Strong opinions on both sides, with a majority of people currently thinking about current karma levels occasioanally but not always.

The EA forum is Serious Business!! Yeah, your thinking here seems pretty reasonable, I also can relate to the felt asymmetry between positive and negative karma. I think I previously noticed current karma points somehow feeding into my upvote decisions and it kinda felt like I don’t approve of it because I thought the ideal would be an independent vote of usefulness or something like that. But I also think that this is not a big factor and it doesn’t have a large impact here.

Btw, I've now edited the post to say:

(Edit: Recommendations that aren't commonly mentioned in EA are particularly valuable, holding general usefulness and EA-relevance constant. See this comment thread.)