expLog

Books

I dive into a book whenever given an opportunity, and on occasion take notes while reading — or re-reading it. This page is devoted to an incomplete, (somewhat) chronological list of books I’ve read with the occasional note describing them.

2017—

08- : The Unholy Consult, R. Scott Bakker

08- : Hong Kong Yesterday, Fan Ho

08- : Linux Kernel Development, Robert Love

08- : Succeed, heidi Grant Halvorson

08- : The Stone Sky, N. K. Jemisin

07- : Tete a Tete, Henri Cartier-Bresson

07- : Masters of Photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson

07- : Expert C Programming: Deep Secrets, Peter van der Linden

07- : The Delirium Brief, Charles Stross

07- : The Rhesus Chart, Charles Stross

07- : The Nightmare Stacksj, Charles Stross

07- : The Fuller Memorandum, Charles Stross

07- : The Jennifer Morgue, Charles Stross

07- : Annihilation Score, Charles Stross

07- : The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross

07- : The Inheritance Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin

07- : The Dreamblood Duology, N. K. Jemisin

06- : The Dispatcher, John Scalzi

06- : The Obelisk Gate, N. K. Jemisin

06- : The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin

06- : Essentialism, Greg McKeown

06- : Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks

06- : The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland

06- : Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

05- : The Mind's Eye, Henri Cartier-Bresson

05- : Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami

05- : Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami

05- : Skunk Works, A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed

05- : Snapshot, Brandon Sanderson

05- : Walkaway, Cory Doctorow

04- : Your Brain at Work, David Rock

04- : Borne, Jeff VanderMeer

04- : Beneath a Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan

04- : The Great Silence, Ted Chiang

03- : Arrival, Ted Chiang

03- : Tower of Babylon, Ted Chiang

03- : The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz

03- : The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

03- : Uprooted, Naomi Novik

02- : Learning to See Creatiely, Bryan Peterson

02- : Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

02- : The Traders war, Charles Stross

02- : Empire Games, Charles Stross

02- : The Revolution Trade, Charles Stross

01- : Of Darkness & Dawn, Will Wight

01- : Of Sea & Shadow, Will Wight

01- : Of Shadow & Sea, Will Wight

01- : The Traveler's Gate Trilogy, Will Wight

01- : The Gracey Of Kings, Ken Liu

01- : The Paper Menagerie, Ken Liu

01- : The Wall of Storms, Ken Liu

2016—

12- : Soulsmith, Will Wight

12- : Unsouled, Will Wight

12- : Momo, Michael Ende

12- : The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh

12- : Train to Pakistan, Khushwant Singh

12- : Shoe Dog, Phil Knight

12- : Whiplash, Joi Ito, Jeff Howe

12- : So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal Newport

11- : Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

11- : Power and Performance, Jim Kukunas

10- : Parable of the Sower, Octavia E Butler

10- : What we talk about when we talk about love, Raymond Carver

10- : Masters of Doom, David Kushner

Definitely an interesting read: getting a better sense of how Doom was developed and Carmack’s work ethic written as an incredibly readable novel.

10- : The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

The book was delightfully well written but I didn’t enjoy reading it much: perhaps I’m too far removed from the beat generation to appreciate books depicting them.

09-24: Sinbad, Kurt Vonnegut

A delightfully sinister short story that lasted just long enough to get me through dinner and coffee.

09-21: Death's End, Cixin Liu

A grand finale for the series, and possibly the longest novel I've read till date. (Though now that I think about it, there is a story by Isaac Asimov that spans a similar length of time).

There are so many concepts packed in, it's a great read — it starts off somewhat slowly but quickly catches steam, and I ended up spending the rest of my night reading through. There isn’t much I can write here without giving away too much, but it’s easily worth a read.

09-19: The Inner Game of Tennis, W. Timothy Gallwey

This was trending on Hacker News, so I ended up picking up the book: the author speaks about relaxed concentration, something my Aikido Sensei kept trying to emphasize but I never really achieved.

For physical activities, I’ve since found that I can cheat my conscious self by just explicitly thinking about a secondary activity and letting the rest of my muscles go about normally.

He emphasizes seeing ourselves/the world as it is, without judgement; focusing on only the required outcome.

An interesting read, and one I’m hoping to apply to Flamenco at the very least; and work if I can manage it.

09-16: The view from the cheap seats, Neil Gaiman

I’ve been reading The View slowly over months, for reading this collection of essays is very similar to doing a depth first traversal of a tree; most essays are introductions to other books or music, and if I found the introductions compelling enough (which was often) I would go and read the books mentioned.

Shatterday was one of the books I ended up reading this way.

Reading through this book emphasized Gaiman’s deep love of books, reading and comics — capped with his admonition to Make Good Art, it’s definitely something I’d recommend.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. And discontent is a good thing: people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different, if they’re discontented.

09-14: A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast was a delight to read: I’m enjoying my life in New York City, sitting in several favourite cafes reading, writing — or programming, and occasionally getting distracted by beautiful women as they sit across the cafe. Displaced by several years and continents, Hemingway’s life was more similar and resonated much more than I had expected.

