Summary of reading: October – December 2020

“David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens – a semi-autobiographic novel written
in first person. This book has many excellently developed characters, and
it keeps coming back to the same ones, in circles. I really enjoyed this one,
probably more than any other work by Dickens I read (with the exception of
Oliver Twist, perhaps). An observation: while Uriah Heep is the main
designated villain here, I actually found the character of Dora to be
significantly more annoying. It may have made more sense in late 19th century
England, but these days it comes across as infuriatingly chauvinistic.
“The Pearl” by John Steinbeck – a short, sad folk tale about a poor Mexican
pearler and his discovery, retold in Steinbeck’s unimistakable style.
“UNIX – A history and a Memoir” by Brian Kernighan – a brief biography of the
Unix operating system, the people involved in its development and the place
where it was born – Bell Labs of the 1960s-1980s. Very interesting and
well-written book.
“The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California” by Mark Arax –
a history of California’s agriculture and the state’s precarious relationship
with water, from the early European settlements and up until 2017. The main
thesis is that water usage in California is unsustainable and the state’s
farmers and general population will end up being in trouble at one point or
another. Interesting read overall, though somewhat too long for my taste.
“A Philosophy of Software Design” by John Ousterhout – a very short book on
good design and style in SW development. The author is somewhat well known
in the system programming circles, and this book reflects a good taste in
design for such systems. The approach is minimalistic and focuses on
simplicity, which I found refreshing compared to other similar books.
“Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen – a fairly typical Victorian account of
people living in mortal boredom as a result of not having any productive
occupation. Much time is spent on soap-opera level romance and intrigue. Very
good writing with deeply developed characters; fun to read.
“Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry” by Neal deGrasse Tyson – a nice
quick introduction to astrophysics, adjusted to younger audiences.
“Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer”
by Rob Manning – a fascinating account of the development and deployment of
the Curiosity rover on Mars, told by its chief engineer. Very good description
of what real-world engineering looks like.
“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery – a famous early-20th century novel
about the coming of age of a day-dreaming orphan girl adopted at the age
of 11 by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, unmarried siblings living in Green
Gables – a homestead on Price Edward Island in Canada. A nice book “suitable
for all ages”, but mostly for a younger audience. Good writing and
humor; the ending is a bit rushed IMHO, especially given that this
is book 1 out of a series of 8.
“America and Americans, and Selected Nonfiction” by John Steinbeck – in my
quest to read everything published by Steinbeck, the remains are rather
scattered. This book is a loose collection of nonfiction stories published
by Steinbeck, mostly for newspapers during the 1940s-1960s. The quality ranges
from great to OK-ish.
“America’s Bank” by Roger Lowenstein – the subtitle is “the epic struggle to
create the federal reserve”, and I should probably have paid more attention
to it. The book describes the political maneuvers that went into creating
the US federal reserve in 1913, with a bit of financial background. For this
very narrow topic, the book seems good; if you want to learn more about the
federal reserve in general, look elsewhere.
“Master of the Senate” by Robert Caro – Volume 3 of LBJ’s biography, focusing
on his years in the senate. This volume is of a truly epic size (~1200 pages)
and took me a while to plough through. As usual, the writing is great, and so
is the attention to detail. The latter is so great that it makes the book
quite challenging to read at times; as opposed to volumes 1 & 2 which I heard
on audio, I read this one on a Kindle, and reading such work is more
challenging, especially when the going gets slow.


“The Magic of Reality” by Richard Dawkins
“Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam
“Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely

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