Eliot Peper's Reading Recommendations

We live in an age of abundance. The entire digital universe is our constant companion. Galaxies of entertainment, information, and conversation spiral and reproduce at unimaginable velocity. Access to the entirety of human culture, once so scarce, is now something we take entirely for granted, a mundane sixth sense.

This miracle would have struck our ancestors as the deepest sort of magic, much more impressive than a flying broomstick or a flashy bit of alchemy. But as with all miracles of such vast scale, the gift of digital media has its side effects. More than one million books are published every year, twenty thousand songs are uploaded to Spotify every day, and three hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. In 2010, every two days we created as much information as a species as we did up to 2003 combined. How do we find the signal in the noise? We can’t consume it all but are afraid of missing out. We are drowning. We don’t want all the things, we want the best things.

Every once in a while, I send a simple personal email with amazing books that explore the intersection of technology and culture. As a novelist, reading is an integral part of my creative process and I often find gems in unlikely places. I don’t seek out books because they’re new or because they’re bestsellers or because they fit into this or that genre. My rubric is simple: I seek out good books. The goal of this newsletter is to recommend books, both fiction and nonfiction, that crackle and fizz with big ideas, keep us turning pages deep into the night, challenge our assumptions, help us find meaning in a changing world, and make us think, feel, and ask hard questions.

Subscribers include venture capital investors, writers, designers, editors, entrepreneurs, bookworms, and creatives who seek to better understand where we are and where we're headed. In an age of digital abundance, quality is the new scarcity. The right book at the right time can change your life.

Enter your email to sign up and see below for some sample recommendations:

I respond to every single note from folks on the mailing list. Oh, and I'll never share you email with anyone, ever, because I'm not a total douchebag.

The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly is the most interesting nonfiction book I’ve read about the future in a long time. I constantly found myself rereading passages and marking pages to come back to later. Kevin has been an enthusiastic observer of both the human condition and the state of technology for decades as a cofounder of Wired, and his insights are deep, provocative, and wide ranging. In his own words, “When answers become cheap, good questions become more difficult and therefore more valuable.” The Inevitable raises many important questions that will shape the next few decades. I interviewed Kelly about The Inevitable here.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is tortured maze of plot twists through a bleak future Bangkok where Monsanto-esque agribusinesses rule a world of scarcity. Packed with political intrigue and grit, this book will make you question where we're all headed. It deserves its Hugo and Nebula awards.

Reading Central Station by Lavie Tidhar feels like falling into someone else’s dream. Using a far future Tel Aviv as his canvas, Tidhar weaves an emotionally driven tale that interrogates the human impact of digital technology. The story is complicated, touching, and multifaceted. It left me with a not unpleasant sense of melancholy, as if I were leaving behind close friends who I wouldn’t be seeing for a long time. Fans of science fiction and fantasy will relish the many hidden references to genre tropes and classics. Tidhar won the British Science Fiction Award, World Fantasy Award, and Central Station has been praised by heavy hitters like Alastair Reynolds, Ken Liu, and NPR. I interviewed Tidhar about Central Station here.

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott was originally published in 1884 and is proof that great stories survive the test of time. It's a mind-bending adventure starring a protagonist that lives in a two-dimensional world. The story is filled with humor, romance, and satire. Flatland is a captivating and delightful invitation to free our thinking from the artificial constraints we constantly impose on it.

Future Crimes by Marc Goodman is a compelling, accessible, sophisticated look at how the ever-accelerating pace of technological change is making us exponentially more vulnerable. Nail-biting case studies, in-depth analysis, and data-driven arguments make this a must read for... pretty much any human with a smart phone.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a lyrical, moving tale that follows a Shakespearean troupe traversing post apocalyptic Canada. The character-driven drama will tease at the edges of your dreams. The richly-imagined, disease-ravaged future will haunt you with the perfect dose of surreality.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an acerbic, thought-provoking book about things that gain from disorder and volatility. Taleb mixes refreshing pragmatism with profound skepticism and is ruthless in his arguments against the fundamental inconsistencies baked into everything from financial speculation to medical research. Antifragile is jam packed with ideas. Although I disagreed with some of them, the overall package is stimulating and not-to-be-missed.

Eliot Peper is the author of Cumulus, True BlueNeon Fever Dream, and the Uncommon Series. He's helped build technology businesses, survived dengue fever, translated Virgil's Aeneid from the original Latin, worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence at a venture capital firm, and explored the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Mustang. His books have been praised by the VergePopular Science, Businessweek, TechCrunch, io9, and Ars Technica, and he has been a speaker at places like Google, Qualcomm, and Future in Review.