Picks & Pans

Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry by Robert Jay Lifton (New York: The Free Press, 2019). Lifton is a United States psychiatrist who helped to conceptualise the 1970s and 1980s debate on ‘thought totalism’ and brainwashing. This small book is a collection of Lifton’s insights on topics ranging from the Korean War and Nazi doctors to Aum Shinrikyo and President Donald Trump’s political psychology. Lifton observes that we have a ‘protean’ Self that can change and transform under existential and psychosocial pressures. A doorway to understanding the contemporary metapolitical issues in liberal democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian societies.

The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour (London: The Indigo Press, 2019). Seymour is a United Kingdom and Marxist-influenced social critic who has previously profiled the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, prior to his disastrous 2019 election campaign. In this polemical book, Seymour looks at the addictive psychology that underpins the ‘social [media] industry’, and its emergent phenomena such as internet celebrities and trolling. One of the side-effects of this industry is a new immersive dynamic of writing, Seymour observes. This book is a reflective primer to think more deeply about how you interact with the internet and social media in a more mindful and strategic way.

Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter? by Cecilia L. Ridgeway (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2019). Ridgeway is a Stanford University professor and sociologist and her publisher the Russell Sage Foundation is a major philanthropic investor in social inequality research. In this book Ridgeway advances a cultural schema of status as a form of social inequality, and how this informs the importance of status beliefs and the microdynamics of status. Ridgeway’s cultural schema framework builds on the earlier insights of sociologist Charles Tilly and others to explain how social stratification works in the United States.

The Man Who Solved The Market: How Jim Simons Launched The Quant Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman (New York: Penguin Books, 2019). Jim Simons is a former National Security Agency-affiliated cryptographer and Stony Brook University mathematician who in 1982 founded Renaissance Technologies: the world’s most profitable quantitative hedge fund. Zuckerman’s investigative reportage provides a glimpse of Renaissance’s black box and how Simons used pattern recognition to generate record profits from the financial markets. Robert Mercer – Renaissance’s co-Chief Executive Officer – was a major donor and strategist to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

The Gig Academy: Mapping Labor in the Neoliberal University by Adrianna Kezar, Tom DePaola and Daniel T. Scott (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University, 2019). In the past two decades the elite status of academic tenure has steadily been eroded in the United States and in many other countries. This book surveys what has replaced it: a ‘neoliberal university’ of more short-term and fixed term contracts, a focus on obtaining external, competitive-based research funding, and resulting social stratification. The authors trace recent developments in the academic labour market to the ‘gig economy’: labour practices adopted from Uber and similar platform capitalists.

Poisoner In Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control by Stephen Kinzer (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2019). Sidney Gottlieb (1918-1999) was a United States chemist who spearheaded the Central Intelligence Agency’s now infamous MK-Ultra research program. Kinzer fills in some gaps about Gottlieb’s life; the medical and ‘special interrogation’ projects he oversaw in MK-Ultra; and how he dealt with United States Senate and public investigations into MK-Ultra’s abuses and legacy. There is plenty of conspiratorial myth-making about what Gottlieb did and what he did (or did not) achieve: Kinzer’s investigative reportage gets closer than most to what probably happened.

Capitalism Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World by Branko Milanovic (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019). Milanovic is an influential economist and senior scholar at the City University of New York’s Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality. In this book he examines the political economy success of Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism; its challenger in Political Capitalism; and the implications for globalisation and the future of the capitalist economic system. An insightful and empirical data-informed analysis of the ‘hypercommercial’ world that is highly likely to emerge in the 21st century.

Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet World by Ilya Yablokov (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018). United States political discourse since its 2016 election outcome has been dominated by allegations of Russia’s political meddling. Less well understood is the metapolitical function of conspiracy theories in Russia itself and in post-Soviet nation-states. This book based on Yablokov’s doctoral dissertation advances some new explanations as to why and it also profiles some of the more leading and influential practitioners. For contrasting views, see Eliot Borenstein’s recent book Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy After Socialism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019) and Peter Pomerantsev’s This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (London: Faber & Faber, 2019).

What I’m Reading

Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them edited by Joseph E. Uscinski (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). My PhD case study Aum Shinrikyo was deeply influenced by anti-Semitic and power elite conspiracy theories, some from far right and evangelical Christian sources. Uscinski’s collection is a useful guide to the current political and sociological debates about conspiracy theories and their priming effects for extremist worldviews that may lead to political violence.

