Books and Films of the Year – 2017

(As with every year I do this, my favourites are chosen from those I experienced this year. Actual release date is irrelevant)

Books

Honourable mentions go to SPQR and Black Flags. My three favourites of the year, in reverse order, are:

3) Narconomics 

Narconomics applies economic principles to the illegal drugs trade. Why does collusion between gangs make sense for them in one country but not another? Why is destroying drug crops mostly futile? Tom Wainwright isn’t just an economist dryly applying theories at a remove from the reality of the drugs trade, he gets in amongst it. Narconomics is both an original look at the industry and a fascinating insight into how it currently operates.

2) The Undoing Project

How can a book about behavioural economists can be so enjoyable? Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the field. Michael Lewis, dominator of nonfiction bestseller lists, documents their work, relationship, and their intriguing lives.

Imagine a university economics professor. You’re probably picturing glasses, poor posture, perhaps tweed. Now imagine them leaving work early and rushing to the airport in order to fly home and command a battalion of tanks to protect their homeland. Moments like this (plus great writing and the pair’s strong bond) make a potentially dry book idea into something electric and cinematic. I could see this being another of Lewis’ books adapted into a film, if not for Israel being such a political hot potato (and you can’t really relocate the protagonists because they’re actual people). A great book, both as entertainment and an education on your mental biases and blind spots.

1) Sapiens

I struggle to explain what I got from this book because I got so much. It covers the rise of, well, us, from hunter-gatherers to farmers to knowledge workers. And religion, geography, slavery, evolution, and more. Its discussion of social constructs affects the way I think about many things now, including money (particularly relevant with Bitcoin currently so popular).

I’ve read a lot of books I’ve loved, but only two have had an effect on my everyday life: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, and this. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Films

I managed to pick my top three but was unable to prioritise them.

a) Prisoners

Prisoners is about the abduction of two young girls and the effect that has on their family. It’s sad, brutal, tense and intriguing. There is some symbolism and references that, having researched after watching it, I didn’t fully pick up on. So I look forward to seeing it again

b) X-Men: Days of Future Past

Someone mentioned on Twitter that this was the best X-Men film by a mile. I’m a huge fan of X-Men 2. So I was like, ‘Lol, yeah, whatevs douche’, or whatever youngsters say nowadays. But I decided to actually do some research before commenting (which is not the Internet Way). X2 is great, but Days is greater. The most remarkable thing about it is how it constantly puts the right foot forward. Film-making is a vast series of decisions. Even with the best minds behind it, statistically, something major should eventually go wrong. But it nails everything. Like Professor X in Dude Lebowski mode, getting drunk at home in his dressing gown. It introduces a character (Quicksilver) who moves fast enough to be unstoppable and make others pale in comparison, but has the sense to exit him early. One of the final scenes is surprisingly brutal for this type of film. All great moments done exceedingly well. Days is on the highest echelon of ‘capes films.

c) The Disaster Artist

(I thought about putting this #1 on the list, but figured I may be guilty of recency bias because I just saw it two weeks ago).

I think seeing The Room (which is on Youtube) helps to fully appreciate this film, although you don’t need to have read the book of the same name. Although you should read the book because it’s brilliant.

I was never a fan of James Franco. Have you ever seen Keeping Up with the Kardashians and saw Rob constantly look like he’d rather be elsewhere? That’s how I felt about James Franco on a Hollywood set. The only time I actually enjoyed his acting was the brief moment in Spiderman 3 where his character suffers from amnesia and wanders around without a care in the world. Good films he was in (like Rise of the Planet of the Apes) were good in spite of him, not because.

But he did an amazing job with the Disaster Artist. Playing Tommy Wiseau is a tough gig — Wiseau is a real person (who’s ingrained in the minds of anyone who has seen The Room) with a bizarre accent, and is so weird that even playing him accurately could seem unbelievable to many viewers. Yet Franco absolutely nails him (which shot-by-shot comparisons between The Room and The Disaster Artist make clear) and manages to make the absurd Wiseau sympathetic.

Franco’s direction is even better. This is another film that has no flat moments. The ‘naked Tommy’ scene is incredible, with its humour, handheld camerawork and long takes adding to the tension, and Franco’s complete dedication to his role. I expect to see Franco nominated for Best Director and Best Actor at the next Oscars. Writing that feels wrong.

