2016 in Books (part 1)


Who doesn't like books?

Below is a brief review of some books I've read in the first half of 2016.

This would probably have come out sooner but apparently I like to write book reviews during the 15-30 second crunch-time gaps between Counter-Strike (Source) rounds.

Non Fiction

No Logo: Naomi Klein

Is it a manifesto and primer for the culture jammer movement? Is it a catalogue of heart-breaking corporate mis-deeds? Yes! But what's more it's a thoroughly researched (both primary research and review) of corporate behaviour across the 80s and the 90s that leaves you feeling uncomfortable and ready to boycott something. Fascinating and well written.

Structured Interpretation of Computer Programs: Abelman, Sussman and Sussman

Ever wanted to learn computer science from scratch exclusively with a purely functional language (Lisp)? This book is for you! Requiring a lot from the reader in places, very interesting.

Designing BSD Rootkits: Joseph Kong

Ever wanted to know how vulnerable c-code is to buffer-overflow attacks?

Building Microservices: Sam Newman

I think this book should be titled "Building Services" since almost all the advice applies equally to SOA but buzzwords aside, it's a pretty decent guide to the practicalities and traps of building services and SOA instead of a monolithic, n-tier application.

Algorithm Design Manua: Steven Skiena

This was actually a re-re-reading of my favourite CS book.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind: Yuval Harari

Focusing on three revolutions in human history:

  • cognitive ~ 70,000 years ago;
  • agricultural ~ 10,000 years ago;
  • scientific ~ 500 years ago.

A compelling read with many erudite observations and a satisfyingly high density of sources. This book is worth it alone for the insight that humanity's ability to invent abstract concepts (language, religion, money, government etc.) not only allowed it to co-exist in groups of size larger than the largest chimpanzee band, but is to a large extent responsible for civilisation. To me, this is the most interesting book on this list.

The Hackers Guide to Python: Julien Danjou

After writing python for years I decided to shore up my knowledge for a particular project. This book is a cracking guide to some corners of the language that are easily missed (package distribution, scalability and ORMs to mention but a few) from a prominent OpenStack dev including interviews with others from that project.


Stranger in a Strange Land: Robert Heineman

Where to begin? A 500 page behemoth full of the sort of dialogue one would expect in a video game side quest. Not to mention the casual sexism through-out (is good-natured sexism a thing?) or the thinly veiled fantasies of the author. Still though, this book has a lot to say about sex, politics and religion (albeit via the proxy of fringe cults) and gave us the concept of "grokking".

Long tracts of this book are sort-of dreadful but to quote a certain Martian: "I grok it is a goodness."

The Man in the High Castle: Philip K Dick

I'll admit I came to this one after exposure to advertising for the TV Show with the same title. I found this to be a somewhat voyeuristic novel in which the author explores a San Francisco that may have been, set in a parallel universe in which the USA has been conquered and colonised by Axis powers that grow increasingly antagonistic towards each other. Most of the execution of this story was pretty meh but then out of nowhere the finale was utterly sublime.

Purity: Jonathan Franzen

With all of the same qualities of his previous work "The Corrections" including an uncanny similarity to the style of Milan Kundera, Purity tells the intimate story of a few believable characters with serious issues around (among other things) trust. This one requires a more willing suspension of disbelief in places than his previous works (that I greatly enjoyed).

Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Small Gods: Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was brilliant. As night-time reads, Discworld novels are perfect: there are always more of them. Not only that, they have a built-in negative feedback mechanism in which after finishing one you're always ready for another, but experience tells you reading more than one in a row will be disappointing and they will all sort of blur into each other.

Count Zero: William Gibson

More focused and compelling than it's predecessor Neuromancer and set in the same universe, this book continues the dark, noir-ey sci fi of William Gibson.

Mona Lisa Overdrive: William Gibson

Concluding the tale of Neuromancer and Count Zero with more of the same pulp-ey sci-fi goodness. Being stuck in an airport lounge for most of a day gave me the great opportunity to read this almost in one sitting.

Wool Omnibus pt. 1 & 2: Hugh Howey

The short story on which these are based is quite beautiful, but the next few parts of this post-apocalyptic-everyone-now-lives-in-a-silo-underground series are decidedly meh.

The Lady Astronauts of Mars: Mary Kowal

A charming, poignant little short story set in a parallel-world in which Mars was colonised shortly after the moon landings.

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