- “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
- “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
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
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