In 2019, I made a New Year’s resolution to write a website post once a month and read 35 books. I didn’t complete either. Below is a review of the books I read last year and my thoughts of them.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I would not recommend you read this book, unless you want to. In school, I didn’t read many books, Sparknotes was my friend. Part of me is glad to have finished this book due to the size alone, but that is a horrible reason to read a book. This book won awards in 2009. And I thought it would be good. It definitely changed the way I read. By now I have forgotten most of the book and I hope the good stuff is what remains.
The book is not a single cohesive story, it’s a mixture of a dozen half-complete ones. The stories circle around the theme of addiction. There is also a lot of unrelated funny events happening. I found the non-linearly of the book interesting, it really separates the view point from the book and the actual events of the story. It made you think about where the words you were reading exists in the context of where and when it occurred.
Even with the size of the book, the entire story is even larger. There is a whole other side which occurs but is not written down and is implied throughout the book. It is like a story that reads backwards, where you start seeing the story lines come together and it all makes sense in the end but in this case it doesn’t reach a conclusion.
To add to the disorientation, the book has many references which you need to read the footnotes. The footnotes are long enough to warrant their own footnotes. I also had to use an Infinite Jest dictionary. I had the book on my e-reader, the physical book for the footnotes and the laptop open for the dictionary at the same time. It actively makes me think that the author did not want you to understand what was going on so you would put your own story together. Below is except from the Infinite Jest dictionary.
Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes
Merchants of Doubt is about people that cast doubt in science towards the public. An example given in the book is the correlation between smoking and cancer. This correlation was proven in 1929 in Germany, re-proven in 1950 in the UK and was included in a Surgeon General’s Report in the United States in 1964. Tobacco companies claimed that these study lacked credibility and health authorities sided with these claims until 1998. One of the main arguments the “merchants of doubt” used was that a perfect relation could not be found, not all people that smoke got cancer. There is so much room for interpretation and bias in gathering a dataset. Everything is relative and we can trick people and even ourselves.
I learned a lot about how political movements work and why we think they occur. A small group of people that really care are much more powerful than a large group of people who only have a preference and not a strong belief.
I found refreshing, is the book didn’t portray these “Merchants of Doubt” as evil. The Merchants of Doubt legitimately thought they were making the world a better place. It’s unfortunate that they had to name names but I think it helped solidify the statements, making it more grounded. A nuclear physicist, with the credentials to match, believed that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer and pushing for more research, when what was needed was to act at that moment.
There seemed to be a common themes in the opposing view. That more research is needed. People believe that government intervention is not always the best method. Before I thought it was money that motivated these people from large companies that would appose this need for government regulation.
Another topic brought up in the book, is there a need for equal sides. This was something that I never thought of. Does every decision have two equal sides? As an example for climate change, you could have a member of the scientific community saying that climate change will have long term effects and then the opposition says they want representation and believing there will be no long term effects. When looking from it from someone totally new to the topic, it looks like the scientific community is split. Even with the good indention of the news company. Have a fair representation should not be equal but should align with the consenseis. To compound the issue, science is full of questions, and they don’t try to hide that uncertainty.
I enjoyed Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, until I learned that it lied… a lot. The premise of the book is that sleep is good for you, it reduces cancer risk, makes you more alert, makes you live longer. I love my sleep and what was being said made sense and the author has a PhD and many years experience and I thought it was a trusted source.
From further research it has been found incomplete context was given. In each almost every result the author used the most compelling argument for his case and ignored any information that would have contradicted him. For an example in the part about beauty. The author gives an example. A group was split into 2 one group slept for only 5 hours and the other 8 hours. The result found that when the photos of them were rated. The participates with 8 hours were labeled more beautiful and healthier than the participants with only 5 hours of sleep. What the author failed to mention was at what time the photos were taken. In the study, the participants who slept 8 hours had their picture taken 7 hours after waking where the participants who slept 5 hours had their picture taken 31 hours after they awoke.
