2015 books

Third in a series (2013, 2014), here’s the books I read in 2015. Following @aaronsw’s convention, I particularly recommend books in bold.

  • How I Raised Myself from Failure by Frank Bettger
     A sales classic that’s more a book about convincing than selling.
  • The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St Aubyn
     Beautifully-written novels about awful people doing horrible things. Recommended — with those caveats.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
     I stayed up waaay past my bedtime two nights in a row to finish this book; the late nights might be why I didn’t mind all the potato-talk.
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
     I hadn’t read this book before (it seems many people read it at age 14?) and liked it more than I expected.
  • Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
     A strategy book that was sufficiently straightforward as to make sense and sufficiently novel as to not numb.
  • Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham
     PG’s essays before such things were popular. More about making and discovering than any specific form (e.g. startups) of doing so.
  • Who do you want your customers to become? by Michael Schrage One of those Business Review-ish pieces that is exactly what it claims to be.
  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
     Eh overall (I had trouble relating) though a few parts stung.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
     I went into this expecting another Gone Girl, which it wasn’t. (Not all crazed female leads are created equal.)
  • A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
     Escapism with War of the Roses trappings. I don’t think I’ll keep reading these.
  • Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik
     I’ve read a half-dozen or so early histories of Silicon Valley, and though I know the stories now, it’s still interesting how they can be arranged for different authors’ aims.
  • All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    Two entwined, beautifully-written stories of teenagers during World War II. You know what’s going to happen the entire time — World War II isn’t that much of a surprise, turns out — and it doesn’t matter.
  • Season of the Witch by David Talbot
     This book was supposed to help me better understand San Francisco. It didn’t really do that, but the stories were good.
  • The Gervis Principle by Venkatesh Rao
     I found this book’s outlook too dim, though perhaps I’d think differently if I’d watched more of The Office.
  • Le Livre de Perle by Timothée de Fombelle
     A YA novel to brush off my dusty French. Very YA.
  • Q’ai je fait? by Anna Politkovskaia
    Unpublished half-manuscripts from a Russian journalist who was murdered while reporting from Kosovo. You get the sense she knew what she’d done all the way through. (Originally written in Russian; it’s also available in English.)
  • Schitt Happened by Jason Stoddard
     If I ever talk about doing a hardware startup, remind me to re-read this book (in which everything goes wrong.)
  • The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey
     I went looking for another pseudo-smart science book, like The Martian, and came across this one. Its set-up was interesting (what if a fungus that co-habited with — and changed — humans blanketed the earth?) but it was more philosophical than I’d hoped.
  • The Dream Machine by M. Mitchell Waldrop
     More stories of technology development and deployment from the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Likely worth reading even if you’ve already read other books of this sort.
  • Grinding it Out by Ray Kroc
     “Distributor” doesn’t sound nearly grand enough, but I suppose that’s what Ray Kroc is to McDonald’s. This is his autobiography. I’d have preferred a biography of his company.
  • A Small Matter of Programming by Bonnie A. Nardi
    I found this gem of a book from Adam Wiggins’ End-user Computing blog post, and it was absolutely worth reading. Very much one of those “what’s old is new” books.
  • Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
    Kinda hard to get into, but once I was in, I was hooked. It’s the story of a young Chinese (Uyghur) illegal immigrant and a kid back from two tours in Iraq. They’re running around Queens, and everything is the most depressing.
  • A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin
     Feel-good book about Rwanda that’s exactly what it sounds like it is.
  • eBoys Randell Stross
     This book isn’t worth reading for its ending (we all know how the late 90s Silicon Valley story ends) but for how much of it applies today.
  • The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
     Interesting set up (a meteor will soon hit Earth and wipe out humans; what would you do?) and meh murder mystery.
  • Avogardo Corp by William Hertling
     This future, according to this book, is exactly like the present except more extreme in a few ways, all negative. I was quickly bored.
  • Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull
     How Pixar runs its development process, and, by proxy, how we all might be meant to. I didn’t love it as much as ~everyone else seemed to.
