Weekly essays

Browse the essay collection chronologically by title.

2019

On the evolution of skin color.

On sex work and demand.

On writing.

On bowerbirds, process, and happiness.

On telepathy and the battle for narrative control.

On translation.

On the moon landing, and who benefits if you believe it was faked.

On re-watching the Matrix, twenty years later.

On the celebration of Neanderthals.

On national borders and the disappearance of our universe’s only known habitable planet.

On power and species.

On drugs and drug laws.

On vengeance and Ahmed Saadawi’s ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad.’

On Brett Wagner’s ‘Apocalpse Blaze.’

On storytelling and social justice.

On octopus art.

On empathy.

On happiness and mind control.

On Ann Leckie’s ‘The Raven Tower.’

On consent.

On taxing robots.

On ‘The Ravanayan’ and women traveling alone.

On perspective.

On the value of religious misinterpretation.

On suboptimal optimization.

On two degrees and the worst year (yet) to be alive.

On resurrection.

On kind, environmentalist, and vegan books for kids.

On storytelling in games.

On attentiveness and names.

2018

On overdose.

On extraction.

On power and dignity in defeat.

On the water-fueled car.

On ‘The Overstory.’

On reading poems from Donika Kelly’s ‘Bestiary’ in jail.

On neural plasticity.

On mind control versus body control.

On nature.

On violence and gratitude.

On alternate truths.

On Vaughan & Staples’s ‘Saga’ and parenting metaphors.

On substitutes.

On the dangers of reading.

On intent.

On asymmetry and ‘The Hatred of Poetry.’

On Tao Lin’s ‘Trip,’ targeted advertising, and finding scraps of life in books.

On gerrymandering (a prequel).

On Tara Westover’s ‘Educated.’

On protest, the Supreme Court, and autocratic minority rule.

On courage, parenting, and Sergio de la Pava’s ‘Lost Empress.’

On gene duplication and oppression, a reprise.

On love and physics.

On cooperation in gaming.

On drinking.

On ‘The Theft of Fire.’

On games, tinkering, and gratitude.

On gateway drugs.

On fruit, welcome, and undergarments.

On explaining religion to my child, part one.

On food and willing sacrifice.

On artificial intelligence and solitary confinement.

On parenting and short-term memory loss.

On Buddhism, suffering, and Deadpool.

On smell (again!).

On the death of Thor.

On weird spelling.

On loneliness.

On automation, William Gaddis, and addiction.

On genetic inheritance and sexual assault.

On Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep.’

On radical religious terrorists targeting the United States.

On light.

2017

On prayer.

On conspiracy theories and Santa Claus.

On sexuality: dolphins.

On Syria and the complexity of causality.

On empathizing with machines.

On reading Natalie Diaz’s “How to Go to Dinner with a Brother on Drugs” with a room full of men in jail for drugs.

On prayer, diversity among deities, and ADHD.

On Sci-Hub, the Napster of science.

On apocalypse-preppers, technology, and oppression.

On Gabriel Tallent’s ‘My Absolute Darling.’

On psychotropic drugs and optimism.

On correspondence.

On smell.

On animals that speak, including humans.

On clarity, Matthew Zapruder’s ‘Why Poetry,’ and reading Bruce Weigl.

On Daniel Handler’s ‘All the Dirty Parts.’

On ethics and Luke Dittrich’s ‘Patient H.M.’

On addiction, crime, Buddhism, and exorcism.

On goals and Jack Gilbert’s ‘Failing and Falling.’

On Edward Dolnick’s ‘The Seeds of Life’ and artificial wombs.

On the Silk Road, Nick Bilton’s ‘American Kingpin,’ and the difference between being clever and being wise.

On Liu Xiaobo, monster hunter.

On prosecution.

On Finn Murphy’s ‘The Long Haul’ and our dying towns.

On scrutiny.

On idle time, coincidence, and Vivek Shanbhag’s ‘Ghachar Ghochar.’

On changing a life.

On the sounds of aberrant ecosystems.

On Alvaro Enrigue’s ‘Sudden Death,’ translation, and the power of narrative control.

On race and our criminal justice system.

On the Tower of Babel and beneficial curses.

On storytelling.

On naked mole-rats.

On college, chance, and Elif Batuman’s ‘The Idiot.’

On elephants.

On photographs not taken.

On government intrusion and addiction.

