Books I Read in 2018

Monday, December 31, 2018

Every year, GoodReads has a Reading Challenge, where you set how many books you want to read and record them as you go. This year, I got serious about it, and it was a wonderful motivational device. I set a goal of two books per month, and I just eked it out over the finish line, finishing my 24th book this morning.

Here are some of the best.

Rework and Remote

These are two modern classics by DHH and Jason Fried. These fit so well into my thoughts about what a workplace should be and the culture we should cultivate that they weren't mind blowing - rather, they were an incredible distillation of things I've wanted to say, in an incredibly clear manner. These two alone let me point to them and say: this is the kind of company I want to build.

Don't worry, the third in this series, It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy at Work, is one of my first books to read in 2019.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

This book has changed the way I cook. It teaches you the fundamentals - mentioned in the title - and how to understand and apply them to any dish you are cooking. I was a good cook before this, but now I'm a vastly more capable home chef.

For anyone looking to step up their cooking game, to really understand what they are doing and break their reliance on recipes, this is a fundamental you deserve to have on your shelf.

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind our Structures

Have you ever wondered how subway tunnels are dug under rivers? How skyscrapers are built to withstand disasters? How structures stay standing for so many years? Well, this is the book for you. This is an incredible peek into what actually goes into creating and maintaining the structures we rely on every day to live in, drive through, and work from. Hands down one of my favorite books I've read all year.

The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest

Such an excellent series. It is shockingly well written, and the credit is due to both the author and the translator, who is himself an award-winning sci-fi author. This series is one of the best I've read in a while. It is both an interesting universe and a believable one, with good characters and interesting plot.

The Monk of Mokha

This is a fascinating true story behind a young man's attempts to bring Yemen's coffee to the American market. Whether or not you are interested in coffee, this is a fascinating story which shows you the human side of the production of this little brown bean.

And the rest...

The rest of the books were good, but you can only have so many favorites. These are presented in reverse chronological order of my reading:

  • A Hologram for the King: a fantastic novel by the great Dave Eggers.
  • Never Split the Difference: an interesting perspective on negotiation with many intensely interesting anecdotes. I'm not sure how much of this I really can apply.
  • The Checklist Manifesto: this book makes me want to go make checklists for everything. I want to apply what I've learned here to software engineering, but that's going to be a slow process.
  • High Output Management: this book isn't just for managers. He defines "middle manager" in an interesting way which includes many (if not all) knowledge workers and it is very transferable into my daily work. Even just knowing that "dual reporting" is a thing - and how to manage it - is very helpful.
  • Code Girls: let's just say, this is an incredible peek into the work of these incredible women who helped the Allies win WWII. This should be part of the history curriculum.
  • Nino and Me: a fascinating story of the friendship of two legal scholars. This isn't the first Garner book I bought (Black's Law Dictionary was), nor is it the last (Garner's Modern English Usage), but it is certainly the most page-turning.
  • Start Small, Stay Small: music to my ears. This is an excellent resource on how to build a bootstrapped company, and something I intend to revisit.
  • Coders at Work: interesting interviews with some of the legends of software engineering and computer science. You must take it with a handful of salt. The biggest thing I took away was that all these successful people work in incredibly different ways, so there really is no single best way of working.
  • Factfulness: imagine a TED talk in book form, and this is what you get. Pretty interesting and eye opening.
  • Skin in the Game: this book got me to think about things from a perspective I have really never had before. I loved being challenged to think so differently. I'll read more Taleb. I won't buy everything he says, but it's worth reading for the new perspective.
  • The Signal and the Noise: such a good read by Nate Silver. Highly recommended.
  • Hit Refresh: this book made me realize how much Microsoft had changed under Satya Nadella's leadership. To an extent it feels like (and is) a marketing piece for Microsoft, but it boosts my confidence that some of their acquisitions (like GitHub) will live on and keep being wonderful.
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine: a great look at what led to the housing bubble collapse and market crash of 2007-2008. Not really an uplifting topic, but a great read.
  • A Wrinkle In Time: this is a classic, and I'm glad to have finally read it.
  • Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness: I love the title but did not enjoy the book. It was written in an incredibly dry, overly academic style.
  • Fire and Fury: Exactly what you'd expect from a book about the current administration written this early.
  • Ready Player One: this was a great look at how bad our future could be if we blindly lean into technology and corporatism. Let's not, okay?

2019 is going to be great, and I have a massive list of books I want to read (and a smaller list of ones I actually will read, as always).

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