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Ancillary Mercy

This third instalment is more similar to the previous book in the series, Ancillary Sword, than either is to the first book. If you read the two in quick succession I think it would be easy to lose track of where one ended and the other began. This one is the weakest of the three. It felt like the scope of the series narrowed too much so the ending doesn't conclude as much of the broader story as you might hope.

Still, no shame in being the third best of these three books.

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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier

A comprehensive investigation of the benefits of cities for innovation, lifestyle and environmental impact. There's some amount of repetition to the arguments, although I may have felt that more keenly because I was already familiar with a lot of the subject matter.

If you've never considered that a major world city like London, New York or Mumbai is a much more environmentally friendly place than rural farmland then you should jump right in and let Glaeser gently but firmly correct your misconceptions.

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Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story

Nominally the book deals with making improvements in any area of your life, but as it grew out of the author's website Nerd Fitness it retains a strong bias towards health and fitness. There's a decent chunk of world travel and a smattering of starting your own business too, reflecting Kamb's own journey through life.

These are of course all well represented sub-genres of self help, but this book's new twist is to approach life like a videogame, considering the challenges you want to tackle in life as 'quests' made up of smaller 'missions'. The goal is to repurpose the techniques that make games addictive and apply them to achieving the things you really care about.

In that sense it's much in the same vein as Jane McGonigal's Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, but with the advantages (if you consider them to be so) of being much shorter and more directly instructional.

It's too early to say whether I'll see any long-term benefits from adopting the strategies from this book, but I've started giving it a try and so far it has at least added a little bit of extra fun to my workouts.


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How Proust Can Change Your Life

This book sits in unusual niche that I wouldn't have expected to exist, straddling the void between self-help and literary criticism. It's a sort of short-cut to reading Proust for people maybe not so inclined to try to unpick a literary masterwork for themselves. It does the unpicking for you, both of Proust's life and his work, illustrating what de Botton thinks are the most important insights to be derived from them.

It's a short book and an easy read. I'm not much of a literature reader so I really appreciated someone else doing the work for me to tell me what's so good about Proust, and what I should learn from him. Call me lazy, but I finished this book quickly and I'll likely never read In Search of Lost Time, so at least I got something out of it.

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The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen

It's been a while since I read Cox's other book, Why Does E=mc²?, but I remember it having a better balance between accessibility and rigor than this book has. That could be partly because relativity is just easier to understand than quantum mechanics, but I think some fault lies with the authors of the book and not just with the author of the universe.

Specifically, the constant references to the wave function as an array of "tiny clocks" instead of just complex numbers is presumably easier to understand at first for a person unfamiliar with complex numbers. But once you start to cover anything relating to the actual passage of time it's just a recipe for confusion (because of course the "tiny clocks" have nothing whatsoever to do with time).

Otherwise the book does a pretty good job of covering the major concepts of quantum theory and some of its more notable consequences for both astronomy and technology.

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Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

This is potentially a hugely important book, not just life-changing but life-saving. I hesitate to label anything a must-read, but there are few things that unite us so universally as the desire to help each other and to lead a meaningful life. This book may help you to figure out just how much good you can really do in a lifetime. Spoiler warning: it's a lot.

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Ancillary Sword

Smaller scale and more focussed than the previous book in the series, but no worse for that. Great science fiction ideas, paired with a story that made me want to pick it back up as soon as I put it down.

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How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

In the author's typical style, weaves together seemingly unrelated facts from history and science into a coherent story of how some of humanity's most important but overlooked developments took place. Entertaining and enlightening. I kept interrupting my reading to put the book down and relay is contents to the people around me. "Oh, cool! Did you know, …?"

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Behavioural Economics Saved My Dog

Entertaining, but not much new here for anyone who's read a bit about behavioural economics before. Very short, too, at only 200 pages, many of which are illustrations or largely blank.

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Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World

Fascinating and diverse collection of places (and… place-like things) that are all unique for some reason be it political, geological, social or any other craziness. Includes enclaves and exclaves, abandoned cities, fake cities, floating islands, and one of those little triangles of land cut off by roads on all sides.

The prose is a bit lofty in places, but the subject matter keeps the book engaging.
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