Joshua Kettlewell | Projects

Joshua Kettlewell

Ph.D Student,
Singapore University
of Technology and Design

Books I've enjoyed recently

This page is pretty much for my own personal use. I'm trying to keep track of books I've read recently (and possibly the topics included in them and a quick review if I have time). I'm hoping that doing this will not only encourage me to read more, but also remind me of what I read where incase I want to refernce something in the future.

General Interest reads

The following are all general interest books that I have read and ones I would recommend to others, and the year I've read them. I don't agree with all of them but I also don't regret taking the time to read any of them (unless I've explicitly states so - theres a couple I just didn't take to but can understand why others might).

  • Views of Nature
  • Still in the process of reading. Another book I picked up from a list of influential science writers (which I think I found in turn from a gogle doodle on Alexander Humbolt). The book covers descriptions of south america from the perspective of the scientist - but without the insights of evolutionary biology of tectonic theory. So far its slow progress and I keep taking breaks to read other books - Humbolt is a fair writter but doesn't have the wit of say, Edward Gibbon or Ambrose Bierce, and the topics are mostly descriptions fo the landscape, but without the poetry of Orwell or Levi.

  • Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum
  • By far the best Physics book on Quantum Mechanics for a non physic's graduate. Written by the emminent Professor Leonard Susskind (whoes lectures are also available on youtube! I would recommend these actaully above the book simply for how clearly the concepts are conveyed), one of the greatest theoretic physicists alive today. I've read quite a few books on Quantum mechanic aimed at non physicts (mostly purchased for me by others as christmas presents) and, in my opinion, this was by far the best... However - it is also more challenging than previous "layman" books I've read. If you want to acutally get a good handle on what Quantum mechanics is then I recommend this book, but be warned it isn't an easy read by any means. If you want to read hype and fluff while pretending you're learning physics then go read something my Michael Kaku.

  • The Periodic Table (short story collection)
  • I picked this up after reading an article in the Guardian wherein famour scientists talked about the works that influenced them in thier youth. I was explecting this book to be simply a collection of short stories with actually very little association with chemisty - and boy was I wrong. I never really took to chemisty at school but am convinced if I had read this book when I was sixteen then my life would have taken a very different academic path. This doesn't mean to say that I regret my choice of studies - but the way in which chemisty is described here gives voice to the trill of discovery in seemingly benign situations of the lab. The passages are beautifully written (despite the fact I read a translation in English, and not the original Italian) and has convinced me to read "If this is a man", his most famous work, soon.

  • Why Nations fail
  • A very enjoyable book detailing how political structure and resources can effect a nations affluence. I would reccomend this over the Dictators handbook, although both were quite entaining, as it talks much more in depth about the economic affects of political decisions as opposed to simply maintaining political power.

  • The Brain: The Story of You
  • A very easy read regading how the human brain developes, functions, and how peculiar quirks affect our sense of self. I would have prefered a bit more depth in many areas as I feel the book was made to be approachable by someone who had only recently discovered what a brain is... But thins writing style was something that I was thankful for as you can race through the pages at quite a speed between the more interesting concepts.

  • Industry and Empire
  • I need to read more from Eric Hobsbawm. I've had "An Age of Extremes" waiting for me to read it for almost a decade now. I should add it to the top of this list...

  • A Random Walk Down Wall Street
  • This book is less about Markov chains and more about general advice for inversting money into stock options. This was the first devent economics book I read and one which I would recommend to everyone and their nan. It's simple advice mostly; often surprising on a first read before seeming obvious in retrospect - which I consider the sign of a good point well stated. In short - time in the market is more important than timing the market!

  • Dispatches
  • The book that inspired Full Metal Jacket and countless other Vietnam movies. Fantastically written. It has some of the non stop urgency to the text that reminds me of Jack Kerouac's "On the road", but is much more poetic and readable ("On the road" nearly killed me.).

  • Orientalism
  • Reading in progress
    I started this after strong recommendations from reviews - apparently Said's work is both influential and controversial, however I really stuggled to maintain an interest in the topic. The style is that of the socialogist academic, and the content is much more dull than I imagined. Sorry Said.

