Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What is in your Antilibrary?

Zenpundit mentions in his comments section a great passage from 'The Black Swan':

"The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates vistors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and others - a very small minority- who get the point that a private library is not an ego boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary."
I'd like to pose a question to those who read this blog entry: What are three to five books on your shelf that lay unread and what knowledge do you hope to retrieve from them?

I'm having a gander at the moment through my bookshelves, there are lots. I'll choose some at random.

  • Ill-Gotten Gains: Evasion, Blackmail, Fraud, and Kindred puzzles of the Law by Leo Katz.
    • From this book I wanted to know about how lawyers find loopholes in laws.
  • The Buddha in the Robot: A robot Engineer's thoughts on Science and Religion by Masahiro Mori.
    • The author of this book claims that Robots have the buddha-nature, which is quite interesting and I wanted to find out if AI or robots could have a form of what we called religion.
  • Reinventing the Bazaar: A natural history of markets by John McMillan.
    • I saw this on a Cosma Shalizi book list on markets. It looked interesting and I wanted to learn about markets.
  • Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century by Eric Wolf.
    • I bought this in a military bookstore at a time I wanted to learn about different areas of guerrilla and small wars.
  • Telling Lies: Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics and marriage by Paul Ekman
    • Lately I've been interested in deception. Ekman is considered one of the best psychological researchers on lying and deception.
I suppose I may have to tag people to get a widespread antilibrary booklist going. Feel free if you are reading this blog entry to start your own entry (the more books the better right?). I'll link to you here if I catch it. I shall tag:

Ortho (Ortho responds here.)
Zenpundit (Zen has responded here. He has chosen some interesting books and bloggers to tag!)
Adam Elkus

Update: To keep with the spirit of the quoted paragraph I've added why I bought those books and what I had hope to learn.

Other links updates

Younghusband of Coming Anarchy puts a great spin on the post: A traveller's antilibrary and virtual antilibraries. Great thinking. My virtual antilbrary on my Amazon wishlists would definitely outnumber the real antilibrary as everytime I see an interesting book around the net I add it to Amazon (although I always forget to take books I buy, or lend from the library, off the lists).

Kuipercliff responds.
As does Phil from Amicable Collisions.


Adrian said...

Fawaz Gerges, The Far Enemy - learn a little more on AQ's old structures
Dave Grossman, On Killing - the psychology of organized violence
Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism - was recommended, I don't know what in particular
Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars - more on American intel
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer - mass mobilization
Tip O'Neil, All Politics is Local - haven't read a book on domestic politics in a while
William Simpson, The Prince (on Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan) - it was free, so I took it!

fabius.maximus.cunctator said...

1. Aiméric Chauprade, Géopolitique, Constantes et Changements. Have just started it (again). Wonderful book, from what I ve read already, but rather demanding to read.

- Geopolitics in excellent French. What French officers get to learn. Geopolitics is almost a dirty word where I sit btw. Need to get a good introduction.

2. Col. Rex Applegate, Kill or get Killed. Read two chapters of this old classic, but didn t follow through. A mil policeman s bible.

- Always read the classics. Introduction to something a white collar type has little knowledge of.

3. Anthony Rogers, Churchill`s Folly , Leros and the Aegean. Stuck on p.159 since last summer.

- Curiosity. Am an avid collector of Churchilliana.

4. Reynolds M. Salerno, Vital Crossroads. Probably not worth buying as it seems one of these books which twist facts around a contrarian hypothesis. Next time I have the flu it`ll get a new try.

- The Med`s role in the early stages of WWII.

5. Lothar Gall, Krupp. Heavy ! A flu will not get me through. Pneumonia, at the least.

- Krupp! Schwerindustrie ! I read too much bio stuff about generals, diplomats and writers.

Steve said...

Adrian, you simply have to read The True Believer, it's phenomenal and outlook changing

1. Our Enemy the State by Albert Jay Nock, I've read most of this in pieces but not all the way through
2. The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer
3. Getting Things Done By David Allen - the most ironic of the entries
4. Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty
5. All the Pretty Horses by Carson McCullough

Ymarsakar said...

I have read every book that I went to the bother of buying. Which was mostly fictional works.

Concerning books I can access for free via various means, I have yet to read On War by von Clausewitz. I read the intro, but the rest of the book was quite intimidating. I prefer to use it as a reference source on certain topics rather than to read it from start to finish.

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle was pretty good. Only got 1/2 of the way through it before I lost my place. Because the translation and subject matter makes for difficult reading, after awhile I forgot where I left off, requiring me to read from the beginning once again.