 

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Friday Links: 03/03/17

Self-spam

For the first time in forever, I wrote something outside of this blog:

How to Save the NBA All-Star Game

Books

Almost finished Chaos Monkeys (a good read but I doubt I’d read it again). Next up, When Breath Becomes Air.

Online:

Realised how daft it was to try to clear my Pocket queue. I’ve now embraced its unfinishedness. Since my last post, I’ve read:

Friday Links: 4th November

Books

Reading:

Warren Buffett biography — Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist

Bought: A few ebooks going cheap on Amazon:
The Richest Man in Babylon (99p)
The Way to Wealth (99p)
Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice (£1.99)

(I’ve decided that, if an ebook I’m interested in is cheap (under £2) I’ll almost certainly buy it. Because I’d regret it if I didn’t and it went back up in price, and it doesn’t take up any physical space (unlike a paperback, which would sit on my shelf and scream Why aren’t you reading me!)

Online:

Another reminder that Lebron James is a magnificent basketball player
Wired reports on the trials occurring within two companies leading Hyperloop development

Listening:

TF + DHH

Friday Links: 28th October

A bumper edition as I didn’t post last week:

Books

Reading: Venture Deals, by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson (I didn’t pay anything close to this price)
Bought: Deep Work, by Cal Newport

Online

My waitbutwhy.com obsession continues. This time, travel:

Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster. This article is adapted from Tim Harford’s new book, Messy. I wasn’t interested in the book until reading that article. My Amazon wishlists are going to collapse under the strain.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. I’d never heard of Brian Greene until listening to this. I feel like I should have — he’s great, a deepy scientific mind, but as appealing to the everyman as Jon Stewart.

Try not to laugh. I failed the test within seconds. Damn you, Will Ferrell.

Friday Links: 14th October

 

About to start reading The Straight-A Conspiracy, by Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien (yes, it is aimed at teenagers. Yes, I am not one of them. Shut up).

Finished reading Think Like An Engineer, by Guru Madhavan. A little disappointed. The writing is a bit ADD — too much switching between topics to keep the reader interested (a la Smartcuts, by Shane Snow). I didn’t learn as much about engineering concepts as I wanted. Plenty of terms are used and emphasised, but not clearly explained.

Obama’s essay from an issue of Wired he guest-edited (I’m cynical about how much was truly him, but whatever)

You generally have to be mental to think you can succeed in the restaurant business. Particularly in NYC

What my current Amazon wishlist looks like (edited to remove Kindle and second-hand books for simplicity, in case my parents use it to buy my Christmas presents)

wishlist

Friday Links (on a Monday), 05/09

Podcasts

An excellent Sam Harris podcast in which he reads from an ISIS magazine
Harris again, this time in conversation with Eric Weinstein
(Right now I’m fascinated by Eric Weinstein, a man who’s the MD of a hedge fund without having ever taken an economics class, and had also held positions in the fields of science and mathematics. His interview with Tim Ferriss is great too)

Films watched:

The Martian, Inside Out, Chappie, Going Clear

Reading

Books read:
The Man in the High Castle (unimpressive)
Why Nations Fail 

To read next:
Prisoner’s Dilemma
Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Online:
Waitbutwhy.com continues to be amazing. Here’s a post on sound and one on the Hyperloop

Unrequested Update: November

Reading
The Dice Man by ‘Luke Rhinehart’ (again)
A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell
Continuing to slug away at Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire.
Have finished (and recommend) The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Watching
Euroleague basketball as a poor replacement for the NBA
How It’s Made, a show about—incredibly—how things are made. Did you know bus seats are essentially knife-proof?
Brain Games, as I have a man-crush on its host Jason Silva

Playing
Hitman: Absolution, in short sessions (not the ideal way to play a Hitman game)
And still inching through Half-Life 2

Else
Wellness – November is No Chocolate or Fizzy Drinks Six Days a Week Month. Not the catchiest of names, I know. After the first week I felt healthier. Since then I haven’t noticed a difference, and I wonder if what I felt initially was a placebo effect. I’m also doing a bit more mobility work (following the Leopard King’s instructions), which is working to combat the effects of sitting at a desk all day.

I’m intrigued by big idea people at the moment: Elon Musk trying to colonise Mars. Kevin Kelly wants to bring back the mammoth. Tony Robbins is trying to provide 100 million meals for the poor. 100 million.