  • The Effective Engineer by Edmond Lau
     I wish I’d read this book three years ago, when I started to code seriously.
  • Swimming Across by Andy Grove
     An introduction to the myth that is Andy Grove by Andy Grove.
  • A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
     I wanted more James Bond, and a friend suggested this. Real life Cold War intrigue! It’s all fun and late nights carousing in Istanbul when you read it 50+ year later ..
  • The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu
    Profiles of people who are not often profiled: a leper, a twice-imprisoned composer, a professional funeral wailer, a human trafficker, a grave robber. The profiles are structured as interviews, so Yiwu becomes the book’s central character. He comes off as empathetic, curious, and optimistic about people in China.
  • One More Thing by BJ Novack
     Fun, quick stories and vignettes. The red shirt was one of my favorites.
  • Chief of Station: Congo by Lawrence Devlin
     Memoirs of the CIA Station Chief in Kinshasa during the Cold War. Glimmers of truth amongst the stories, probably, and very good for my James Bond fascination.
  • Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman
     A war novel written during its war by a former combatant. From what little I can tell, the Iraqi characters have real depth — in some cases more than the Americans.
  • The Plan of Record by Wayne Holovacs
     I thought this was going to be a business-y book about how technology companies use Plans of Record. (Without knowing better, I’d mostly assumed the concept started at Intel because, well, what didn’t?) I’m not sure if such a book exists, but this book is absolutely not that. Stay away.
  • Networks of New York by Ingrid Burrington
     Cute pamphlet about the telephone, cable, and fiber networks that wind underneath New York City. Also: consumer surplus courtesy of Kickstarter! (I wasn’t an original backer, but I’m glad this book exists.)
  • Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
     Story was a bit meh, but I love Teju Cole’s writing, so I was pleased I read this. (I still prefer Open City, his second novel, though.)
  • Closed Chambers by Edward Lazarus
     Decent at what it is, though I wanted this to be more about the workings of the courts and less about a few key issues. Probably too long. This is one of those books that doesn’t age well.
  • Burma Chronicles by Guy Delise
    Another graphic novel from Guy Delise, who makes awful places seem lovely. This book’s got his hallmarks: confusing bureaucracies, unthinking police, friendly neighbors, and beneath-the-surface evil.
  • Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
     Larkin uses George Orwell’s memoir and 1984 (“the second book Orwell wrote about Burma”) to make sense of the Myanmar police state. I thought she made a crutch of Orwell; she wrote about finding him everywhere (a Burmese teashop, a university, a backwater administration point .. ) and shortchanged what she saw. (I know that was the book’s conceit, but still — too much!)
  • Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming
    Ian Fleming on his larger-than-life travels through a few global capitals in the early 50s. He’s racist, misogynist, colonialist, and generally atrocious — and then he does all that with the air of James Bond.
  • The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U
    Well-researched history of Burma’s last hundred-ish years, written by someone whose family has played a large part in it. The best nonfiction book about about Burma I’ve found.
  • The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
    Long fiction about several generations of an Indian-Burmese family, beginning during the British invasion of Burma in 1885 and continuing about a hundred years forward. Insanely detailed and researched, and it’s the places, not the characters, that make this book.
  • Voice of Hope by Alan Clements
     A series of interviews between Aung San Suu Kyi and Clements, an American ordained as a Buddhist monk in Burma. Worth skimming for her answers, many of which are quite good. Skip over the questions, as Clements inserts himself too often.
  • Sleep Donation by Karen Russel
     No Swamplandia! (Russel’s prior novel) but pretty creepy with some wonderful turns of phrase. Set-up: a mysterious, maybe-contagious epidemic of nightmares swept the world; babies’ sleep is an antidote — if you can get it.
  • Burma/Myanmar: What Everone Needs to Know by David I. Steinberg
     A nonfiction book structured as a Q&A. Don’t read this book cover to cover — it’s not meant for that. It’s mostly hawkish American foreign policy with little nuance. You should probably skip it.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
     I’d gotten it in my head that this book was going to be postmodern and bad: overly pleased with itself, obscure more than witty, etc. Instead, it was a mostly-normal story about the surprising loss of a parent.
