This year, according to my tracker (I use Reeder), I saved and read 1,039 essays and longer form articles this year, and highlighted 51 of them. There are almost certainly gems that I forgot to save for this end-of-year article, but welcome to the chaos of modern life.
I was fairly negative in my comments last year, noting that many feature pieces lacked quality editing and failed to capture the intensity of the moment we are all facing. This year felt better holistically, despite an historically bad year for journalists, writers and other media professionals. Prolix has been replaced with the profound, and more writers seem to be standing up and grappling with the reality we are facing.
Here’s the best articles I read in 2023, plus a slew of honorable mentions.
I’m a sucker for extraordinarily complicated policy, governance and global affairs problems — the ones that have no easy solutions or solutions at all, where a dozen intelligent people can sit around a table and no one walks out having convinced others on what to do.
Tad Friend wrote an epic on wildlife trafficking, connecting the dots from the markets in countries like China to the intermediaries that process these illegal goods to the hunters that track down exotic animals and shoot them cold. In the process, he carefully tunes his attention to human behavior and motivation in order to understand the links across the entire supply chain. Most of it is greed, some of it is ennui, but all of it is
In 2023, I read 37 books, including 3 books in French and 2 Korean graphic novels. That’s quantitatively down from last year, mostly due to a couple of books that oversold and under-delivered that made me skip reading a few weeks here and there (it doesn’t always happen, but one bad book can really put a dampener on the entire bookshelf).
First Place: The Order of the Day by Éric Vuillard
In a world where more than 500,000 books are published annually (just in English and just in the United States), it is so dreadfully rare to run into something completely novel, alien, soul-crushing and yet delightful. French author Éric Vuillard’s work falls into this near-barren category. Extraordinarily crafted into compact stories, Vuillard interrogates the turning points of political history and uses broiling irony and droll juxtaposition to place justice as he conceives it into the strongest possible relief.
I started earlier this year with The Order of the Day (French title: L’Ordre du jour), which won France’s top literary prize and covers the Nazi takeover of Austria in the Anschluss. Vuillard excoriates the French political and industrial leadership during the crisis, writing with acidic lucidity juxtaposing the historically important junction underway with the decadent idiocies under debate in the National Assembly during the period. Every sentence forces a gasp, a scream and a question: what could they be thinking? And by extension and through the looking glass, what are we thinking every day? Are we making the same mistakes?
This book triggered a deep dive across his work, including his most recent 2023 book An Honorable Exit (French title: Une sortie honorable), The War on the Poor (French title: La guerre des pauvres), and Congo (in French, untranslated to English). I also have
It’s been a busy year, with 42 issues of my newsletter “Securities” by Lux Capital in the bag alongside 22 podcast episodes. But the most exciting part of the year was my new editorial focus on “riskgaming,” a new form of wargame scenarios that I have been developing with colleagues over the past year. Three scenarios have nearly reached production, two written by me and one from a contributor. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite finish all the layout designs by the end of 2023, so while all the work took place this year, unless you were one of the hundred people who got to experience them live, you’ll have to wait until 2024 to see them published.
The biggest theme this year was obviously artificial intelligence, where there was just an overwhelming flood of news, progress, debate and theory about the field’s implications for the future of engineering, scientific discovery, creativity and society writ large. I remain deeply bullish on AI’s opportunity to transform the economy, but I’d say my skepticism is starting to grow on some of the most extreme perspectives, particularly in regards to the timeline for AI’s ready deployment. A much more automated world is coming, and coming soon, but nearly as soon as some commentators seem to think.
Another major theme was international relations and the return of hard power. I think 2022 shocked many people given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year, and that shock has only expanded with Israel/Palestine and a whole slew of active and brewing conflicts in all regions of the world. Economic and ecological stresses have a way of inducing conflagration, and I see nothing abating in 2024 (and in most cases, only intensifying).
I was reading a book review in Le Monde this morning about “ecospiritualists” and the wide literature emanating from France on the subject of connecting humans back to nature. One theme that emerges is the need to tend to the “garden” of one’s self just as much as the garden of the Earth when it comes to ecological consciousness. It’s a theme that has become trenchant in American publishing as well through books like Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing, which encourages readers to release their attention on devices and the modern economy and redirect it to nature.
The Le Monde writer Valentine Faure is clearly empathetic to the movement, but is also a bit perturbed by the motley set of ideas, beliefs, and practices that are combining into France’s version of ecospirituality (what she describes as a “bricolage”). The criticism seems apt — people are pulling in so many ideas from so many indigenous and other cultures that they are deconstructing entire cosmologies into easily replaceable parts. It’s almost like the Costco-ization of church.
What’s driving the popularity of these movements? A general “pulling back” from modern life: a retreat from burnout and overwork, of urbanization and concrete, of the frenetic pace of social relations driven by digital media. Alienation — a theme in the criticism of industrialization since the era started — has seemed to hit something of a popular zenith as people confront the immense mass of humanity and the unfathomable scale of the systems required to keep those humans alive, fed and happy.
