Things you might find interesting too (early January 2022 edition)

Danny Buerkli
4 min readJan 5, 2022

This is a brief roundup of some of the books and ideas I’ve come across over the past days and weeks.

My intention is two-fold: If you have not yet come across these, I hope you will find them as interesting, useful, and enjoyable as I did.

Sharing this in writing also helps me think more clearly. To use Joan Didion’s words: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking”.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a note like this, so this is a bit of an experiment. If it sparks a thought or reaction I’d love to hear from you here or on Twitter.

So here are a handful books, essays, and ideas I’ve come across recently that you might also find worthwhile:

Dan Wang’s “2021 letter”:

Dan Wang is a Shanghai-based analyst. His most recent essay, where he reviews the past year, is well worth your time. Come for the China analysis, stay for a detailed exploration of Così fan tutte.

(Discovered via Marginal Revolution).

Katherine Rundell’s “Consider the Hermit Crab” in the London Review of Books:

Rundell’s meditation on hermit crabs is almost two years old, but it’s a hilarious and heartwarming piece of writing and I enjoy re-reading it every now and then. Highly recommended.

The final sentence is one to remember: “I love their tenacity: forging lives from the shells of the dead, making homes from the debris that the world, in its chaos, has left out for them.”

A tenacious hermit crab (Thai National Parks, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hervé Le Tellier’s “L’Anomalie” (“The Anomaly”):

A fun novel that received the 2020 Prix Goncourt. Avoid spoilers if you plan on reading it. I, for one, did not see the book’s turning point coming, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Ministry for the Future”:

A prophetic and ultimately quite hopeful sci-fi novel about climate change.

What’s stuck most with me is Robinson’s treatment of the role of political violence. At which point will individuals and groups decide that time is running out, that democratic procedures aren’t cutting it anymore, and that it’s time to apply some targeted violence to focus the minds of decision-makers? The answer might well be “much sooner than we think”.

There is, of course, a well-developed literature justifying the application of extrajudicial measures and violence under specific circumstances. Richard Posner’s “Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency” is just one example.

We might soon observe an interesting moment where these conservative ideas are being picked up by those who seek to conserve the planet.

Simon Wardley’s collection of essays on “Wardley Mapping”:

Simon Wardley lays out a coherent and grounded framework for thinking about “strategy”.

This is one of those books that have rewired parts of my brain. Once you’ve read it, you start seeing the underlying ideas everywhere, it’s impossible to unsee.

(One of the other books that have done this to me is James C. Scott’s “Seeing Like A State”. Ribbonfarm has a good summary of the book’s key idea of legibility).

I am absolutely convinced that in twenty years’ time you will not be able to graduate for any serious business or public policy program without having read Wardley.

This book should also be required reading for anyone wading into the “digital sovereignty” debate. Much of the abundant confusion there would, it seems, be quickly sorted out with the help of a Wardley map.

Finally, a thought and a question to finish on:

First, the usefulness of Twitter as a distributed information processing engine remains under-acknowledged and underrated. By following, say, the right ten to twenty people on Twitter you can easily, consistently, and accurately remain months ahead of the news cycle regarding COVID.

Bonus points if you also observe the interactions between those people, though that’s optional.

I would have fully expected this wild information differential to get arbitraged away, but that hasn’t happened.

Second, resolution and granularity seem to be useful metaphors when thinking about technological change but no one’s using them?

Here’s what I mean: Airbnb increased the granularity of what a “rentable” unit of space looks like. Before Airbnb you couldn’t have rented out a guest room in your apartment. The minimum “grain size”, so to speak, was fixed at the unit of the apartment and above (i.e. a hotel).

Thanks to lower transaction costs, you can now rent out sub-units of your apartment, i.e. single rooms. For the same reason it’s also become feasible to rent out apartments for shorter periods of time (e.g. single days instead of full weeks).

In other words, has Airbnb increased granularity (or resolution) in both time and space.

It seems like a potentially useful way of thinking about things, but I somehow haven’t yet found much on this. If you’re aware of anything, I’d warmly welcome any pointers.

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