Books from Q2 2018

This is a continuation of what I started with “Books from Q1 2018“.

19. “Semiosis” – Sue Burke

I really enjoyed this book. It’s basically “if a botanist wrote sci-fi” and felt very fresh as I haven’t read anything in that vein before. It does suffer somewhat from what I call Clarke-Doctorow syndrome  – a condition in which the quality of the ideas presented vastly exceeds the quality of writing.

20. “Principles” – Ray Dalio

I normally don’t care for ‘business’ books but this one was fairly interesting. Dalio presents a unique take on what a data-driven culture looks like. Working at his firm, Bridgewater, doesn’t sound like much fun to me, personally, but they do seem to have achieved as mature an analytical culture as I have seen.  I didn’t particularly care for the structure of the book as it’s setup as part-autobiography, part reference book, but it makes sense in the context of the ideas presented.

21. “Life” – Richard Fortey

This is such a weirdly wonderful book. Fortey weaves his personal history as a paleontologist through a history of life on Earth. He balances passages on the evolution of trilobites with anecdotes about laying under the stars in the Australian Outback. This is a type of book we need more of as it humanizes science while broaching big, hard-to-comprehend ideas.

22. “Binti” – Nnedi Okorafor

I wanted to like this more than I did. “Binti” is the first of Okorafor’s books that I have read and I will attempt another as there were the seeds of many interesting things here, but this novella read like a first draft for a novel. I normally like terse writing, but this stretched that. It’s the skeleton of a story without much of the meat.

23. “The Sisters Brothers” – Patrick deWitt

This was recommended to me as an alternative to “Blood Meridian” since I enjoy Cormac McCarthy’s stories but hate his actual writing. It’s a perfect mix of dark and funny.

24. “The Killing Moon” – N.K. Jemison

I liked the other Jemison books I’ve read this year so decided to try one of her other series. The Dreamblood duology was tight and well done. It’s heavily influenced by Egyptian mysticism, which was a nice break from the standard fantasy tropes of European heritage.

25. “The Shadowed Sun” – N.K. Jemison

See above

26. “How to Lie With Statistics” – Darrell Huff

This is a really solid, if dated, primer on statistical misrepresentation. It was written in the 1950s so you have to keep reminding yourself of the context around any dollar amounts thrown out. The companies used in many of the examples might as well be made up names given how few of them exist anymore, but that’s fun in it’s own way, inspiring some Wikipedia searches to find out what happened to them. Aside from that, the tactics described are timeless and I could think of countless contemporary examples of their use. If you like charts and graphs, this is a good, short read.

27. “Dispatches” – Michael Herr

I had to read this book in short bursts. It’s written in the gonzo-journalism style of the late 60’s/early 70s (think Hunter S. Thompson) in which the narrator is definitely unreliable. It’s a fever dream of the Vietnam War that is disorienting and easy to get lost in, definitely not something I could follow when I was tired. The second half of the book is an easier read, more grounded.

28. “Building Microservices” – Sam Newman

Reading this at the same time I was dipping into “Dispatches” helped me stay grounded in reality. It’s one of the better O’Reilly books I’ve read, being easy to read and covering enough detail to be useful. The author presents a sane approach to thinking about microservices architectures and how to go about chopping up a monolithic application into microservices.

29. “The Left Hand of Darkness” – Ursula K. Le Guin

I hadn’t read anything of Le Guin’s since the Earthsea trilogy in middle school, which I remember liking but feeling that it wasn’t very substantial. This left me with a different impression of the author. There’s a lot packed into its 300 or so pages with much of the weight given to how gender norms shape society.

30. “Docker Up & Running” – Karl Matthias & Sean P. Kane

This is a decent run-through of Docker and how to do some basic troubleshooting. I’ve run through better tutorials online that were more up-to-date but lacked some of the context the book provides. It’s a good addendum, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a place to start with Docker.

31. “Site Reliability Engineering” – Various

It’s an OK desk reference for different SRE topics, but “The Practice of Cloud Systems Administration” is a far better resource. I discovered  after I purchased it that it’s available online for free and would have preferred to have gone that route as it’s basically a collection of blog posts by Google alumni.

32. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” – Daniel Kahneman

This was an odd case of being familiar with a lot of the author’s research from other sources and thus finding the actual source material a little less engaging than I might have otherwise.  If you are new to behavioral economics, meta-cognition, or the study of biases, this is an excellent place to start.

33. “The Last Days of New Paris” – China Mieville

This is perhaps my least favorite of Mieville’s books, perhaps because of my lack of familiarity with French surrealism. It’s only a little longer than novella length and may have benefited from some more meat on its bones to help add context for those not intimately familiar with the vernacular (or all the French for that matter).

34. “The Lies of Locke Lamora” – Scott Lynch

Some dumb algorithm recommended this to me based on my like of China Mieville. Scott Lynch is good at setting pace but that’s pretty much it. Tone is all over the place. None of the characters are believable and there is a significant amount of repetition and deus ex machina.

35. “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World” – Niall Ferguson

This is more a history of finance than of money. Ferguson is very much in the conservative camp of economists so I found myself challenged by some of his views. The last quarter of the book covering modern issues seems a bit tacked on and rushed. Overall, it’s a good read, but heavily biased towards a Western, conservative economic view point.