Summary of reading: April – June 2020

“America’s Constitution: A Biography” by Akhil Reed Amar – a fairly dense
discussion of the constitution, focusing on the historic background of its
clauses and amendments, as well as the political and legal implications. This
book is much closer to academic than to layman level; IMHO it’s more
suitable for syntopical than “for fun” reading.
“Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse – story of self-discovery during the time of
the Buddha in ancient India. Very nice writing style – simple and flowing.
I liked the book, but was left with a feeling that I’ll need to re-read it
for deeper understanding.
“The Box” by Marc Levinson – secondary title is “How the shipping container
made the world smaller and world economy bigger”. A detailed, interesting
account of the development of shipping containers and their impact on
transportation and other industries.
“Database Internals” by Alex Petrov – the first part of the book focuses
on the storage algorithms underlying database systems – mostly B-trees and
variants. The second half is about distributed algorithms like distributed
transactions and consensus. I found the first part more interesting; the
second reads more like a literature overview, and there’s far too little
space dedicated to each problem and algorithm.
“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri – another collection of short stories
about Bengali immigrants to the US north-east. Though I liked “Interpreter
of Maladies” a bit more, this is still a very good book.
“The Path to Power” by Robert A. Caro – Volume 1 of Caro’s epic
biography of Lyndon B. Johnson; this volume focuses on LBJ’s early life and
path all the way to the house of representatives and the failed election to
senate in 1941. Masterful writing – it’s hard to explain how great a biography
this is (Caro won two Pulitzers for a reason…). It’s not that I’m
particularly interested in LBJ himself, but the book provides an amazing
backdrop to the whole period of the mid-20th century and packs lots of
interesting background information about life in Texas, how politics is done
in Washington, etc. Because the book is enormous (close to 1000 pages) and
dense, it’s not a very easy read even though it’s so good. Listening on audio
helps, IMO.
“Pluto Files” by Neil deGrasse Tyson – secondary title “The rise and fall of
America’s favorite planet”. Very short book on the Pluto debate started by
the author’s changed museum exhibit in 2000 and capped by the International
Astronomical Union’s decision in 2006 to remove the planet designation from
Pluto. This book is OK, with not much scientific discussion and a lot of focus
on the actual drama around the events.
“Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation” by Timothy J. Jorgensen – discusses the
discovery of radioactivity and its implications on health, trying to dispel
some common myths. Nice book.
“The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry – I wanted to like this book, and
overall it’s a good history of the influenza epidemic of 1918, but it has too
many problems. First, the book spends a LOT of time on tangential issues of
medical research and the lives and characters of prominent researchers. This
on its own isn’t necessarily bad, but the author provides little scientific
background, focusing on the researchers’ personal lives and relationships
instead, a classical page filler in non-fiction books. In addition, the book
spends way too much time just listing fatalities and other fallout from the
epidemic, city by city, country by country. I’d be happy to read a more
focused, scientifically complete book on this subject.

Re-reads:

“East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
“Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri
“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
“Crime and punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Eloquent JavaScript” by Marijn Haverbeke – technically a re-read, but now
of the 3rd edition (initial read in 2013 was of the first edition). The 3rd
is about twice longer, and treats more modern JS (ES6). Good book overall,
with lots of useful code, projects and exercises with full solutions. Not
for beginning programmers, though.
“Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami
“Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right”
by Arlie Russell Hochschild

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