Books I've Read

I found a list of books someone had read and liked the idea, so I wanted to start a list of my own. The list is in reverse chronological order, but only goes back as far as I could remember when I started the list, which was sometime in 2017.

Under each book I've put a short summary of what I ended up getting from the book as well as my general sentiment about the book.

25. The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (October 2019)

CURRENTLY READING

24. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (October 2019)

I was given this book as a gift from my mother-in-law. She was listening to it in audiobook form and thought I'd like it.

The idea of "transparency" in the book was the part that affected me the most. It's the idea that people wrongly tend to infer people's feelings from the expressions on their faces. The author calls this the "Friends Fallacy", since in the show Friends, apparently the actors are so expressive that one could watch the show without sound and still understand what's going on by reading the actors' body language and facial expressions alone. He argues that in real life, it's not so simple though, and I agree. People aren't equally expressive, they don't use the same expressions as others for the same emotions, and expressions don't mean the same things across cultures. Therefore it can lead to trouble if you read too much into the expressions, mannerisms, or other non-verbal forms of communication when talking to strangers.

The other point in the book was called "default to truth", but I didn't find it that useful because ultimately the author says that we should continue to default to truth because society couldn't function otherwise, and I agree. While system 2 can save us from mistakes system 1 can make sometimes, no one would reasonably argue that we should therefore try and spend all of our time in system 2. So while it's good to be aware of the idea of default to truth, I don't think there was a takeaway for that idea that's going to change my behaviour in life.

On a different note, I liked that the book used major news stories to illustrate points because I don't follow the news at all, so it was nice to get up to speed on some major events and scandals that I wasn't aware of.

I also particularly enjoyed the discussion around alcohol and how it affects the legal system, as well as the discussion around policing and suicide, which were used to illustrate the interesting idea of coupling. Coupling is the idea that human behaviour is tied to specific places far more than one might think.

This was an enjoyable book and was quite easy to read as well. It was relatively narrow in scope compared to the past couple of books I've read, but interesting nonetheless.

Slightly positive sentiment

23. The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (September 2019)

A very interesting book, both in regards to its contents and the way it's written. I wanted to read this because I liked Thinking: Fast and Slow so much and it referenced Nassim Taleb and his books a number of times, if I recall correctly. The Art of Thinking Clearly also references Nassim Taleb a few times.

At first, I was disappointed. I expected it to read like Kahneman and Piketty: level-headed, polite, and quick to point out the limits of what the research can tell us. Instead, Taleb rails against entire fields of academia and even individual people who he calls out by name. He's opinionated, and wastes no energy trying to come across as anything but. There are consistent idiosyncrasies in his writing that make it very much feel like a specific person wrote this book. I realized when I finished The Black Swan that I couldn't say that I felt like I knew Daniel Kahneman or Thomas Piketty, but I can safely say that I feel like I know who NNT is (or at least who he wants us to think he is). To summarize how I feel about how the book was written, I'll say that I enjoyed his unique and entertaining writing style and appreciate it for what it is, and the only thing I dislike about his style is his putting down of entire swathes of people because he associates them with an idea he disagrees with. Putting people down is not a good look. If Taleb could stick to criticizing ideas instead of people that maintain them, I think his writing would be better for it.

As for the subject of the book, the core idea is very interesting, well-presented, and explored from a number of different illuminating angles. It's an idea I hadn't heard of before and it's important enough to make me change my actions and thought in real life in response to it. In other words, it's going to have a real, lasting impact on how I see the world.

This book is entertaining, interesting, and absolutely worth a read.

Positive sentiment

22. Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty (Summer 2019)

Tied with Thinking: Fast and Slow for my favourite book. Very informative and well organized. Reading this book felt like being given a map and your location on it. It gives an overview of the past 200 years and how the dynamics and qualities of wealth inequality changed over that time period. Knowing all of that history really puts where we are today in context.

Highly positive sentiment

21. 1984 by George Orwell (Summer 2019)

Listened to the audiobook. I enjoyed the book, but I can't say there was a big takeaway from it for me. I thought the world in the book was interesting and the motivations and mechanisms of the party were interesting, but I don't think there was anything in it that changed my worldview on real-life issues of government. I think the world described in 1984 is quite unrealistic.

Slightly positive sentiment. Would recommend it as interesting but not an essential read by any means.