The author of this book lied by leaving out crucial information and context. And this isn’t isolated but is basically the entire book. This book a learned about how to lie without giving false facts. And it showed what was being done in the merchants of doubt. There are facts, the context to the facts and how you present then, adding irrelevant information and leaving out information. It made me change how I think about scientific results.
This didn’t really fit in the review, but Hank Green’s critic of someone apposing climate change and how masterful you can skew a topic with language. Youtube
Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks: Loved the comparison of war in space being like the transition from hand-to-hand to the introduction of guns
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams: Adams bizarrely introspective books which makes fun of and expands science fiction
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: Amazon’s CEO favorite book. I feel like I didn’t get the intended effect of the book. I will have to return to it later. /p>
The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood: Felt like a personal diary from a person in dystopian future. You only learn about the universe overtime. I would recommend reading.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams: Although not advice I would take, the story behind Dilbert and his perspective was interesting.
100 Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez: I wanted to enjoy this book more. It mixed interesting elements of the natural and unnatural.
Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows: Very much an introduction. I don’t remember much of this book.
Philoshopy of Software Design by John Ousterhout: I wish this book was longer. I learned about having deep modules and simple interfaces, how to define complexity as dependency and obscurity and also the strategic mindset. He also gave “red flags” to see in your software.
I read 34 books in 2018, not 52 as my goal, but this year was most books I ever read.
I read many interesting biographies of Howard Hughes, Viktor Frankl, Sam Walton, The Wright Brothers, Paul Erdos. I enjoyed non-fiction from Code, Fabless, Ant Encounters, Enlightenment Now, Code Complete 2, Debt: The first 5000 years, Energy and Civilization, Naked Economics and the Goal and Finishing off the Foundation series.
My favorite book of this year was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into a movie called Bladerunner. I enjoyed the bizarre atmosphere of the book and its theme of questioning what is real and does it matter
The story follows Hari Seldon in the creation of pychohistory while providing more information of Trantor, the center of the Empire.
This book is about the moral questions of buying and selling stuff. Should we bet on death (life insurance), paying kids for good grades and classroom advertising. The book showed how creating a market changed the morally of each.
With the further look into the First Foundation and the creation of the Second Foundation. We were able to get more detail of the First Foundation and the Second Foundation. I loved the Foundation Series and would recommend to read
1. Tell the Truth, if in your writing you are holding back then you can not create a connection to the reader. 2. Don't use adverbs or the passive tense, I will try my best. 3. To be a good writer, you need to read a lot.
After the first few chapters, I expected this book to a math book on the theory of programming and a part of it was. The majority of this book was practical and went on how a computer is designed and built from telephone relays to a high level computer language. This helps take the "magic" out of computers.
An interesting book on the semiconductor industry. When starting this book I was expecting more deep dive into the technical aspects of the industry but was more of a history book. I felt some of the "In there own words" sections where just repeating what the author said in the chapter leading up to the excerpt.
I didn't know anything about Howard Hughes before reading this book. It is interesting how much he did with this life being a movie producer, record breaking pilot, airplane designer to name a few. This book had so much detail on Hugh's actions and it was an interesting perspective from Hugh's associates
The book creates an atmosphere of post-apocalyptic 2020 San Francisco which I seem to get lost in. It is the book's 50th anniversary. It is interesting how it seems futuristic still. It brings up the question what is the difference between an android and a human.
This book came out 40 years ago, other then the talk of mainframe computers, I feel this book has held up its principles still. The central principle being, adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. Maybe this could be we greatly underestimate the time needed to learn a new system and the time that is added when there is more people that need to be informed.
There is so much information about ants and this book seems to be an introduction to the wider field of how living things interact. It is interesting that with no central control, ants are able to live though the rate in which they interact and the pattern of their encounters. I would recommend this book, it was a nice quick read.
This book looks at what would have happened if World War II ended differently. It took some time to reorient oneself each "jump" in the book. I really enjoyed this book, and like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep looked agian at what is real and what is fake, is there any difference from the two and does it matter.
