People interact by persuasion, by trade, and by force, and technology is changing all of these at the same time.
The question I want to answer here is: how can we survive and prosper in a changing world? Here are some of the books that I’ve pulled ideas from:
Brand Luther by Andrew Pettegree (Penguin, 2015). In 1517, Martin Luther was upset at what he saw as the corruption of the Church. He wasn’t the first, but his use of the printing press to spread his message and writing in popular German rather than ecclesiastical Latin made the difference. He became the most famous man in Europe and successfully attacked the most powerful institution of his day.
The Invisible Weapon by Daniel Headrick (Oxford University Press, 1991). The telegraph (called by author Tom Standage the “Victorian Internet”) allowed information to travel faster than people and gave imperial powers greater control over their colonies. But the control came at a cost. Decisions were made more hurriedly and by people further from the action.
Twitter and Tear Gas by Zeynep Tufekci (Yale University Press, 2017). Social media has given modern protest movements powerful new tools. Tufekci has seen Internet-enabled movements from the inside and gives her view of how these new tools will change politics, technology, and culture.
Money and Economics
Principles of Economics by Carl Menger (Mises Institute, 2007). An excellent introduction to the ideas of economics: economic goods, value, prices, and money. Despite being written in 1871, it’s written in a clear style that’s easy to understand. Menger introduced the idea of marginal utility, which is the key to understanding what makes something valuable.
The Death of Money by James Rickards (Penguin, 2014). The remedies for the financial crisis of 2008 eased the symptoms but didn’t solve the underlying problem. Quantative easing works in the same way that vodka cures a hangover. Since World War II, the US dollar has underpinned the world’s financial system but easy money, inflation, and trade wars threaten that.
The Bitcoin Standard by Saifedean Ammous (Wiley, 2018). Bitcoin is not mentioned until chapter eight of ten. The book covers what money is, what makes good money, and why sound money is so important. There’s a big emphasis on “time preference,” the idea behind delayed gratification, and the link between monetary inflation and culture. Bitcoin is discussed as an antidote to the failures of central banking.
Warfare and Power
Weapons Systems and Political Stability by Carroll Quigley (University Press of America, 1983). The weapons we use have a far-reaching impact our social and political systems. This vast history of weapons from the stone age to the beginnings of modernity traces their impact on who ends up with political power and how they use it. Quigley died before he finished the book but this incomplete, unedited manuscript is still readable and rich with insight.
Brave New War by John Robb (Wiley, 2007). The same technology that has powered globalisation and allowed solo entrepreneurs to take on big brands is enabling guerrilla armies, criminal gangs, and lone-wolf terrorists to innovate and “disrupt” the violence industry. Robb describes the problem and offers up some ideas of what might work to protect us and what probably won’t.
Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter (Broadway, 2014). Sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program would have been too difficult with cruise missiles, so the United States and Israel turned to software. Stuxnet was a piece of malware targeting the centrifuges that purified Iran’s uranium. This book is the story of how Stuxnet was discovered, how it worked, and what it means for the future of warfare.
Work and Automation
The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (Norton, 2014). Unbelievable prosperity is possible, using the constantly doubling power of our technology. How do we harness that power and benefit from it? The authors try to answer that question for both individuals and society.
The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg (Pan, 1997). This book’s subtitle gave me the “survive and prosper” question I’m trying to answer with this site. It’s wide-ranging and prescient. A previous book by the same authors predicted the collapse of communism. This book, written more than twenty years ago, predicts cryptocurrencies, the gig economy, and the rise of nationalism.