Congrats everyone !! Great reviews, I'll go back and read those that I missed.
I didn't know the votes had even opened though, but that's life.
Wow, I'm glad the winner won; that's the one I'd have voted for.
But I must have been asleep at the switch; I never saw a notice that it was time to vote, or even a notice that the last one -- Kora in Hell? -- was indeed the last one. I haven't even found time to read the last two yet.
One of the most interesting things I learned from this project was the gap between "good writer", "excellent writer" and "I make money with writing". All of them were at least good, but to me there was a sharp distinction between the median book review and some of Scott's reviews.
Request for next time: Can these reviews be a bit shorter? I'd have enjoyed reading them more if they had been half the length or less.
Thanks for releasing the preliminary voting data! The sample sizes are small but even at 10 people, the 95% confidence interval for most of these would only be ± 1 (and 68% interval would be ± 0.5), so I think it's fine to give the scores some thought.
Thanks, Scott! I had a good time.
I just went to read the one about Trans on the strength of its almost getting promoted to finalist, and yeah, it was a good review. Thanks, mystery author.
Dawn of Everything was great. I thought the part about the "gossip trap" at the end was pretty insightful and troubling.
I misread the first word of the "When ideology meets reality" book as "trains" and got really excited to find out about a new book on trains until I clicked through and realized it was about gender stuff :(
The link for https:/www.awanderingmind.blog/ is broken
Turns out the voting system worked.
Congratulations to all the winners and finalists! I enjoyed all of the reviews I had the chance to read. And as someone else said, it would be great for the voting interval to be a little longer next year.
So *no* (identifiably) women reviewers!??
Did the instance of plagiarism not merit a mention? I can't remember which book review this was, but there was one in the finalists in which a commenter noted that the review plagiarized a substantial chunk of their writing.
Thanks for organizing the contest Scott! Really happy to have ended up among the finalists. Congrats to Erik and everyone else, too.
I had actually decided to review Making Nature for reasons completely unrelated to the contest, i.e. my independent research on scientific writing and publishing, but the theme fit ACX too well not to participate. I sort of gave up on my plans to improve science writing (Roger's Bacon does it better than me); however, I'm always down to talk about it with anyone who's interested. (I'm also, incidentally, looking for work at the moment. You know, just in case you know something.)
#1 seemed pretty fairly obvious, so I guess I voted with the "normies"; I'm somewhat surprised by the rest of the results though. A good reminder that commentariat tenor isn't necessarily reflective of actual voting behaviour, and reading interests don't actually quite conform to the expected ACX stereotypes. (If there'd been a review directly about AI and x-risk, I wonder how it'd have done...)
>Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, reviewed by AS.
Oh God. Even if it was a pretty well-ranked review, I personally am glad that wasn't included. You just know it would have been murder in the comments...at this point it's the one single topic with the distinction that I don't think I wanna read about it ever again, anywhere. Rehashing the same tired fights over and over, where otherwise-sane people lose their epistemic minds by default.
Wow, I don't think I've ever been so shocked by the voting. Neither of my favorites made it into the top 5, and I was pretty disappointed with most of the winners. It's a huge difference from last year, when I was happy about all the winners, even if I would have ranked them slightly differently. It's especially embarrassing that the Fusion piece made it anywhere near the top since it a) isn't even a book review and b) is wrong about everything important.
That's so cool! Congrats to everybody!!
Really glad 1587 made it on the winners list. My first instinct was to vote for it, but I didn't because I was afraid that I was being polluted by recency bias. My alternative vote (Castrato) made it to 3rd though, so I'm happy.
Really surprised to see Fusion Energy on the finalists list. As many others said, it was a solid overview of the state of the field, but it barely qualified as a "book review".
Thanks so much for running the contest and for being so transparent about the decision process!
I wrote the Trans review and totally understand why you would be hesitant to publish it. It's still a huge honor to see it linked on my favorite blog. I hope you run the contest again next year. If you do, I definitely plan on submitting again.
So, can we start World War III in *this* comment section?
Wow, thanks for the alt good reviews! Unsettled (the 2nd) was my fav. review, such that I bought the book and then leant it out. The book reviews is one of my fav things here. Having a diversity of opinion, is important. I think I found all the book reviews to signal a political slant. It would be better to write a review (I think) that didn't indicate your political slant.... And yet here I am liking those reviews that favor my slant... It would be better if it wasn't that way... but how?
Oh I'm going to go read the trans one... thanks again.
Truly honored! This was an absolute blast, from beginning to end.
A huge thanks to Scott, not just for organizing, and not just for putting up money, but also for sharing his community with us finalists. There are not many places out there where a 9,000 word book review can find an audience, let alone generate hundreds of comments - Scott has built something truly special. Knowing there was a possibility that the community might get to see it was incredibly motivating when working on the piece, and I think it's some of my best writing because of it. When reading your comments, not just for my piece, but for all of them, it became very clear to me why Scott does "Comments" roundups for posts, given the quality, some of which were as detailed and engaging as the reviews themselves. And of course, thanks to those who decided to vote for me, I'm so glad you enjoyed the piece.
