1. Time Loops: Precognition, Retrocausation, and the Unconscious (2018) by Eric Wargo
This is a fascinating book about the type of precognition often experienced in dreams, built off the work of J.W. Dunne. Author Eric Wargo provides numerous famous examples of precognitive dreams, often about traumatic events such as plane crashes or the sinking of the Titanic. Wargo claims such cases of precognition are actually “prememory”: your unconscious mind remembering a future memory, not of the event itself, but of your emotional reaction to learning news of the event. Both the author and I are aware of how crazy and “woo” this all sounds, but Wargo’s research is scientifically rigorous, and he walks a fine line of being both skeptical about paranormal claims but also open-minded to their possibilities (something I wish more on both sides of the paranormal/skeptical debate were willing to do).
For instance, after 9/11 many people reported having prophetic dreams about the attack before it happened, but the details were often vague, with no dates or locations, so it was not as if they could have prevented the events of that day. According to Wargo, time exists in a block universe where the future is set and cannot be changed. The “precogs” were not dreaming of the 9/11 attacks themselves, but sort of “pre-remembering” their personal emotional reaction upon learning about the attacks in the news and watching it on TV. This type of precognition often happens with artists and creative types (like Philip K. Dick, Carl Jung, and Vladimir Nabokov), where in some cases they dream of a book they will later write.
I first learned of Eric Wargo and his “time loops” theory several years ago when I heard him interviewed about his book on the Hermitix podcast and have been wanting to read it since. It inspired me to start keeping a dream journal of my own, which I’ve been doing for three years now. I’ve always had a fascination with dreams but never seriously studied my own. Since keeping the dream journal, there have been some slight synchronicities, but nothing major—yet. Though, as Wargo explains, the precognition in dreams works obliquely, and you will only recognize it as precognitive retroactively, sometimes years or even decades later. So we shall see…
2. The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom (1943) by James Burnham
I’d been wanting to read this book of political philosophy after hearing it repeatedly recommended by the likes of Curtis Yarvin and Michael Malice. I normally snap pictures of especially memorable quotes while reading, and this was one of those rare gems where I was photographing practically every line on every page. Most people believe the United States is a democracy where you vote for politicians who represent your interests, then they wonder why, even when their side wins, their interests never seem to be met. “The Machiavellians” explain why. The book studies the work of Niccolò Machiavelli, the first true political scientist, and those he influenced including Gaetano Mosca, Georges Sorel, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto. As Burnham explains, Machiavelli is often misunderstood for condoning unethical political behavior; however, he was merely explaining in an objective way how politics works in reality. Politics essentially boils down to the struggle for power. Certain people will do anything to attain power, and such people (the “elites”) rise to the top of society.
Another aspect of The Machiavellians is the fact that all societies are founded on and held together by myths. This is neither a good nor bad thing in itself, depending on the myths, but when belief in those commonly held myths erodes, society erodes with it. New myths shepherded by new elites must replace them. This “cycling of the elites” is a natural process that recurs in all societies throughout history. When this cycle is stymied, when the most talented elites are prevented from rising to power by inferior entrenched elites, problems arise. Organizations are often founded by visionary geniuses but later taken over by managers and bureaucrats, or the “professional-managerial class” (detailed in the next Burnham book on my to-read list), and over time the quality of the managers deteriorates until the organization collapses. This applies to business as well as government organizations. Keep in mind this book was written in 1943, built on Machiavelli’s work from the 16th-century, which was itself based on history dating back to ancient Rome. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
I am generally libertarian in that I support maximum individual freedom for all, so long as your actions do not inhibit the freedom of others. In a perfect world, everyone would agree to “live and let live” and follow the non-aggression principle, but this world is not perfect. While the political and economic theory of libertarianism is logically correct, the reason we don’t have a libertarian government may be its failure to account for human nature and power dynamics. As Burnham wrote, “The men who want and are able to get power never have the necessary kind of good will, but always seek, for themselves and their group, still more power. In real social life, only power can control power.” In every society, no matter the form of government, be it monarchy, democracy, or oligarchy (which are the only three forms of government), there exists a minority “ruling class” who will seek and hold power over the masses. Hence the United States today is much closer to an oligarchy than a democracy.