The Shia Revolt was a nice alien perspective on Iraq, given that I only read a few pages of it in the middle before I had to put it down.

Haven't read,

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire -Gibbons

The Republic by Plato

Most of Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzche

All the other works of Plato and Aristotle.

Adrian said...

I have yet to read On War by von Clausewitz. I read the intro, but the rest of the book was quite intimidating. I prefer to use it as a reference source on certain topics rather than to read it from start to finish.

LOL. Most do the same - at least you are honest!

Matthew R. X. Dentith said...

1. 'Under the Black Flag,' David Cordingly.

2. 'She Captains,' Joan Druffet

Both these books deal with the so-called golden age of Caribbean piracy and I've always been interested in that era. Unfortunately I've never had the time to read them.

3. 'The Collected Works of Charles Fort,' Charles Fort.

As someone interested in unusual beliefs and a long-time subscriber to the Fortean Times I know of Fort's work but have never actually read any of his Books of the Damned. I suspect I might never quite get around to these. but am always hopeful I will.

4. 'Alan Turing: The Engima,' Andrew Hodges

I'm fascinated with Turing (and the various conspiracy theories surrounding his life and death) but Hodges book, which is considered excellent, is just too long for me to consider reading at this time. Pity, really, because it's bulk haunts me every time I look at the shelf in my office.

5. 'Talk of the Devil: Repressed Memory and the Ritual Abuse Witch-Hunt,' Richard Guilliatt

It's about the Satanic Abuse Syndrome furore and it's about how Australia dealt with it, which is interesting for me because I really only know the US angle to it.

G said...

Thanks Gents for a great, eclectic set of lists!

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Since I never got around to responding to Sooby's previous Tag posting, I feel guilty about chiming in here.
No I don't.
Here goes:

1) The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. Edited by Robert B. Strassler, translated by Andrea L. Purvis.
This thing is so densely mapped, illustrated, cross-referenced and footnoted that it's not really meant to be read straight through. I'll never finish it, and I love it as much as anything I own.

2) Mark Twain's "The Gilded Age" and

3) "The American Claimant". I'm a Twain fanatic, own several 1st editions, have all the reference works, etc. I'm saving these two for my old age, especially if I come down with a severe illness. The idea being that I won't let go of life without finishing these two books.

4) "Pylon" by William Faulkner. About 20 years ago, I found a copy of Joseph Blotner's two-volume Faulkner bio. Every time I got to a letter, short story, novel, or screenplay in the biography, I read it. It was a two-year project. But I didn't read Pylon, and I can't remember why. Damn you, Munzy. You've made me confront how much I hate closure.

5) The "Left Behind" series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Just joking.

Jay@Soob said...

A late night addition to this already excellent list.

1)"Battle Ready" Tom Clancy (and Gen. Tony Zinni, Tony Koltz.) The book is a bit dated but Zinni's apparent criticism of the Iraq war (despite being a pro-Bush fellow prior to Iraq) will make for interesting reading.

2)"Fatal Shore" Robert Hughes. I got this book as a kid literally two decades ago and have never read it.

3)"The Man Who Smiled" Henning Mankell. I've got a few books long backlog of Mankell, the first mystery writer that I've yet to really enjoy.

4)Everything but "The Prince" in "The Essential Writings of Niccolo Machiavelli." Edited and Translated by Peter Constantine. Broadening my Machiavellian horizons.

5)"The Koran" and "The Bible." While I've read many passages from each an utopian ideal sees me with enough free time to actually engage both these writs from cover to cover. Preferably in the shade of a palm tree. Maybe some white sand under my hammock. With some fine cognac at hand. And maybe a couple of smiling ladies fanning me with giant ferns. Some smoked oysters would be nice...

ortho said...

Subadei, I read Hughes's Fatal Shore last month. I highly recommend it to you and all who read this blog. It's well worth the time that it takes to read.

Jay@Soob said...

Thanks for the recommendation Ortho. All the more pertinent given the nationality of my impressive counter-part here at Soob.

Ymarsakar said...

Concerning philosophy, I used Ayn Rand, Aristotle, some of the philosophy digested summaries of various philosophical branches, to create a foundation in such things as Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, and Politics. Politics meaning, what should be used to govern a people.

I predict that The Prince, Plato's Republic, various writings by Stuart Mill, some of the things ancient historians like Herodotus wrote down, and other similar resources can provide me with a more solid theoretical and practical foundation.