  • Strategy Rules by David Yoffie and Michael Cusumano
     I didn’t buy into the overarching framework (too anecdotal for my tastes) but I enjoyed the stories about Grove, Gates, and Jobs.
  • The New New Thing by Michael Lewis
     An exuberant book about an exuberant time. I even read it quickly, thinking I’d miss out if I didn’t.
  • Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo
     I struggled through this one, though others liked it. A bit too much of an attempt to unify All The Things for my liking.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
     Science fiction from nearly a century ago. This book came highly recommended, but I never got into it.
  • Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi
     Aung San Suu Kyi’s vignettes on her country and culture. The book is meant to introduce Westerners to Myanmar — a place that, as she was writing, it didn’t seem many would visit. Her stories about tea rituals, dinner menus, and family norms make the foreign more familiar.
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming (re-read)
     I re-read this book, for the first time in two years, in a tent somewhere north of Sonoma, which seemed about right. It’s the sort of book that’s worth re-reading every year or two.
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
     Eh. I’ll taken any episode from the first season of Girls over this.
  • Borderlines by Michela Wrong
     Fiction from one of my absolute favorite non-fiction authors. Her sense of setting and place — in this case, an imaginary country — remains amazing.
  • AA Gil is Away by AA Gil
    Blunt, short, funny narratives about far-off places. The chapters set in Africa were my favorites, but the whole thing was good.
  • A Thousand Times More Fair by Kenji Yoshino
     I never would have found this book if not for a friend’s recommendation, and I’m very glad I did. It’s the first literary criticism I’ve read in ages, and I enjoyed it.
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
     Science fiction that, apparently, inspired the last ~four decades of science fiction. This book seemed full of tropes, but I suppose that says more about its impact.
  • The Money Game by Adam Smith
     Someday I’d love to write a book like this about early-stage venture. Until then, there’s Adam Smith and his memoir of Wall Street.
  • I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
     This book didn’t seem worth its page length, but a friend raved about it .. and I was wrong. It was a fantastic escape.
  • King Larry by James D. Scurlock
     I was so excited for this book, about the founder of DHL, and then it alternated between bland anecdotes and unsubstantiated indecencies. Blech.
  • Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
     Genius, madness, and repetition, all during two games of chess on an ocean liner. A gift; I wouldn’t have picked this up myself but am glad I did.
  • Essays in Persuasion by John Maynard Keynes
     Embarrassingly, I hadn’t read Keynes before. I look forward to reading through his General Theory at some point.
  • The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
     Camus re-fashioned from the point of view of the nameless murdered Arab’s younger brother. (“My brother’s name was Musa. He had a name. But he’ll remain ‘the Arab’ forever.”) A good meditation on strangers.
  • Leading by Alex Ferguson, Mike Moritz
     I liked this book much more than I often do books of its type. I think its ostensible subject matter — British Premier League football management — pulled me through topics that ordinarily seem trite.
  • City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
     I agree with this book’s reviews: quite good and about 40% too long. It took me two months, and skimming a subplot and a half, to make it through .. but I’m still glad I did.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
     Coates explaining to his young son what “being black in America” means. The more you think this book wasn’t written for you, the more you should read it; you’ll not get a more encompassing explanation of the argument elsewhere.
  • Between you and me by Mary Norris
     Meditations on grammar from a New Yorker proof reader. I’ve never been much one for grammar, and I found this book fine.
  • Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
     The book from which that ceramics class parable came. There were a few other zingers in here too (“the function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.”) Worth reading if you think of yourself as someone who might make art.
  • Shame by Melanie Finn
     A woman escapes to rural Tanzania after her marriage and more fall apart. With multiple narrators, some unreliable and others omniescient-ish, an odd dream sequence, and too many coincidences, this novel seemed to try very hard to be modern.
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
     Not done with this one yet (still .. ) but I’m just over halfway through. Maybe next year I’ll finish it.
  • Principles by Ray Dalio
     I re-read this every year.
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