2016, 2017, and the future
Now I am concentrating on physics textbooks again. I read the second half of Landau & Lifshitz’ Classical Theory of Fields in order to learn General Relativity by the end of 2016. Then I started at volume 1 of their Course of Theoretical Physics again – and I am plowing through their books, very slowly. It will take me months …
From autumn 2015 to about mid of 2016 I (re-)read all novels by Agatha Christie. A secret project, there are no reviews – but there is a great blog by two Christie fans who did the same in 2016. Coincidences are weird.
[Page last edited: 2017-03-11]
As per May 2015, I mothball this page.
This is a list of books I have read, with links to related blog posts in case I reviewed them or wrote a related post. In 2013 and 2014 I had updated this page at least every few weeks.
I am currently reading mainly technical stuff. The following two reviews from 2014 are representative for what I prefer to read these days:
- Cistern-Based Heat Pump – Research Done in 1993 in Iowa. I stumbled upon a research report that described a heat pump similar to ours.
- A 1970s Pioneer in Self-Sufficient Living. About heating power from compost
I summarized books read in 2014 in this ‘poem’:
Virtual Book Spine Poetry (Edition 2014 + 2015/6).
March and April: Nothing new!
- The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest by neuroscientist Penelope A. Lewis.
- The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff who aims at adding a cultural view and ancient wisdom to the literature on sleep, dominated by the research results of sleep labs.
- Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep by Richard Wiseman. Most interesting, new aspect for me: Lucid dreaming.
- Good sleep, good learning, good life by Piotr Wozniak. An HTML article that is actually a fabulous e-book on sleep and chronobiology.
- Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by Andra Watkins. Her second book is chronicling ‘an unathletic woman’s’ heroic walk. Andra intended to market per debut novel but she ventured on a more important voyage of discovery. A brave personal memoir, in Andra’s signature succinct and witty style.
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell. Fascinating stories and psychological insights such as: Growing rice makes Asian pupils disciplined, persevering students – as rice fields require advanced planning skills and much more hard work than Western farmers need to put in.
- Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.
- Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by Brian Krebs. This book answers the questions every spam-fighting inbox owner ever had: Who buys this stuff? How do their businesses work? Why can’t their servers be simply shut down? This books is the result of Krebs’ signature investigative hard-nosed reporting – communicating with Russian spammers and even meeting them in person.
- Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter, who had covered cyber security for years as a Wired reporter. I have read the book because of this article – and she did not disappoint in the book! Zetter draws on her thorough research and expounds the making of Stuxnet in detail: From world politics to malware technology, including very interesting digressions into the technology of uranium enrichment equipment.
- Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. This list shows I am a fan, so I am biased. But re-reading this book for perhaps the 10th time, I still consider it the best Coupland book I know so far – maybe because its outlook is the most positive. It is the story of a bunch of nerdy friends, programmers at Microsoft, who escape the sci-fi unworldliness of a place where everybody is exactly 31 years, where workplaces are decorated with inflatable toys from tech conferences, in order to run a start-up. In passing, Coupland did more to promote women in tech (in 1993) that many of today’s STEM Girl initiatives. As an Generation X – or perhaps even better – Coupland unveils the code, the icons, and the symbols of a sub-culture.
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams. Something between autobiography and motivational writing. A highly successful man has to deal with unexpected setbacks (his unusual voice issues) and ponders about his past successes and failures. His career as a well-known cartoonist is depicted as the result of a cascade of highly improbably events. Adams recommends searching for patterns without trying to interpret them, and to increase the options that would allow luck to hit you.
- Quanta [title translated from German] by Wilhelm Macke. Part of a series of 6 volumes on theoretical physics. I am resuming my physics text books morning sessions which I had suspended in May.
- The Glass Cage: Automation and Us by Nicholas Carr. I have reflected on my questions and expectations in this post and reviewed the book here..
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Reflections on man, nature, and his hands-on experiment in self-sufficient living – part personal essay, sometimes opinionated, and often with a poetic quality, especially when he just describes the small details of Walden Pond, the fields, and his house. Not an easy read due to all the allusions, word-play, and subtle satire – a book I will read more than once. It speaks to me on so many levels: What Walden says about ‘modern times’ is strikingly modern today.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz. Anecdotes by a seasoned entrepreneur – and timeless wisdom distilled from them. I am just a small business owner but I can related to his experiences though – for example the concept of management debt and related politics sneaking in. The most important message for me was about having to make decisions when there are no good options.
Amazon’s filter bubble of recommendations lead me to life hacking books – and I read one by a newcomer and a classic:
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. I agree with Ferriss on general principles and I like the overall outlook: Don’t work for work’s sake, don’t live the deferred life plan, don’t do what everybody else does in order to conform, don’t buy into the standard definition of success. I am living my own version of a not-many-hour work week but my approach is totally different though. I would not want to run an automated online business or outsource my life to virtual digital assistants. Rather the contrary I would recommend relying on rare expert skills, being self-reliant, and offering what would be needed even if the global economy breaks down. I don’t agree with Ferriss’ definition of an expert – nobody can become an expert in anything in three weeks as an expert by definition requires several years of training and experience.