Additionally, I want to highlight, as Scott did, that I am a fan of several of the writers who entered this contest, including Roger’s Bacon, Étienne F.D, and Resident Contrarian - I highly recommend them, they are all excellent writers who put out great stuff regularly. Additionally, some of my favorite reviews were the ones Scott added at the last minute, including "1587, A Year Of No Significance" - I'd love to see more from that anonymous author.
Finally, here's to the gossip trap not eating all of us alive one by one - maybe we can beat the Garrulous Gorgon With a Thousand Heads one day. Cheers!
Thanks for hosting Scott. It was my first time publishing anything, so I'm pleased to be an honourable mention. No harm in losing to some of those excellent finalists.
Rereading my review, I was maybe a little strong in some of the claims of Deutsch dismantling rationalism. In truth, I'm agnostic to how it all shakes out: Reconciling the worldviews remains an interesting puzzle to me (along with the puzzle as why people seem to underrate Deutsch).
Any advice from Scott's readers is appreciated:
Namely, where I'm mischaracterising rationalism or where Deutsch's arguments fall down.
Trans review was quite good.
Thank you to Scott for hosting this competition !
Can you add a link to my blog at thechaostician.com ?
I had two book reviews prepared for this competition. The other one is Leviathan and the Air Pump by Stephen Shapin and Simon Schaffer (1985), about some of the earliest debates about what science should be between Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle, in the first decade of the Royal Society. I decided to go with Fusion because I know the subject much better. If you want to read the other one, you can find it here: http://thechaostician.com/book-review-of-leviathan-and-the-air-pump-by-stephen-shapin-and-simon-schaffer-1985/
Link to Now It Can Be Told actually goes to Surface Detail.
If someone wants to read a really bad review (134th in the preliminary voting) I have published my own cotribution to the contest here:
At least it is short.
A big thank you to all contributors, and congratulations to the winners!
I have read all the reviews. Even those who didn't make it to the final were often pretty good, and I enjoyed many of them. It gave me a cheap way (relatively speaking) to learn about ~140 books, through high-quality and thorough reviews. Thanks for that! And of course: thanks to Scott for making the contest happen!
The link for the review of "Now It Can Be Told" links to the review of "Surface Detail" instead.
Thanks for this! The link to https:/www.awanderingmind.blog/ is broken... you can find the book review at https://www.awanderingmind.blog/posts/2022-05-22-book-review-civilization-and-its-discontents.html.
Congratulations to the winners! I really enjoyed 1587. It was interesting to hear that Tocqueville was supposedly totally unfamiliar with the work of the great missionary to China Fr. Matteo Ricci SJ. who was working in China in 1587. I think he arrived in China in 1582. His story is beautifully told in Vincent Cronins book
The Wise Man from the West: Matteo Ricci and His Mission to China https://a.co/d/2siU8AC
Thank you, Sir! I am happy to have so much great stuff available.
Not sure if you'll see this, but @Froolow, I just read the Surface Detail review and thought it was excellent. Easily my favourite of the reviews I read. :)
I guess maybe I'm more out of step with most ACX readers than I realised - I really expected The Anti-Poilitics Machine to place. It didn't have the most 'added value' on top of summarising the book but I thought the subject matter was fascinating, and very much up the alley of rationalists and particularly EA-types.
I really wanted to vote for the God Emperor of Dune review. I know some people were opposed to including works of fiction in the contest, but that was exactly what I liked about it. After all the academic and political books, it was refreshing to see a novel getting reviewed!
Unfortunately, the review just had too many problems. The biggest issue was that it tried to use the novel as a metaphor for the use of Friendly AI to counter the dangers of Unfriendly AI, which felt sort of like using a smartphone to hammer a nail into a wall: Sure, it can *kinda* work, but it looks awkward, it won't be that effective (it doesn't say anything particularly novel or insightful about FAI or UFAI), and you're likely to break the smartphone in the process (it "breaks" the book by interpreting it in a way that clearly wasn't intended by the author, isn't supported by the text, and to some extent contradicts the narrative's actual plot and themes). There were also places where the review seemed to presume that the reader already knew the book, e.g. mentioning certain characters without explaining who they were.
I wish it had touched on the real world context of the series a little more too. For instance, a lot of people in the comments section were talking about how military combat in Dune was so heavily focused around melee combat, and regardless of the in-universe reasons for the lack of ranged weapons, the out-of-universe reason was simply because Dune was both a revival and a deconstruction of the old planetary romance/sword-and-planet genre, which even in the 60s was considered outdated and had fallen out of favor in sci-fi circles. It's similar to what Game of Thrones has done with medieval fantasy.
I still enjoyed reading the review, and it definitely had some good insights about the book and the overall Dune franchise, but I ended up voting for The Righteous Mind instead. (The Dawn of Everything was a close second, but I had a different problem with that one: I thought the review itself was great, but I strongly dislike the book it was reviewing. I think David Graeber's work is historically and anthropologically dubious at best, and completely and almost hilariously wrong on everything involving political science and economics. Worse, his ideas have unfortunately led a very large chunk of the American left down a losing path.)
