Original post
  • “The Source” by James Michener – an epic (1100 pages!) historical fiction,
    telling stories of various peoples living in the Galilee (hill country in the
    north of Israel), from prehistoric times of early civilizations, to the state
    of Israel in the 1960s. There’s a strong focus on the rise of organized
    religion, in particular Judaism. Though a bit tedious at times, it’s a very
    well-written book and it’s obvious a lot of careful research went into it. The
    author touches upon some core themes of Jewish identity and the internal
    tensions in Israel (most of which are true to this day) in a manner that’s
    extremely impressive for an outsider.
  • “The Wizard and the Prophet” by Charles C. Mann – an interesting approach to
    the challenges of progress of technological society. Presented through two
    competing views – the technology-solves-everything view (wizards), exemplified
    by Norman Borlaug who did ground-breaking research on developing higher yield
    grain crops, and the human-consumption-must-decrease view (prophets),
    exemplified by William Vogt, a prominent environmentalist of the early 20th
    century. The book is a mix of the biography of the two scientists and general
    discussion of environmental issues such as energy, genetically modified crops,
    etc.
  • “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling – forget about “third world” vs. “the west”.
    Reading this book is a humbling experience and a monument to our ignorance
    about how fast the world has been changing over the past 30 years. Rather than
    “rich countries” vs. “poor countries”, the author divides income into 4
    levels, and discusses the social changes that predated the economic changes in
    Asia, noting how the same social changes are now occurring in Africa and other
    regions of the world which many consider “hopeless”. There’s no bimodal
    distribution of income any more – it’s much more Gaussian now. I particularly
    liked the digs at the media leveraging the human instinct for panic. The
    author’s cool stories from his time as a young doctor in Africa are the icing
    on an overall excellent and insightful book.
  • “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder – decided to try
    reading what my kid is learning in school. Very sweet little novel with quite
    a few interesting historical details on the life of farmers in Wisconsin in
    the 1870s.
  • “Linux Kernel Development” by Robert Love – I didn’t originally plan to
    read this whole book – I got it for reference, to look up some specific topics
    I was interested in. But it turned out to be well written and fun enough so I
    just went ahead and read most of it. Some sections I skimmed (block devices,
    etc), but other sections I read several times. Pretty good book overall,
    though I’d prefer one with just a focus on how things work rather than how to
    hack on the kernel at this stage. Unfortunately all the books with that focus
    are at least 10 years old now and things change fast… So this probably
    remains the most modern “how the kernel works” reference.
  • “The Luzhin Defense” by Vladimir Nabokov – a moving story of true
    madness – a chess player who never managed to live in the real world outside
    the domain of chess. I expected it to be a bit more about chess than it
    actually was, but the book is undeniably powerful.
  • “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen – fictional story of a North-Vietnam
    double agent infiltrating the South’s secret police, mostly following through
    his exile in Los Angeles following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Extremely
    good writing, outright masterful in places. The book certainly has a lot in
    it, including Asian immigrant (and local) mentality in the US, thoughts on
    communism vs. American culture, etc. The last part (after the “confession”
    ends) is somewhat puzzling though, can’t say I liked it much. Communists’
    treatment of their own agents returning from abroad is important to know
    about, I’m just not sure so much ink had to be spent on that part.
  • “Concurrency in ” by Katherine Cox-Buday – I have mixed feelings about
    this book. Most of it is spent on tutorial-level explanations of concurrency,
    and doing so in a manner markedly inferior to “The Go Language”‘s
    two chapters on the same topics. The explanations are overly complicated on
    one hand, and not interesting enough on the other. The last part of the book,
    however, deals with more advanced concurrency patterns and is actually pretty
    interesting. The ultimate proof would be in using this book as a reference at
    a later stage when these patterns can be put to use in real code.
  • “No One Can Pronounce my Name: a novel” by Rakesh Satyal – A story
    of some immigrants from India and their families from the unusual angle of
    homosexuality. Good writing with believable, very human characters.
  • “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Book 2 in the “little house” series,
    telling about the childhood of Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder. I read this
    whole book aloud with my kids and it took a while (370 pages), but we really
    liked it overall – very interesting and detailed account of how farmers lived
    in the late 19th century. One criticism is the book’s beginning is a bit rough
    for a children’s book, IMO; it tells how older, rambunctious boys were beating
    their school teacher – this part really spooked my daughter and initially she
    refused to touch it after reading this part. We read through it together,
    though, and the rest of the book really has none of this meanness (in fact,
    Almanzo hardly returns to school after these first few pages).
  • “Stoicism and the Art of Happiness” by Donald Robertson – I found this book
    tedious and borderline unreadable. First, it is much too academic, quoting
    extensively from the ancient Stoics and other, more modern, authors who wrote
    on Stoicism. It’s not clear whether the author expresses any of his thoughts
    at all! Second, the writing style is almost intentionally stilted: text is
    constantly interrupted with notes, footnotes, quotes from others, exercises,
    and so on. I really like the idea of Stoicism, but this particular book is a
    waste of time, IMHO.
  • “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” by Masha
    Gessen – a good and poignant book by a Russian/American expat journalist. What
    has happened in Russia in the past 20 years (“recurrent totalitarianism” as
    one of the politicians mentioned in the book put it) is very troubling and I
    think it’s an important lesson to learn w.r.t. the potential in other
    countries as well.

Re-reads:

  • “How to read a book” by M. Adler and C. Van Doren
  • “Deep Work” by Cal Newport
  • “The Moral Animal” by Robert Wright
  • “The Haj” by Leon Uris