On isolation.

On keeping someone alive.

On driving.

On the Bush years, from the perspective of the 45th.

On theft and bullying.

On perception and learning.

On romantic failure.

On preventing future crime.

On fairness (and how we treat the utility monster).

On fear.

On post-apocalyptic historical fiction (and Neanderthals).

On the history of time travel.

On writing poetry in English.

On wasted ingenuity.

On psychedelic drugs as medicine.

2016

On Facebook and fake news.

On the future of sex (& Emily Witt’s ‘Future Sex’).

On pain.

On literature as a weapon for social change.

On human uniqueness and invasive species.

On fish (and their similarities to us).

On throwing sand.

On a guaranteed basic income.

On poetry: Reginald Dwayne Betts’s ‘Bastards of the Reagan Era.’

On Charles Foster’s ‘Being a Beast’ and battling the empathy gap.

On Stefan Hertmans’s ‘War & Turpentine.’

On districting, or how much your vote matters.

On Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad.’

On Don Delillo’s ‘Zero K’ and the dream of eternal life.

On inadvertent racism.

On AIDS and drought in Malawi.

On stalking and the risk of seeming crazy.

On Robert Gordon’s ‘The Rise and Fall of American Growth.’

On comics.

On deer, wolves, and Sean Carroll’s ‘The Serengeti Rules.’

On horror, healing, and Joanna Connors’s ‘I Will Find You.’

On attending a Black Lives Matter rally with dreadlocks.

On killer cops and killer prosecutors.

On Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian.’

On Stephon Alexander’s ‘The Jazz of Physics.’

On free-market capitalism, political spending, and Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money.’

On grace and the proper way to listen to music.

On unilateral reproduction.

On PTSD and David Means’ ‘Hystopia.’

On self-immolation.

On Lisa Randall’s ‘Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.’

On Edin & Shaefer’s ‘$2.00 a Day.’

On bistability.

On Peggy Orenstein’s ‘Girls & Sex.’

On wasteful medical spending.

On Mark Leyner’s ‘Gone with the Mind.’

On the shifting sands of family, specifically: whose counts?

On CRISPR and the future of humanity.

On Bryan Stevenson’s ‘Just Mercy.’

On Ioan Grillo’s ‘Gangster Warlords.’

On silenced voices.

On bitcoins and privacy.

On ‘Cat’s Cradle’ and whether or not it’s sci-fi.

On citizenship.

On paranoia, virology, conspiracy theories, & lemmings: my experience reading ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.’

On productivity, and the risk of accidentally making the world worse when we’re trying to make it better.

On poetry: Erin Belieu’s ‘When at a Certain Party in New York City.’

On the low-quality, highly-biased research attempting to dissuade you from wearing a bike helmet.

On Akerlof & Shiller’s ‘Phishing for Phools’ and the increasing heterogeneity of the United States.

On paying teachers for value added.

On medical spending.

On asking first.

On Skynet, and why I’m still gung-ho about AI research despite having watched two out of four Terminator movies.

On octopus literature, a reprise: What would books be like if we didn’t love gossip?

2015

On Simon Critchley’s ‘Memory Theater’ and other people’s lost time.

On my own attempt to understand what motivates people to join the terrorist organization Daesh.

On proving that elections will make you miserable.

On learning that my heart is a frog.

On the question of whom to blame for the paucity of women in science.

On crashing waves of violence and Paul Kingsnorth’s ‘The Wake.’

On the historical interpretations deathmatch: Sid Meier’s ‘Civilization 2’ versus Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens.’

On humor (and bad medical advice).

On chess as a window to the soul.

On punishment as criminal deterrent.

On stuttering.

On Marlon James’s ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings.’

On reading Playboy from the 1970s.

On computing and word magic.

On the naming of rabbits.

On Eka Kurniawan’s ‘Beauty Is a Wound,’ mythology, and misogyny.

On play (and playgrounds).

On non-violence (part 2): empowering kids to act for equality.

On Gerry Alanguilan’s ‘Elmer,’ his author bio, and animal cognition.

On military drones.

On David Lancy’s ‘The Anthropology of Childhood,’ and violence against women (again!), and proscriptive parenting advice.

On attempts to see the world through other eyes.

On free-market economics & the actual meaning of words.

On watchful gods, trust, and how academic scientists undermined their own credibility.