In a healthy society, the goals and incentives of the elite ruling class would align with those of the masses. No matter your particular political persuasion, I think it is fairly obvious that today the aims of the ruling class and the masses are not properly aligned. The question is how to align them? Machiavelli (republicanism with limited terms), Yarvin (CEO-based monarchism), and Malice (private property-based anarchism) have three different answers. I do not know who is right, but Burnham’s book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how politics actually works. Only when enough people understand how politics really works can we even attempt to fix it.
3. Bronze Age Mindset (2018) by Bronze Age Pervert
I guess I have to start with all the necessary disclaimers: “I don’t agree with everything Bronze Age Pervert says, but… etc, etc, etc…” BAP is a somewhat infamous figure in the “New Right,” having been banned from Twitter (until Elon Musk recently brought him back) and criticized for all the naughty “-isms.” BAP is anonymous yet extremely influential in a certain sphere of the internet. This is the book that put him on the map and spawned a cultural movement. It’s part political manifesto, part philosophical treatise, part revisionist history, part aesthetic criticism, part self-help book, part health and fitness guide, part absurdist comedy, and part performance art (as it is written in his unique voice).
Bronze Age Mindset essentially claims that modern society is decrepit—we are in the “longhouse.” He calls for a return to the mindset of the Bronze Age, by embracing vitalism, brotherhood, heroic adventure, truth, and beauty. Above all, possessing strength in both mind and body. BAP basically updates Nietzsche’s philosophy for the modern age—which really doesn’t need to be “updated” all that much, as Nietzsche predicted so many of the ills that plague society today. Again, I don’t endorse everything in the book (I don’t endorse everything anyone says), but it is an inspiring read.
4. The Network State: How To Start a New Country (2022) by Balaji S. Srinivasan
This is a mind-blowing work of futurism by one of the most creative thinkers today about technology, business, media, crypto, and politics—and how they will all affect each other in the near-future to create “network states.” Balaji’s summarization of the book in one sentence: “A network state is a highly aligned online community with a capacity for collective action that crowdfunds territory around the world and eventually gains diplomatic recognition from pre-existing states.” He speculates that the future will bring “startup cities” which will turn into private countries. These may begin within or alongside traditional nation-states but will likely eventually overtake them. This will not happen through war or conflict; current pre-digital states will crumble under their own weight.
Balaji goes through the history that led to this moment as well as the present and future technologies that will enable it to happen. Cryptocurrency and web3 will lead to decentralization, which can help end the rise of political polarization. In the future, you can voluntarily join a private network state that best suits your values, and if you are dissatisfied, you are free to exit to another network state.
This is similar to Curtis Yarvin’s idea of “patchwork.” Network states could be the answer to the problem posed in The Machiavellians, of how to align the incentives of the rulers and the ruled. Technology has always been a double-edged sword that could be used to decentralize power for individual freedom or centralize power for authoritarian control. A libertarian government has never been sustainable in history, but advancements in technology may make it possible. I could envision a future anarcho-capitalist network state using a combination of crypto and AI to enforce the NAP. There would be agreed-upon rules but no rulers—no political power vacuum for Machiavellian elites to seize.
Of course, currently entrenched elites will not give up their power without a fight. Balaji sees the future divide in America no longer being “red vs. blue” but “orange vs. green”, or Bitcoin vs. the US dollar.
I find the idea of network states highly intriguing and was already planning to write a science fiction story set in such a near-future world. This book will help serve as a manual for my worldbuilding, but it is not just for science fiction writers or network state founders—the future world he envisions will soon be present reality for everyone. Balaji’s track record of future predictions is quite impressive. The Network State is available to read for free online.
5. The Medium is the Massage (1967) by Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore
A brief but dense distillation of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, which are more relevant than ever. His famous quote is, “The medium is the message,” which the title of this book riffs on. It basically means that the medium in which you consume content (be it a magazine, television, Facebook, podcast, or TikTok) has a greater effect than whatever the actual message of that content is. I wrote about this in my “Twitter Detox” blog post, how consuming an endless stream of short unrelated messages (usually intended to provoke outrage or fear) from a device with you at all times changes your brain chemistry regardless of what those individual tweets say. The medium is the message.
McLuhan saw better than anyone how profoundly and thoroughly information and communication technology would change individual humans and society at large in the future (now our present). He mostly wrote about television, the most advanced tech of his time, but his same ideas apply to the internet and social media—perhaps even more so.
6. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman
A prophetic book about how television is negatively affecting society, in the vein of Marshall McLuhan. Postman writes about how the shift from predominantly text-based information to watching television has eroded public discourse. TV news especially has lowered the discourse around politics by turning it into entertainment rather than education. Much of what Postman predicted has come to pass, and his critiques of television can easily apply to the internet and social media, whose effects may be worse than he envisaged with television.
Postman basically sees the dystopian future enacted by television (or the internet) as more Huxley than Orwell—i.e. you won’t need Big Brother to censor important information because people won’t even want to seek it out, preferring to watch mindless entertainment. As the title says, we will amuse ourselves to death: be more drawn toward base-level mindless entertainment than intellectually and artistically challenging material. This trend has only gotten worse since then with the internet and social media algorithms that feed you more and more of what you want rather than what you need—or worse, what certain corporate and government powers want you to want.
7. Eating the Dinosaur (2009) by Chuck Klosterman
Klosterman has long been one of my favorite writers, though I had never read this collection of essays from 2009. In classic Klosterman fashion, he philosophically examines pop culture, covering a wide variety of subjects including the art of interviewing and the nature of truth, the similarities between Kurt Cobain and David Koresh, the philosophy of time travel…
…the legacy of underachieving NBA player Ralph Sampson, voyeurism, Garth Brooks, why NFL football is the most progressive sport, ABBA, laugh tracks in sitcoms, how advertising weaponizes nostalgia, Weezer, Ralph Nader, and the Unabomber.
P.S. “Uncle Ted’s” manifesto is another prophetic vision of society’s future/present problems that is worth reading. It is not the ravings of a madman, but a detailed and considered, highly intelligent, and articulate critique of technology and modern society. Much of what he predicted would happen has already come true. Needless to say, I don’t agree with everything Ted K. says, especially his solutions, and I completely condemn his mailing of bombs or any use of violence. Though even then, there was a method to the madness. It was not that Kaczynski thought sending bombs to people contributing to industrial society would actually stop technological progress (which it did not); he thought it would bring attention to his manifesto (which it did).
8. How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems (2019) by Randall Munroe
On a lighter note, this is an illustrated “how to” guide for what begin as seemingly simple questions, but Randall takes the scenarios to absurd extremes, exploring humorous yet scientifically detailed round-about ways to do otherwise ordinary things—like digging a hole or walking a dog.
The book is similar in writing and drawing style to Tim Urban’s “Wait But Why”, one of my favorite blogs. Munroe is also the creator of the fantastic web comic strip xkcd.
9. Who Built the Moon? (2005) by Christopher Knight & Alan Butler
This book details all the unusual oddities and anomalies about our moon, including how it is mostly hollow and how it appears exactly the same size in the night sky as the sun. Life on earth would be impossible without the moon creating tides in the ocean to stabilize the climate and create the primordial soup from which humans evolved. The authors use various pieces of scientific evidence to theorize that the moon is artificial, built 4 billion years ago. But by who? Ancient aliens? No, they speculate that the moon was (or will be) built by human time travelers from our future. I am less persuaded by that ultimate conclusion (though I can’t rule it out), but nevertheless the mysteries of the moon remain fascinating. Even if you disagree with their conclusion and find it preposterous (which I kinda do as well), the rest of the book detailing the scientifically-proven anomalies about the moon is still worth reading. I cannot wait for future lunar space missions to explore the moon further and definitively answer the titular question of this book. [P.S. The artificial moon concept is part of a science fiction story I’m working on, which is why I wanted to read this book.]
10. The Simulation Hypothesis (2019) by Rizwan Virk
A comprehensive look at the “simulation theory” or the idea that the universe may be a computer simulation. Virk is a video game developer so he looks at the many ways the universe seems to be programmed in the same way video games are, including how quantum indeterminacy is similar to optimization algorithms. He distinguishes between two types of potential simulations: the NPC or RPG. In the first, we would be like non-player characters in a video game, completely programmed with a deterministic future. But in the second, we would be conscious beings with free will in another dimension of reality using avatars to experience this simulation (like a roleplaying video game). Virk also ties in Eastern religions and how many of the ancient spiritual texts align with the simulation hypothesis. I remain agnostic about whether we are in a simulation or not (it’s the kind of question that can likely never be proven or disproven), but it remains a fascinating topic and a recurring theme in my fiction.