The need for more spirituality seems necessary for people (and for society writ large), but I struggle to understand exactly the path from our urban lives to ones of the “forest” or “river”. The potentially great democratizing force of communing
The book covers the origins and execution of the French-Algerian War, and it offers a unique vantage point compared to most works that cover conflict: Horne essentially secures access to all the major fighters on all sides, offering him a nearly comprehensive perspective to understand what took place. Perhaps even more importantly, Horne situates the conflict in the politics and sociology of Algeria and France, showing how demographics and opinions swayed the military strategy of the war and vice versa. Every aspect of war finds a spot in his analysis, and that makes it not just interesting as a story of a particular historical experience, but a narrative for war and conflict in general.
As I was reading the book back in 2021, I realized that there was just a lot of information to comprehend, and so I ended up writing a 30+ page outline of the book to connect and synthesize all the threads together. I’ve had a few friends ask me for the outline over the past year, so I figured it was well past time to edit it a bit and publish it on the site.
The sleepy suburban streets of Silicon Valley, with Stanford at its epicenter, were once well-tended farmlands, a lush region of physical toil and abundant agricultural exports that fed the frontiers and the fronts of world wars. Over the course of the last century, that rustic life was transformed first into the postwar hub of the West Coast defense industry during the 1950s, then into the fabrication center of the nascent and soon ubiquitous semiconductor industry, before the region all but died out with a surprise whimper in the 1980s, decimated by the offshoring of hardware to the Asian Tigers of Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
From that economic nadir came the longest bull run Silicon Valley had ever witnessed: the sequential invention and rise of the consumer internet, mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence and more, not to mention the coursing rivers of biotech burbling between the corporate complexes of software giants.
Silicon Valley has engraved itself into the economic chronicles of the globe, becoming an elemental metonym for innovation the world over. Despite its riches and influence though, the region’s origins — and Stanford’s unique place in that story — remains a strangely under-studied phenomenon. A passel of works, particularly over the past decade, have attempted to narrate that story, some better and some worse, but none have definitively concluded: why there and why then?
It was a research problem that I was intensely curious about as an undergraduate at Stanford, and one that I wanted to solve through the assiduous work of the historical scholar. So for two years — and thanks to an Undergraduate Research Fellowship — I perused the Stanford historical archives for all the evidence that I could find that connected the university into the wider region that it inhabited.
What I discovered surprised me. Stanford, something of
Every year, I read thousands of articles, essays and profiles (Reeder, which replaced Pocket for me, tells me more than 2,000). It’s always hard to qualitatively summarize “the state of the union”, but this year felt more repetitive, what with endless reporting on the War on Ukraine and the U.S. midterm elections sapping the bandwidth of already mentally-strained reporters and writers.
Alas, I wish I could say that it is a golden age of writing, but this year — while there were dozens of very solid pieces — I really felt our collective writing output failed to match the vertiginous moment that we are approaching as a world community. I’m biased as an editor, but the editing of articles (to say nothing of Hollywood’s flabby blockbusters these days) leaves much to be desired, with so many words finally arriving at middling conclusions and narratives.
It’s really a question of economics: the media world has just been wrecked in the post-Covid world. Crippling layoffs abound. Coupled with the more limited contacts between journalists and sources in our work-from-home era, and I am starting to see a general decline of that unique insight that comes from observing a subject and a story as closely as possible.
2022 was a year of shocks and disappointments, but it was also a year of bullshit craziness, bookended by the supposed rise of Miami as a tech hub and the crash of Twitter led by none other than that wisest of tech elder, Elon Musk. In regards to Miami, how do you cover the
This year, I wrote 43 issues of the “Securities” by Lux Capital newsletter, a dozen or so articles for Lux Capital’s website, published 37 podcast episodes of “Securities” with my producer Chris Gates, and wrote about 6-7 pieces on my personal blog (yes, Lux absorbed the vast majority of my writing time!) Then there’s the unpublished work: my intellectual journal has another 65,000 words of thoughts that at some point will hopefully marinate enough for publication.
So to that end, I compiled a “best of 2022” list of “Securities” newsletters and podcasts, which is hosted obviously enough on the “Securities” blog. That list includes 7 newsletters and 6 podcasts that I thought best exemplified the range of ideas we are trying to build with the publication. Among the big topics were the future of science, disasters and chaos, and industrial policy and progress.
Outside of formal writing, informal writing (aka Twitter) has taken a serious plunge as the social network fell into chaos the last few months. At least to me, the value of communications there almost instantly declined upon the ownership change — my timeline has no one I actually follow anymore, replies are a mess, and overall engagement at least in my circles seems to be at a nadir. So I have barely tweeted these past three months as I just observe the new patterns of engagement.
Maybe 2023 will be different. Somehow though, I feel that the gravities here have their own universal constants that will continue in the years ahead.
Hi, I'm Danny. I’m Editor-in-Chief of "Securities" and Head of Editorial at Lux Capital. I'm also a Fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York. I analyze science, technology, finance and the human condition.
Formerly, I was managing editor at TechCrunch and a venture capitalist at Charles River Ventures and General Catalyst.