I started tracking the books I read in early 2013; below is the ever-growing list.
The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
How to Lie with Statistics by Daniel Huff
Think Stats by Allen Downey
Wool by Hugh Howey
Data Mashups in R by Jeremy Leipzig and Xiao-Yi Li
On Managing Yourself from HBR
The Joy of Clojure by Fogus and Chris Houser
Programming Clojure by Stu Halloway
Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael Feathers
The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
How to Light Up a Room by Kate Kennedy
How to Talk so Your Kids Will Talk and Talk so Your Kids Will Listen by Faber and Mazlish
The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
Poke the Box by Seth Godin
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton
The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
Lord of Chaos: Book Six of ‘The Wheel of Time’ – I finished up book six of the Wheel of Time series and am ready for a break. This book felt like a slog, but ended really well. Some friends advised I skip the middle, so I think I’ll read summaries before jumping to book 12 to start the finale.
The Non-Designer’s Design Book – I thought this book had great bang for the buck. Robin Williams shows how to transform boring, bad designs using CRAP—that’s contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. The second edition is a bit dated; perhaps the third edition is closer to today’s flat UI trend.
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (A Touchstone book) – This text asserts that there are four levels of reading: elementary (the basics), inspectional (quickly understanding the big idea), analytical (deep reading), and syntopical (thinking critically and comparing the words against all your related knowledge). I wish I would have read this earlier, but I probably wouldn’t have gotten much out of it because I didn’t think I needed it. I found that the deep dives into new subjects that I frequently did during my PhD is called syntopical reading.
The Effective Executive (Harper business Essentials) – Management guru, Peter Drucker, provides a great guide to working on the right things. As with many business books, you could summarize it in one blog post, but then you lose the nuance. I’m curious how Drucker would argue that a busy executive should read his entire book instead of a concise summary.
Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is – Another book from my productivity queue. This was a quick read with some interesting points. I was intrigued by thinking about whose problem something is and how decision makers’ interests rarely align with he people experiencing the problem.
The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Language (P.S.) – Reading linguistics books is dangerous when you’re married to a linguist. Pinker tells an interesting tale, but I wasn’t completely convinced. I found the overview of cognitive science studies absolutely brilliant.
Homeland: The Legend of Drizzt, Book I: Bk. 1 – The Drizzt series is very well reviewed, and I understand why. The lowest ratings hint at the fact that the books are pretty simple and thrive in D&D lore. The book is definitely no Diamond Age or Dance with Dragons, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Exile: The Legend of Drizzt, Book II – More of the same: a straightforward, pleasurable hero story based in D&D universe. The Drizzt series is a nice break from the more involved Wheel of Time.
The Shunned House – I asked friends for fantasy series recommendations and received too many good suggestions. H.P. Lovecraft was one of them, so I found this book and plowed through it. I see why people love Lovecraft! I cannot describe how, but the writing style is so evocative and creepy.
Case of Charles Dexter Ward – Perhaps because I haven’t read many graphic novels, or perhaps because I am impatient, I found myself skipping the drawing and going straight for the story. This made for a quick read. Unfortunately, I felt Lovecraft’s ability to generate tension and suspense was was hindered by the shortened story.
The Wendigo - Amazon recommended this along when I got the Lovecraft book. I would have liked more description of the Wendigo (and if the story wasn’t written a century ago I would have wanted to hear how wendigos are undiscovered), but I liked the book overall.
Fifty-One Tales - This is another recommendation from a friend. Apparently, Edward Plunkett a.k.a. Lord Dunsany, is one of the first fantasy authors. While The King of Elfland’s Daughter was recommended, I was drawn to this book as an introduction to his style. Of the 51 tales, my favorites were The Workman—about a workman vainly struggling for immortality—and A Moral Little Tale, which says that Puritanical beliefs are actually devilish because God appreciates mirth.
Dracula – A classic fantasy story that I knew but had not read. I hate redoing things, so reading a story I already knew was challenging; however, the book was good. It unfolds as a series of diary entries, which I thought was unique and clever. I am stunned at the lack of resolution—I feel like the climax is on the penultimate page.
The Elements of Style (a.k.a. Strunk and White) – This is a short book, but it was not a quick read for me. Between The Language Instinct and conversations with my linguist wife, I have come to realize that I have an elementary understanding of English grammar. Strunk and White often pressed the limits of my knowledge with highfalutin terms like gerundive and dependent clause; however, they offer great examples that helped me understand the concepts without mastering the vocabulary.
The Gathering Storm (The Wheel of Time Book 12) – After a break, I was ready for more Wheel of Time. I read summaries for books 7-11 and jumped straight to the finale, which is written by Brandon Sanderson with the late Robert Jordan’s notes. I don’t know if it is Sanderson’s writing or the fact that the books are rushing towards the end, but I loved this story. I should finish the series in another month.
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. Burkeman played a nice angle in this contrarian’s guide to happiness. He synthesized a fair amount of information and presented his path to happiness.
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. This book was almost like a scientific version of The Antidote: where The Antidote is a story, The Happiness Hypothesis is a pop science textbook. Haidt did a fantastic job combining psychology and philosophy along with history and his own story. His metaphor for your mind, the elephant and the rider, is amazing. Basically, your rational mind, the rider, isn’t really in control of your body, the elephant. For too long, people have thought of their mind and body like a car: you go left when you want to go left, right when you want to go right, and over a cliff if that’s what you desire. But Haidt points out that you reflexively jump when you see a snake and automatically recoil from a hot surface—your body acts before your mind can process the event. Haidt suggests this is because your body has evolved to survive for much longer than your brain has. You can drive a car off a cliff, but you can’t easily ride a horse off a cliff. Haidt extends the idea and suggests that we are emotional creatures who often wrap our feelings with rational alibis. The book covers a lot of neat studies and compares modern thought to historical perspectives.