The Unrules: Man, Machines, and the Quest to Master Markets by Igor Tulchinsky (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018). In the eighties and nineties, Russian mathematicians and physicists came to Wall Street. Tulchinsky was one of them. His asset management firm WorldQuant adopted many aspects of neoliberal capitalism, from competitive tournaments to traders as independent contractors. This memoir is a quant’s view of how to deal with contemporary information.

The Pac-Man Principle: A User’s Guide to Capitalism by Alex Wade (Zero Books, 2018). Here’s my interpretation of Pac-Man ludology and neoliberal capitalism: (i) the maze represents the situational environment; (ii) the Pac-Man character engages in consumption (or, capital accumulation); (iii) the power pills represent momentary escalation dominance over the four ghosts; and (iv) the maze exits represent the fetish of false escapes. Other video-games may lead to different interpretations of neoliberal capitalism’s political economy.

What I’m Reading

  1. Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’: Resurgence and Politicization by Ofer Fridman (Oxford University Press, 2018). Hybrid war using non-military means and the operational codes of Vladimir Putin’s networks are two ways to update Jack Snyder’s original work on strategic culture for what I call fourth generation scholarship. Fridman’s book examines rival conceptual definitions of what hybrid war is – and how political elites in Russia and the United States have incentivised the concept.
  2. Extremism by J.M. Berger (The MIT Press, 2018). I’ve spent part of my in-progress dissertation trying to develop a causal model of belief adoption about violence that leads strategic actors to prefer terrorist tactics as a means to pursue strategic goals. Berger’s scholarship is critical to this aim, and he draws on George Washington University’s Haroro J. Ingram, who is a rising star about violent extremism in policy-making circles.
  3. Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in the Neoliberal Era  by J.D. Taylor (Zero Books, 2013). In studying Aum Shinrikyo for my in-progress dissertation I’ve made political economy connections with Japan’s ‘lost decades’ of macroeconomic deflation and debt leverage. In many ways Japan’s sociopolitical experience foreshadowed the Great Recession or Global Financial Crisis that has affected the West since 2008. Taylor’s book reflects the United Kingdom experience with neoliberal austerity policies and is bracing to read.
  4. Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence And Oppression by Hector A. Garcia (Random House, 2015). Several years ago Max Taylor suggested that counterterrorism analysts study evolutionary psychology to understand distal and diachronic influences on terrorists. Garcia’s book suggests a range of infra- and inter-group dynamics that could be used for qualitative coding of the terrorism studies literature.

Reading List For Early Career Researchers

Career Development


The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD Into A Job by Karen Kelsky (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2015). An influential guide to academic career paths including Post-Docs, ‘post-ac’ (post-academic) and alt-ac (alternative academic) options. Kelsky also runs TheProfessorIsIn.com blog and consulting / seminar services.


Successful Careers Beyond the Lab by David J. Bennett and Richard C. Jennings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). How research and scientific training can open up diverse ‘post-ac’ (post-academic) career pathways in government and industry.


A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science by Peter J. Feibelman (New York: Basic Books, 2011). A classic guide to managing Post-Doctoral careers in science: advice on career planning, research programs, grants, and publications.


Promotion and Tenure Confidential by David D. Perlmutter (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). A ‘behind closed doors’ look at how promotion and tenure processes actually work.


“So What Are You Going To Do With That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia (3rd ed.) by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014). An influential guide to ‘post-ac’ (post-academic) careers, such as working in industry.


Tenure Hacks: The 12 Secrets of Making Tenure by Russell James (Seattle, WA: CreateSpace, 2014). A candid guide on how to gain tenure at a research university in the United States system.


How To Be An Academic: The Thesis Whisperer Reveals All by Inger Mewburn (Sydney: NewSouth, 2017). Career development strategies to navigate the Early Career Researcher stage and the higher education sector.


Grant Writing


Get Funded: An Insider’s Guide to Building An Academic Research Program by Robert J. Trew (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). Grant writing in the context of research program development: includes discussion of the United States-based National Science Foundation Career grants.


Having Success With NSF: A Practical Guide by Ping Li and Karen Marrongelle (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). A guide to getting United States-based National Science Foundation grants.


How The NIH Can Help You Get Funded: An Insider’s Guide to Grant Strategy by Michelle L. Kienholz and Jeremy M. Berg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). A guide to getting United States-based National Institutes of Health grants.