20. Slow Living by Geoffrey Craig and Wendy Parkins (April 2019)

Only read about half of it. It was much more academic than I expected and I have no experience reading academic literature in that area of study, so it was quite difficult to read.

One interesting point was that people hate being forced to wait in western culture because time is valuable. When one's time is wasted, it can be interpreted as them not being valuable, which is why people hate having to wait.

Neutral sentiment, but probably wouldn't recommend to anyone because of its difficulty.

19. An Introduction to Category Theory by Harold Simmons (January 2019)

TODO

18. Category Theory for Programmers by Bartosz Milewski (November 2018)

TODO

17. Masterminds of Programming by Federico Biancuzzi (October 2018)

I stopped reading this book on page 254/440. I felt that I was getting very little out of the book for the time I was putting into reading it.

The biggest takeaway I got from it was a kind of meta-takeaway, which was that many of the programming languages we have today were created for very different reasons. Some were meant to be very practical and an improvement on an existing language, like C++ and Objective-C. Some were based on academic theory like Haskell and ML. Some were created for specific domains, like awk and APL. Forth stood out to me as the most unique out of the languages I got through.

Slightly negative sentiment

16. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (October 2018)

Running a business should heavily use the scientific method to test your assumptions, understand your customers and the market, and learn what is important to work on and what isn't. The faster you learn, the faster you'll move towards a sustainable business. You need feedback as early and often as possible, forever. If you're not setting up a hypothesis and running an experiment to either confirm or disprove it, then you have no way of measuring what you've learned. In the book the author often mentions that businesses who just makes changes and "see what happens" will achieve just that: they'll see what happened. However, without hypotheses and careful experiments, they have no way of knowing what caused any change in the metrics they're using. Lean is all about learning as fast as possible and applying what you learn. If you can't apply what you learned, you didn't learn anything useful.

Here are the notes I took while reading the book:

15. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman (September 2018)

I think the biggest takeaway I got from this book was how to recognize a bad design. If you can recognize exactly what it is that makes something bad, you have a great starting point for how it can be improved. I also learned some new words related to design in this book, namely "affordances" and "signifiers". I really liked the chapter on design thinking and would recommend reading just that chapter to anyone.

Positive sentiment

14. The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey (July 2018)

The way to God is not through ritual, practice, or works. There is no intermediary between us and God. The law (old testament) is a means to an end (God), not not the end in and of itself.

I really enjoyed the message of the book and it's widely applicable to all parts of living a Christian life.

I also liked that it includes a chapter or two on some of the terrible things that have happened in church history.

Positive sentiment

13. Clean Code by Robert Martin (June 2018 - July 2018)

A good book. Before I read it, I was worried that it would be too focused on OOP because it seemed to focus on OOP and I've really been enjoying programming in a functional style since JavaScript is my primary language. Now that I've read it, I can say that it was a little too focused on Java for my liking, but was full of very good general advice that applies to any language.

The single biggest takeaway I got from it was the importance of naming variables and functions. You can communicate so much by using great names in your code. I think names are vastly underappreciated in their power to make the code read like prose. There were a lot of more subtle takeaways too that I won't list here. Another big one though was that code has two steps: Get it working, and make it beautiful. A lot of people stop after it works and don't refactor and rethink the code to make it as simple and readable as possible. It also definitely convinced me of the importance of unit tests.

Positive sentiment

12. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (May 2018 - June 2018)

Suggested by a good friend of mine. His recently-married brother read it and his parents are well-read and a big fan of this author.

This book was well-written and the content was good too, but it jumped around between many different topics which I feel took away from its impact. For example, I'm writing this in early July 2018, roughly a month after I finished reading it and it's hard for me to think of a strong takeaway, but I remember having lots of good converstations with my wife about points brought up in the book while I was reading it.

Slightly positive sentiment

11. You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan (May 2018)

My wife and I read this on the beach on our honeymoon. Read within a few days.

Given to my wife and I as a wedding gift from our friends who had recently gotten married and liked this book. I liked the message and the points made, but I don't think it was as well-written as other books I've read. This was admitted in the book by one of the authors though (Francis), which was nice because I could focus on the message instead of getting distracted by the medium.

Main takeaway: Christian life has an end goal in mind: spending eternity with God in heaven. Obviously I knew that technically, but I had never heard that perspective discussed in any depth, and I'm glad that I can't say that anymore thanks to this book. It's an important perspective to be able to look from. Really emphasized what it means to live for God first and foremost, and how important that is in a marriage context.

