Book Review Contest 2023 Winners
Thanks to everyone who entered or voted in the book review contest. The winners are:
1st: The Educated Mind, reviewed by Brandon Hendrickson. Brandon is the founder of Science is WEIRD, a sprawling online science course that helps kids fall in love with the world. He’s also re-imagining what education can be at his Substack, The Lost Tools of Learning (losttools.substack.com).
2nd: On the Marble Cliffs, reviewed by Daniel Böttger. Daniel writes the Seven Secular Sermons, a huge rationalist poetry/meditation art project, and has a blog post pitching it to ACX readers in particular.
3rd: Cities And The Wealth Of Nations, reviewed by Étienne Fortier-Dubois. Étienne is a writer and programmer in Montreal. He blogs at Atlas of Wonders and Monsters and was also the author of one of last year’s finalists, Making Nature.
First place gets $2,500, second place $1,000, third place gets $500. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me how to send you money; your choices are Paypal, Bitcoin, Ethereum, check in the mail, or donation to your favorite charity. Please contact me by October 1 or you lose your prize.
The other Finalists were:
Lying for Money, reviewed by Kuiper. He's a video game scriptwriter who just launched a Substack. He also scripwrites edutainment YouTube videos for an audience of millions. (You can contact him if you need his expertise.)
Why Machines Will Never Rule the World, reviewed by Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. Thom is an AI researcher and winner of the 2022 Passage Prize for Poetry. He occasionally publishes essays at snodgrass.blog.
Man's Search for Meaning, reviewed by Konstantin Asimonov. He enjoys literature and talking about it, and has recently started a Substack called Tap Water Sommelier. It will feature both his literature-adjacent ramblings and the fiction he writes himself.
Njal’s Saga, reviewed by Scott Alexander. This one got the most votes, but I’m disqualifying it because it seems in poor taste for me to win my own contest.
Safe Enough, reviewed by Seth Miller. Seth is a chemist who consults on emerging technologies around energy storage, carbon capture, and other climate solutions. He periodically blogs on the intersection of science, technology, and business at perspicacity.xyz and perspicacity.substack.com, and on LinkedIn.
Secret Government. In response to my request for details, the author wrote “In keeping with the theme of my review, I will remain anonymous”.
The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, reviewed by J. J. spends his time writing stories and reading literary novels. He has a master's degree and three-quarters of a doctorate in philosophy, with specializations in Pragmatism and aesthetics.
The Weirdest People in the World, reviewed by David Hugh-Jones. David is a social scientist with interests in genetics and culture. He writes at Wyclif's Dust, which is also the name of his book. He's currently looking for a job which lets him do research; if you have any ideas, get in touch. Failing that, he plans to retire to the hills and rail against modern civilization.
The Mind of a Bee, reviewed by Peter Curry. Peter is a writer and researcher, and his Substack is King Cnut. He writes about neuroscience there with a specific focus on learning, memory and animal cognition. He's available for research work, so if anyone would like to get in contact, please reach out - there’s a contact page on the blog.
Why Nations Fail. I didn’t get biographical details back from the author in time, but I’ll edit them in once I get them.
Zuozhuan, reviewed by T. She is a weird hermit who's become more of a weird hermit than strictly ideal since quitting tech to write and translate romance novels. As a result, she's now looking for a job that can gently reintroduce her to human society. Behold her sundry talents here, and send job offers (or just start a friendly chat!) at email@example.com
I’m also giving out seven Honorable Mentions. These either came very close to making the finals, or had an interesting balance of very high and very low votes in the first round, or I just personally liked them. They are:
The Making of Prince of Persia, reviewed by Aksel W. W. Eide. He is a machine learning researcher who spends too much time overanalyzing stories, subcultures and deckbuilding games. He has a mini-Substack with the review and a rant about what makes Civilization 6 so annoying.
Science Fictions, reviewed by Michael Zhang. He is an astrophysicist researching exoplanet atmospheres. His blog, which includes the book review, is on Medium. He is happy to discuss the review in the comments, or to discuss astronomy at mzz hang 2014 at gmail dot com.
Simulacra, reviewed by Matthew Pagan. He is an infrastructure engineer who publishes poetry and short fiction to his Substack Captive Liberty. He occasionally produces AI-read audiobooks of public domain literature (or of literature from which he has received publisher permission); he uploads these mp3 files under a Creative Commons license to his website Logos Audio.
How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, reviewed by Cam Peters. Cam is a data analyst who blogs at Fallible Pieces and tweets at @campeters4. He also won an honorable mention last year for his review of The Beginning Of Infinity.
The Alexander Romance, reviewed by Scott Alexander. I worried people would figure out which review was mine, so to make it harder I entered twice. Alexander Romance was my second entry. It placed 37th, nowhere near high enough to make the finals. I hope this is encouraging for anyone else who didn’t make the finals - apparently there’s a lot of variance even among reviews by the same person! I still liked this one and will probably put it up as a normal post here soon.
Some extra praise: Man's Search For Meaning placed 4th; I thought it was a good review of an important book by someone who's clearly thought about these issues a lot. I loved Public Citizen; I had a vague sense that a lot of government happens by lawsuit now and it hadn't always been this way, but I wouldn't have even known where to start in figuring out why and how this happened, and I had always thought of Nader as "that car guy who everyone mysteriously thought was important who then lost the 2000 election", so I'm glad to get more clarity there. Zuozhuan was oddly haunting and I will remember the part about Zichan and the law code for a long time. Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes was a discussion of the Piraha (the weird tribe that doesn't seem to have supposedly universal features of language and culture) which gave a great sense of how it might feel to be a primitive rainforest tribe.
All winners and finalists get a free ACX subscription at the email I have on record for them. I haven’t done this yet but I will next week. All winners and finalists also get the right to pitch me essays they want me to put up on ACX (warning that I am terrible to pitch to, reject most things without giving good reasons, and am generally described as awful to work with - but you can do it if you want! If I choose to publish your article, I will give you some fair amount of money we can negotiate at the time, probably around $1K). All winners and finalists get the opportunity to be named and honored publicly here; if I didn’t include your details, it’s because I didn’t get your response to my email asking me what details to include, and if you want to change that you should send me an email so I can name you in an open thread or something.
If you want to know how you did in the preliminaries, I’ve put the scores of all entries up here. Column A is average score, Column B is average score if you add some dummy reviews to adjust for the less-reviewed ones having more variance. Notice the small sample size and don’t take it too seriously!
I’m planning another contest next year. I haven’t decided if it will be book review or generic essay. I’ll post more information sometime around January and demand final submissions sometime like April/May.
Thanks again to everyone who made this possible, including a_reader (who collected all the reviews into readable documents), AlexanderTheGrand (who implemented the runoff voting), everyone who voted, and of course the 156 people who entered.