Book Review Contest 2022 Winners
Thanks to everyone who entered or voted in the book review contest. The winners are:
2nd: 1587, A Year Of No Significance, reviewed by occasional ACX commenter McClain.
=3rd: The Castrato, reviewed by Roger’s Bacon. RB is a teacher based in NYC. He writes at Secretorum and serves as head editor at Seeds of Science (ACX grant winner), a journal publishing speculative and non-traditional scientific articles.
All three third place winners were within two votes of the others, so I decided to award a joint prize. First place gets $5,000, second place $2,500, all three third places get $1,000 each. Please email me at email@example.com 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:
Consciousness And The Brain, reviewed by Demost. Demost is a university researcher in mathematics, computer science, and neuroscience.
The Righteous Mind, reviewed by Ben Wōden. Ben is an analyst from Reading, UK.
Society Of The Spectacle, reviewed by Jack F. Jack is a bartender from Nashville.
Exhaustion: A History, reviewed by Van Occupanther. Van is a psychiatrist from Australia who would prefer to remain pseudonymous
I really enjoyed all of these. A few notes of special praise: The Internationalists was probably most fascinating, in the sense of describing a strange historical episode I didn’t know about before. The Outlier was similar and I give it high marks for making Jimmy Carter interesting. Consciousness And The Brain was a whole new neuroscience theory I knew nothing about and I expect to reread it a bunch of times to try to get it to sink in. Sam Altman sent me an email saying he enjoyed the review of The Future Of Fusion Energy. The Making Nature review did a great job talking about and analyzing a trend I’d never thought about before, far beyond even what was in the book. I think about Exhaustion every time I see a CFS patient - specifically, about the claim that 19th century psychiatrists would prescribe a “West cure” of going off and doing cowboy things on a ranch; I haven’t yet recommended that to anyone, but like I said, I think about it often. God Emperor of Dune and Kora In Hell were the token fiction and poetry reviews; I thought they did a spectacular job overcoming the difficulties of reviewing their respective media. I was reading some of the non-finalists and found 1587 in there and was surprised it hadn’t reached finalist status and decided to promote it; based on your votes it seems like that was the right choice.
My process for picking finalists was kind of haphazard; I had you rate all reviews on a scale of 1-10, anyone above 8 got in automatically, and then I picked my favorites from the reviews between 7 and 8. This was sort of unfair, and meant there were some reviews that scored better on the voting than finalists but weren’t finalists themselves, and others that I liked better than some finalists but couldn’t pick. All of these are Honorable Mentions. You’ll notice some of them are politically charged, and yes, I did sort of discriminate against these (though not so much that I wouldn’t have picked them if they’d made it above 8). They are:
Unsettled, reviewed by D.A. Haller (yes, two people reviewed this book, and both got Honorable Mentions). He is a software engineer and writer from Maryland. He has recently started writing his (villainous) thoughts down at Affably Evil.
Now It Can Be Told, reviewed by Sin-Pharion.
Japan At War, reviewed by TH
Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, reviewed by Ashadyna.
Albion: In Twelve Books, reviewed by Hal Johnson (who says he might be the only person to have ever read it all the way through). Hal is the author of several books including the upcoming (please pre-order! pre-orders make or break a book!) Impossible Histories, a book of alternate histories that quotes G.K. Chesterton and the old SSC comments section at least once each.
Autumn In The Heavenly Kingdom, reviewed by NM.
Golem XIV, reviewed by Mechanical Mantis.
Surface Detail, reviewed by Froolow. Froolow is an economist and science-fiction enthusiast from the United Kingdom.
The Fall Of Robespierre, reviewed by Duane McMullen. Duane is from Ottawa, Canada, and is trying to figure out how to make a difference.
More comments: I really enjoyed Autumn In The Heavenly Kingdom and From Paralysis To Fatigue, but I couldn’t justify having two books on Chinese history or chronic fatigue in the finalists, so I had to demote them to Honorable Mentions. Memories Of My Life is Francis Galton’s autobiography; read it if you want to learn about things like how:
…at 16, Galton’s parents decide he should be a doctor. His medical training consists of following doctors around, mixing up potions, stitching up busted heads, relocating arms, and pulling teeth. While apprenticing at a hospital, he supplements his daily training by trying every medicine on himself in alphabetical order. He stops after he takes two drops of croton oil and shits himself so bad that he still remembers it fifty years later.
Unsettled is about the science of global warming; both reviews were excellent but very long; read them if you’re interested in this topic. 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. Albion is a bizarre 19th-century experimental epic poem, and the review is excellent; this is another one I feel bad for not being able to include.
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. If it should be a different email, let me know). 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.
I was happy with my decision to keep this contest anonymous, because the most “famous” person to enter won first place, and if it had been open-identity I would have wondered whether he was drawing on a pre-existing fan base. But no, Erik can rest assured he is actually very good at writing (which he probably already knew, being a novelist and all, but you never know). In fact, 2 of the 5 winners, plus an extra 1.5 of the remaining finalists, were authors of Substacks which I read and have linked to here (Hoel, Roger’s Bacon, Resident Contrarian, and the extra 0.5 is for Etienne who I didn’t know about before this week but just saw his post Common Tech Jobs Described As Cabals Of Mesoamerican Wizards on the subreddit). I’m always suspicious that everything is fake and good writers aren’t actually good and it’s just a social conspiracy to believe that they are, but these results are a vote in support of our existing writer-identification-institutions (are they all Substack? I guess it’s just Substack) - although many unknown people also did very well, including the 2nd place winner (I didn’t get a response to my email asking how I should reveal his identity, so I’m defaulting to initials, but I don’t recognize his real name either).
Thanks again to everyone who made this possible, including a_reader (who collected all the reviews into readable documents), everyone who participated in preliminary voting, everyone who participated in final-round voting, and of course the 141 people who entered. If you want to know how you did, I’ve put the scores of all entries in the preliminary round of voting up here. Notice the small sample size and don’t take it too seriously!
I’m planning another book review contest next year. I’ll post the official announcement sometime like January and demand final submissions sometime like April/May - but for now just assume everything will be the same, and start getting your entries ready!