Viktor Frankl writes about experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II. This was an emotional book to read, when looking at what happened in the concentration camps. Frankl looks at this from a phycologist perspective and the later section of the books presents his psychotherapeutic method. I would recommend this book
This book is about Ben Horowitz experiences as a CEO of many startup companies and he outlines his experiences. This I would not catergorize as a business book and closer to an auto-biography. It offers an in-depth look in to the world of fast growing technology companies.
The book follows half a dozen families and their stuggles. At the same time, it shows the larger picture with the facts of evictions in the usa and the impact it has. It was enlightining to have the landlord's perpective of this enviroment, bringing up the discussion of explotation and housing being a fundamental human need.
Learning about Sam Walton and his obsession with retail, from his first stores to the discount stores in rural america. He was extremely competitive and trying out things that haven't be done before. At the same time taking best practices from his competitors.
This was a long book. I read Part I and II but had to abandon it half way though Part III. This book made me think differently about how well we are doing in the world. I really enjoyed the chapter on climate change, in how Pinker goes over how we have taken the news and how it has also been a political issue and how there are divided. It was also interesting to see how the news warps our image of the world and he re-enforces the availiblity bias and confirmation bias.
A fun weird little story
I have been focusing to improving my programming skills. From reviews online, I heard this was the textbook for programmers. I believe it lived up to the hype, many guidelines it recommends I use everyday. I liked that this book went into detail of many elements of project management which can be used out of programming.
It was a very interesting analysis of the human psychology. The movie follows the books very closely expect for ending which leave the movie and book with different a message at the end of the book.
Un livre de jeunesse que j'ai lu pour améliorer mon français.
It is an okay book. My favorite part of the book is how when you remove actions and challenges each of us has core values and you have to strive for maintaining these values
This was a insightful book that brought up many new ideas. The barter economy never existed. Describing the market economy and human economy. This book was lonng and read like a textbook. It provides a very detailed account of the introduction of money and worth and the different systems that were used until today.
I, Robot is a story about when robots came be able to talk and perform a larger variety of tasks. Each chapter seemed to introduce a new and exciting problem which made you think about the ethics of robots and how they relate to people.
This book was a great book to look at how bad humans are at guessing the future. In addition the book looked at the bias everyone has and how they apply in the real world
A book of eighteen essays. The book looks into pop culture and how it affects us. The book was released 15 years ago and makes a lot of references I've heard of; The Real World, Billy Joel, Saved by the bell but I didn't experience them like the reader.
C'est un histoire bizzare. Je pense que je le devrai lire en anglais. J'ai lu pour améliorer mon français.
An awesome history of the birth of flight. It is interesting to see the contrast between langley with large goveremnt spending and the wright brothers who made money at the bike shop to pay for the development. The Wright brothers were not considered by the US goverenment when they were look to sell there plane.
This book went through the history of physics from Greek philosophers to present day. It has been an intersting hearing a simple explaination of modern physics - With two basic theories of quantum mechanics and general relativitity and the attempt to combine these incompatible theories. This book introducted loop quantum gravitiy as the new leading contender.
The book is about the what would happen if the moon suddenly split apart. This book felt like 2 books, with the first being a scifi novel and the second being a drama. I enjoyed the first half, the second seemed to drag on a bit. It was an interesting thought experiment and covered a large variety of issues that could occur.
The books puts together a big history of society and its relationship with energy and technology. I enjoyed looking at the energy perspective in biology and the benefits of bipedalism and why we have 2 feet. In addition, agriculture and how the calorie of food per hours of work is an important heuristic for a population density.
I try to avoid most business type books, but this book exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed reading Chris Voss's experience of being a hostage negotiator and hearing how he learnt all of these lessons in the field. The points he shows are actionable and feel very achievable.
A biography of the famous mathematician Paul Erdos. I really enjoyed this book and hear about Erdos's life. I also enjoyed hearing about other mathematicians in the book such as Ronald Graham and Carl Friedrich Gauss
A nice introduction to economic thinking. I found the part of determining what makes an economy rich an interesting concept.
This was a piece of fiction where a main character is trying to save his plant. It is also a business book to run an efficient business. I have heard a lot about this book and was glad to read it. The main theory of the book is reduce your bottlenecks.