David's Blog

Dec 31, 2019

My 2019 in Books

I read over 25 new books this year and re-read a bunch of old favorites as well. I wanted to cover some of my favorites here as well as those that I've been dragging my feet on finishing even though they're on topics I'm interested in or stories I enjoy.

Thanks to Jonathan Palardy for inspiring me to read 10 pages a day, I formed a new habit to get me reading more than ever. I've long loved reading new books but also long felt too exhausted to do so in the evening. By re-arranging my schedule and making time to read in the mornings, I've managed to make consistent progress on books I've long wanted to read. Since Thanksgiving I've slightly fallen out of my routine due to holiday season hectic schedules (and probably also some laziness) but am excited to recommit to this goal in the new year.

Here are some of the books I read in 2019 that stood out for me, in no particular order.

Non-Fiction

On Trails - Robert Moor

This was a rather interesting book about the origins of trail systems, the history of certain trails and of the activity of hiking. It covers animals and their trail systems as well as various cultures' relationship with trails and hiking. I really enjoyed reading this one and was rather sad when I left my copy on an airplane when I was only part way through the book – the first time I've ever lost something on an airplane! Thankfully I managed to make it through the book before losing my second copy.

Season of the Witch - David Talbot

A history of San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s up through the early 90s. When I started reading at least 10 pages a day, this was the book that I was struggling to get through. For non-fiction books I find the motivation I have towards the end of the day to engage and learn is basically gone after a day of working. That said, I learned a ton of interesting tidbits about people and places from this book!

Every Tool's A Hammer - Adam Savage

A look through Adam Savage's career and life as well as some methods he's picked up over the years for keeping life organized. A fun, quick read.

An Elegant Puzzle - Will Larson

I discovered Will Larson's blogsometime last year. The first piece on his blog that really stuck with me was about systems thinking and the book that he recommended as an introduction to the topic by Donella Meadows was one of my favorite books last year so I was really excited to pick this book up.

It is beautifully designed inside and out. While it is mostly about engineering management in the tech industry, as a non-manager I found it to be helpful as well. I enjoy Will's thoughtful discussion of various components of life on a team of people building a technology product and particularly where the traditional approach is questioned or approached in a different light. As a reader of his blog, I found some of the content to be pulled from there but there was also enough new content that expanded on it as well.

A Philosophy of Software Design - John Ousterhout

This book introduces multiple ideas in software design and explores the trade offs between some of these ideas. While I don't agree with all of the ideas, the book effectively demonstrates that different situations call for different approaches to software design and highlights that simplicity has value.

Fiction

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

I had somehow not read this one before. A quick read and still very applicable to today despite being published in the 50s.

Book of Dust Vol 2: The Secret Commonwealth - Philip Pullman

I actually enjoyed this one more than volume 1 in this new series in the same world (but different time) as His Dark Materials. I always enjoyed the world of Lyra and the daemons and this book was no different.

The Ruin of Kings - Jenn Lyon

This book, along with The Name of All Things, makes Jenn Lyons is one of my favorite new authors. As a first published book (as far as I could tell), I thought she was amazingly good at world building. The storytelling style of having a sort of book within a book and the narrator being a character recounting events was interesting and a nice, different approach as well. I was happy to see that was carried over to The Name of All Things. The timeline was sometimes a bit confusing but I appreciated how everything felt like it came together at in the end. I also always love footnotes and this book has lots of footnotes [1].

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell - Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson's new book is largely a fictional fantasy book about the (maybe) not-too-distant future with AIs, robotic "presence" bodies, quantum computing, full brain scans being used to simulate people after death, and more. It also happens to raise interesting questions about the nature of the self and of death: consciousness, personality, memory, and soul vs brain.

The entire Cradle series - Will Wight

I tore through those books that had already been published and spent a lot of this year excitedly waiting for the next installments. I love the concept of the world in these books and it is one of my favorite new series.

Still in progress

Here's a short list of books that I didn't manage to finish this year despite them being in progress for some time. These are not books I consciously decided not to finish but rather that I moved on to other books that found my interest at the time. I hope to finish these soon:

  • The Code of Capital - Katharina Pistor
  • Principals - Ray Dalio
  • The Wind Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
  • A Programmer's Introduction to Mathematics - Jeremy Kun

[1]: I have a longstanding TODO item to make this blog support footnotes in a better way...