• “How We Got to Now” by Steven Johnson – a short book discussing some of the
    most important scientific innovations of the last 3 centuries, adapted for
    young readers. The writing is very good and the illustrations are pretty
    and relevant.
  • “Distributed Services with Go” by Travis Jeffery – describes how to build a
    real-world distributed service in Go, covering gRPC, security with TLS,
    service discovery, consensus, load balancing and deploying with k8s. The
    book’s scope is huge and the code is very practical, so it’s a great addition
    to the Go distributed systems literature. That said, I have quite a bit of
    criticism as well. The code is quick to use many dependencies, some of them
    obscure; the code tuning approach is highly inconsistent – some sections
    argue about the merits of uint32 vs uint64 for saving memory, others
    add unused fields or use asymptotically slow search algorithms; the code
    dumps are huge and a real chore to follow – there’s little discussion of plan
    and design for each section before we get to the code. I believe these
    shortcomings could be addressed in a followup edition and the book could
    become a real gem.
  • “Burn” by Herman Pontzer – secondary title is “New Research Blows the Lid Off
    How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy”. An interesting
    book about nutrition and metabolism, combining several relevant branches of
    science. It relies mainly on the author’s anthropologic research with the
    Hadza hunter-gatherer societies in Tanzania, trying to map their “how humanity
    evolved” way of life onto modern scientific understanding of human metabolism.
    I’m quite interested in this subject and have in the past enjoyed Gary
    Taubes’s books; “Burn” discusses Taubes’s research directly and tries to add
    some more nuanced scientific details on top. Very good book overall.
  • “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson – a good,
    comprehensive biogarphy of Benjamin Franklin.
  • “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett – a family saga about twin sisters from
    a small town in Lousiana who went their own ways at the age of 20. The twist
    is that the black people of the town are so light-skinned that some could be
    taken for whites, and the twins especially so. One of the twins married her
    (white) boss at work and “passed for white” for the remainder of her life,
    moving away and disappearing from her family. Realistic? I’m not sure; but the
    writing is good and the topics the book is addressing are interesting and
    important. One reservation I have about the book is that I found its
    non-linear plot confusing at times; this kind of writing – jumping back and
    forth in time between different characters – has become quite popular
    recently. Some authors execute it well, in a way that makes the book more
    interesting to read. In this case, I felt the execution was sub-optimal.
  • “Rust in Action” by Tim McNamara – an intermediate-level Rust book with
    several non-trivial projects in the systems programming space. Interesting
    book and approach, and a pretty good option for what to learn after an initial
    introduction to Rust (I would not recommend this as one’s first Rust book).
    It’s really great to have code that does something real in a book, and
    refreshing to have a book with a focus on systems programming. On the
    downside, the book is very new and yet unpolished – many typos, mixups, big
    mismatches between code listings and the accomanying repository, etc;
    hopefully the author will get these issues sorted out soon. Also, as usual I
    observe that Rustaceans sure love their crates! Even in a low-level systems
    programming book, the author is very quick to reach for an external crate.
    This is not necessarily the right strategy when teaching systems programming,
    which at its core is an attempt to undertand software systems from the bottom
  • “Dune” by Frank Herbert – I’ve read this book once in the past, probably
    about 20 years ago, so there’s no recorded review in the blog. This time I
    listened to the new audiobook which is a whole production with multiple voice
    actors and background sounds. The audiobook is very well made, and makes the
    listening experience pleasant. I like this book, even though there’s so much
    oddity in it (faster-than light travel in enourmous spaceships only to engage
    in hand-to-hand knife fights on arrival). The world Herbert builds is rich and
    engrossing, and the book leaves so many ends loose that it’s no wonder there
    are so many sequels and prequels.
  • “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama – the first volume of Obama’s memoirs
    covering his time as an Illinois senator, US senator and the first two years
    of his presidency. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this book is pretty
    great – a very thorough, balanced coverage of the challenges facing a US
    president and the thought process that goes into taking critical decisions.
    It’s also an interesting insider’s look into how the White House ticks and
    things like the intricate balance of power between the executive and
    legislative branches of the government. I listened to the audio version
    narrated by Obama himself, which adds a personal touch to the reading
    experience. I’ll definitely pick up the second volume whenever it comes out.
  • “Rising Sun” by Michael Chrichton – not the kind of books I typically read,
    but I forgot my kindle for a long-weekend vacation and this is what I found
    in the Airbnb 🙂 This is a fairly run-of-the-mill detective story with a
    mix of early 90s politics. I wonder if there’s an inverse relationship in
    books between the amount of sex and profanity and the book’s quality; here it
    would definitely apply (hint: the quality of this one is low). One interesting
    observation is that the book was written at the climax of the “Japan panic” in
    the US in the early 90s, full of dire predictions about the future of the US
    economy and the Japanese takeover thereof. Written just in time for the great
    Japanese stagnation that continues to this day – 30 years later, as opposed
    to the great American prosperity of the late 90s. Just shows you how hard it
    is to make predictions, and how everyone tries to extrapolate from existing
    trends while being completely oblivious to the unknown unknowns and the
    technological leaps that end up having much larger effects.
  • “The Sword and the Shield” by Peniel E. Joseph – a combined biography
    of MLK and Malcolm X, trying to contrast their approaches and argue that their
    opinions were closer than it is typically believed, especially towards the end
    of their lives. I found this book to be a bit heavy-going, perhaps too
  • “Introducing JavaScript Game Development” by Graeme Stuart – this book is
    hardly more than an extended blog post with a lot of code pasted in; rather
    average code at that, only occasionally idiomatic and with very little
    documentation (including unexplained function parameters). Waste of time and
    money, IMHO. Instead, I’d recommend the latest edition of “Eloquent
    JavaScript”, which teaches modern, idiomatic JS and has a chapter with a
    canvas-based game that’s much better than this book.
  • “Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind” by Peter Godfrey-Smith – a
    mix of natural history and philosophy. The natural history part (which I
    liked more) tries to pinpoint where in the tree of life animals developed
    sufficiently sophisticated brains for some kind of cognition to arise. The
    philosophical part tries to define what exactly we mean by “kind of
    cognition”; I found this part more speculative and less coherent. Overall it’s
    not a bad book though.
  • “Annals of the Former World” by John McPhee – a geologic tour of the United
    States. Some reviews refer to this book as “geo-poetry” and I can see why;
    the writing is very beautiful occasionally. That said, I can’t say I enjoyed
    reading most of this book. If anything, it’s too poetic and insufficiently
    organized. Geologic terms are heaped upon the reader without introduction or
    definition, and it’s quite frustrating. For such an enormous book, one could
    suppose the author would have ample space to clearly introduce and explain the
    topics he’s covering, provide a useful glossary and so on. This book would
    likely be much more enjoyable for someone who’s completed an “Intro to
    Geology” university-level course already.
  • “Human Universe” by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen – a book version of the
    eponymous BBC documentary series. Nice book to read with kids to get them
    excited about science, with many illustrations. Mostly kid-friendly too,
    though parents should be careful to skip some small parts depending on the
    child’s age and maturity level.


  • “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • “Naked Money” by Charles Wheelan
  • “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh
  • “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen


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