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. A manifesto against Follow Your Passion but promoting deliberate practice instead as passion follows well-developed skills. I agree with many of the arguments, and I don’t care about anecdotal evidence – there are no statistics but stories. Caveat: As the author points out financial viability is important, too, and not every type of job lends itself to this type of skill perfection. The criteria he gives for unsuitable jobs – such as : having to work with people you don’t like – probably match with what a majority of people thinks about their jobs. I would personally add you need both those well-developed rare skills and in addition you need to enjoy something that many people don’t. I think it is very difficult to succeed as a writer or photographer not matter how skilled you are.
More on hacking and Social Engineering:
- Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale and Stan Redding. I was interested in comparing the skill set of Abagnale to a modern hacker and social engineer as Kevin Mitnick. Abagnale had technical skills as well (forging checks) but his story makes it even clearer that the social factor is crucial. The book is entertaining except from the part about his time in the French prison – it is unbelievable that this was possible in a Western democracy in the 1960s.
- The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin Mitnick. I read this book about 10 years ago, and it is fun to read it again and compare the fictional cases to Mitnick’s autobiography I read in June. In addition to the anecdotes Mitnick provides solid advice for corporations – on how to prevent social engineering attacks.
I am reading mainly very technical stuff – and some books on the history of hacking.
- Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steve Levy. The classical history of hackers in the true sense of the word, written in the early 1980s and amended with two afterwords in the 1990s and in 2010 – from the early MIT computer operators to the first home computers built from DIY kits and finally to the Apple II presented as the first computer for non-geeks. Levy’s not so hidden agenda is to expound – by means of examples – what he calls the Hacker Ethic: What motivated these geeks to dedicate nearly all of their time and efforts to exploring how computer works and to pushing the machine to its limits.
Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell by Phil Lapsley. The blurb is apt: Before smartphones and iPads, before the Internet or the personal computer, a misfit group of technophiles, blind teenagers, hippies, and outlaws figured out how to hack the world’s largest machine: the telephone system.
The book is history of technology at its best – telling the narrative of those early hacker heroes and interweaving it with an interesting peek into the inner workings of the phone system. The author likes his protagonists but remains neutral and detached. All sort of mental connections to the modern internet and social networks and geek life in general could be done – but Lapsley waits for the reader to discover those instead of indulging in his own opinion. That’s probably a weird thing to point out – maybe I was searching for something substantial to compensate for your typical op-ed on technology.
I celebrated my personal phone hack (as a victim) by reading this book: 5 Years Anniversary: When My Phone Got Hacked
It seems I currently gravitate to security, hackers and hacker culture.
- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker Kevin Mitnick’s autobiography. Catch Me If You Can of the 21st century. Interesting for the technically inclined but comprehensible for the lay person. A captivating fast-paced story, free of navel-gazing. Yet it provides insights into the motivation of true a hacker in the very sense of this word – curiosity about how things really work.
- Carry On: Sound Advice from Schneier on Security by Bruce Schneier. A great collection of essays published elsewhere – on Schneier’s pet peeves as security theater, airport security, our warped sense of risk and of letting appeal to emotion trump reason etc. Theoretically a must-read for decision makers and politicians – but as with all those books I guess those who would need it the most don’t really read them.
- Robust Control System Networks by Ralph Langner. The decoder of Stuxnet could have written a sensationalist story – yet he did something even better: Providing down-to-earth advice on how to secure control systems. Highly recommended as he expounds the differences between classical (‘office’) IT security and risk management on the one hand, and plant floor engineering culture on the other hand.
- The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun. WP is one of those ventures critics might call impossible – hadn’t they been so successful. Developed by a team of independent and geographically dispersed employees who mainly communicate in written form; a business model built on a open source software; a software development life-cycle that defeats the mantras of change management. Related post – book review: I Picked the Right Blogging Platform!
As per May 2014 I feel a strong desire to return to more technical reading for the rest of 2014 – such as internet standards and white papers. This will most like not make sense to be included in this list. Some of that reading will go into my PKI Resources list I curate elsewhere.
- Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco, of The Deadline fame. Written for busy people, DeMarco explains in crisp and short chapters why so-called slack is required for organizations to remain effective. I’d recommend it to all of us ‘knowledge workers’ who feel overloaded by stuffed inboxes and driven by all kinds of pop-ups in online communication tools – who live and work driven by input, rather than taking action.
- Quanta [title translated from German] by Wilhelm Macke. Part of a series of 6 volumes on theoretical physics.
- Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. Stephen-King-style zombie story meets old-fashioned morality play meets sarcastic Gen-X-style inventory of a whole generation. Whatever – I liked it but I admit I am a total Coupland fan.
- Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. Probably one of the three most influential science books I read as a teenager. Related post: Gödel, Escher, Bach, and Strange Loops: Nostalgia and Random Thoughts.
- I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. Metaphysical, stream-of-consciousness-style musings about similar things than he did in Gödel, Escher, Bach.
- To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis by Andra Watkins. Yes – I do read fiction, too! This is quite a debut novel – blending different genres in way you would not expect it is possible. As a European I also learned something about American history.