I was reading another book by Neil Gaiman at the same time — and the contrast in styles was refreshing; Hemingway’s style is precise, minimalistic and direct. Reading the several iterations of introductions to a moveable feast gave a hint at the amount of effort behind every page.


Finally, as someone who tends to avoid social appointments like the plague — allow me to justify myself in Hemingway’s words:

The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits.

09-11: Death by Cliche, Bob Defendi

Another book recommendation by Howard Schulz; and one which covers D&D gaming. I kept reading mostly because I've never actually played these games, though I have similar enough interests it's surprising that I've never been interested.

Even though the title gives it away, the book itself was enough of a cliché that I didn’t enjoy it.

09-04: Street Fighting Mathematics, Sanjoy Mahajan

This is probably the hardest book I've read this year: and I'm already planning to re-read and attempt more problems in a few months; after trying to apply the techniques mentioned in the book to better understand other hard books I've been meaning to read.

Working through this book would often make my jaw drop: my first thought would generally be We can do that? quickly followed by I would have never applied this there.

For example, using dimensional analysis to approximate integrals, or his approach to lumping to determine values; evaluating eD as a left-shift was completely insane.

09-03: Pride's Spell, Matt Wallace

09-03: Lustlocked, Matt Wallace

09-03: Envy of Angels, Matt Wallace

I picked up the Sin du Jour series after reading a positive review on Howard Taylor's blog — they’re really good urban fantasy and fairly different from most books I’ve read.

To describe the books in terms I understand — a cross between China Mieville and Terry Pratchett; I just wish the books were a bit longer.

08-28: The Goal, Eliyahu M Goldratt

A somewhat strange choice for me, but I've been trying to get better at setting personal goals and assumed — from the title — that this might help.

Instead, the book ended up introducing me to the theory of constraints and basically that managers should look at determining what needs to change, what to change it to, and how to achieve the change.

The fact that it was written as a fictional account made it much easier to read and I ended up reading the book surprisingly quickly.

08-22: What I talk about when I talk about running, Haruki Murakami

A slim, extremely readable memoir by Murakami about his life as a runner and a professional writer.

Even more so than running, I read the book as a novel about persistence, and a lifetime of creating. Pursuing something across a lifetime is something to build up to, and something you build up to in a rhythm.

There were several passages and instances that stood out to me;

— on persisting

To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed—and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.

— on focus

If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it.

— on speaking

I have to choose words that area easy to pronounce so people can understand me, and remember to get the audience to laugh to put them at ease. I have to convey to those listening a sense of who I am. Even if it’s just for a short time, I have to get the audience on my side if I want them to listen to me. And in order to do that, I have to practice the speech over and over, which takes a lot of effort. But there’s also the payoff that comes with a new challenge.

Overall, I greatly admire the humility and grit that appear here: and the standards he sets for himself.

On a more general note, I’ve always enjoyed the prose in Murakami’s novels, even if the contents occasionally (or often) whiz over my head at a distance. I’m never quite sure if that’s because of the translator or the author; given that I’ve enjoyed reading several books by him by various translators, presumably it’s because of the author.

Finally, I never realized that he also works at translating several English novels to Japanese — or that he’s translated several of Raymond Carver’s novels, which possibly explains his fascination with American detective novels.

08-21: Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, Michael Sorkin

Twenty Minutes was a valuable — if somewhat long — book to read. The author takes the reader on a walk from his walk-up apartment in the Greenwich Village to his Studio, describing everything he sees with the context of a practicing architect and teacher.

As someone who loves to walk through the city, I was fascinated by the the several different aspects of the city he speaks about — the decision to lay out New York City as a grid and the ramifications; the fact that ‘Tribeca’ stands for ‘TRIangle BElow CAnal’; why my old apartment building has a shaft through it - and the relationship between landlords and tenants.

He also speaks at length about gentrification, and the effects of neighbourhoods losing their character. The fact that the world becomes smaller as it becomes more connected is something I think about frequently.

I did find the book hard to read and extremely dense at times — with references that were beyond me. The fact that it was written over several years also tends to come through, I think I could discern a change in the author’s voice — and occasionally the book tends to ramble a bit.

I wish more experts would write similar books: I particularly enjoy John Carmack’s VR game reviews, which are written in a similar vein.

08-17: The Last Days of New Paris, China Mieville

As surprising as China Mieville always is — nazis, surreal art, and demons in a single book.

A surreal but very readable book that has made me much more interested in surreal art.

08-13: The Chart of Tomorrows, Chris Willrich

The conclusion to the trilogy: again, there was too much of a sense of far too many events and villains and heroes being compressed into a book, but this was an easier and more interesting read.

This entry was written and published from an aeroplane.

08-10: The Silk Map, Chris Willrich

One unexpected side-effect of listing out past books was that I ended up finding a series I'd never completed; Bone and Gaunt by Chris Willrich.

The second book in the series is decent, with a lot happening — a fairly good sword and sorcery series that kept me turning pages to find out what’s next.

