There are some things you read that strongly affect the way you look at the world. I've started to gather a list of such things here. These are approximate categories. Most things could be placed in many.


I can tolerate anything except the out-group - Scott Alexander

This is the first Scott Alexander blog post that I read and the starting point for how I think about anything that could plausibly be labelled as politics.

The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

I think people oppose many things because they don't like change. Yet there are other forces at play in the world and they don't wait for us. Standing athwart history yelling "stop" has consequences too. Sometimes if we want things to stay the same, or indeed get better, things will have to change.

Stephen Davies on Western Civilization

Stephen Davis is someone I met just as I was forming a worldview. I think this talk is a good distillation of his thought. In a world of such huge technological, economic, and social change, what is civilisation? What is going to change? What will and should we conserve?

How to Kill a City

The Plot Against Mercia

Lots have been written about the awfulness of planners. I think the story of what happened to Birmingham and the midlands after WW2 is key to understanding how destructive policies enacted in the name of equality can be. Planning may be necessary but those who do it should study these past mistakes.


An apology for the builder - Nicholas Barbon

People hate builders and property developers. It's rare to see a full-throated defence of them. The antiquity of Barbon, the fact that any buildings from his time would be protected now, and the number of people who live in places that have been developed since his day and would resent the idea that we would be better off without their homes give this piece a weight that I don't think you get from contemporary writing.

The Housing Theory of Everything - Sam Bowman, John Myers, Ben Southwood

How luxury apartment buildings help low-income renters - Timothy B Lee

Planning for the Future - Anthony Breach


Shade - Sam Bloch

In some ways, this is just another piece about bad urbanism in the US. Perhaps the image of millions of people forced to spend their days in the glare of the sun made it stick in my mind more than it would have. I think about it a lot though, especially when people complain that a building might cast a dreaded shadow.


Whole Earth Discipline - Stewart Brand

Some things are getting worse in the world, even as most things have been getting better. It's possible that the bad things might one day outweigh the good. Sometimes we have to turn around but sometimes the solution is to speed up.

Empty Planet - Darrell Bricker, John Ibbitson

People are still worrying about overpopulation when the far more likely future is a reversal. Obviously, forecasts like this can change a lot but this book should get you thinking about what the implications of low to negative population growth might be.

What you think about landfill and recycling is probably totally wrong - Robert Wiblin

Lots of things seem important or effective but aren't. I include this piece because, beyond the specific issue it discusses, it reminds me to think about the absolute numbers at play in an issue and the way something is implemented instead of the way it gets described.


Ads don't work that way - Kevin Simler

Sometimes adverts are about informing people about the existence of a product. But the adverts that never go away are about establishing common knowledge.

Into the Fairy Castle: The Persistence of Victorian Liberalism - Samuel Biagetti

Something is rotten in the state of... Denmark, where the essay begins with a discussion of the TV show Borgen and the class of people it was made by and for. But then the essay takes us back to the 19th century, the rise of the administrative middle class, and the tension in satire that placates the court. A society where the satirists have the same aspirations as the satired. In the present we obsess over unserious things but, unlike a century and a half ago, we lack the dynamism and growth for this to be sustainable.

The Generation X Origin Story


All the East is Moving - Tom Holland

The fall of the Roman empire and the rise of Islam - Tom Holland

On Europe and her convulsions, from within and without.

God's Philosophers - James Hannam

There was no dark age in the Middle Ages. The Renaissance evolved out of the science, innovation and enquiry that medieval scholars had been performing for centuries. Lots of bad history can be traced back to anti-Catholic historians in the 18th century.

Building a Cathedral - Nicolas Kemper

"The drawn-out schedules of cathedrals could then be less about their failure as construction projects than their durability as institutions. That may indeed be why a Cathedral is often invoked, metaphorically, by institution builders."

"a building is never simply a building – it is a constant battlefield between what it should be and what it could be, played out across what it is."



The greatest documentary series ever made. What makes a documentary series the greatest? I don't know, but I'm thinking of it now.

From the Trenches to Mordor and Back: World War I and British Fantasy Literature - Iskander Rehman

A survey of great art created at a sad time.

Imperial fiction: Goodbye, Mr Chips - Alwyn Turner

My mother is always brought to tears by the end of Winnie the Pooh. Goodbye Mr Chips has a similar effect on me. I think this review, including its look at Hilton's life, captures something of why.

All This Useless Beauty

Why are some things beautiful? Why should the peacock's tail be of interest to us? Why are we not repulsed by the sight of a sand dune? Across the natural world, creation seems to have some consistent ideas for what is good and what is bad.

Literary Metaphors, Deepities, and Motte-and-Baileys

Precise language is useful. A question raised by this essay is to what extent fiction and poetry confuse as much as they enlighten.

Staring into the abyss as a core life skill

"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."

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