Honorable Mentions (alphabetical by author):
Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives (2012) by Mario Beauregard
This book argues that consciousness cannot be reduced to a materialist process of the brain. As evidence, Beauregard cites various examples such as the placebo effect, neurofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, psi phenomena (remote viewing, clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition), near-death experiences, and mystical experiences. I’m not sold on all (or even most) paranormal claims, but there is definitely more to the universe than the reductionist materialist framework.
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (2001) by Orson Scott Card
A great book on how to write fiction, specifically sci-fi and fantasy, from a highly successful writer in the field. Card covers both the craft and business side. I would recommend it to any science fiction writer.
Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings, 1987-2007 (2011) by Nick Land
I had previously read philosopher Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment and Xenosystems (on neoreaction and accelerationism) and his writing on Bitcoin, all of which I found much more accessible, intriguing, and recommendable than this earlier work.
Some of Fanged Noumena was difficult to get through—I’ll admit much of the book went over my head. The early essays were very abstract with philosophical jargon that was difficult to parse, and some of the later essays of experimental futurism were also difficult to parse for different reasons…
Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) by H.P. Lovecraft
I read this short book/long essay several years ago when I first got into Lovecraft, but it was worth re-reading now that I’ve read more of Lovecraft’s work and many of the masters of weird fiction he references, such as Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, M.R. James, and Lord Dunsany.
Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (2017) by Angela Nagle
This book explains the backstory of the online culture wars stemming from “GamerGate,” leading up to the election of Trump. I was unaware of much of the online culture wars pre-2016, after which it really blew up (and has continued to blow up and become ever more intrusive to this day).
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010) by Mary Roach
An inside look at some of the odd everyday things astronauts experience in space, plus the prospects of a future mission to Mars.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (2013) by Brad Stone
Everyone is familiar with Amazon and Jeff Bezos, but I never knew his personal story and the history of how he built his company into the Goliath it is today. Though Amazon started as an online bookseller (selling exclusively physical books), Bezos had a clear vision from the very beginning of turning Amazon into the online “everything store,” and it is astonishing how he was able to fulfill that mission (including his plans of going to space). Amazon is often criticized for destroying smaller businesses, but they only do that by always putting the customers first and offering the lowest prices possible at the expense of sellers. People like to complain about Amazon, but they are only as big and successful as they are because their customers are satisfied.
What is most impressive about Bezos is his vision. He saw what the internet could be before few else, and the same for so many other aspects of life, such as e-books, the Kindle, and AWS. Is it possible for the richest man in the world to be underrated as a business genius? Because Jeff Bezos might be.
The Secret Life of Plants: A Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man (1973) by Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird
This is about the esoteric nature of plant life, showing the possible scientific evidence for consciousness and ESP in plants. The authors talked about Goethe’s work on uniting science and poetry, as well as Rudolf Steiner’s work on biodynamics. In a synchronicity, I discovered Steiner founded a farm right near my hometown in Rockland County, NY, which is still operating according to his principles to this day. Another synchronicity was me discovering this book at all, as it was left for free on a rack at a local library after being discarded.
The ESP parts of the book were a bit speculative and questionable, but the authors also covered more scientifically grounded things such as the soil (no pun intended). The health of the soil is vital to the health of the plants that grow in it, and thereby the health of the people who consume those plants. This book was warning about the deterioration of the soil due to chemicals such as glysophate decades ago, yet the situation has only gotten drastically worse since then…
Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own (2013) by David Toomey
A science book about some of the weirdest life forms on earth and how alien life, if it exists, may be even weirder.
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth (2020) by John C. Wright
A great collection of essays by science fiction writer John C. Wright on various topics including sci-fi, fantasy, writing, art, philosophy, science, technology, politics, and religion, including his conversion to Christianity—and the intersection of all of the above.
Much of the other nonfiction reading I did this past year was via blogs. You can see some of my favorites on last year’s list, but here are some new Substacks I started following this past year:
- Astral Flight Simulation
- The Carousel by Isaac Simpson
- Default Wisdom by Katherine Dee
- Effluvia by God Disk
- The Egg And The Rock by Julian Gough
- From the New World by Brian Chau
- Living into the Dark by Matt Cardin
- Numb at the Lodge by Sam Kriss
- The Obelisk by The Bizarchives
- Pirate Wires by Mic Solana
- The Prism by Gurwinder
- shift sepulchre by ctrlcreep
- Teach Robots Love by Autumn Christian
- Time Zone Weird (It seems everyone started a Substack last year.)
- The Total State by Auron MacIntyre
- Zero HP Lovecraft