08-01: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. K. Rowling

I hadn't originally planned to pick this up, but decided I might as well, given I've read books one through four several times, and five through seven occasionally.

A fun, short read, with some unexpected twists and turns — and one plot decision that will probably birth several fan fics on tweaking.

07-30: Acceptance, Jeff Vandermeer

The final book in this trilogy, and a fine ending.

Reading these books was definitely an astonishing experience, because the point of view narration made it very easy to sympathize with the characters and get completely immersed in the book.

As expected, there weren’t that many answers, though some questions were cleared up; others were hinted at — like the series itself, the main question in the story is something that’s more to be experienced than dissected or explained.

07-29: Authority, Jeff Vandermeer

The Southern Reach Trilogy has been riveting so far: I wasn’t able to put down the second book till I reached the end and I’m already eagerly anticipating reading the third one tomorrow. Having read The City of Saints and Madmen I don’t quite expect to get all the answers after reading Acceptance tomorrow, but still enough to satiate part of my curiousity, I hope.

Set in the same world, with overlapping characters Authority manages to be similar to yet completely distinct from Annhilation with another fascinating new narrator. The mundane world encountered here is also fascinating.

For those who read fantasy as a quick escape into another world as an observer free of death and taxes — which I do, as mini-vacations to regain perspective — these are amazing books.

07-28: Annhilation, Jeff Vandermeer

A surprisingly short read that I just could not put down: I enjoyed everything from the remarkable story, the narration and the amazing structure.

Now I need to make another quick pilgrimage to The Strand to pick up the sequels in this trilogy.

07-26: Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin

Another unplanned for detour from wandering around The Strand bookstore.

Having watched The Omen, and at the very least having read a review of the film I had some idea of what was coming at the end of the book — but that only improved the experience because it just showed how carefully everything in the story was arranged.

Mr. Levin clearly follows Chekhov’s gun.

07-25: Slade House, David Mitchell

A page-turner with good pacing: the book kept me interested till the very end. I enjoyed how the author toyed with expectations around characters readers end up being sympathetic to.

07-23: The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

I was wondering around The Strand fulfilling my prophecy and ran across this one on one of the shelves.

A fun read with good ideas; but the science fiction feels a bit dated — which it is, The Illustrated Man was published in 1951! The technology reminds me of The Jetsons for the most part.

There are some really good short stories here: particularly The Veld and The City.

07-23: Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges

I had read Labyrinths half way through several months ago: today I ended up picking it up and reading through most of the remaining book.

I’ve read another collection by Borges before: a few stories overlapped between the two collections. It just became that much more obvious that I can keep reading Borges again and again and find more in the set of words.

Reading Borges always tends to be an experience: his writing tends to transcend time. There are some themes that stood out to me, particularly when I re-read some of the stories.

People blend into each other when considered across time; there are only so many human behaviours and experiences — looking forward or backward everything is simply repeated.

07-17: How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon

The field guide I always wanted. Apparently the trick is to just talk to them. And under general circumstances, they tend to be from the same planet.

07-16: Shatterday, Harlan Ellison

A collection of brilliant short stories, further coloured in with introductions by the author.

07-12: The Great Ordeal, R Scott Bakker

I've been waiting for this book for several years at this point, and I ended up speed reading through it in a single day.

Hopefully the last book in the series releases on time.

07-04: Chaos Monkeys, Antonio Garcia Marqez

I enjoyed reading this book because it provides a perspective into most of my career options: working at a big company (Facebook, even!), startups — including a stint at Y-Combinator, Finance and includes actual numbers. And I recognize a large number of names and places in the book.

06-?: Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

06-?: Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut

03-18: Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker

  • Takeaways
    • Learn what my strengths are
      • Predict what will happen 9 months - a year from now
      • Re-evaluate to understand how close my estimates were
      • Will take 2-3 years
      • Make sure I understand how to unlock things
      • TODO Set up prediction document to evaluate myself
    • Determine how I learn
      • Reading, writing, listening, doing, etc.
    • Determine what my values are
      • and whether they align with the work that I'm doing
    • Think about a second career … and get started early
      • obtain more options i case my primary career fails
      • … or doesn't succeed.
    • What should I contribute
      • state what value I bring and what I want to focus on
      • also ask the same of my coworkers to understand what they're thinking
  • Takeaways I missed … or didn't consider important enough
    • Where do I belong?
      • determine the work environment that makes me most productive
      • solitude/teamwork: solitude
      • structured/unstructured: unstructured
      • large/small company: small company
      • decision maker/aide: decision maker
  • Fascinating, short book.
  • Learnt about it on Retinart.
  • Focussed on a decade spanning career(s).
  • Meta takeaways
    • Compare what I get out of reading a book with what someone else notices
    • Comparison with retinart was very interesting

2015—

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander

Pretty much the scariest book I've read.

I'd always assumed that I'd be self-aware enough to observe double-think in the real world, that wasn't exactly an Orwellian dystopia.

Reading this book makes me question that assumption very strongly, as well as other aspects of the world around us.

