books of 2018

Another great year. Finished 34 out of 22 planned books. Read a couple I had in back of my head for while and made few great discoveries along the way.

> What is your top pick, Nikolay?
> This year, I would recommend everybody “It does not have to be crazy at work”.

Powerful. Chief talent officer from Netflix shares fresh look at what is important to people at tech company. Recently, it become a cliche that tech company has fancy campuses with chocolate fountains, free food and champagne. Unnecessary perks, weird nudges and intrusion into work and after-work life is a wasteful corporate enterprise that diminishes agency of people working at the company. Instead, companies should focus on what they do the best — plain work. It is time for companies to cut the bullshit, think about what really matters and take people seriously. It was also great to follow story of Netflix from the front row.

Packing to Mars. Going to space is the most grandiose journey anyone can ever embark upon. But what it actually feels like? This book is full of funny and sometimes gross recollections from real witnesses. Here, on Earth, we are humans, and out there, in outer space, we are humans too.

Brotopia. One day, at popular computer science lecture at my alma mater, I noticed that there are 100+ guys and only 2 girls. The sheer scale of imbalance hit me. No matter what is your perception of expected imbalance this is way too extreme. To get some background on what lead to this, I looked into historical account on gender imbalance in U.S. in this field provided by this book.

The lean startup. Famous philosophy of rapid experimentation and growth for building new products and companies. Keep hand on a pulse of feedback from customers. Use tight build-measure-learn loop as an engine of your growth.

A study in scarlet. Beautiful novel from the world of Sherlock Holmes. audiobook 

The ethics of influence. Started this book a while ago and finally finished it this year. Now that we know about nudges, what is the moral grounds of government, or other authority like big corporation, using nudges for their own means? For example, when you walk into a food hall, what products you do see first and which require extra effort? Is it a healthy, ecologically friendly, or domestic option of the same thing? Do you even need it? Key takeaway, if we have choices anyways then why don't someone optimise choice-structure for social good? Another learning is that there are different types of nudges, some are quite subtle. Knowledge on how they work may not grant you immunity, yet the hope is it will tip the scales of power back into your favour.

Skin in the Game. Taleb covers here many interesting mechanisms that arise in case of uncertainty. One is responsibility and how it shapes social structures. Imagine you are seeing a doctor, do his incentives align with yours? Another one that stands out is difference of risk-sharing and risk-transferring. How come some customs and traditions spread and survive and others fade away. Lastly, if you don’t have real stake at what you have to say, perhaps we should not listen to you. And on the other hand, if you survived so far by making your own decisions, then there is some value to your opinion. Of course, that is very crude way to put it. As always, Taleb does extraordinary job articulating ideas, unconventional and profound.

Dreams from my father. Stories from formative years of Barack Obama, written by himself. Here I could follow his story with more detail and no restrictive format of political campaign speeches. The story of his childhood, race, African and American communities, in short his “audacity of hope”. audiobook narrated by Barack himself

Nocturnes. A couple of elegant and subtle novels about nightfall and music. paperback from SF SOMA 🌉

Competing against luck. Keep meaningful metrics and keep shipping. Pretty much same ideas as you would find somewhere else, Lean Startup for example, but less elaborate and in non-remarkable style. This book was a miss this year. audiobook

Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Monumental work on philosophy of science. If you are unfamiliar, in short, it is concerned with what is scientific knowledge and how it evolves. Now I realise, I got incomplete and at times wrong picture on this work when I was studying this topic back in undergrad. This work is very elaborate and acknowledges commonly referenced shortcomings, such as continuity. It was also great to learn how he blends research community and institutions that develop scientific knowledge into his framework. 

Three body problem. Famous science fiction from China. Very entertaining read.

The dark forest. Second part of “Three body problem” series. All the sci-fiction concepts you have heard mixed-up together. Story gradually losses its coherence leading to a complete mess in the end. The very ending was quite witty, but it takes unreasonably long to get there.

Machine, Platform, Crowd. Outlook on trends in tech industry. If you work in tech, you can probably add to this book, but unlikely other way around. audiobook 

Steering the craft. A crash course on writing and story telling. One thing that pops-out right away, keep in mind a persona who is telling the story. There are multiple kinds of voices that you can choose: omniscient observer, non-omniscient 3rd person, witness of story, main character, and others. This helps you to move reader closer to characters in your story. There is also a collection of other useful practical tips.

Bad Blood. Apparently, you could mislead investors, public and government for almost a decade, got a billions in founding without working product and cause physical harm to people. Thrilling story.

Principles. Life and work advices from founder of notorious Bridgewater hedge found. I am not found of the style he has chosen for this book, but looking back more of then not I agree with his advices. paperback

Gentleman. Short and intense novel about a guy who mistakenly sold his wife to devil. Narration gives you vivid pictures, almost like you are watching a play in theatre. paperback from SF SOMA 🌉

Bladerunner. Classic. I was surprised that movies completely missed a couple of elaborate dimensions to this story. That being said, both movies, and book have strong plot and convey unique and rich futuristic mood. paperback from SF SOMA 🌉

All the light we cannot see. Story about german boy and french girl in WWII. Very interesting style. paperback from SF SOMA 🌉

Factfullness. There are many metrics backed by solid facts that world is much better now than before and much better than you are thinking it is. Similarly, there are challenges and problems out there, but they are not exactly what you think they are. Why is it the case? Sensationalism in media and fundamental mechanics of how we learn about world is to blame. It was also great to follow his numerous stories from times he worked as data scientist in healthcare and government. Again, style was not the best, but most of the points make sense. paperback. many thanks to Hoa

All systems red. Good science fiction about life of an android. audiobook

Managing oneself. Rather depressing outlook. Didn’t learn much new from this book. Another miss.

Designing Data-Intensive Applications. Incredible book, very elaborate and coherent. Learned a lot about modern data systems and refined bits I already knew. You might enjoy it a lot if you work in software or just enjoying stretching your mind.

Forever War. What if there was a war that never ended?

On language. One of the most eloquent writings I have seen. Very deep material on fundamentals of language. Interview with Chomsky about politics gives fresh contrarian viewpoint on United States in past century. Especially good if you want to learn how did U.S. get where it is now.

Hagakure: The book of the samurai. Thoughts on life, economics, philosophy and other important affairs of people in ancient Japan.

Cat’s Cradle. Entertaining science fiction from Kurt Vonnegut. audiobook.

The obstacle is the way. Challenges that we face can be milestones that help us progress. Pushing this thought to the extreme, the problems we are solving form the way itself. Here author gives a collection of advices that can help you to build such mindset. Many appropriate references from ancient and recent history. Accompanying bonus interview with author was a pleasant surprise.

All quiet on the western front. Detailed and very personal account on WWI. Today is the most peaceful time in human history, yet we have not been so far in touch with reality as ever before. We see war exclusively through lens of sensationalist news camera, violent movies and games or state propaganda. Our perception of war is wicked. What is war really like? This book gives a glimpse of horrors and despair.

It does not have to be crazy at work. Very short and to the point account on work style. 

AI superpowers. I did not agree with many points Kai Fu Lee is making here about tech nor with his general defeatist attitude towards AI and tech. His paternalistic tone was annoying too. The most thought provoking and even shocking takeaway from this book is how scared of AI and its future can be someone so influential in this field.

Blitzscaling. Interesting read on how to scale-up organisations with lightning fast speed.

The curse of bigness. History of anti-trusts, monopolies and regulation. Originally I did not plan to finish it this year, but material on this topic is so well written in this book that it was a pleasure to finish it on Christmas. ❄️