Capture Book Club: What We’re Reading, Vol. 3

Welcome back to Capture Book Club, an adventure in reading that focuses on inquiry, curiosity, data and anything connecting different aspects of life that would otherwise not be obvious. Volume Three features surprising insights from the world of online dating, a look at world-dominating algorithms, a great reminder about the fluidity of knowledge and much more.  Also, be sure to catch up on your reading by checking out Capture Book Club, Vol. 1 and Capture Book Club, Vol. 2.

You can learn practically anything within a relatively short period of time if you simply choose to. The steps go like this: immerse > reflect > grow (then repeat). The following are some excellent books to help you do just that.


Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner (2012)

(From the dust jacket flap) It used to be that to diagnose an illness, interpret legal documents, analyze foreign policy, or write a newspaper article you needed a human being with specific skills — and maybe an advanced degree or two. These days, high-level tasks are increasingly being handled by algorithms that can do precise work not only with speed but also with nuance. These “bots” started with human programming and logic, but now their reach extends beyond what their creators ever expected.

In this fascinating, frightening book, Christopher Steiner tells the story of how algorithms took over — and shows why the “bot revolution” is about to spill into every aspect of our lives, often silently, without our knowledge.

(From Capture) “Remember the flash crash when the stock market dropped about 1,000 points and $1 trillion in value vanished only to rebound later? Turns out that the world is largely automated in ways that you probably don’t expect.”


Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder (2014)

(From the dust jacket flap) Our personal data has been used to spy on us, hire and fire us, and sell us stuff we don’t need. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder uses it to show us who we truly are.

For centuries, we’ve relied on polling or small-scale lab experiments to study human behavior. Today, a new approach is possible. As we live more of our lives online, researchers can finally observe us directly, in vast numbers, and without filters. Data scientists have become the new demographers.

(From Capture) “Rudder is a co-founder of OkCupid and has blogged about their data set for years, showing amazing insights from the world of online dating. Everything in here is descriptive (rather than predictive) which allows you to learn that Phish is the band most loved by white people, or that heterosexual men of all ages want to date 23 year-old women. The book also has cool visualizations.”


The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman (2004)

(From the dust jacket flap) Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.

Samuel Arbesman shows us how knowledge in most fields evolves systematically and predictably, and how this evolution unfolds in a fascinating way that can have a powerful impact on our lives.

(From Capture) “As measurements get more precise, the conclusions we once made might no longer be accurate — a great reminder that knowledge is fluid and that the facts of today are the discredited ideas of tomorrow. Also, this book is a very cool introduction to science metrics, which measure scientific output, academic publication networks, and other ways to understand the speed at which knowledge is created and disseminated.”


Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton (2010)

(From the dust jacket flap) In this first comprehensive history of graphic representations of time, authors Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton have crafted a lively history featuring fanciful characters and unexpected twists and turns. From medieval manuscripts to websites, Cartographies of Time features a wide variety of timelines that in their own unique ways — curving, crossing, branching — defy conventional thinking about the form.

(From Capture) “This is a great book about the history of data visualizations and how they have impacted and changed throughout history. It gets the brain thinking about showing data meaningfully.”


Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel (2013)

(From the dust jacket flap) Our society has gone from writing snippets of information by hand to generating a vast flood of 1s and 0s that record almost every aspect of our lives: who we know, what we do, where we go, what we buy, and who we love … Big data is revolutionizing the sciences, transforming the humanities, and renegotiating the boundary between industry and the ivory tower.

What is emerging is a new way of understanding our world, our past, and possibly, our future. In Uncharted, Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel tell the story of how they tapped into this sea of information to create a new kind of telescope: a tool that, instead of uncovering the motions of distant stars, charts trends in human history across the centuries.

(From Capture) “Written by the two mathematicians that created Google’s Ngram Viewer, which helps analyze the comprehensive written word of all of mankind, Uncharted sheds light on just how intelligent big data analytics actually are.”