I'd love to be able to model bias in behaviour and try estimate effects of subtle biases compounding compared to a central agency reinforcing bias and wilfully harming people.

The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stephen Pinker

Pinker asserts something extremely counter-intuitive: violence around the world is decreasing, and goes on to provide comprehensive facts, statistics and possible narratives tying them together as proof.

Contents aside, I enjoyed reading this book as a blueprint for providing a compelling argument: very well structured, argued, and backed up by several references. I also found it amusing that Pinker's rebuttal of criticisms was mostly pointed to pages already in the book — there's just so much content that I can't help but sympathize with critics who missed some of the facts he addressed.

Perhaps the only thing that I would have liked to observe argued even more clearly is the distortion caused by media and the recency effect to further reduce the impression that with ISIS, Syria, et al violence has indeed been decreasing.

There's not much point in summarizing the book here; it's worth reading by itself and the Wikipedia article would be much better than anything I could come up with.

Additional background provided for each of the concepts: ranging from probability to Hobbes to the Prisoner's Dilemma were amazing and really interesting to read.

It's interesting to contrast this book with the Decline of Power; one of the factors behind decreasing violence is the increase of Leviathans who reduce the benefit from violence; the Decline of Power argued precisely the opposite with the author being worried about anarchy resulting caused by a breakdown of standard government.

One aspect that I'm curious about is what physical violence is mutating into — what aspects of our behaviour today will be considered barbaric by humans a few centuries in the future?

Economic sanctions and doxxing are some possible examples.

Update: I actually met the author when he came to do a Q&A at Facebook and asked him the same question; he spoke about male rape in prisons, nuclear weapons, etc.

To be completely honest, I'm no longer completely convinced by this book; probably because I don't quite understand all the assumptions involved — I'll need to read more around this subject to feel comfortable.

The Liar's Key, Mark Lawrence

I really like the post-apocalyptic universe with reality set adrift; a reasonably fascinating diversion with a cliff hanger ending.

I'll read book 3 when it comes out, but I found the Prince of Thorns series much more engrossing.

Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctrow

A fun, near-future Sci-Fi read with some good ideas. The emphasis on IRC-like messaging threw me off a bit.

What I found more interesting was a note in the preface, which comes along while he explains why he makes his books available under a CC license for anyone to read and download:

I just think that the complex social practice of "book" — of which a bunch of paper pages between two covers is the mere expression — is transforming and will transform further.

Angry White Pyjamas, Robert Twigger

A fun, fairly irreverent read on an Oxford Poet's stay in Japan and a year of Aikido training. I read a recommendation for this book while following a long thread of action movies, actors who actually know martial arts, and so on.

I generally don't read travelogues, but this was fascinating enough that I ended up reading the book within a day of getting it by mail (it's old enough to not have a kindle version).

The End Of Power, Moises Naim

  • Defines power as the ability to force people to do what they would rather not; and having more access to resources and opportunities makes people harder to control: combined that basically means direct "power" is on the wane and provides several examples to back this up.
  • Doesn't address soft power, what I understood to be influence very well; where you just nudge someone towards one option from a set of things they would do. Does discuss the fact that abuse of hard power causes it to decline much faster than it used to.
  • Points out that because people have more access to information, they have a much better idea of what they want and can handle themselves much better than a large central power. Beware oversimplifiers.
  • Finally, diffusion of power makes it impossible to take hard decisions; such as those required for battling environment change, etc. Recommends looking for new ways of government that don't oversimplify but still have enough power to force hard long term decisions.

    Overall, interesting the description of power has changed how I read the news and the role of goverments, etc.

Dealing With China, Hank Paulson

  • I liked how it followed the conclusions from "The Better Angels", where the author hints at using really strong economic ties to avoid any overt conflict. I didn't quite understand why the US would send that aircraft carrier through a zone they didn't have to if they could avoid it on a phone call.
  • It did go against the End of power with the stated goals of the current premier to build an even stronger hold; I'm curious how well this plays out over the next couple of years and how resilient it is to swings in the economy.
  • While China's development has been extraordinary, the cost in terms of number of people affected and environment was scary. To quote Terry Pratchett, "Dragged kicking and screaming into the century of the fruitbat"; I probably wouldn't want to be caught in the gears of that machine.
  • Another take away I had was that while Paulson encourages the US to spend more effort to trade with China because it'll lead to more Win-Win situations, anyone outside China seems to be negotiating from a disadvantage because a large part of the structure within the country doesn't actually believe it to be beneficial and must be convinced by really attractive terms.
  • I was surprised by how much influence Goldman Sachs and similar firms have at a government level; I'm clearly too naive.

Blindsight, Peter Watts

One of the few hard science fiction books I've ever read: post-humans, vampires, and officially the best aliens I've encountered so far.

On the way, the author also manages to introduce several concepts, particularly around Darwinian processes.

Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance

An interesting biography around one of the most fascinating people alive today.

I always try to be careful about reading too much into behaviours while reading these: how many of a person's achievements are because of their eccentricities, and how many are in spite of their eccentricities.

Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull

  • A very fascinating and inspiring read, particularly for someone with

    my background. Aspects of the book I found really interesting:

    • A blueprint for what Pixar (and then Disney) did right in fostering creativity and achieving their goals from a management and structural perspective.
    • The sheer amount of work and creativity that goes into building an animated film, and the process itself. They should go meta and make an animated film about making an animated film.
    • Never really explicitly referred to, but Ed's success at building his vision of animated films into reality is really inspiring.
    • Problems will happen, the best approach is to accept that they will happen, always be alert to catching them and then fixing them.
  • The book goes into a lot about making sure everyone on the team is

    valued and can help identify and fix problems themselves.

  • Accepting that change is the only constant, and not working against

    it, making it as painless to fail and learn and candor at identifying and fixing problems are very important. Being able to put away my ego and accepting feedback was another highlight.

  • Happily enough, I identified several things that we already have at

    Facebook and helped put some processes into clearer perspective.

  • I loved the references to Ratatouille — particularly

    Anton Ego's speech which happens to be one of my favourites in any animated film, ever.

  • Edit: A friend recently pointed me to

    Ed Catmull's involvement in wage fixing which is fairly disappointing given the other aspects he spoke about in the book. What I had found conspicuous by its absence was that there was no explanation around how Pixar/Disney handled performance evaluations and compensation — because that can inherently affect motivation and employee creativity positively and negatively. Perhaps this goes some way in explaining why.

    That said, I still enjoyed and trust the rest of the book.

Scarcity, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

An interesting book exploring the effects of limited bandwidth and tunneling: I constantly have trouble with time management and often find myself over committing.

I was hoping for more explorations of avoiding or managing tunnelling and side effects, but apart from the recommendation to push more things into your tunnel vision I didn't quite get much more from this read apart from validation around experiences I'd already had.

Hurricane, Hugh Howey

Short and cute — a nice dinner time read.

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson

  • This might have supplanted The Diamond Age as my favourite Neal Stephenson book.
  • There is so much happening here that I won't attempt to summarize it — I wish the blurb didn't give away the fact that the human race does survive in the end, the book itself manages to keep it ambiguous enough except for the fact that there are enough pages left near possible endings that you can be sure of a happier ^1 ending.
  • I found the near future science, Neil deGrass Tyson clone (Doc Doob), Hillary Clinton equivalent as president of the USA, a philanthropic-ish tech billionaire, etc. fairly fascinating. He doesn't seem to have a very high opinion of existing leaders or power structures: most representations aren't flattering.
  • Facebook's analog — 'Space'book, is also used as a tool for anarchy that almost ends all hope, but is an interesting counter point where the existing power structure is actually meaningful.
  • He also condemns some of the recent technical advances, which does have some merit: instead of controlling our physical environment and crossing space we're investing constantly more effort into controlling virtual environments; which need not represent reality.
  • The representation of future human societly seems overly optimistic and … nice.
  • I can't help but compare the collection of the 9 human race representatives at the end of the book with the Lord of the Rings' fellowship. I almost wonder if there'll be a sequel where they go and destroy a powerful artefact to save the planet.

    1 Just once, I would like to write a book with an unhappy ending where — spoiler — everyone dies, and at the same time leave several blank pages at the end just to be an epic troll.

    "… as X was walking towards the dojo to train under the revered Shaolin master (who was secretly also a ninja pirate magician who was also a dragon unicorn) to take revenge on his rival (his twin sister, born a picosecond later but never able to accept that fact) he slipped on a banana peel…

    "… and fell into on open manhole that should have been a portal to a wonderful, arcane world waiting one for the chosen one but instead was just a normal manhole, knocked himself out …

    several blank pages later "… and drowned."

    "The End."

On Immunization, Eula Bliss

This (relatively short) book could really have done with some more aggressive editing. Far too many literary references, whether they actually contributed to the theme or not; the sheer number of dracula/vampire references were also hard to read through.

Yes, I agree that vaccination is really important; I did that before reading this, and still do after. I vaguely suspect that if I (for some strange reason) didn't agree, this book is nowhere near enough evidence to convince me otherwise.

The perspective of american healthcare transitioning from "paternal" care to "shopping" was interesting.

Usenix: Simple Testing can Prevent Most Critical Failures

For a change, a technical paper instead of a book.

My biggest take aways were that

  • non-critical error handling code tends to be sloppy and untested and has the highest probability of leading to catastrophic failures.
  • accordingly, "bottom up" unit tests should ensure that all possible exception handling code paths are triggered.

    More focussed on distributed data intensive systems - but based off personal experience from code I've written I can say that this is applicable across different domains in Software Engineering.

The Rational Ritual, Michael Chwe

An interesting, if somewhat dated read that speaks about how rituals are useful in propagating information in societies by providing feedback that others know what you know and they know that you know that they know and so on and so forth.

He introduces some game theoretic principles, underlines the fact that this has several simplifying assumptions built in and goes into depth with examples around advertisements during the super bowl, etc.

