On Tuesday, June 13, at 2 pm we will be discussing The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian. This is the second Tuesday of the month, as usual. To RSVP, please email email@example.com.
If you would like to meet for lunch before the discussion, email the regular person (see above).
You will be sent the Google Meet link or the physical address of the meeting upon RSVP.
The list of the books for the rest of 2023 is included below.
June 13, 2023 The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian – 496 pp. Online blurb: “Today’s “machine-learning” systems, trained by data, are so effective that we’ve invited them to see and hear for us―and to make decisions on our behalf. But alarm bells are ringing. Recent years have seen an eruption of concern as the field of machine learning advances. When the systems we attempt to teach will not, in the end, do what we want or what we expect, ethical and potentially existential risks emerge. Researchers call this the alignment problem.
Systems cull résumés until, years later, we discover that they have inherent gender biases. Algorithms decide bail and parole―and appear to assess Black and White defendants differently. We can no longer assume that our mortgage application, or even our medical tests, will be seen by human eyes. And as autonomous vehicles share our streets, we are increasingly putting our lives in their hands.
July 11, 2023 When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese, 256 pp – 2016
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.
August 8, 2023 Less – Andrew Sean Greer – 272 pp. — 2017
Well written, insightful in humorous ways. Reminds me of Stegner a bit. Gay writer on world tour of writing retreats, trying to forget ex and get handle on with his life at 50. Light and funny… with dabs of dark.
A struggling novelist travels the world to avoid an awkward wedding in this hilarious Pulitzer Prize-winning novel full of “arresting lyricism and beauty” (The New York Times Book Review).
September 12, 2023 Mendeleyev’s Dream, by Paul Strathern. 2019, 320 pp. The history of chemistry is filled with quirky characters like Dimitri Mendeleyev, the Russian scientist who first proposed the periodic table after it allegedly came to him in a dream. Strathern’s book traces that history all the way back to its origins in ancient Greece. It’s a fascinating look at how science develops and how human curiosity has evolved over the millennia.
October 10, 2023 Silverview by John le Carré – 2021 – 215 pp. In his last completed novel, John le Carré turns his focus to the world that occupied his writing for the past sixty years—the secret world itself.
“[Le Carré] was often considered one of the finest novelists, period, since World War II. It’s not that he ‘transcended the genre,’ as the tired saying goes; it’s that he elevated the level of play… [Silverview’s] sense of moral ambivalence remains exquisitely calibrated.” —The New York Times Book Review
Silverview is the mesmerizing story of an encounter between innocence and experience and between public duty and private morals. In his inimitable voice John le Carré, the greatest chronicler of our age, seeks to answer the question of what we truly owe to the people we love.
November 14, 2023 Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson – 2022, 192 pp. ONE OF BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2022 * An NPR and Time Best Book of the Year * Longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize (Canada) * Finalist for CALIBA’s 2022 Golden Poppy Awards
A successful art dealer confesses the story of his meteoric rise in this “powerful, intoxicating, and shocking” (The New York Times) novel that’s a “slow burn à la Patricia Highsmith” (Oprah Daily). “You’ll struggle not to rip through in one sitting” (Vogue).
December 12, 2021 Kindred by Octavia Butler – 2009, 264 pp. “In what is considered a literary masterpiece and Butler’s most popular novel, Kindred follows a young Black woman named Dana. Though she lives in 1976 L.A., she’s suddenly transported to a Civil War-era plantation in Maryland. Soon, the more frequently Dana travels back in time, the longer she stays, as she faces a danger that threatens her life in the future.”