books of 2017

This year I have finished 16 books. This is 4 books less than year ago, but it matches the plan for this year! 🙌

It will be marked by good books I have known for a while as well as great new discoveries. The subjects vary greatly, but few common reoccurring themes can be seen.

One more observation, many of the books are related to what I have read before. Such, I have read books from Tim Wu and Michael Lewis. Later wrote the book about the author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that I read last year. Speaking of fiction, plus-one goes to Charles Dickens and Neil Gaiman (looks like it will be the last one for Neil tho).

This year it has been 5 fiction (2 sci-fiction) books. Remarkably, EGB is the longest I have read so far with over 800 pages. More numbers from goodreads:

The Attention Merchants Tim Wu. Just as in his other work — “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” — here author gives a close historical look on the evolution of attention industry. Things at which we pay attention influence how we think and how we make our choices. Hence, it has been subject of profound efforts to direct it by individuals, governments, and businesses. The book concluded with remarks on how to this day attention in many forms is still the principal force that shapes our society. The real story was not as lush as Mad Men, still very intriguing to follow.

The Chimes” Charles Dickens. English classic. It was nice to spice it up a little last winter with a bit of Christmas magic. — audiobook

The Nest” Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. It was a joy to read this light story about one big American family. I remember when I bought this book, lady at the checkout told me “..this is her first book. How did she do it so well?..”. I don’t know the answer, but I totally agree. — paperback from bookstore in SOMA SF 🌉

We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama”. Last speech of Michelle Obama as FLOTUS sparkled in me interest into public speeches. Next thing I remember I was watching speeches by Barack Obama. I have got inspired by the style, how he elaborated on his ideas and connected them. Written form also helped to zoom out and see how he constructed his speeches more clearly. — paperback from bookstore in SOMA SF 🌉

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” Marie Kondō. It was truly a life-changing book for me in many ways. My home have got cleaner. I’ve got good habits, more free time, better sleep. Most importantly, this book gave me a cozy and warm feeling when it was very much needed.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” Ben Horowitz. This is a cornerstone of philosophy of execution under stress. This is a guide on how to go through struggle. How not to die. How to win when no-one cares.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” Peter Thiel. This book explains fundamentals on creating a new venture. However, to me its biggest value comes from its inspirational yet intelligent message. I mean, you get this strong sense of startup philosophy while reading this book. I am also very found of its open and direct style.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” Yuval Noah Harari. First, author went through forces that shaped our society up until this moment. Next, he explored on how these fundamental learnings might shape our nearest future. He very carefully and coherently covers hot topics including: AGI, religion, ethics, politics. Among many other topics with elaborate examples, from top of the mind, I most vividly remember references to “inter-subjective” — realm where constructs make sense only when there are humans who believe in them, e.g. money, bank, government, corporation. However, there are many more ideas that are too hard to squeeze into one paragraph. Some of them are quite sobering, but sound reasonable nonetheless.

A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform”. Published in 1983, this official report gives harsh but critical overview of educational system in the United States at that time. The key alarming message of this report is that educational system was not keeping up with other countries. It provided analysis on why that might be so and how to fix that. I was interested in this work primarily in the context of other studies I was reading at that time.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” Douglas R. Hofstadter. This book has been a separate challenge to me. So far it has been the most challenging book I have read, but it has been the most rewarding at the same time. It is an elegant journey into math, consciousness, music, biology and art. — paperback. many thanks to Pooja.

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley” Antonio Garcia Martinez. This story sheds a light on the dark and ugly side of startups and big tech companies. Some of the points I find quite relatable, some — not so much. Often the story is told in very subjective and overly one-sided manner. Nonetheless, I appreciate the author for speaking-out and uncovering unspoken hard topics from the tech world.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” Douglas Adams. Good sci-fiction in the best spirits of “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”. I wanted to know how the story unrolled next. Had a few good laughs while reading it.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” Michael Lewis. This book does not talk much about behavioral science, rather it tells the story of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky on their way to form its foundations. This is a story of people behind “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor E. Frankl. Long time ago back at KAIST, I have heard someone mentioning Frankl’s Optimism in his argument. Particularly, it was that even under worst conditions we are able to make a choice to strive for the better. Since then I wanted to finish the original work. At first, author brings very vivid and frightening images of struggles in death camps. Later, he uses them to advocate his theory. I am not sure about its soundness, but I like that it gives more weight to top-down (slow system first) directions of our motives as opposed to bottom-up (fast system; subconscious first).

The Time Machine” H.G. Wells. Very well written short sci-fiction. Author explored ideas on how basic biological evolutionary forces will play in long term with technological progress and social order. — audiobook

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders” Neil Gaiman. Last book this year. The choice was between another classic — Sherlock Holmes, and this book. I chose this one due to good memories of reading his previous collection “Trigger Warning”. This one is a collection of mostly dark stories. Few are good, but only very few. Perhaps, Sherlock would have been a better choice.— audiobook

It has been a great read this year. Let’s keep it rolling!