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Worth reading: Bitcoin, BlackBerry, time travel and other outcomes

Editor’s note: The Conversation Canada asked our academic authors to share some recommended reading. In this instalment, Joshua Gans, an economist who wrote about how an energy revolution will transform the economy and our lives, offers up new picks along with a few of his favourite books.

Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin by David Birch. Handout

Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin

By David Birch (Non-fiction. Hardcover, 2017. London Publishing Partnership)

David Birch’s previous book, Identity is the New Money, was fantastic in the way it drew a relationship between the money you have and your identity in society. This follow-up includes an analysis of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Money is a deeper issue than many economists appreciate. Indeed, it is something economists ignore by assumption: Money sits in the background without an impact itself on real economic decisions. That’s why I always value alternative perspectives that make me think. I’m looking forward to reading this one but it will have to wait until I have a good chunk of time to get the most out of it.


Losing the Signal by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. Handout

Losing the Signal

By Sean Silcoff and Jacquie McNish (Non-fiction. Hardcover, 2015. Flatiron Books.)

This book, written by two Canadian journalists, is the definitive business history of BlackBerry, maker of what was once a must-have namesake smartphone. It traces the history of the Canadian technology giant’s “extraordinary rise and spectacular fall,” to quote the subtitle. For example, the book offers unparalleled insight into how disruption can be caused by internal decisions. I believe it’s a must-read for anyone seeking to understand disruption and why successful firms fail.


On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. Handout

On Intelligence

By Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee (Non-fiction. Hardcover, 2004. St. Martin’s Press.)

Jeff Hawkins is the inventor of the PalmPilot electronic assistant that made a pocket computer an essential personal tool and paved the way for the BlackBerry, iPhone and other mobile computers. His book is 13 years old but has new relevance as its central thesis — that intelligence is all about predictive ability — is now at the centre of the recent explosion in machine learning and artificial intelligence.


All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Handout

All Our Wrong Todays

By Elan Mastai (Fiction. Hardcover, 2017. Doubleday Canada.)

An interesting time travel journey wrapped up in a family drama where consequences remain consequences. It is also mostly set in Toronto, making it nicely familiar for Canadian readers. One of the things I appreciated about this book is that it deals with a big time travel problem: How can you go back in time and end up in the same physical place you started when the Earth is always moving through space — on its axis, around the sun, in the solar system, in the Milky Way — while the galaxy itself is moving through the universe? That alone makes All Our Wrong Todays more thoughtful than the usual offerings on this subject. [Editor’s note: Bryan Gaensler also recommended this book in his reading list.]

The Plot Against America

By Philip Roth (Fiction. Hardcover, 2004. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.)

An alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, wins the presidency in 1940 and keeps the United States out of the Second World War. Suffice to say, for anyone living in 2016 and 2017 observing U.S. politics today, there is something chilling about this book given that Roth wrote it a decade ago. You will recognize the trends and concerns that perhaps make up the American mindset that leave its democracy vulnerable to populism.

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