Reading list 2017

As I shared my reading list last year I’d like to do the same for 2017. Hopefully, you’ll find an interesting book or two to add to your list.

Technology

This book is full of interviews with people that were influential for computer science, algorithms, and operating systems. I was expecting more people closer to application programmer’s reality. Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge respect for people like Donald Knuth or Guy Steele, but it’s not what the majority of us do every day. I was seeking some inspiration and found none. Well, at least I got some insight into a few groundbreaking projects like Netscape, Javascript, Erlang, or Unix.

This book is, more or less, a written version of Dan Abramov’s Redux course where he builds the library from scratch. It’s a quick read that helps you understand the core principles of Redux architecture.

Business and self-development

I’ve read too many junk business and self-help books over the last few years. The ones that give you an insight into an unknown field are worth reading. But the ones that are like “I have it all figured out”, “What worked for me will work for you”, and “(Don’t or Do) Follow your passion” seems to be a waste of time. Read one and skip the rest.

The book looks at various aspects of the business—from marketing, ethics, accounting to operations, finance, strategy, and others. It’s a great read for a programmer as you are usually working with those teams and the book will give you a common language and a better understanding of each other. And also, MBAs really like to use acronyms and things like the plan of five P or a five S strategy—mention it (or a quote The Art of War) in a meeting and you’ll be taken seriously.

A book that tells you that you won’t be happy by following your passion. That is a good news for people who are not sure what their passion is. You pick something, get better in it, build a career capital that allows you to get more freedom, and find a mission that you can fulfill with the capital you built. That’s how you gonna love what you do. It makes sense, more sense than blindly following your passion and dreaming of becoming a lumberjack or a farmer in your cubicle.

An antidote to all of those self-help be happy books—you are not special, you need to lose, you need negative experiences. You won’t achieve much by only being positive. Care about things that are dear to you and ignore what TV and social media tell you, etc, etc.

Buddhism dressed up a little for millennials

And it’s orange and has a swear word in the title so it’s gonna be a best-seller.

A book with concrete advice on how to grow your audience through different channels. Each channel has a small case study and tells you at what stage and type of startup it worked. Not all the channels will be applicable to your business but this gives you an idea which ones to try out.

I’m gonna admit it. I wanted to read the startup Traction but I picked up this one instead by mistake. And I realized that there is something fishy going on when I was already in a third of the book. Sunk cost fallacy kicked in and I finished the book.

The result of that is gaining better vocabulary when talking with C-level execs. Apart from that, it gives you a framework to apply in your company to improve the company. If you are a CEO. Oh well, I’m not a CEO. So I can’t really tell you if it’s working or not. Sorry.

Firstly, the tone of this book makes you cringe. And apart from that, there is not really much that would stick with me. It tells you to define your goals, take mini-retirements/sabbaticals, be effective, cut out unimportant, automate, don’t multitask, and many other things that I can’t argue with.

Also, it tells you to learn to leave things unfinished—I should’ve read that before accidentally going through the CEO Traction, hey?

An eye-opening introspection into a corporate culture and HR practices that is both chilling and depressing to read. But, it’s still better to know the other side than to ignore it. You can decide whether you want to play along or face the consequences. It’s coming from an American background but it applies to Europe and New Zealand to a certain extent as well.

With a cheesy title comes a book with cheesy text and big letters. I’ve read this one because of work. The style might suit some and the general advice is not too bad. The benefit of the book is targeting Australians and capturing the specifics of their retirement plans, taxes, and others. Oh boy, and those testimonials at the end of each chapter—does anyone apart from the author likes to read them?

Non-fiction

A long and very thorough description of events that lead to the US involvement in Vietnam and, eventually, to the war. Stanley Karnow lived there through those years and worked there as a journalist. The book is filled with personal experience with key actors and gives a lot of detailed background but doesn’t really go into many details of why.

A decent audiobook to listen to—well narrated. Isaacson describes stories around the major breakthroughs that led to the current state of computer technology. From Ada Lovelace to the internet. He focuses on the people and teams and gives lots of details about the personality of each inventor.

An interesting book covering the history of various fields of science from physics, cosmology, to chemistry, and paleontology. It tells you how we’ve came to know as much as we do now. The style is accessible and, despite the range of the topics, you are not getting lost. It is fascinating and informative read.

It is an account of greed in the investment banking industry in the 80s at Wall Street that the author lived through. The story is told by a graduate, the author, joining Salomon Brothers and becoming a bond salesman. He hated investment bankers but he still kept screwing the clients and getting the “fat paychecks with bonuses” coming each year to his bank account.

Never before have so many unskilled twenty-four-year-olds made so much money in so little time as we did …

There is a slight hint of what led to the financial crisis in 2008 which is described in another of the author’s books—The Big Short. Lastly, Lewis has a real talent for explaining complex financial instruments with simple and easy to understand analogies (e.g. mortgage-backed securities).

I didn’t have any idea how much a common thing like salt influenced the world history. Back in the day, having access to enough salt allowed you to preserve more food. More food led to feeding more people. Feeding more people get you bigger armies. Armies won wars. Winning wars gave you more power.

Another interesting part of the book is how different cultures used different means of salting and preserving the food. From fish sauce in the Roman empire and still in use in Asian cuisines with soy sauce to a plain use of crystals.

Salt was worth more than gold.

A book that goes to the roots of id Software and takes you to the journey of the most influential games of the 90s—Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. It draws the relationship between John Carmack, John Romero, and Tom Hall. It’s a great story and if you played those games at that time you won’t be able to put the book down. I listened to an audiobook and it was perfectly narrated.

This is probably the geekiest book that I read last year. It tells you where our modern vegetable came from, what we lost and gained through the selection and breeding, and how to choose the most nutritional varieties. Also, it shares many other tips like how to store it (don’t put tomatoes in the fridge), or what is the best way to prepare so you get the most nutrients (cook your tomatoes). I love learning about things that you can use (and eat) every day.

It shows you what random facts you can learn by studying Google searches dataset. Those would be presented with some funny and some quirky moments. At the end, there is a discussion about the limitation of the data analysis.

A chilling story about two climbers facing a tough decision. It goes to a description of what goes through one’s head in an almost impossible situation. It’s a raw encounter with powerful unforgiving mountains.

Fiction

A few short stories from a near future about robots—it is an entertaining book filled with logic around three laws of robotics that Asimov defined. The book was written in 1950 but somehow feels up to date.

A surreal story of seeking American Dream by going to Las Vegas with a pack full of drugs. Two guys on drugs doing crazy things described in a great style and language. I loved the book but I hope it is not based on a true story. I’m slightly suspicious that it is (at least partially). There is a movie version with Benicio Del Toro and Johny Depp—a great adaptation of the book.

Recommendation

Those two are not very entertaining but they will help your career. The Ten-Day MBA gives you a solid understanding of different parts of a company. It will help you make better decisions as a programmer and have more empathy for others.

The latter was depressing but if you aim to climb a corporate ladder it’s an eye-opening experience into a big companys’ culture and politics.

I just loved that book — totally recommended if you haven’t read or listened to it yet. Growing up with these games and following the authors in the game magazines throughout the 90s makes it even more fun.

I love learning about ordinary things and I would have never thought that salt had so much impact on the history of mankind. And Bryson’s book gives you an entertaining peek into the history of science with lots of details presented in a cohesive way.

One is a surreal road trip to a pop culture of the 70s filled with substance abuse, and the other is a cruel raw encounter with a mountain. Both books are like a bizarre car wreck — you are chilled to the bone but unable to turn away.

And what have you read last year? What book would you recommend to put on the reading list for the next one?


Did you like the article? Send me a comment!