- “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio – school-age story about a boy with severe facial
deformities who started going to 5th grade after being home-schooled earlier
in life. A bit of bullying, lots of kindness, and interesting insights into
the minds of 10-year-olds.
- “The Story of Human Language” by John McWhorter (audio course) – comprehensive
introduction to linguistics and human languages. I’ve read Prof. McWhorter’s
books before (e.g. “Power of Babel”), but listening to it is a different
experience. There’s a lot of nuance in pronunciation that’s hard to convey on
a printed page. Very enjoyable course overall, highly recommended for folks
interested in this topic.
- “Space – The whole whizz-bang story” by Glenn Murphy – a gentle introduction
to astronomy and the planets of the solar system, mostly aimed at kids and
teens, though I think adults can enjoy the book too. Funny cartoons make the
book light-hearted, but it actually provides a balanced account of the topic
and doesn’t dumb things down too much. Great book to read together with kids.
- “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John
Carreyrou – by the journalist who exposed the fraud and lies conducted by
Elizabeth Holmes and her associates in Theranos. This is an expanded account
of Carreyrou’s series of WSJ articles in 2015. Excellent book, a truly
mesmerizing read. To anyone who’ve ever observed vaporware being spun,
Theranos is the culmination. It’s also a great example of where cult of
personality can lead people. You would expect that experienced statesmen like
George Shultz and Henry Kissinger would be able to see through the reality
distortion field; that they didn’t is a poignant reminder of the power of
charisma and salesmanship.
- “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly – intertwined stories of three women
during and after WWII – a Polish prisoner in Ravensbruck (a women’s
concentration camp), a German doctor who performed surgery experiments on her,
and an American activist. Pretty good book overall, with some chilling
accounts of what went on in Ravensbruck. The author tries to do a bit too
much, though; IMHO the biographic accounts of Caroline in the first part of
the book, and Paul specifically, don’t mix well with the rest of the
- “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of
World War II” by Liza Mundy – an interesting account of the US WWII
code-breaking efforts vs. the Japanese and Germans, told from the vantage
point of women who participated in the effort. It’s an interesting parable of
why universal education is so important to tap the full resources of a
population. America is really lucky that at least some mathematically and
linguistically inclined women managed to get to universities before the war,
even though it was largely discouraged.
- “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work” by Jason Fried and David
Heinemeier Hansson – the founders of Basecamp (née 37 signals) lay out their
management philosophy. Definitely interesting short read, even though it’s
quite likely a marketing/hiring pitch. I agree with much of what the authors
say in this book, and especially enjoyed the ruminations about what seeking
continual revenue growth turns companies into. I’ve been thinking about this
too, for a long time now. It seems like a unique privilege of privately-owned
firms to do “the right thing” in this case. It’s also interesting to ponder a
futuristic utopia where most jobs are high-skill, working fewer hours (to
better distribute the jobs across the population) and mostly remotely
(removing a lot of “rush hour economics”); companies like Basecamp appear to
be the early beacons of this phenomenon.
- “Darwin” by Adrian Desmond and James Moore – an extremely thorough biography
by Charles Darwin. Very long and dense book, but the writing is good so it’s
not too taxing to plow through.
- “Types and Programming Languages” by Benjamin Pierce – the bible of static
typing, focusing on ML-like languages and developing typing theory all the way
from trivially typed lambda calculus to higher-order types / kinds and
varieties of polymorphism. The book is heavy on theory, trying to prove many
properties on such type systems. It comes with a comprehensive set of
implementations in OCaml, though it takes quite a bit of work to relate these
implementations to the text. Going through this book in order is very
work-intensive and it’s challenging to find energy when nearing the last third
of it. It’s definitely worth it, though, if you want to do compiler design
for a living.
- “Naked Money” by Charles Wheelan – a really good explanation of how money
works, with in-depth discussions of inflation/deflation, the 2008 crisis,
Japan, Euro and the U.S.-China trade situation.
- “The Magic of Reality” by Richard Dawkins – a delightful little book
that’s aimed at exciting younger people about science. It covers a bunch of
topics ranging from evolution, discovering life on other planets, earthquakes
to rainbows and doesn’t dumb anything down. It’s probably more suitable for
teens at the earliest, since it does discuss a few topics that would be
uncomfortable for younger kids. That said, this was a fun read even for me.
- “The Kubernetes Book” by Nigel Poulton – a short and dense introduction to
Kubernetes; easy to go through the book in a couple of hours and get a good
sense of what Kubernetes is and how to use it. The book explains the basics
well, but suffers from a very common issue with books of this kind – too much
time spent on technical minutia, too little spent on motivation; why would I
want to do this, what are the alternatives, etc. I don’t think the book has a
single real-life example – all apps are synthetic and imaginary; it’s not even
clear how much real-life production system experience the author has (as
opposed to teaching courses and writing books). In many ways, such books are
just dressed-up documentation. Not bad per se, just something to keep in mind
for to tune your expectations if you plan to read it.
- “Hawaii” by James Michener – another epic by Michener, perhaps one
of his most famous ones. Tells the story of Hawaii through the peoples that
settled it, starting with the Polynesians a thousand years ago, and through
shortly after WWII. Well written book, and the author’s love and appreciation
of Hawaii and its people shows all through.
- “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder – the third,
and probably the most famous book in the series. Here Laura and her family
move to settle in a new territory in Kansas. As usual, I’m mostly impressed by
the feats of independence and self-reliance these folks demonstrated.
- “The Phoenix Project” by Gene Kim et. al. – a novel-formatted story of
modern IT and DevOps in an old-style company transitioning to the new
know-how. As a developer I found the book very interesting, getting a rare
glimpse “from the other side of the field”. The novel plot is very forced and
unnatural, but I guess that’s necessary to bring the points across.
- “Crypto” by Steven Levy