In this post I want to lay out a couple of different books, podcasts and other forms of media I consume and give a short pitch of their content. This list will be continuously updated over time when I have new recommendations. If you think there is something missing, feel free to contact me via your preferred means of communication. I need to point out that the media I consume is obviously reflective of the values I hold and the bubble I am part of, meaning you can expect a Rationalist, Bayesian, Effective Altruist, culturally left-leaning, etc. bias.
a) print media:
The Economist A socially liberal and market open newspaper that covers political and economic issues on a global scale. The articles are well written and have very high information density. Very good to keep updated on all major things happening around the world.
Die ZEIT A german newspaper covering all major issues around the world, mostly from a German perspective. I would mostly recommend them for a very high-quality detailed analysis of political and social issues. For econ, I think the Economist is better. Written in German, if you don’t speak it just read the Economist.
b) online media:
- Youtube: There are like a Million high quality YouTube channels out there but I just want to recommend some that I found particularly interesting or had a big influence on my thinking:
- General Knowledge: CPG Grey, Wendover Productions, Vox
- Political Comedy: Last Week Tonight, Patriot Act, Full frontal with samantha bee
- Machine Learning and AI safety: Rob Miles, Two Minute Papers, Arxiv Insights
- UK Politics: TLDR news
- Cultural Analysis: ContraPoints, Popculture detective, Innuendo Studios
- Film: Every Frame a painting
- Miscellaneous: Alt shift X
- German public service documentaries: WDR Doku, ARD, ARTEde, STRG F, Y-Kollektiv
- Blogs: I never really stuck to consistently reading a blog or website of a person or institution consistently. The only ones that made me come back from time to time are the following ones: For tech news and revelations in the field of ML I check out the OpenAI and DeepMind blog. For AI security I read the AI alignment forum. For US politics with a framing on strategy I consult FiveThirtyEight and for interesting takes on social, economic and science views I recommend Slate Star Codex.
I have linked the original podcasts but you can also find them in your prefered podcast app.
- Rationally Speaking: 45-60 minute episodes about topics concerning rationality and effective altruism. Julias (she is the host) ability to ask exactly the question that I have in mind in every episode is astonishing every single time.
- 80k Hours Podcast: Episodes of varying lengths (up to 4h) about the worlds most pressing problems. Rob Wiblin is always very well prepared and asks interesting questions. I can recommend this podcast to everyone but specifically to people who are interested in EA topics.
- Probable Causation: 40-60 minute episodes about law, economics, and crime, hosted by Jennifer Doleac. I really like that she looks on crime through the lense of an economist always looking for the statistical evidence for or against a given claim. The depth of her understanding of statistics, methodology and causality is very impressive and I can recommend this to everyone who is a quantitative person and somewhat interested in crime.
- Freakonomics Radio: 45-60 minute episodes about social and econ topics. IMO very well researched and tries to give a fair and accurate overview over the scientific status quo of a topic.
- The Inquiry: 25-minute episodes about a controversial topic from the news. Four experts are asked for their opinion on both sides of a topic. IMO mostly a good overview of the different perspectives of a topic. I am often able to take away a new argument or framing w.r.t. any subject, specifically if the theme is a bit niche.
- FiveThirtyEight: Most useful for a more strategic overview over any form of political incidents in the US. If you are a stats or modeling person I can very much recommend the model talk episodes.
- ZEIT Verbrechen: German podcast series dealing with historical moments in German crime and law history. Pretty interesting content, but unfortunately not very information-dense. I mostly listen to it at double speed or while trying to relax.
- DeepMind Podcast: Great overview over the current state of the DeepMind research areas. For people with ML background maybe a bit superficial but still useful, great for everyone else.
- AI Alignment Podcast: Detailed episodes about the current state of AI alignment ranging from lots of technical talks over AI governance and policy to high-level questions about consciousness.
- Masters of Scale: Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, talks with guests about start-ups and what it takes to grow a business. I would recommend this if you are interested in start-ups.
- Atomic Habits: The only book on productivity that is not bad - and it’s not only not bad but really good. James clear explains the problems with productivity in a relatable fashion and gives advice everyone can apply. In contrast to other books on productivity it doesn’t overpromise the results but emphasizes slow and boring change that work.
- The Precipice: By far the best book on existential risk. Toby Ords writing style is very impressive: The information density is high but you understand everything very clearly. My favorite thing about the book is how well Toby Ord quantifies the scientific uncertainty of a given topic so that the reader can better understand the risk attached to specific existential scenarios.
- Nudge: Good introduction into the science of nudging, i.e. a way to make people behave in a way that is good for them and society and increases the chance of them achieving their own long term goals.
- Elephant in the brain: This book is the go-to source to learn about why humans use virtue signaling. Why do we brag to our friends? why do we act differently depending on the social context?
- The selfish gene: This book changed the way I think about motivations and behavior in a strong way. It poses the hypothesis that humans mostly act as a vessel of our genes and consciousness, volition and other higher-order concepts are merely a proxy to achieve the procreation of our genes in a more effective way. I was surprised by how much explanatory power this hypothesis has and definitely think it has a very high degree of validity even if other factors probably also play a role.
- Inadequate equilibria: If you always wonder why ‘everyone but me and my peers is acting so dumb’ read this book. It explores some reasons as to why the outcome of many people working together can be negative even when everyone has good intentions and how to break these ‘inadequate equilibria’.
- Poor economics: Gave me some really good insights about the decision making processes and rationality of poor people. The authors won the Nobel prize for economics in 2019 and the quality of the book definitely reflects that.
- Science Fiction: Great summary of the problems with science and academia and promising approaches to fix them. The style is exactly the right mix of informative, ironic and precise.
- Harry Potter and the methods of rationality: Harry Potter fanfiction written by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Deals with many questions of science and rationality in the world of Harry Potter. Even though it is a 1500 page pdf I read it in under a week. Can only recommend it.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: The only fantasy book I am still able to read without getting bored. In most of the fantasy literature, you follow one hero on their journey to fight a great evil. After 300 pages of a training montage, a romance and old wise people giving advice they finally face and defeat the enemy by some random trick that was entirely unforeseeable by the audience. In ASOIF that is not the case. Bad decisions get you killed and the characters are more than one-dimensional heroes.
- Super Intelligence: Nick Bostrom presents a case for why Artificial General Intelligence is perhaps one of the biggest challenges humanity will face. What, for example, happens if the AI is not aligned with human moral values and decides to enslave us? Or what do we do if its capacity to process information and understand complex information is so large that it suffers tremendous amounts of pain?
- Thinking Fast and Slow: Definitely one of my favorites. Great introduction to human biases and decision making. Had a great influence on my view of rationality and problem-solving strategies.
- Bear Neuroscience: More of a niche recommendation. It was the lecture book for my neuroscience classes but I was surprised by how easy it is to read and how well made the graphics and explanations are. Only for people interested in neuroscience.
If you liked the recommendations above, you should check out the giving what we can recommendations.
One last note:
If you have any feedback regarding anything (i.e. layout, code or opinions) please tell me in a constructive manner via your preferred means of communication.