> Trans got exactly 8.0 and I was forced to decide whether by “above 8” I meant “including 8” or “literally above 8” and how much I wanted to start World War III in the comments section; I apologize to the author for chickening out.
Somehow I misread this as "trains" twice, thinking "yeah, I could imagine SSC commenters getting mad about whether or not a bubble-bursting of their preferred transit mode is accurate," and then clicked thru.
Any evidence of recency bias in the outcome?
How did the final ranking compare to the initial scores?
At first I was a bit sad because my review (the book of why) got a low-end score. Then I noticed that, at standard deviation 3.4, it has the highest variance of them all! What rejoicing! Then I got a bit sad again because I felt dumb at being happy due to topping an irrelevant metric. Then I noticed that, actually, in statistical optimization variance is a resource as important as the mean! Then...
I think I liked the field of finalists better last year when they were chosen more by Scott and less by voting.
Tangential, but anyone who, like me, found the story and 'lost media' aspect of the Castrati fascinating, should listen to the song 'Boy 1904'. It's the best example I've found of one of the extant Castrato recordings being remixed and used to a modern composition, in this case by the front man of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros. Incidentally, I think this front man own voice might serve as a fair facsimile of the 'otherworldliness' of the best Castrati voices.
Congrats to all the winners!
Regarding Erik Hoel, he's obviously a superb writer, but there's something about his style that I find off-putting. He completely lacks irony, humor and plain conversational ease (contrast with Scott!). Instead, he comes across as aloof, projecting a persona of a Serious Writer Covering Deep Topics, in defense of refined taste and high art etc. It's very clear he desires recognition as The Writer. Treats himself way too seriously.
That Golem review is mindblowing, I only read the fake foreword for it from "Imaginary Magnitude", I didn't know there's an actual book. Lem never ceases to amaze me.
Francesca has brought up the topic of "books that are most likely to resonate with the reviewers (who I believe are mostly male)" on here, and I think part of her questioning is to do with styles of writing or how a topic is presented (e.g. if it is presented in a fashion associated with masculine thinking rather than feminine feeling attributions). A majority male readership will unconsciously gravitate towards something written in a 'masculine' style, so reviewers will select books that enable them to write in that style, and in turn the readership votes preferentially for the 'masculine' rather than 'feminine' writing style.
In that regard, I think the exchange between myself and Mark is instructive. I am going to assume Mark's gender (apologies in advance!) that Mark is a man. I am a woman.
Mark thinks this is an affecting, moving, well-written article and likes it. I think it's at least in part fictionalised, and is heavy on the kind of heartstrings-tugging I most dislike.
Were I to go by Francesca's metrics, had this been submitted for a contest or just a post, I should like it (woman, likes feeling-writing style, likes personalisation of subject to relate more easily to it, likes the human interest touch and so forth) and Mark should dislike it. The reality is the other way round.
So I don't necessarily think that there is that kind of bias going on, but yes, if we got figures for readership it would be a fun little exercise to match "how many female-identified" against "how many female-identified reviewers", with the caveat that it is nothing more than a fun little exercise and says nothing about "this is the He-Man Woman-Haters Club".
T.D.: "simplistic and addicted to cliches" to some, "journalistic gold" to others. fine. Deiseach has feelings as wanting to "cheerfully napalming". Excellent, even if not highly original. The author of Dead men's donut writes - when she "first started as a medicolegal death investigator: I was giddy with amazement". https://deadmensdonuts.com/2022/02/10/a-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-job-part-2-if-the-dead-could-speak-theyd-say-fk-you-so-ill-just-say-it-for-them/
Why not - she has no y-chromosome, feelings differ (and no, I would've never told that lady in the story to take off her clothes - wanna look at corpses? fine with me).
I try not to judge people's feelings - and consider it near impossible to convey any emotion fully in mere words. - If you feel she fakes, well, she has as yet few comments, she may read yours. - Anyway, thanks A LOT for mentioning Anthony Malcolm Daniels aka Theodore Dalrymple; I will get at least one of his book(s) asap. Sounds very interesting.
Thanks for running this contest, Scott! Love reading these book reviews. They do a lot to increase our collective knowledge.
I wanted to thank Scott and all the reviewers. This is wonderful, I'm slowly working my way through the rest of the reviews. Good stuff, a few new books added to my read pile. And, Iain Banks, where have you been all my life? ("Surface Detail")
I pressed the link to see the book review on Galton, ended up reading a very eye-opening review on "Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism". Sadly, I failed to find the name/email address of the reviewer- I wanted to thank them for the enlightening read.
If anyone could help me find it, it would be greatly appreciated.
I lived reading the reviews, but I was pretty disappointed when I realized I'd run out of time to vote. I wish there was more time between the last review and the deadline. I had read 14 of 16 reviews when the winners were chosen, and I also hadn't gotten to the open thread yet that announced the voting deadline.
You might sponsor a Comment Contest too. It would be interesting if well-known writers won that too, since comments are a different, dash-it-off, form.