Positive sentiment

10. Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (February 2018 - April 2018)

This is a really great book. It's a lot of almost-primary information coming from someone who's done a lot of the research himself. He writes in a very neutral tone, and the book is exceptionally well organized.

Main takeaway(s): There are two systems: System 1, which is unconscious, pattern-oriented, fast, and takes no energy to use, and System 2, which is conscious, is able to synthesize new ideas from existing onees, is slow, and requires effort. There is also Econs vs Humans, and the Remembering Self vs the Experiencing Self.

This book has a lot of really great information that is easily applicable to your life in so many ways. I definitely feel like I understand my own thoughts and actions as well as those of others after reading this.

Positive sentiment

9. Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

I have mixed feelings about this book. I think the author has wisdom to offer, but I also think he makes a lot of dubious claims as well. This is a book that you could tear apart if you take things at face value, but for me to do so accomplishes nothing. Rather, I'm trying to look past the questionable parts of the book and take away only the valuable parts.

The main valuable point that I took away from this book is that masculenity is real (whether or not you accept how the author defines it). Masculenity is something that is never talked about in my own experience, but it is something vital to every boy and man. The book made me realize that there is something necessary in having other men in your life, a "band of brothers" as the author puts it. Young men need to know they're a man and that they have what it takes.

The book inspires bravery and a willingness to take on the unknown and conquer it. The unknown is pursuing your passion in your career. Pursuing a woman you want to date, or pursuing the woman you are already with. Standing up for what is right and not backing down. I think that a key aspect of being a man is that you take responsibility when no one else will. That's a man. A man takes responsibility for calling someone out. A man takes the responsibility of fixing things, planning things, doing things. A man takes the responsibility for asking out a beautiful girl and treating her right. A man doesn't do what's safest, try to protect himself from pain at all costs. A man instead pursues what is noble and right. He pursues his dreams. He pursues his woman. He fights to protect his loved ones and puts their safety ahead of himself. He takes responsibility. He fights for something.

Mixed sentiment.

8. The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

This book is essentially a list of 99 cognitive biases. The author adds a few examples in each chapter to illustrate each bias. Funny enough, these examples clearly show the author's biases. He's clearly a big fan of Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet, Nassim Taleb, and Daniel Kahneman. Taleb's Antifragile and to a lesser extent Kahneman's Thinking, fast and slow are cited several times throughout the book. This isn't a criticism though. It's just a note that this book is secondary knowledge, and it might be worth reading those two books for "more primary" knowledge.

The author also has a very obvious bias against religion and often uses it in examples to illustrate irrational thinking. I don't expect him to know everything though, so he can be forgiven for being clueless about Christianity.

This book changed the way I think in small but positive ways. For example, it has made me much more comfortable with the randomness of life. When you read all of these flaws in our thinking that we fall into constantly, you realize that we have much less control over things than we like to think we do, and by the end of the book I had internalized that thought even though it is something I've considered myself to have "always known". I'm also more comfortable ignoring books or ideas about patterns in things that supposedly lead to success, because such things reek of Survivorship Bias, Clustering Illusion, and the Illusion of Control. Same goes for people who have started small businesses and run them successfully. I used to hold such people in high regard, feeling like I might never have what it takes to start my own business one day. Now I don't hold them so highly, and think rather that it takes a combination of modest smarts, hard work when it's needed, and plenty of luck.

Positive sentiment.

7. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Starting a small side business is plausible, especially if you're a knowledge worker. Neutral sentiment.

6. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs

No one - not even the most orthodox religious groups - follow the Bible exactly literally. Therefore everyone picks and chooses the rules they wish to follow. Positive sentiment.

5. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Outsource or ignore tasks that you are able to. Slightly positive sentiment.

4. Deep Work by Cal Newport

There is a difference between "shallow" and "deep" work. Deep work takes significant time and focus, and requires large, continuous, uninterrupted blocks of time to accomplish. Focus is a finite resource. Slightly positive sentiment.

3. Not Sure: A Pastor's Journey from Faith to Doubt by John Suk

Even those with a lifetime of leadership and experience in the church can have doubts, and it's ok to have them. Neutral sentiment.

2. Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter

Hofstadter argues that consciousness is an emergent property of complex formal systems that have the property of self-reference (I think). Neutral sentiment.

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Name something after someone you want something from. Slightly negative sentiment.