To be perfectly frank the book felt more like a literature survey at times that highlighted important aspects around understanding social systems; but this was a part of a conversation I haven't heard or understood.

The appendix felt like something that would be very well modelled by a program along the lines of something Bret Victor would build that showed how values change with understanding.

Orwell's Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest, Peter Huber

One of the stranger fiction books I've ever read: the author wrote a sequel to 1984 which investigates the function of the telescreens as communication devices; and how access to unfettered communication effectively breaks any totalitarian control.

Some aspects from both Better Angels as well as the Panopticon from Rational ritual are reflected here.

I also enjoyed the book as a statement by itself — the author rearranged words by Orwell to come up with a coherent piece using a computer: though I might have enjoyed the book slightly more if the background and story weren't alternating chapters.

Finally, this book takes critical reading to a whole new level: Peter Huber explains a lot of the book in terms of what was going in Orwell's life and could possibly explain his approach to life and books, which was amazing.

A Blink of the Screen, Terry Pratchett

A lovely collection of short stories by Sir PTerry — one of my favourite authors ever. After spending enough time immersed in any author's books I become very curious about how they came up with the world — and books like this with notes on each story and the why behind it are like catnip for me.

I found out that "Death and What Comes Next" was written as puzzle — see Timehunt — and honestly that is something that had never crossed my mind given how smoothly the story flows. It happens to be one of my favourite Death stories.

I am glad to report that there are still some Discworld books I haven't read, and I plan to savor each one slowly because there aren't going to be any more.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Cute, and I really liked the concept of letters written to the ether.

The Perfect State, Brandon Sanderson

A fun dinner companion: both dystopian and not, I almost expect the world to end up somewhere like this.

Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh

An interesting book to read in light of Decline of Power and Better Angels: clearly pointing out how violence can increase without an effective Leviathan and the standard Hobbesian trap the gangs fall into.

I was constantly uncomfortable this one, though — perhaps it felt too voyeuristic for my taste. I'm still trying to figure out why; I just finished reading this today so it'll take a bit of time before I can express my thoughts better.

Another observation was that time feels distorted in the book: the author spends several years working on his dissertation, while the book moves reasonably fast.

I suspect I'll update this sometime soon.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera

I really enjoyed reading this book, even though I'm missing a lot of context about the time he's writing this book around and the country Czechoslovakia.

The chapter on litost was a really good read; the stories about Tamina were interesting, though it took me a long time to understand the references in the second story, perhaps because it was a bit graphic.

The constant references to the fact that this was a book, and the characters were all from the Author's imagination — including choosing names for them were refreshing.

I'm afraid these words don't do enough justice to the book: this is much better.

Un Lun Dun, China Mieville

Technically, a YA fantasy story - but I enjoyed it far too much and will be recommending this one to anyone above the age of 8.

Merrily stomps on existing YA tropes around chosen ones and their inevitable victories.

PS. Un Lun Dun == UnLondon

The Fifth Heart, Dan Simmons

A fun story surrounding Sherlock Holmes, Henry James and other prominent Americans where Sherlock starts realizing that he might a fictional character1.

A fairly pleasant read, not as fast moving as I would have liked but still gripping enough that I finished it fairly quickly after starting.

Sadly, I suspect I missed a lot of references because I'm not very familiar with the non-Sherlock characters referenced, particularly Henry James. I need to add some more entries to my queue of unread books.

1: Including taking his first heroin injection to be able to see the type of the book — and the reader.

Hurricane, Hugh Howey

Short and cute — a nice dinner time read.

Trigger Warnings, Neil Gaiman

Masterful vignettes from one of my favourite authors — capped at the end by a story about Shadow, from American Gods.

I particularly enjoyed the even-shorter stories based off the months of the year, the cinderella/sleeping-beauty reference and the Amanda-Palmer-inspired story.

Surprisingly enough, perhaps what I enjoyed most was the introduction: he discusses on how un safe fiction can be; and that is what inspires the title of the book.

There are also short pieces on how each story was written, which I saved till I'd read the book completely to savor all the better.

How to Write a Thesis, Umberto Eco

One of the themes I've been becoming increasingly fascinated with over the past several years has been understanding and handling information.

Reading about recommendations around indexing and accessing information for a thesis several years before computers were commonly used for other academic research or the internet was easily accessible promised to be rewarding; the fact that the author was Eco with his dry wit and understated humour promised that this book would be entertaining.

It was both.

The thesis that is referred to in this book is an undergraduate thesis for the final years of a degree. Eco focuses on both why writing a thesis can be a very rewarding experience, and why it would make sense to do it honestly.

There were two topics that I found very relevant and useful from the book:

  • Using a table of contents as a working plan: setting up a very rough initial table makes it easy to determine what I'd want to cover and determine. At the same time it is by no means a finished document — it must be completely mutable and constantly updated as I understand the topic of my thesis.
  • Having a homogenous and easily accessible store of information is very useful; even if it means spending more time consolidating that information and being more disciplined while collecting it. Having this is also very valuable if you ever revisit a topic several years after researching it.

