The theme of these 5 books seems to be “books I probably would have enjoyed more if I had read them sooner.” So yes, I was behind in being a nerd and being a cyberlaw nerd - I had neglected to read Free Culture and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Big Short, Free Culture, The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Cat’s Cradle.
Cat’s Cradle - I actually thought this was series of short stories before diving in. I’d heard a lot about the pivotal McGuffin in the book, Ice-9, or ice that freezes at a much higher temperature than 32 degrees, so I figured I should finally read it. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed - a lot of the “great fiction writers” like Vonnegut seem to be better read in speeches or non-fiction where they aren’t forced to care about characters or plot and can just be witty. I read this on a plane, and even then, with a total lack of other stimuli, it really failed to capture my imagination.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat - I’d heard a lot about Oliver Sachs and his enchanting writing about the abnormal cases in psychology. Again, disappointing. The cases, on their own merits, were fascinating, but the framing and Oliver Sachs’ asides ranged from unhelpful to baffling. It’s hard to tell how much of this is the book showing its age and how much of it is just me being jaded about the style of narrative non-fiction.
Hitchhiker’s Guide - Yes, I had never read Hitchhiker’s Guide. Like other books that I had been putting off forever, this one did not benefit from the hype. Actually, what it most reminded me of is Zach Weiner’s disappointing Trial of the Clone (which is, I’m sure, a function of the latter being based off the former rather than the other way round.) They both occasionally mistake cleverness and trope lampshading for humor, and once you’ve heard the punchlines, it’s hard to really give the joke credit. I imagine if I had read this when I was 13, I would have loved it. Today, it wasn’t for me.
The Big Short was actually the stand out book of these five. Michael Lewis, the writer of Liar’s Poker, recounts how the financial crisis started through the eyes of some of the folks who predicted it and came out ahead. This was the right lens to use for this story. There’s something so human about the collection of ragtag characters who were sitting on the sidelines going “does anyone else thing this subprime mortgage-backed security thing is a bad idea?” and being utterly ignored (and in some cases mocked.) It’s less compelling that some of the radio reporting on the financial crisis, for example, Planet Money’s Big Pool of Money episode, but still a gripping read and an interesting view of an industry.
Finally, Free Culture. Well, I’m sure I can’t say much about this that hasn’t been said before, but again, I came to this book too late. Lessig’s argument is (completely understandably) targeted at the copyright novice, and whatever I am now, I am not that. To be honest, I’ve come appreciate William Fisher’s method of laying out the various arguments stemming from each theory of copyright, and wish some of Lessig’s time was spent analyzing his own instinctual reactions. Free Culture lacked the deep intellectual world-changing aspects of Code and Code 2.0. It also lacks the lawyerly tone of Republic Lost, which pulls you along in an argument until you have no option but to agree with the eventual conclusion. I appreciate (and sympathize with) the movement that Free Culture created, but find that as a text, it left me unmoved.