Summary of reading: January – March 2020

“Doctoring Data: How to sort out medical advice from medical nonsense” by
Malcolm Kendrick – interesting book about dissecting medical studies and data,
trying to extract signal from the noise. Gives one some appreciation of the
difficulty of medical research. Unfortunately, most of the book is spent on
diatribes about the author’s pet peeves (mostly cholesterol and statins),
filled with responses to attacks on the author’s own blog posts, which greatly
reduces the book’s overall quality. The first third or so is still very
insightful, though.
“Working” by Robert A. Caro – the author won the Pulitzer prize twice with
his biographies of Lyndon B Johnson and Robert Moses. This is a relatively
short book in which he explains a bit about how he conducts the research and
writing for his books. Interesting read, although without having read Caro’s
actual biographies I don’t feel very familiar with the topics. He seems to
be the Donald Knuth of biography writing when it comes to meticulousness and
comprehensive research.
“Distributed Systems, 3rd edition” by Maarten van Steen and Andrew S.
Tanenbaum – one of the biggest dissapointments I had with technical books in
a while. I recalled Tanenbaum’s books fondly from university and expected this
one to be decent. Seeing no index in a 500-page technical book was an early
alert, and it all went downhill from there. The book is rambling, covering
pages upon packad pages with useless background text; when it comes to actual
technical details it explains them so badly that it’s close to useless. I
tried my best to stick to it, skipping some bad sections, restarting at new
topics time and again, but to no avail. What a waste of time.
“Seven Brief Lessons in Physics” by Carlo Rovelli – a very nice introductory
brush of several topics in modern physics. Super short book (~80 small pages)
and good writing; wish it was longer.
“Shalom Sefarad” by Gonzalo Hern├índez Guarch – history of the expulsion of
Jews from Spain, told as a fictional biographic account. It was nice to get
back reading in Spanish after a long hiatus, but I didn’t like this book much.
The historical parts are interesting, but the plot of the book is very
loosely put together, in a way that I didn’t find believable or appealing.
“Alaska” by James Michener – this time Michener turned his attention to
Alaska, with the typical thoroughness and trademark ~1100 pages. Nice read
for the most part, though the quality of storytelling is varying. Sometimes
the scenarios feel a bit too forced, just in order to tell a story.
“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles – the life story of a member of the
Russian nobility placed under house arrest in a prominent Moscow hotel after
the 1917 revolution. Delightful book! It’s been a while since I enjoyed a work
of fiction this much. Being familiar with Russian classics (like “War and
Peace”) is definitely helpful, but probably not strictly necessary to enjoy
this book. The audio-recording I was listening too was narrated with a British
accent, which also has a positive effect on the experience.
“The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change”
by Camille Fournier – you caught me reading a management book, aargh ­čÖé
I do this very rarely, but this one was so highly and universally acclaimed
that I couldn’t resist. It’s a good book overall, and I’d recommend it for
folks working in tech today. It follows the track from mentor to TL to
manager, to 2nd level manager, director, etc, all the way to the CTO of a
small company (or a higher exec like VP in a larger company). Not all parts
will be relevant to everyone, but I found the writing to be good, thoughtful
and very relevant to my own experiences as an IC, TL and manager in tech.
“Midnight in Chernobyl” by Adam Higginbotham – very good account of the
Chernobyl disaster, what led to it and its aftermath.
“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport – the main thesis is that
pursuing a topic you love is the wrong strategy for a happy and successful
career; rather, you should find something you’re good at and pursue that.
Nice book overall, though a bit drawn out. In addition to the main thesis,
the author also presents an interesting idea about “career capital” and how
it’s used to leverage other parameters of success. There are also some early
notes about deliberate practice and deep work which the author has developed
into a later book.


“Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck
“Electric Universe” by David Bodanis

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