Concerning warfare, the books that I used to form my foundation was Sun Tzu's the Art of War, David Weber's Honor Harrington series, the last half, Weber/Ringo's March series, and various military accounts from milblogs and real life events whether processed from the news or through hindsight years afterwards.

The Art of War never really made sense until a couple of things in theory and reality combined together. And neither would simply reading a book about tactics inform a person concerning what they should be doing in a real life situation, which is where Honor Harrington and the March series come in. It's one thing to learn about principles as Sun Tzu teaches, it is quite another thing to experience it through the eyes of another, whether that other is a military blogger or a fictional character in a fictional universe.

I discovered that things were never as simple as the texts said, certainly never as simple as Sun Tzu listed them as. And yet, up against a skilled commander, things do become that simple, because the fog of war is taken care of and the friction in warfare is decreased.

When you see battle actions taken by numerous individuals and you can follow their thinking, you start learning how to judge tactical situations for yourself. And eventually, you'll move up to strategy by studying Belisarius and various other generals that were spliced apart and fitted back together in SM Stirling's General series and Eric Flint's Belisarius series. The differentiation between tactics and strategy never was made concrete until you saw the difference between tactical success and strategic success. Vietnam and the 2nd Punic Wars could then be analyzed, once you knew the difference. Or you could learn as you go.

I theorize that Clausewitz will explain in greater depth concerning the little itty bitt minutia I have already heard about in military science fiction and seen 3rd or 2nd account from the Iraq war. Logistics is the hardest to master, and Clausewitz definitely would have known about logistics in the Prussian Junker age of his.

As a supplement, although a critical one, Target Focus Training and the OODA cycle illustrated by Colonel Boyd connects human mental faculties with friction in warfare and various other aspects of tactics, strategy, and logistics. While TFT and Boyd was never something I read in a book, the knowledge they provided on human frailties and thinking fallibilities were invaluable.

They are literally the difference between living and dying.

Dan tdaxp said...

Sadly, life in a doctoral program diverts a lot of time from enjoyment-reading, so can't say much here.

Once I'm out of academic, I can start learning again :-)

Anonymous said...

haha dude next time you rip off someone's work you should probably be more subtle about it:

Jay@Soob said...

haha, dude the next time you suggest ripping off someone's work you might want to consider the concept of coincidence. There's some 50 million blogs out there. At come point two people will engage in the same realm of reflection when considering a piece of literature. The concept of the "antilibrary" is hardly obscure.
Last bit, if you're going to levy such defamations at least have the sack to put a name to the accusation, herr Anonymous.

Adrian said...

No way! You're telling me not one but TWO bloggers read a New York Times best-seller book?

Jay@Soob said...

Yes, I know, the implausibility is galactic in proportions. I'd wager even THREE or, Christ, maybe FIVE bloggers read the same book.

Shortly after reading, sadly, all were struck by lightening.

G said...

Yeah, I didn't plagiarise. Subadei and Adrian are also correct. I have nothing else to add here apart from I sent an email to Ryan Holiday outlining the fact several others in the blogosphere had discussed the antilibrary before him (they also either requested books or outlined a list of books). So the only similarities between my post and his is based on five words in total: 'What is in your antilibrary?' Given that I'm a book-a-maniac and I regularly request books off others, as many of you can attest too, then this wouldn't be an unusual request from me.

Anonymous said...

To extend the quantum analogy, we could build a third library: the "superlibrary", which contains books that are simultaneously both read and unread. These might be books that you started reading and then put down, meaning to come back to them at a later date, or books you have certainly read but can't remember a single thing about.

Then there is the Library of Uncertainty, which contains books that you know exactly how long it took you to read, but you can't quite say where they might be. Or, conversely, books you can lay your hands on immediately but are unsure how long they will take to finish.

And don't worry about the striking similarities between your post and Ryan's. This is "spooky action at a distance", and indicates your blogs are in a state of quantum entanglement.

G said...

Chris that is an interesting taxonomy. Retention of information is certainly something I wish I was better at. I try to use a combo of mind maps and flash card software.

Also, it would appear that there are other bloggers acting in the same 'state of quantum entanglement.'

Anonymous said...

Steve, yikes, not sure who "Carson McCullough" is, but the excellent author of "All the Pretty Horses" is Cormac McCarthy. This is the first book of his Border Trilogy, all three of which are amazing.

-Dan K

Matthew Cornell said...

Thanks for the post and the meme. My list is here, sans justifications: 100 Books From The IdeaMatt Anti-Library. Cheers!