    There are some aspects of the book that are dated: there is a lot of emphasis on handling paper notes; choosing indexing systems that are somewhat independent of explicit ordering because it can be very painful to re-type notes; as well as choosing thesis topics for which books are available nearby. There are also a couple of pages devoted to to handling complex symbols.

    The core themes of what the thesis is aimed at are timeless:

  • Choose a thesis topic that you can write about — you must be able to access relevant information from original sources.
  • A thesis can be your contribution to humanity's store of knowledge — be as clear and verifiable as possible.

    I couldn't help but draw parallels with the amount of effort invested into TEX, LATEX and Unicode. And perhaps bemoan the fact that simple plain text files (my generation's equivalent of a typewriter) don't support underlinining and we've adopted conventions like Markdown to work around them.

    Finally, my favourite quote from the book that stares down imposter syndrome:

    Be humble and prudent before opening your mouth, but once you open it, be dignified and proud. (Section 5.6, 183)

    How to Read a Book is a very good companion for How to Write a Thesis.

The Second Suicide, Hugh Howey

Another short story — a tad predictable even though it's written from a completely alien standpoint.

Essays in Love, Alain De Botton

Completely predictable, well written and extremely funny.

Half the World, Joe Abercrombie

A reasonable continuation of the series; a page turner even if it was a bit too cliched and mostly predictable.

After Dark, Haruki Murakami

A surreal, relaxing tale representing what it feels like to be awake after midnight.

Somehow perfectly captures my mood on nights I stay awake because I can.

Introduced me to music which sounds like liquid gold - Duke Ellington.

The Autumn Republic, Brian McKellan

A good ending to the series — with a lot happening in a very few pages. Perhaps a bit too much, even.

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro

A pleasant diversion for a lazy weekend. For a slightly more unkind take, check out a digested read by John Crace.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Elizier Yudkowsky

This is an amazing fan fiction series that I've been reading for several years: what if Harry Potter went about magic scientifically, with experiments and controls and careful1 observation.

The reason the series finds itself mentioned here is that Elizier finally finished the series — appropriately enough — on Pi2 day.

Now that it's complete, I can finally unreservedly recommend the series: go and explore a completely different magical universe!

1: Determining the limits of transfiguration without blowing up and destroying everything in a radius of several miles, for example.

2: As someone who abhors the mm/dd/yy format, Pi day is very bittersweet.

The Aleph and Other Stories, Jorge Luis Borges

One of the most fascinating books I've read in the past few years. Of course, I could only read a translation but the quality of the translation was amazing enough to make this a more than worthwhile read. I am somewhat disappointed that I didn't come across Borges earlier in my lifetime.

There were some stories that I didn't enjoy as much as the others because they required more context than I had about Latin American history — there were very useful notes provided, but nevertheless I lost a lot of the colour I would have otherwise observed here.

Stories that particularly stood out to me are: The Immortal, The Writing of God, of course the eponymous The Aleph, The Zahir, On Exactitude in Science, The Plot — and finally, Ragnarok.

Ragnarok foreshadows Neil Gaiman's American Gods a lot for me.

There is something very fascinating on how a very few words from Borges — just a page or two, and a complete story — could be so significant. I digested this particular set of short stories with a lot of discipline, at least initially: restricting myself to just one every night before I fell asleep. By the end I couldn't resist and devoured the rest of the book over an eventful weekend.

2014—

Declare, Tim Powers

Blackcollar, Timothy Zahn

The Backlash Mission, Timothy Zahn

The Judas Solution, Timothy Zahn

The Time of the Dark, Barbara Hambly

The Walls of Air, Barbara Hambly

The Armies of Daylight, Barbara Hambly

Effective Java, Joshua Bloch

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

The Cartoon Guide to Statistics, //

The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov

Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely

Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson

The Divergent Series, Veronica Roth

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson

City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff Vandermeer

The Curse of Chalion, L M Bujold

Blood of Tyrants, Naomi Novik

A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge

A Deepness in the Skye, Vernor Vinge

Terra, Mitch Benn

Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett

Welcome to Bordertown, Various

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, Barry Hughart

Hope’s End, Brian McClellan

Forsworn, Brian McClellan

The Martian, Andy Weir

Thirteen, Richard K Morgan

The Circle, Dave Eggers

Market Forces, Richard K. Morgan

The Seasoned Schemer, Daniel P FriedMan, Matthias Felleisen

The Steel Remains, Richard K Morgan

The Cold Commands, Richard K Morgan

Coders at Work, Peter Seibel

Worm (~22 books)

Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan

The Crimson Campaign, Brian McClellan

Hope’s End, Brian McClellan

The New York Trilogy, Paul Aster

The Shining, Stephen King

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

Wool Omnibus (1-5), Hugh Howey

First Shift, Hugh Howey

Second Shift, Hugh Howey

Third Shift, Hugh Howey

Dust, Hugh Howey

Sleeping Beauty, Mark Lawrence

Prince of Fools, Mark Lawrence

Proficient Motorcycling, David L Hough

Mindset, Carol Dweck

The End of Eternity, Isaac Asimov

Rogues, George R. R. Martin, etc.

