PACS news / December 20, 2023

Stanford PACS Recommendations: Winter 2024 Reading & Listening

One of the many joys and privileges of working in academia is to be at the forefront of knowledge and discourse on society writ-large and the myriad forces shaping it. Finding creative and interesting ways to share new ideas with our community is what many of us at Stanford PACS spend countless hours on. Yet, one of my favorite things to look forward to around this time of year is curating a list of recommended books and podcasts that our faculty and scholars found enjoyable and informative. It offers a fascinating and often unexpected peek into their inner worlds, and I am constantly struck by how varied and eclectic people’s interests tend to be outside their immediate scholarly pursuits. And so, even though we share articles and books authored by our scholars all year round, I am excited to share with you a list of readings and podcasts that made a lasting impression on them.

We are living through a period of exponential and dramatic technological progress, especially vis-a-vis artificial intelligence, so it was no surprise that many of our non-fiction recommendations were dominated by these themes. Lucy Bernholz, director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at PACS, recommends Blood in the Machine by Brian Merchant, an examination of our current age of big tech and AI through the historical lens of the luddite uprising, and Unmasking AI by Dr. Joy Buolamwini, which uses an intersectional lens to examine and explain AI harms and oppression, and what we can do to address them. PACS Faculty Co-Director Rob Reich recommends The Worlds I See by Fei Fei Li, an inspiring memoir by one of the most influential scholars on AI.

Other recommendations on the non-fiction list are a good reminder that while digital technology currently looms large in our collective psyche, our physical world—the nuts and bolts of man made structures, the vagaries of our natural environment, and the idiosyncrasies of human bodies—is something we still have to reckon with. Understanding the elemental and complex ways in which these systems are sustained is critical to envisioning a future that works for us all. Lucy recommends How Infrastructure Works by Deb Chachra and What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren. Rob Reich’s recommendation—The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Ruben—is a fantastic complement to the aforementioned books. It offers a way of connecting with our creative selves and how that can define our relationship with the world. My personal favorite non-fiction read this year was Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson, a compelling narrative of what our history tells us about ourselves, and what the future of democracy can be in America.

I leaned heavily into podcasts this year and my most exciting find has been Hard Fork by Casey Newton and Kevin Roose. It is, in my opinion, one of the best researched and reported podcasts on technology, and the hosts are consistently laugh-out-loud funny. The Ezra Klein Show and Search Engine with PJ Vogt are my other favorites. Both of these are outstanding in terms of the breadth of topics covered and the depth of research and narrative. Nate Persily, co-director of our Program on Democracy and the Internet, recommends Ask Lisa, a fantastic podcast on parenting. And if you’re looking for something more academic about social structures and the role organizations play in shaping them, PACS Faculty Co-Director Woody Powell recommends two episodes of podcasts produced by the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences: The Study of Organizations Across Disciplines on the Talking About Organizations podcast; and Toward a Society of Shared Recognition on the Human-Centered podcast. For more on AI, Lucy recommends Dave Troy Presents: Understanding TESCREAL.

No reading list is complete without a healthy mix of fiction, which I find deeply therapeutic and invigorating. Woody has a few historical fiction titles to recommend: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride, The Other Eden by Paul Harding, and The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng. I’ve been reading Tom Lake by Ann Patchett and finally got around to finishing All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. As we try to envision a world where humans and nature can thrive, the imaginary world of fiction can sometimes offer both respite and inspiration by compelling us to inhabit a time and space that we have no way of experiencing and understanding other than through whimsy and empathy. 

Read our full list of recommended books and podcasts:

Lucy Bernholz

Nate Persily

Woody Powell

Rob Reich

Priya Shanker