Reading

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:

I summarized books read in 2014 in this ‘poem’:
Virtual Book Spine Poetry (Edition 2014 + 2015/6).

2015

March and April: Nothing new!

February

January

2014

December

November

  • 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.

October

  • 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..

September

  • 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.

August

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.

July

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.

June

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!

May

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.

April

  • 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.”

March

  • 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.

February

January

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.

2013

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.

Biographies

Popular Science / History of Science

Nassim Taleb

Antifragile and The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. Certainly among the most inspiring books I have ever read. I can relate on so many levels that I tried to explore in these posts:

Essays

Psychology (in a broad sense)

Textbooks (Selected)

Technology / Futurism

Fiction

Poetry

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!

2012

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.

Physics Paradoxers and Outsiders re: Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything by Margaret Wertheim

I Did Normal Science re: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition by Thomas Kuhn

Hansoms and Wires re: The Complete Sherlock Holmes: All 4 Novels and 56 Short Stories

Shallow Waters and Deep Reading re: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

I neither Met Newton nor Einstein re: The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin

Real Physicists Do Not Read Popular Science Books on all kinds of pop-sci books.

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