  • The Signal and the Noise
  • Before reading the text, I was under the impression it was going to be much like "Thinking, fast and slow", eith lots of time given to human Bias, and how to calculate true significance in statistics. However - this is certainly not the case! Instead great effort is made to express how the human element is important in making predictions, how it's important to have a "story" about why things may occur, and how an overreliance on data alone can quickly lead one astray. It also expresses quite beautifully how to use a Baysian mindset to play poker and why supply and demand for prediction in markets relevant to the accuracy of forecasts.

  • A Short History of Financial Euphoria
  • A one evening read of only a hundred pages - this gives a brief account of market booms and busts - including some of the lesser known ones of the 1960's. Unfortunatley it doesn't cover the dot com bubble of the 90s or the CDO bubble of 2007 (the second of which is aptly covered by "The Signal and the Noise") but it does explain WHY this behaviour occurs as a general phenomenon - and that it will continue to occur approximately every twenty years.

  • The Dictators Handbook
  • Explains how Dictators attain power and policies they should implement to keep power. The book is has a novel view of how to view the actions of countires, not as nation states acting as individuals with self interest, but as differing systems of government trying only to remain in power over some electing group residing in the coutry. It makes convincing cases for viewing governments in terms of the nominal selectorate, the real selectorate and the winning coalition. However it continues on this so much that the book begins to sound like "Academics found this one wierd trick to understand governments - dictators hate them!". I would say it picks up towards the midle though as it says how Dictators react to natural disasters and foreign aid.

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • I will write a better review of this book when I have a chance.. but in short there was something in the writing that made me hate, I mean really hate, the main character and narrator. I don't know if its because I saw them as an unreliable narrator, a narrascist, or simply their claim to be intellectually superiour to everyone around them... but I couldn't stand it. I made it half way through before giving up...

  • Britannia Unchained
  • Written by some prominent convervative party back benchers so I wanted to see what ideas the tories had in mind for the future o the country. Overall the book makes good point regarding government deficits in relation to long term economic growth, and liberal economies. On the other hand the authors totally misunderstand Singapore in every reference to it and why it is economically sucessful (its not libertarianism that makes this place rich, and more importantly, I would not wish the Uk to become Singapore.).

  • The Road to Wigan Pier
  • A diary of shorts of Orwells time with the working class of north England. It firslty explores the poverty there, the various catch-22's and hardships, then goes on to critise the left wing of the political establishment almost as much as the right in how they have not addressed it (the left are out of touch, cardigan wearing vegetarians who ignore the problems of communist societies, and the right perpetuating class struggles). I was actually a little saddened in the reading of this to see that in some ways things are still the same - the North of the UK, and the midlands also, don't feel wealthy in the same way the south does, and class still exists, although we don't often refer to it as explicitly anymore.

  • Burmese Days
  • This is an account of Orwells time in Burma (now Myanmar, then part of British India) posing, somewhat unconvincingly, as a Novel. The story is interesting enough although the book acts mainly as a pretense for his anti-colonial opinions and wonderful natural descriptions. I read this while travelling Burma by train and, outside of ariconditioning in the hotels, it seems that little has changed since George penned his words.

  • Thing explainer
  • Explains big things with small words.

  • The Contest of the Century
  • Undoubtably the best book about China's economic and foreign policy ambitions, and the forces driving both. I dont use a FT link here as the athour, Geoff Dyer, writes for the times. They have another review posted on FT by Irvine and author of 'China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know'. This touches so many things and, I believe, should be read by every political student and politician in office in the west.

  • The Caliphate
  • A very dry history of Islam generally, and the Caliphates (explaining what Caliphates were at different times). Would be best used as a reference book as I can't for the life of me remember most of the dates, only the general evolution of things. Interesting non-the-less.

  • Thinking, fast and Slow
  • Read - need to review

  • The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life
  • I'm very skeptical about business books. I once picked up a copy of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" from a leave-one-take-one bookstand and wanted to force the author to eat every page of every copy of that drivel to undo the sin of spouting such utter drivel. This one is much better. The book stays mostly within its limits, despite the rather grandeous title, giving little game theory concepts out and applying them to business like problems. Most of these seem like exaclty the kind of problems one would be likely to encounter in a job interview. It also discusses voting and negotiation tactics (from example concept of brinksmanship, and the affect of unionising) the later of which it really does a great job in explaining.

  • Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel
  • I read this first one summer, when I was probably 15 or so. The topic of genocide in Eastern Europe was never covered in my history classes, which instead focussed on the rise of America, the great depression, the causes of world war one and two, the the latters elation to current foriegn policy. But the details of events in Kiev, or the functioning of the Soviet regime in the east was never something I had covered in depth (prehaps I could of if I had taken history beyond GCSE).
    Babi Yar, the name of a ravine close to Kiev, is a history of the genocide that occured under the Nazi occupatuion of Ukraine, and the following attrocities under the subsequent soviet regime. The book was editted by the CCCP censor diverse opinions (and facts) which are now reinstated into th pages in bold font. Although the book speaks of a child spending his youth in Kiev and the experience of survival (and before that - the obliviousness of what was to come, in a very similar manner to the works of Primo Levi), the one recurring theme of the book was simply hunger.

  • What if?
  • A great little book discussing serious answers to absurd hypothetical questions and quite a nice little science book. My personal favourite is what would happen if you had a Mole (unit) of Moles (small borrowing animal). Written by the creator of XKCD who also wrote "What if". Although I'm quite a broad science reader, a do try to read widely, this book

  • The Intelligent Investor
  • Read - need to review

  • Poor Economics
  • Read - need to review

  • The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
  • Dirk Gently is a very under-rated series by the late emminent Doglas Adams. Something of a palindrome and paradox of Shrelock Holmes, he investigates all things unrelated to a crime, and thus arrives and the one thing that must be responsible.

  • Dune
  • A recommendation from DSA (who actually purchased the book for me! Thanks David!). I can see why the book was so influental - the idea of the creation of a moden relgion, an intergalactic Jihad, giant sand worms and feudal politics between planets. My one complaint would be, and people may hate me for this, that it reads a little like a young adults novel. The style is simple and plodding (similar to Pratchett but without the quips and wit) and it features a apparently flawless protagonist.

  • Neuromancer
  • I didn't feel I was so much reading the book as absorbing a story via osmosis. The style is a little bizzare and I often wasn't clear what had happened (it took me a while to realise someone had just died at one point!), its all very dreamlike. I think I will need to read permutation city soon.

  • How Google Works
  • I believe this book may be responsible for why the design of my office is so terrible. There is lots of discussion on how to lay out offices, and how to organise teams to promote interaction and open communication. However - after reading this book, and seeing many of the theories on management for productivity and moviation it action, I believe it must be missing something. I know a lot of companies with similar that have methods but are still hell to work at. This leads me to one of two conclusions - either google isn't that great to work at, or, companies in Singapore have to rigid and adhearance to workplace status and bureaucracy that it can't work everywhere. I imagine it's a bit of both. The book also discusses some prickly topics you wouldn't initially expect from google such as the idea that people simply are not equal in abilities and the lesser ones should be weeded out from the compnay as quickly as possible. There are also some great tips on interviewing. My opinion on this book is also balanced by my experience of reading "disrupted" - I would recommend pairing these together.

  • The Martian
  • This was my first hard science book and it was fantastic. It also has made me a huge Mars mission advocate. Don't think we should go to Mars? Watch this!

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  • "It's unpleasantly like being drunk."
    "What's so unpleasant about being drunk?"
    "You ask a glass of water."

  • Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
  • A refreshing take on the tech startup fad, which fortunately seems to be dying down a little now, which bemoans the current state of silicon valley's unicorn company crazy. The author, Dan Lyons, reflects on him time working at 'incoming advertsing' company Hubspot (a rival of salesforce.com) in their run up to IPO. The tales of terrible management and tenuous workplace politics may be familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to have worked in a academia, or in a Singaporean company.

  • Poorly made in China
  • A semi autobiographical tome discussing the cat and ouse dealings with a major supplier of shampoo (king chemical) in china. Even though this is a very easy read, the subject was very interesting; especially many counter intuative points (such as the reversal of buyer/seller power structure, that western companies pay less than those of third world nations for identical products, and how to "knock up" a factory). The concept of quality fade is also intoduced, which is the major theme of the book, and something I have heard from every single one of my associates who works in Shenzen.

  • Foundation series
  • The future is in the psychohistory! Personally I love political (and business) stories, it was my favorite part of Dune (which I prefered to the sword fights and sand worms), leads me to love the Total war and Civilisation gate, and also gives me controversial oppinions about which of the Starwars movies are the best. Although the last book was a little predictable, I did enjoy the books and raced through all three rather quickly.

Books for Research

These books I've read in part. I use many of them as reference material regulary though.