Hauke Hillebrandt, PhD | Let's Fund Co-founder

Pronouns: he, him, his


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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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).

Charges against BitMEX and cofounders

Justifying potentially bad stuff with "the stakes of the work EA does" feels like a slippery slope and a bit fanatic.  There should be principled reasons that holds true for all charities, the cost-benefit approach you use the second part of your comment is better. Related: this thread on whether it's okay to work in the Tobacco industry.

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

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

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:

Let's Fund Living review: 2020 update

That's a great question.

Does this mean you're considering fading out the fundraising aspect of your work?

I'm currently deprioritizing the fundraising, and eventually, it's very likely that it'll be faded out. And the research wouldn't be funding oriented anymore either and less applied - not unlike the piece on growth.

There are many reasons- I want to write more about the role of philanthropy in EA in the future. 

In brief, the crucial consideration is that multiobjective optimization is generally less effective than single objective optimization and the current model tries to optimize for both money moved and doing research. But if you want to optimize for money moved, then you need to focus on high networth philanthropy, which is way more effective, because of wealth inequality. That's why I think it's best to focus on research.

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