- “Rule and Ruin” by Geoffrey Kabaservice – full title “The Downfall of
Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the
Tea Party”. A decent history of the Republican party, with lots of details in
some periods and much fewer in others (in particular skipping multiple years
while Democrats are in power is questionable). Gives a good account of the
tortuous and convoluted process of radicalization and turn to conservatism
that started after WWII.
- “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee – a historical novel focusing on the lives of
Korean immigrants in Japan in the 20th century, following an extended family
for 4 generations from South Korea to various cities in Japan. Good book,
though somewhat longer than it needed be, IMHO.
- “Atomic Adventures” by James Mahaffey – a set of stories about the crazier
aspects of nuclear science, narrated by a physicist who himself played a role
in cold fusion research. This is a curious case where a book is completely not
what I expected it to be, and at the same time I thoroughly enjoyed reading
- “Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time” by Bill
McGowan – how to speak convincingly and avoid many traps. Although much of the
book applies to significantly more “professional” speakers than me (for
example executives having to do multiple speeches, folks who get interviewed
by the media, discussion panel participators and moderators, etc), there’s
quite a bit of good advice for “day to day” conversations as well. The book is
not perfect (it has the usual repetitiveness and fluff so common in this
genre), but it’s fairly good and insightful overall.
- “Quantum Computing since Democritus” by Scott Aaronson – Wow, quite a mismatch
of expectations here. I was expecting a light “popular science” read, and this
isn’t it; it’s a recap of the author’s graduate-level computer science course
for students interested in complexity theory and quantum computing. For good
measure it also mixes up with some discussions of recent papers on these
topics. I would probably have liked the book much more if I allotted ~100
hours to going through it (instead of the 10-15 as usual for a 400-page
nonfiction), but as a “lightweight” read it completely missed the mark for me.
- “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren – an autobiography by Prof. Jahren, a geobiologist
focusing on the study of plants. This is a really, really good book, deeply
personal and informative not only on the topic of plants, but also friendship,
grit in scientific research, the challenges of women in academia, and more.
- “Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight” by David A. Mindell – an
interesting perspective on human-machine interactions in the early stages of
the NASA space program, focusing on the Apollo missions and their precursors.
Apollo’s computer seems so primitive in retrospect, but the realization this
happened >50 years ago is poignant. The programming and testing challenges
faced by Apollo SW engineers certainly sound recognizable. It’s also
interesting to read about the very early concerns of computers replacing
humans in certain tasks – concerns that are quite prominent recently due to
advances in AI.
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson – as with any
self-help book, YMMV. I personally didn’t like this one and didn’t find it
insightful or novel in any particular way. I’ve actually stopped reading books
of this kind a while ago, but seemingly got caught in the hype and stellar
reviews with this one.
- “Development as Freedom” by Amartya Sen – the author has won the Nobel prize
for welfare economics, and here he lays out his main tenet of looking at more
than per-capita income as a measure of a country’s development. There’s quite
a bit of implied criticism of the US economic policies, and many interesting
examples from around the world. There’s more stuff in the book, general
thoughts on economics outside the main tenet, as well. Overall a pretty
interesting book, if somewhat academic – not easy to digest in a single
- “Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital
Weapon” by Kim Zetter – a pretty good, if somewhat long-winded and repetitive,
book documenting the discovery of the Stuxnet virus in 2010. I liked the
author’s reasonably technical descriptions of the security vulnerabilities the
attackers exploited. There’s not much actual details to rely upon, of course,
due to the secrecy surrounding the attack. Interestingly, Snowden’s leaks
provided some clues into the background, but not much of it concrete.
- “Evicted – Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond – a
poignant ethnography of “inner city” Milwaukee residents (most of them black
women with young kids) who face severe poverty and frequent evictions. The
author somehow managed to blend himself into that environment and follow
people over several years. Very well-written book, though definitely not an
easy read. Much food for thought here.
- “From Mathematics to Generic Programming” by A.A. Stepanov and D.E.
Rose – some introductory math concepts (mostly geometry and abstract algebra)
with musings on programming in the style of “Programming Pearls”. I think I
understand what the authors were going for with this book, but IMHO they
didn’t hit the target – it’s just not sufficiently cohesive. Moreover, the
choice of C++ is puzzling as it requires “concepts” to express the ideas the
authors are talking about; yet C++ doesn’t support concepts yet (maybe in
C++20) so many of the code samples in the book won’t even compile.
- “Madame Curie – A Biography” by Eve Curie – a fairly good biography of Marie
Curie. It’s a bit starry-eyed, which is not surprising given that the author
is Marie’s younger daughter, but good writing.
- “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison – a novel following the life of a young
man in an African-American community in Michigan in the middle of the 20th
century, and his quest to find his family’s roots. Can’t say I liked this
book, too weird for me. Definitely some good writing there, as well as
interesting historical context, but it’s just not my style.
- “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl
- “The Mythical Man-Month” by Frederick P. Brooks Jr. – added some modern
impressions to my super-old review from 2003.
- “Coders at Work” by Peter Seibel