On the worst I have ever smelled.

On Mat Johnson’s ‘Loving Day’ and wanting to fit in.

On sex work, reparations, a global wealth tax, and the connection between the three.

On mental architecture and octopus literature.

On slow driving as protest.

On depictions of (non)violence for the cause of justice.

On child pornography & an odd coincidence in timing.

On playing outdoors, and allergies.

On uncertainty (with cartoon ending).

On witchcraft and mass psychogenic illness.

On growing up poor, and hamsters.

On hunting.

On baby books.

On inflammatory language & music.

On identical twins and opportunity.

On the mortgage crisis and buffoonish, unethical prosecution.

On avuncular master-shamble-works.

On memory (part three): getting rid of memories.

On Viet Nguyen’s ‘The Sympathizer,’ the grotesque in art, and guilt.

On how human different humans happen to be (hint: equivalently human).

On reading books in prison (which luckily I have never done).

On charming sentences and sifting the OED.

On death (by gun violence) and taxes (progressive ones).

On racism and the empathy gap (while sneakily building toward the idea that teaching kids to root for your favorite sports team might be kinda evil).

On undeserved forgiveness and global warming.

On family (my own) and music videos. 

On memory (part 2).

On Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’ and the current legality of slavery in the United States.

On fire myths and the origin of knowledge.

On time-traveling information and quantum mechanics.

On killer line breaks.

On Alice Goffman’s ‘On the Run’ and extrapolate-able truth.

On Boyhood (the film), specifically the eleven seconds between 2:34:11 and 2:34:22.

On Jon Krakauer’s ‘Missoula.’

On biomedical research (and why I no longer do it).

On burial rites … and a meaningful life.

On evolution (and why there aren’t more black plants).

On ‘Welcome to Braggsville’ and…

On perpetual motion machines (and where to find them).

On GM foods.

On secular humanism.

On justice (an essay for Z).

On names (specifically, my own).

Excerpts from some other book: our heroic annelid makes a daring escape.

On minotaurs (and whether or not mothers are the root of all maladies).

On autism and vaccines.

On violence against women (part three): rape, evolution, and the dangers of partial truths.

On Linda Tirado’s ‘Hand to Mouth’ (until devolving into senseless tangents about cash transfers as medicine, the U.S. criminal justice system, work as exercise, and flawed science).

On video games, addiction and Infinite Jest: The Movie.

On redemption and Christianity in ‘The Book of Strange New Things.’

On inspirational women … and board games.

On redaction as art, and ‘Guantánamo Diary.’

On a global wealth tax, automation, and human trafficking.

On starfish (and whether they are zombies).

On scientific training, warmth, and pornography in writing, or: why I failed to fit ‘Bonita Avenue.’

On translation.

On talking to students about school, particularly high schoolers.

On the PubPeer lawsuit, scientific fraud, and anonymity.

On penis size, Sports Illustrated, and child pornography.

On how there isn’t enough lyrical writing about insurance . . . and taxation in ‘The Pale King.’

On irrational numbers.

On videogames and moral complicity.

On the potential psychological ramifications of certain insular societies, or: that fraternity video in the news.

On cheating in school.

On value claims and the popular press.

On parenting and belated “thank you”s.

More on violence against women … sexism, in particular.

On perspective, and whether you, Dear Reader, are a chameleon.

On poetry.

On violence against women.

On deficit spending.

On immortality.

On memory (part 1).

On the origins of war.

On civil forfeiture, racial profiling, and outlawing self-harm.

On Kerry Howley’s excellent ‘Thrown’ and author as jerk.

On free will.

On elegant sledgehammering.

On Ross Gay’s “The Burden” and forcing mice to swim.

On how friends don’t let friends study alone.

2014

On the creepy parallel between gene duplication and oppression – as inspired by a passage from Karen Armstrong’s ‘Fields of Blood.’

On Y chromosomes, surnames, and reproduction.

On evolution and League of Legends.

On personhood, in the Ramayana and in court.

On returning books unread.

On the grain size of reality and, eventually, creative work.

On free will, a bit, but mostly on graduate school and Rob Peace.

On child abuse and drawing conclusions from data.

On ‘The New Jim Crow.’

On time travel movies, particularly Timecrimes.

On Cosmos and working through the math.

On toxoplasma.

On chimpanzees and Nash equilibria.On organ trafficking.