Lovecraft’s Monsters, Neil Gaiman, etc.

Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer

To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis

The Now Habit, Neil Firoe

Wingman, Mack Maloney (ew)

The Mature Optimization Handbook (Carlos Bueno)

The Forge of God (Greg Bear)

Half a King, Joe Abercrombie

The Reluctant Swordsman, Dave Duncan

The Coming of Wisdom, Dave Duncan

The Destiny of the Sword, Dave Duncan

The Death of Nnanji, Dave Duncan

Earth Awakens, Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnston

2013—

The Naked God, Peter F Hamilton

The Neutronium Alchemist, Peter F Hamilton

The Reality Dysfunction, Peter F Hamilton

Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

Long War, Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Making of Prince of Persia, Jordan Mechner

The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver

The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

Unfettered, Edited by Shawn Speakman

Little Brother, Cory Doctorow

The Poison Eaters and other stories, Holly Black

Boneshaker, Charlie Priest

Just a Geek, Wil Wheaton

Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold

The Bedwetter, Sarah Silverman

Not quite the classics, Colin Mochrie

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

Emperor of Thorns, Brandon Sanderson

Only Joking, J Carr, Lucy Grieves

Red Country, Joe Abercrombie

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Philip K Dick

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick

The Troupe, Robert Jackson Bennett

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson

Scroll of Years, Chris Willrich

Infinity Blade, Redemption, Brandon Sanderson

Muse of Fire, Dan Simmons

Anathem, Neal Stephenson

Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch

Broken Angels, T Kovacs

Woken Furies, T Kovacs

Altered Carbon, T Kovacs

Dad is Fat, James Gaffigan

Rainbow’s End, Vernor Vinge

Space Eldritch, Various

Space Eldritch 2, Various

Desolate, R Brumm

Nine Goblins, T Kingfisher

New Cthulu, The Recent Weird, Various

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

The Last Unicorn, Peter Beagle

The Etched City, K J Bishop

I am always a different man; a reinterpretation of the man I was yesterday, and the day before, and all the days I have lived. The past is gone, was always gone; it does not exist, except in memory, and what memory is but thought, a copy of perception, no less but no more replete with truth than any passing whim, fancy, or other agitation of the mind. And if it’s actions, words, thoughts that define an individual, those definitions alter like the weather — if continuity and pattern are often discernable, so are chaos and sudden change.

Emperor of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

Fool’s Fate, Robin Hobb

Golden Fool, Robin Hobb

Fool’s Errand, Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Quest, Robin Hobb

Royal Assassin, Robin Hobb

The Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb

Dominion, C S Friedman

Crown of Shadows, C S Friedman

When True Night Falls, C S Friedman

Black Sun Rising, C S Friedman

Fevre Dream, G R R Martin

The Escapement, K J Parker

Evil for Evil, K J Parker

Devices and Desires, K J Parker

Off to be the Wizard, Scott Meyer

The Human Division, John Scalzi

Caine’s Law, Matthew Stover

There are two things about a man that matter: what he wants and what he’ll do to get it.

Caine Black Knife, Matthew Stover

The Blade of Tyshall, Matthew Stover

Heroes Die, Matthew Stover

03-17: Spin, Robert Charles Wilson

03-24: Amped, Douglas E Richards

03-24: Wired, Douglas E Richards

The Functional Art, Alberto Cairo

Phoenik, Chuck Palahnuik

Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed

Soldiers Live, Glen Cook

Water Sleeps, Glen Cook

She is the Darkness, Glen Cook

She is the Darkness, Glen Cook

Bleak Seasons, Glen Cook

The Silver Spike, Glen Cook

Dreams of Steel, Glen Cook

Shadow Games, Glen Cook

The White Rose, Glen Cook

Shadows Linger, Glen Cook

The Black Company, Glen Cook

The Price of Spring, Daniel Abraham

An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham

A Betrayal in Winter, Daniel Abraham

A Shadow in Summer, Daniel Abraham

Questions for a Soldier, John Scalzi

How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer

01-27: 1Q84, Haruki Murakami

01-20: Supergods, Grant Morrison

01-17: Batman, The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller

01-16: Batman, RIP, Grant Morrison, Tony S Daniel

01-15: Snow White, Blood Red, Edited by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling

01-13: Dawn of the Bunny Suicides, Andy Riley

01-12: Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

01-09: A Memory of Light, Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan

dovie’andi se tovya sagain

01-01: Infinity Blade, Brandon Sanderson

01-01: First Born, Brandon Sanderson

01-01: The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson

2012—

12-29: The Mongoliad, Book One, Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, others

12-26: Legion, Brandon Sanderson

12-24: Embassytown, China Mieville

12-17: Elantris, Brandon Sanderson

12-11: Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

12-08: The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson

12-02: A Rational Design Process, how and why to fake it, Parnas & Clements

11-30: Smoke & Mirrors, Neil Gaiman

11-27: Coraline, Neil Gaiman

11-26: Accelerando, Charles Stross

Previously—

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

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