The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch: A book review

Book Review: The Beginning of Infinity

Pound-for-pound The Beginning of Infinity has to be the densest collection of batshit-crazy ideas I’ve ever come across.

Never mind the bit about how there are trillions of copies of you constantly branching throughout the multiverse. Deutsch also claims there is nothing in principle stopping us from colonising the stars, transmuting matter like the alchemists of old, bringing an end to death, reversing global warming, and solving any other problem that arises. But that’s not ambitious enough: we also need to casually dismantle the central problem of metaethics, and toss in an argument for objective beauty while we’re at it.

For a maximally disorientating reading experience, Deustch delivers these ideas without the slightest hint of deference towards the multiple fields he bulldozes through—not so much as a deliberate flex, but with the airy detachment of the Don Draper meme: “I don’t think about you at all.”

At first I was annoyed. Then I was amused. Then I was intrigued…

best books 2022

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2022

I read exactly one (1) generalist nonfiction book all year. Normally I am a huge sucker for the kind of books that do the rounds on the podcast circuit—pop-science, sprawling anthropological syntheses, whatever self-help thing is zeitgeisty. Now I still buy them, but I can’t summon the enthusiasm to actually get past the first chapter.

By way of contrast, I had no problem with narrative nonfiction and memoirs. I even managed a few hefty textbooks. But anything outside of specific object-level learning, I don’t want to know about.

In a possibly related development, this was the year I fell in love with the short story as a format. Literary fiction has always felt like a raw deal. I’m incapable of persevering through a book the size of a brick in the hopes that I will maybe be able to extract some obscure payoff (I’m on my third rejection of Brothers Karamazov). But a 20-page short story? I can deal with that, no matter how dense the prose or self-indulgent the author.

I think I read about 200 short stories this year, of which, several make the cut for my favourites below…

best books of 2020

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2020

Over the last couple of years, my reading time has mostly been chewed up by research for my own book. So it came as a great relief to find myself with much more scope to read for pleasure in 2020.

My favourites of the year are a mixture of classics that were so good that I have no choice but to include, along with some lesser-known works where I might actually be able to add a useful signal…

The modern commonplace book cover image (Roam Research graph view)

The Commonplace Book: How to Get Compound Interest on Your Ideas

Everything compounds. Momentum is an underappreciated force of nature: not only in finance, but waistlines, populations, popularity, curiosity, and information.

Ideas want to propagate themselves. When two ideas have sex, most of the offspring are hideous mutants: the shower thoughts, the drunken 3am kitchen ‘creations’. Ramen pizza is probably not going to catch on. But very occasionally, you get something beautiful.

The last post was about collecting and curating the best ideas. This post is about earning compound interest on your collection. The magic happens in the nooks where ideas collide and fuse, but we have to create the right conditions for recombination—the equivalent of turning down the lights and piping Barry Manilow through the speakers.

To earn compound interest on your money, you need somewhere to put it, like a bank account, and a practice for making it grow—an investing strategy. Same goes for information. I suggest the ‘somewhere to put it’ should be a Commonplace Book, and the ‘practice for making it grow’ should be the Zettelkasten Method.

If this is all German to you, no fear. Here’s what we’re going to cover…

Notes on Note Taking: How to Read a Book

Notes on Note Taking: How to Read a Book

Note taking is overrated. Underlining key passages, scribbling insightful observations in the margin of library books to amuse a future stranger—we get it, you read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—the colour-coded set of highlighters, etc. This kind of thing is very cute, and at the risk of offending my favourite productivity pornographers, almost certainly misses the point…

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2019

Last year I finally cracked my goal to read 100 books. After completing the challenge, I decided that I wasn’t going to get too hung up on the number this year.

Sure enough, I dialled it back: I only got through 56 books in 2019, which feels a little disappointing.

But having looked through my list, I realised that this was still a great year for quake reading. As always, it was agonising trying to choose between a worthy field, but I’ve winnowed it down to my top 10.

These are the books that blew my mind, made me howl, or filled my notebook to overflowing. In no particular order:

How to read 100 books a year cover image

Tips For Reading 100+ Books a Year

There’s a stomach-sinking moment of realization that comes in every reader’s life: you’ll run out of years long before you run out of books. Like the monstrous hydra, every title struck off your reading list spawns three more to take its place. The unread piles glowering at you from the bedside table only grow larger. So many secrets, so little […]

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2018

This is normally my favourite post to write. But now I have to somehow pick out the highlights from 100+ contenders. Most of these books were curated and recommended by Deep Dish readers and other people of impeccable taste. I already knew they were going to deliver. And they did!

After much internal debate and killing of darlings, I’ve managed to narrow it down to the top 10. These are the books that blew my mind, made me howl, or filled my notebook to overflowing. In no particular order:

quake books cover neurons

Quake Books That Shake Up Your Brain

Mostly when I read a book, I’m looking for the cute little ‘aha!’ moments. I write ‘em down in my notebook so they can never escape. Sometimes a book also touches me emotionally, and it’s nice to be reminded my blackened heart still beats. And in most cases, that’s the end of it—I turn the last page, and my brain keeps merrily ploughing along the same well-worn tracks as ever.

But every once in a while, I come across something really wild. Gray matter lurches and heaves, while the few remaining brain cells huddle under the kitchen table. Neural pathways are destroyed and rebuilt. When the tremors finally stop, nothing looks the same. My meat-computer has been jolted out of its old familiar ruts, and into a new and unfamiliar area of idea-space. I am shook…

Best books 2017

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2017

It’s been another self-indulgent year of funemployment for yours truly, which means I’ve had the time to read as much as I want; basically cruising around the library with my mouth open like some sort of bibliophilic basking shark. Since most people don’t have this luxury, I hope I can provide a small public service in filtering out the tastiest morsels that have passed through the bristle-like gill rakers encircling my giant, unhinged jaw…

Podcasts: Getting smarter while washing the dishes

Podcasts: Getting Smarter While Washing the Dishes

Being the kind of person who gets antsy if any spare moment is left unfilled, I can’t believe it took me so long to dive into the magical world of podcasts. All that dead time, now brimming with life! It’s kind of trippy that you can be buying bog roll at the supermarket while an astrophysicist sits in your head and explains how black holes work. A vast ocean of knowledge and entertainment is available at the push of a button, and is 100 PER CENT FREE. Here are my top picks.

The 100 Books Challenge: A love letter to reading

The 100 Books Challenge (A Love Letter to Reading)

As a small human being, I made fortnightly trips to the public library with a garbage sack slung over my shoulder. Not a tote, not a grocery bag; a big ol’ garbage sack. Short stories, novellas, comics, teen fiction, non-fiction – all of it disappeared into the sack’s insatiable maw.