Happy 2024! 1-day sale…and if you only read one _ this year
End of year annual subscription discount
24-hour sale AND IT’S OVER
I discount annual subscriptions to this newsletter exactly twice a year. Once is Cyber Monday. And the other is today. Starting now, for the next 24 hours, annual subscriptions are slashed for the next 24 hours. Starting at $50/year, that price will rise by $1 an hour, so there’s no time like the present. Happy 2024!
If you only read one _ this year
The temptation to excessive ambition can be nearly unavoidable as a fresh year dawns. And yet on the other hand, Laozi’s shopworn truth remains that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This time last year I shared a more ambitious roadmap to a year of great reading (at a clip of 20 pages per day, you’d finish some 7300 pages for the year for a cool dozen or more great books. I still stand by those book lists if you’re feeling maximalist about your 2024 reading, or are simply the picture of self-disciplined daily consistency). If instead, you’re in the mood to start with small wins and just make sure you’ve ingested one good chunk of content at a time, you could do worse than to choose a favorite from any of the following lists. And if you like new recs regularly, my Time Well Spent feature includes themed reading lists and drops monthly (first 2024 edition tomorrow).
Here’s wishing you an edifying, profitable, healthy and peaceful 2024. If your 2024 should get crazy, and you find yourself looking back a year from now having only read one book, one in-depth Substack post, one new Substack author or one scientific paper, I promise you could do worse than the options below.
Five worthy books
Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. Geneticists like Joe Pickrell have credited this book with drawing them into the field. Matt Ridley’s book, written in the late 1990s, is still mostly relevant and remains eminently readable.
From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. Jacques Barzun finished this book when he was 92. His magnum opus, it delivers his “cold take” on Western civilization and its cultural progress. The author was one of the few intellectuals alive into the 21st century who remembered first-hand the cultural vibrance of 1920’s America.
The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. Bryan Ward-Perkins is an archaeologist who presents a materialist case for the fall of Roman civilization. In this way, it is a revision of the revisionism that “Rome never fell, it just evolved.” A concise and readable book, it is long on data and short on polemical argumentation.
Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. This book is the template for many later works, attempting to understand the deep history of American cultural variation. I consider it an essential corrective for the excessive racialization of American identity in this century.
In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. This is an important work for naturally irreligious people because Scott Atran outlines the cognitive reasons that religion is so plausible to so many people, and the evolutionary reason we have religious intuitions.
Five worthy posts
Eternal as the Nile - Three millennia of Egyptian genetic continuity. The interest in the history and culture of Egypt goes back to the Greeks, 2,500 years ago. In fact, the time between the earliest Pharaohs and Plato is nearly as great as between Plato and ourselves.
Casting out the wolf in our midst. The power of young men in groups, and the havoc they wrought on the ancient world.
You can’t take it with you: straight talk about epigenetics and intergenerational trauma. If you have ever wondered about the grand claims regarding epigenetics, I wrote this piece for you.
Current status: it’s complicated. The state of our understanding of human evolutionary genetics in 2023. The more we know, the more tangled it gets.
Facing Facts, even fraught ones: the quest for proto-Indo-Europeans in 2023. Where we are regarding Indo-Europeans in 2023. We’ve come a long way, though some details remain to be nailed down.
Five worthy friends
The Intrinsic Perspective. Erik Hoel is a neuroscientist. He is also one of the most charitable, thoughtful and interesting writers on this platform. More people should read him.
Aporia. This Substack highlights many writers, particularly Bo Winegard and Noah Carl, two canceled academics. Aporia touches third rails like race and IQ, and it’s a place I always finding myself wanting to leave a comment taking issue with this or that provocative assertion. In other words, it’s literally provoking discussion (the podcast, often hosted by Diana Fleischmann, is also great).
Five worthy papers
The inheritance of social status: England, 1600 to 2022. This is a good summation of Greg Clark’s recent work if you don’t have time for books.
The Formation of Human Populations in South and Central Asia. All my Indian readers need to have read this 2019 paper.
Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans. Classic 2014 publication establishes a lot of the foundations for how we understand the ethnogenesis of Europe on a genetic level today.
Gene discovery and polygenic prediction from a 1.1-million-person GWAS of educational attainment. There has been a lot of work since 2018 in this area, but this seminal paper is still worth a read if you haven’t checked it out yet.
Ancient Admixture in Human History. This is more of a methods paper, but if you want to understand the new techniques unleashed by the combination of ancient DNA and the genomic revolution, this is where you start.