Writing Successful Science Proposals (2nd ed.) by Andrew J. Friedland and Carol L. Folt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). A nuts and bolts guide to what a successful grant proposal needs, informed by the authors’ experience with the United States-based National Institutes of Health and other grant-making organisations.


Intellectual Property


From Innovation to Cash Flows: Value Creation by Structuring High Technology Alliances by Constance Lutolf-Carroll, Antti Pirnes, and Withers LLP (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009). How intellectual property as an asset class underpins the value creation models of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.


Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction by Siva Vaidhyanathan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). How intellectual property works, from a culture / media perspective.


Intellectual Property Strategy by John Palfrey (Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2011). Intellectual property as an asset class, its main types, and how ‘freedom to operate’ works.


Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017). Situates intellectual property in the economic context of the growth in intangible assets and the companies that develop and defend their intellectual property portfolios.


Project Management


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (rev. ed.) by David Allen (New York: Penguin, 2015). A primer on Allen’s influential GTD system for time and task management.


Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management by Scott Berkun (Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly, 2008). Lessons from Microsoft and other companies on effective project management.


Scaling Up: How A Few Companies Make It . . . And The Rest Don’t! by Verne Harnish (Ashburn, VA: Gazelles, 2014). New venture lessons on managing people, strategy, execution, and cash.


Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland (New York: Crown Business, 2014). A guide to the Scrum agile development / project management system by co-creator Jeff Sutherland.




Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors and Publishers by Scott Norton (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Explains how the developmental editing process works from a university press viewpoint and the processes involved.


Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars And Anyone Else Serious About Serious Books (3rd ed.) by William Germano (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Demystifies the pre-publication processes involved for dealing with university presses. Germano’s companion book From Dissertation To Book (2nd ed) (Chicago, IL: University of Press, 2013) deals with how to publish your PhD dissertation.


The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker (New York: Penguin Books, 2015). A linguistic analysis of how grammar and clear writing works: an update to William Strunk Jr and E.B. White’s influential book The Elements of Style (4th ed) (New York: Pearson, 1999).


Write No Matter What: Advice For Academics by Joli Jensen (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017). Strategies for how to maintain a consistent writing schedule: how to deal proactively with life, project, and institutional challenges to stay on track.


Writing Your Journal Article In 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success by Wendy Laura Belcher (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009). A step-by-step template guide to writing a journal article and managing the writing process.


The Business of Being A Writer by Jane Friedman (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2018). A guide to commercial academic publishing and career development strategies for new academic writers.


Becoming An Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive and Powerful Writing by Patricia Goodson (Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2017). Self-paced developmental exercises for academic writing and specific sections of an academic journal article or dissertation.

Metis: Microfoundations



The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. (TS-3). Recommended to me in 1997 by Spiral Dynamics creators Don Edward Beck and Chris Cowan. Csikzentmihalyi’s sequel to his earlier book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (#17J) makes the case for mindful, directed, psychecentric  evolution. A bridge between Anton LaVey’s Indulgence, Michael A. Aquino’s Xeper, and the self-transformative orientation of Martin Seligman’s positive psychology.


Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. New York: Basic Books, 2013. (TS-3). Kaufman is director of the Imagination Institute and a positive psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In this book he argues for the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of ‘fluid’ intelligence and for the benefits of holistic education. Kaufman explores and evaluates cognitive theories of creativity, learning, skills-building, and talent development. A useful primer on how current debates about human intelligence are redefining education. For some initial considerations of these implications see my Fluid Intelligences Working (30th June and 1st July 2012).


Genius 101 by Dean Keith Simonton. New York: Springer, 2009. (TS-3). Dean Keith Simonton is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. This book provides an overview of Simonton’s influential research program on genius, how it is measured, and under what conditions it can be cultivated and flourish. Builds on Simonton’s earlier book Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) (TS-3) and is a summary of genius research profiled in Simonton’s edited collection The Wiley Handbook of Genius (Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) (TS-4).


The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind by John Coates. London: Penguin Books, 2017. (TS-3). Metis involves calculated risk-taking in ambiguous or uncertain conditions. Coates is a neuroscientist formerly affiliated with the University of Cambridge, and as a former risk manager with Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank. His study of the neurobiology of financial risk-taking in booms and busts also has implications for competitive sports and military war-fighting. An introduction to the physiology and the neuroscience of risk-taking.


Understanding Beliefs by Nils J. Nilsson. Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2014. (TS-3) Nilsson is Kumagai Professor of Engineering (Emeritus) in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. Nilsson’s artificial intelligence research informs this short introduction into how humans acquire, form, and communicate their beliefs — leading to social, cultural, political, and religious change. Argues for Bayesian probabilistic revision and updates to personal beliefs.


Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. (TS-1). Anders Ericsson is the Conradi Eminent Scholar and a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice—how individuals use deliberate and mindful effort to cultivate expertise—has changed how learning is conducted in domains such as the arts, sport, and medicine. Provides a methodology to fulfil the mindful evolution vision of Csikzentmihalyi, Kaufman, and Simonton noted above. Malcolm Gladwell popularised Ericsson’s research as the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) (TS-3) which has led to a media debate about Ericsson’s research and its conclusions.


Mastery by Robert Greene. New York: Viking, 2013. (TS-3). An exploration using historical and contemporary figures of the pursuit and conditions of mastery: the visible outcome of Anders Ericsson’s deliberate practice noted above. Can be read in conjunction with George Leonard’s Mastery (#17M) and Greene’s other popular books on themes like war, power, and seduction. Greene’s companion book Interviews With The Masters (Seattle, WA: Amazon Digital Services, 2013) (TS-3) interviews nine contemporary masters in-depth.


Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. (TS-3). Roy F. Baumeister is Professor of Social Psychology at The University of Queensland, Australia. In this book he collaborates with New York Times science journalist John Tierney to communicate Baumeister’s influential laboratory research on human will as responsible agency, and how self-control is a necessary foundation for self-agency.

Nuclear Politics

During my on-going PhD research at Monash University, I’ve increasingly focused on ‘dissertation to book’ studies from university presses (Cambridge, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford) that develop and test formal theories. This has been a surprise to me – given that my earlier published research used critical theory and journalism experience.


The latest study I’m looking at is Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro’s Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Nuclear Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). They include a puzzle and case study based approach that emphasises the pivotal role of security concerns. Their book includes coding rules and a formal theory: a useful ‘writing model’ for the relevant sections of my draft thesis.

What I’m Reading

  1. Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason by David Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).  One of Karl Marx’s leading contemporary scholars interprets the three volume Capital in the context of post-2008 secular stagnation. Some interesting comments on how debt and extractive institutions work.
  2. How To Be An Academic: The Thesis Whisperer Reveals All by Inger Mewburn (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2017). The Thesis Whisperer explains why contemporary higher education is like The Hunger Games and offers informed advice on how to survive ‘precariat’ labour and build an institutional profile.
  3. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation by Douglas Walton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). The University of Windsor professor’s introductory textbook on argumentation and critical reasoning.


The Credibility Vortex

In 2006, I studied strategic studies and wrote a Masters mini-thesis on North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program with Dr Andy Butfoy. He’s an Australian expert on arms control, strategic studies, and US-Australian politico-military relations.


In late 2016, Andy released his first novel The Credibility Vortex:


It’s a political thriller set in Washington. It features intrigue in the National Security Council, rogue officials, dirty tricks, assassination attempts, and the possible end of the world . . .


I recommend you check Andy’s first novel out: it’s a gripping read.

Early 2017 Reading Pile

The following books will be on my reading pile for early 2017:


  1. Sheelah Kolhatkar’s Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (New York: Random House, 2017). Kolhatkar is a staff writer at The New Yorker. I followed the insider trading case against Steve A. Cohen and his hedge fund SAC Capital for several years. I thought about writing a PhD chapter on it — but getting access to the court records was going to be expensive and it was out-of-scope to my main focus. Kolhatkar has saved me the trouble — and illustrates why investigative journalism is important.
  2. Ed Thorp’s A Man For All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market (New York: Random House, 2017). Thorp is a giant in quantitative investing and card counting in poker. There’s a lengthy interview with Thorp in Jack D. Schwager’s book Hedge Fund Market Wizards, and this book promises more revelations. Features a foreward by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
  3. Andrew W. Lo’s Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017). Lo is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor, a Professor in Finance, and the Director of the Laboratory for Financial Engineering at the MIT Sloan School of Management. This book outlines Lo’s Adaptive Markets Hypothesis – a challenger to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis – and offers a conceptual basis for why some hedge fund trading works.
  4. Siva Vaidyanathan’s Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Vaidyanathan is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Intellectual Property (IP) is an intangible asset class that includes copyrights (works of creative expression), trademarks (logos and symbols that differentiate a company in the marketplace), patents (know how and processes), and trade secrets (confidential and secret information). Vaidyanathan explains how IP works and examines its legal / cultural debates. A good primer for content creators.