2014 in Books

Published: 2014-12-31
Tagged: readings

The past year was quite book-rich for me and rather broad in terms of genres. I haven't kept any records about previous years, but my gut feeling tells me it was also the most technically rich year as well. I enjoyed a good deal of fiction and literature, but I also got my hands on a number of web development oriented books and some books I wouldn't have normally read.

This isn't a comprehensive list because I started logging what I read around March. I also didn't log a number of books along the way mainly due to not having the means to do so at that moment. I'll focus my list on the books that I did log, going chronologically:

The Sequences - Less Wrong
A good read about watching your own brain work. Quite long.

Heretics of Dune - Frank Herbert
After having read the original Dune around a decade ago, I got around to reading the whole series. The later books weren't as jaw-dropping for me as the original, but they carried the story and Herbert's ideas quite nicely.

Manhood of Humanity - Alfred Korzybski
Anyone who has ever read Frank Herbert or a few other authors from the same era will find Korzybski's ideas somewhat familiar. This book looks at how we think and how our thinking is tied in to reality. That's as short as I can put it, but the book is an enlightening read on many levels.

Chapterhouse: Dune - Frank Herbert
A nice way to end a great series. Or leave the story open for interpretation for tens of thousands of fascinated people.

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! - Richard Feynman
Like the Dune books, this one was a long time coming. After watching some of Feynman's physics videos I couldn't help but read this in his voice and accent. The personal stories Feynman shares here are both funny and thought provoking, as well as motivating and uplifting. I hope my description is the right nudge to get this book.

The Art of Photography - Bruce Barnbaum
I got bit by the photography bug and this book was great at bringing me up from being completely in the dark about photography (no pun intended) to being conscious of the many parts of the picture making process. It got me enough up to speed so that I don't cringe when I look at my photographs.

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow
An easy, adventurous, and extremely on time story that reads like commentary about the current state of affairs in cyberspace.

Collective Intelligence - Toby Segaran
One of the best books that I've read this year. The writing style is easy to follow and the material rich, which makes this book a ton of fun. The author makes Python really shine as a language that is easy to apply to problems and it made me like Python even more than I did. Great for people wanting to get a peek about what machine learning is about and get their hands dirty as well - the examples, while a bit outdated, are really relevant and practical.

Swarmwise - Rick Falkvinge
Part history, part manual. The author tells us how he was able to form the Pirate Party using his many skills and through this shows us how we might go about doing something similar ourselves. My description mirrors the length of the book, but don't let this fool you - it's an extremely interesting read.

Homeland - Cory Doctorow
A sequel to Little Brother. The tone becomes a little more serious and chilling as I feel like this book reflects the changes in the world around us that happened between this book and Little Brother.

The Photographer's Eye - Michael Freeman
A great follow up to The Art of Photography. This book focuses on composition and gives many simple and clear examples that are easy to digest and apply. It'll make you pause before clicking that button.

The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
Whenever my faith in the world in general takes a plunge, I always find someone like Kurt Vonnegut. He is able to paint the world's misery in bright and vivid colors which make it easier to take a step back and see my own troubles are silly little things.

Basho's Journey - Matsuo Basho
I admit to not understanding the metaphors and allusions in this text. I would have to read it a few more times and study the context in which it was created to begin getting a whiff of what it is really about. Never the less, I liked the style and multiple descriptions of people, places, and events so foreign and new to me.

Pan Lodowego Ogrodu I-IV - Jarosław Grzędowicz
It's been a while since I've read a good piece of fantasy writing. Not that it doesn't exist, but I think I've already plucked most of the low hanging fruit. The world described within this book is a wonderful creation which interested me almost as much as the adventured filled plot. I couldn't put this book down until I got to the end. Of the whole series.

The Tin Drum - Gunther Grass
One of the few books that perfectly describes the early part of the 20th century - the attitudes, happenings, events, peoples, and much more, all from the perspective of a smutty dwarf with an affinity for playing tin drums. As with Basho's Journey, I doubt I even picked up on all the references contained in this book and I look forward to coming back to this tome in a few years.

Lód - Jacek Dukaj
Pan Lodowego Ogrodu fed my thirst for good fantasy so I decided to tackle a great giant of a book by Dukaj. Having previously read one other book by him I knew it would a treat both in terms of language and style as well as adventure. I think this book falls into the historical fantasy genre and while some say it is too long, I think it's perfectly long enough to savor everything the author thought to serve up. The many levels present in here are about politics, history, philosophy, and much, much more.

Two Scoops of Django - Daniel Greenfield
Owing to my new duties of working with Django projects I knew I had to get up to speed on the Django way of doing things. I doubt there's any Django related book out there that does such a good job of explaining Django web practices to someone already familiar with web development, but not with Django in particular.

Responsive Design - Ethan Marcotte
The world has changed since I first picked up HTML and CSS. When I did that, pages had to work with the 800x600 and 1024x768 resolutions and were based on tables or frames. Marcotte brought me up to speed with working on pages that are consumed by all the shiny new devices. Short, to the point, easy to digest.

The Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann
Like the Tin Drum, The Magic Mountain paints a grand picture of prewar Europe and its citizens. From the mannerisms of the many characters to the descriptions of medical procedures it sucked me in. One of those books to ready in a quiet place.

Responsive Web Design with HTML5 and CSS3 - Ben Frain
The knowledge and examples from this book did a great job of filling in the blanks by my ignoring the advances in web development. The language is easy and the examples do a splendid jobs of illustrating all the bells and whistles of HTML5 and CSS3 as well as showing how to apply them to real world problems.

Eloquent Javascript - Marijn Haverbeke
As with HTML and CSS, I needed some serious work on my JS. No longer is Javascript the domain of ugly dialog boxes and pixelated snowflakes. The knowledge I've picked up in practice needed some well rounding and this hit the nail on the head.

Underground - Suelette Dreyfus
A great great great book about the electronic underground in the 80's and 90's. It's written in a more dry and journalistic manner, there's less of coloring up of characters and events and there's a nice amount of technical knowledge thrown in (just enough to grasp at the level that people were operating back in those days). Gives a good account on the prehistory of cyberspace.

The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin
Part autobiography, part manual. Waitzkin tells us the story of starting out in chess, becoming highly competitive, switching over to Push Hands, and what it means to do all these things. I liked his descriptions of the inner game, of how keeping your mind on the right track in spite of difficulties and emotions is just as, or maybe even more important, than honing your body.

Masters of Deception - Michelle Slatalla
A good book about a group of hackers and phreaks that had fun around the late 80's and early 90's. A little bit too colored up for my taste, but it still provides a lot of details on what went down in those years.

The Joy of Clojure - Michael Fogus
A great overview of the Clojure programming language. While it's a pretty broad view, I think it's aimed at more advanced programmers as it was quite challenging to follow along in places that talked about programming practices foreign to someone raised up in OOP-land.

The Trial - Franz Kafka
A very sobering book. Timeless. Eerily accurate.

Web Development with Clojure - Dmitri Sotnikov
This helped me get some basic experience with Clojure in an environment in which I feel pretty good. The examples contained within are great for people of all levels except perhaps the experts.

Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons - Kurt Vonnegut
Just when you think Vonnegut can't surprise you with anything, here he comes again to rock your boat and make you laugh at everything the world will throw at you.

Travels with Charley - John Steinbeck
At first I thought this was a warm and exciting travel journal. After a few pages everything turns into mockery and satire and finger pointing at everything wrong and bad in the author's eyes. The book was published around 1960 and the author doesn't fail to mention how television and radio have destroyed the minds of people. What would have Steinbeck wrote today?

Beginning Databases with PostgreSQL - Neil Matthew
In the beginning, I was under the impression that databases are big black boxes that serve as a nice place to dump all your data. Then I discovered how PostgreSQL is an amazing piece of technology that will solve all your woes if you only know how to use it properly. My rag-tag collection of knowledge about PostgreSQL was nicely rounded out after reading this book.

A Book of Five Rings - Musashi Miyamoto
As with Basho's Journey, I think I don't have the context to understand this book thoroughly. I got some of the high level ideas, but I cannot appreciate neither the style nor the information I couldn't reach.

Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell
I found this first-hand description of events of the civil war in Spain just before the second world war to be extremely refreshing and fascinating on so many levels. It was one of the most, if not the most accurate portrayal of war I've read about. The same goes for describing the political power struggles as well as the stance of the locals. The hunger, confusion, fear, pain, as well as friendliness, idealism, hunger for a better world are all condensed into one fairly small book. Orwell's clear writing style really shines here as simply describing his experiences yields a better picture of what happened than any other work could - fiction or not.

The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself a human laying in bed. This was his lucky day as any day now he will transform into an insect. I consumed this short but masterfully written story in one sitting. As with The Trial, Kafka packs a mean punch in only a handful of words. Makes it hard to sleep at night because of all the thoughts rolling around in your head and makes you want to read it again and again to savor each sentence and perhaps glean some extra meaning from it.

Introducing Regular Expressions - Michael Fitzgerald
Regexp are mischievous little creatures. None are a like, but there's a pattern to them all. Oh, they also appear in pretty much every programming language out there and are a pretty damn good way to working with text. As with a few other domains, this book really helped to round out my ragged collection of knowledge of regular expressions.

Close Range - Annie Proulx
A collection of short stories whose only shared thread is that of Wyoming and tragedy. The tragic events described remind my somewhat of John Irving's way of capturing tragedy. The difference is that Proulx's stories reveal real places and real times through the lens of fictional characters and events.

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub - Stanisław Lem
Michael Kandel and Christine Rose did a great job of translating this text. I was always curious if it's even possible to translate Lem's works to any other language, what with all the incredible things he does with language. The more dystopian it gets, the more frantically I read it.


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