Towers of Midnight (The Wheel of Time Book 13) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Book 12 fed nicely into 13 and I went into the finale with a full head of steam.
A Memory of Light (The Wheel of Time Book 14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. How do you end an epic tale? Well, this is one way. I might have liked more information, but I didn’t want to read yet another book. I’m happy with Sanderson’s tradeoff between quality and time. I’m glad to have closure on the Rand al’Thor saga.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This book is really highly rated, and I see why. It started off slow, but I stuck with it and was rewarded. This ended up being an awesome, interesting story with a lot of neat, novel fantasy ideas. I’ll finish off the second book soon, then wish the third was already out.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. I’d describe this story as what happens when Superman is a villain.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Remind me not to take a boat to Antarctica. Especially not in the early 20th century. I see why this has been made into a movie or two—it is the classic “unbelievable but true” story.
The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training by Paul Owens and Norma Eckroate. Not that Dog Whisperer (Cesar Milan). Concrete training advice came after a bit of introductory advice that was a little too hippie for me (for example, the authors suggest you feed your dog 100% organic meat and veggies, which I can agree with only in theory). A few of my favorite lessons:
- there are three Ds of dog training: distance, duration, and distraction. Once your dog can reliably perform, add distance, duration, or distraction. The grad school version of sit requires that your dog sit and stay for minutes while you’re far away and all the dog’s favorite things run by.
- speak the command once and give your dog 45 seconds to react; right when your dog does the right thing, praise generously.
- when your dog naturally does something you want to train, immediately name the action and praise your dog. This is called the “Magnet Game” and it’s working well with my dog (we are trying to get her to show us her belly on command). Other examples are for barking (once it has been named you can encourage them to do it only on command) or incidental heeling (if your dog walks beside you, praise the dog and eventually she will learn that staying by you is best).
Sly Flourish’s Lazy Dungeon Master by Michael Shea. This book is short and sweet with a lot of neat tips, like creating character backstories using Fiasco). I’m glad I read this book before the gaming session because it saved me a lot of time and helped me DM more gracefully, I think.
How to Tell a Story by Mark Twain. What a poor title. This book had no direct advice about how to tell a story, and the two stories it contained were less than stellar. At least it was short.
How to be a Programmer: A Short, Comprehensive, and Personal Summary by Robert L. Read. This is a nice essay on how to be a programmer—there’s a lot more to the job than simply writing code. Read describes skills needed as a beginner, intermediate, and advanced programmer. I think this book could form the base of a class on software or be elaborated to create a nice book on the programming profession.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I loved this book, and now I’m ready for book three. Speaking of waiting for the conclusion of a story, George R. R. Martin said, “He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy.” May both Patrick Rothfuss and GRRM finish their series soon!
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. I liked this book, but it fell short of what I expected from a Hugo Award winner. The story could have been told with many fewer words, although I don’t claim to know which words needed to be cut. There were some neat concepts; e.g., in this universe there are five gods who visit mortals. The gods grant blessings and bestow curses. There are also demons that can jump into human hosts and corrupt the person from the inside out, while granting some supernatural abilities.
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. I had already completed the first book (The Curse of Chalion), so I continued on to this book. I preferred this one, perhaps because the story was richer for building on the realm of Chalion, which I had read a whole book about.
Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. I thought this book made some good points, but I was ultimately unconvinced. In the introduction, Sax says that on college campuses females outnumber males 2:1; however, he also says that college is now 58% female and 42% male. 58:42 is not 2:1—it’s 1.38:1. From this point on, I was much more skeptical of the information. Sax’ five factors are video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs, endocrine disruptors, and devaluation of masculinity; of those, each have some merit, but it felt a bit like listening to an old person railing on young people. You know, “back in my day, men were men!” The evidence felt like a collection of anecdotes and a lot of just-so stories. Some of the ideas came across as shamefully outdated opinions, which is unfortunate. Why is it so highly rated? I suspect because there’s a huge selection bias—people who do not believe boys are adrift simply will not read the book.
The Legacy: Legend of Drizzt, Book VII by R.A. Salvatore. It’s Drizzt—what’s not to like? I previously read books one and two; I mistakenly bought this one thinking it was three (it is actually 7). On the plus side, I can probably skip ahead in the story now that I know what happens after the books I missed!
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Andrea loved this series and wanted to know if I would like it too. I did not, but I cannot say why. There was a lot of sex, but plenty of books I like have sex; there was romance that did not resonate with me; there was a lot of history, which I must admit I don’t care about. I guess I would rather read about a badass Drow ranger defeating a golem than read about a woman lost in time.
The Dracula Chronicles: The Lamb of God by Shane KP Oneill. This was a very quick read that introduces Dracula. The first book published in this series takes place well after this prequel, but I thought it would be good to start at the beginning. It was good, so I plan to continue this series after I finish some other books.
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. An orphan assassin, sword-fighting, revenge and rebellion—I like it!
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I’ve heard a ton about this book, and I’d like to have a better grasp on economics. It started off well; Smith lays the foundation of economics and currency, and it is brilliant, logical stuff. That being said, I ultimately abandoned the book about 1/6th of the way in when the author stated how much tobacco you should expect from a negro between sixteen and sixty years. I know that in 1776 statements like that were not in poor taste—Smith was likely very progressive—but one too many outdated terms made me question how applicable the book truly is. I include the book in this list because I don’t plan to finish it.