- Thermodynamics and Statistics [title translated from German] by Wilhelm Macke. Part of a series of 6 volumes on on theoretical physics.
- Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality by Theodore Darymple. Summary on Wikipedia. As politically incorrect as it can get – but probably because of that: An antidote to some of the emotionally (over-)appealing stuff presented to you on social media every day. “Sentimentality is the expression of emotion without judgment. Perhaps it is worse than that: it is the expression of emotion without an acknowledgement that judgment should enter into how we should react to what we see and hear.”
- Quantum Computing since Democritus by Scott Aaronson. This will take a while! The author does not promise too much in the preface by saying that this is not a science book for the math phobe. A whirlwind, highly condensed, no-nonsense and irreverent introduction not only to quantum computing but to computing per se.
- Farewell to Reality: How Fairytale Physics Betrays the Search for Scientific Truth by Jim Baggott [re-read]. Not as sensationalist as the title suggests, in a good way. Probably the most concise – and accurate – summary of the history of theoretical physics I have ever read.
- Electromagnetic Fields [title translated from German] by Wilhelm Macke. Part of a series of 6 volumes on theoretical physics.
- Democracy Without Secularism: A Pragmatist Critique of Habermas by Daniel Mullin. Summary on Dan’s blog.
- Waves [title translated from German] by Wilhelm Macke. Part of a series of 6 volumes on on theoretical physics.
- Engineering Security by Peter Gutmann (Book draft). I never expected that level of entertainment from a serious book by an academic. I could not recommend it more. Related post: What I Never Wanted to Know about Security but Found Extremely Entertaining to Read.
- Generation A by Douglas Coupland. As in Generation X, a group of young people are finally telling stories to each other, in order to feel alive again. The setup, however, is quite different: These people were the only ones stung by bees long after these insect have vanished from the earth. So this was a group of subjects investigated by scientists. As weird as it sounds, and delightful as ever – Coupland also got the hang of millennial / Gen Y or beyond culture.
- Generation X by Douglas Coupland [re-read]. Related post: Generation X. (I Resist Adding a More Zeitgeisty Header.)
- Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier [started re-reading].
- Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia by different post-academics. Both heart-wrenching and inspiring; some stories sparkle with unexpected dark humor.
- Mechanics of Particles, Systems and Continua [title translated from German], Theoretical Physics, Vol. 1 by Wilhelm Macke [started re-reading]
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
One meta-post on reading: In Praise of Textbooks with Tons of Formulas (or: The Joy of Firefighting): Why I read textbooks in the morning.
Sleep research – what I learned from these book is summarized in my post Hacking the Biological Clock.
- Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg
- Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall
- The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives by Rosalind Cartwright
I have covered a brief description of my favorite books of this year covered in: This Year in Books: Biographies, Science, Essays.
Here is is a less essayistic version of that list, plus a few other books I read.
Motivated by the feedback on my pick of favorite books read in 2013 and by Shane Parrish’s list I will try to keep track of my own reading agenda in 2014. This is my related announcement in January 2014.
- The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo
- Inside The Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk
- Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk
- Einstein: A Biography by Jürgen Neffe
- Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick [re-read]
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Popular Science / History of Science
- The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll
- Farewell to Reality: How Fairytale Physics Betrays the Search for Scientific Truth by Jim Baggott
- Physics on the Fringe by Margaret Wertheim [re-read]
- Why is there anything? by Matthew Rave
- Bursts: The Hidden Patterns Behind Everything We Do, from Your E-mail to Bloody Crusades (The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do) by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. Related post here.
- The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse by Jennifer Ouellette. Loosely related post here.
- Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Physics with Anything
- I Want to Be Antifragile and Have Skin in the Game
- Fragile Technology? (Confessions of a Luddite Disguised as Tech Enthusiast)
- What Entrepreneurs Need to Have.
- The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living by Randy Komisar [re-read]. Related post: So-Called Zen Capitalism and Random Thoughts on Entrepreneurship:
- 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com by Mike Daisey’s
- The Art of Working Less [title translated from German] by Ulrich Renz and Axel Braig
Psychology (in a broad sense)
- Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain [re-read]
- David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
- The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
- Student Friendly Quantum Field Theory by Robert Klauber. My review of the book is here (probably the only post ever that can be called a book review).
- Robust Control System Networks by Ralph Langner
Technology / Futurism
- Who Owns the Future? and You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier
- The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil
- Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,and Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
- The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan
- Freedom TM and Daemon by Daniel Suarez
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Trilogy of Five by Douglas Adams
- Blackout [German] by Marc Elsberg
The first real review on this blog ever: My post dedicated to the very first book of spam poetry: Surprise Potatoes in the Soldiers’ Vegetable Soup!
I blogged about books in 2012, but these were rather essays triggered by books – not so much reviews. I list some of those posts though:
Burn the Org Chart – if Not the Organization – Down to the Ground re: The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Christopher Locke et al.
Shallow Waters and Deep Reading re: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Real Physicists Do Not Read Popular Science Books on all kinds of pop-sci books.