Another year, another corpus finished. Well, not technically a corpus, because they’re not thematically related or by a single author, but we’ll go with it. My goal last year was to read almost a book a week. I managed to get to 50 books read for the year, which I’m quite proud of. This included some very long books and other short ones. As I did last year, the link on my Goodreads page has all of the books I read.
This year they introduced a new feature where they look at your year in review. It compiles some of the stats for all the books you read including page count (18816!!), highest versus lowest rated, average length, and average rating. I love looking at cool data like this. Alright, on to the recommendations!
Top 5 Fiction Books
The Player of Games (Culture # 2) by Iain M. Banks – I initially read these books because the autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) used by SpaceX are named after after two ships in this book: Just Read the Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You. As it turns out, the Culture series is a rich science fiction world that positively portrays the future. I read the first book in the series as well (order is not important) and enjoyed it less so than number 2.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson – This is not a short book. But damn did it keep me hooked the entire time. I think many people would lose the thread and interest in the book halfway through, but for someone as space-oriented and future- and techno-optimist as me, it was a blast to read and think about how we might solve challenges in the near future as well as millennia from now.
Devil May Care by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt – Enjoying this book as much as I did was a surprise. It’s literary fiction that has an interesting plot device but it was written with such care and thought that I enjoyed the entire journey. The writing does an exceptional job of transporting you into the mindset of the characters and helps you to really feel what they do. It helps that I’m a fan of these authors and have read nearly their entire oeuvre.
Permutation City by Greg Egan – This was a weird book at first and it took me a bit longer to get into it than some of the others on this list. But once I did, it grabbed me and didn’t easily let go. It deals with some very challenging questions about the nature of technological immortality. I wish I hadn’t read it right before bed all the time because I would have liked to sit with the questions longer than the time between when I stop reading and fell asleep.
Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth – This book was just a plain fun read. I don’t think it’s going to win any awards, but as a well-written and fun fiction book, I can definitely recommend it.
Top 5 7 Non-Fiction Books
After attempting to whittle these down to just 5, I gave up and included 7. It’s my blog, I can do what I want.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – Confused about how Trump was elected? Feel like you simply can’t connect with half of Americans? This book might help you understand why the rural part of America lives and thinks differently. I’m not alone in recommending this book this year as it is well-written and a powerful story.
The Innovator’s Prescription by Clayton M. Christensen – This book takes the view of an entrepreneur to try and answer the question of why healthcare is so messed up. It’s well-written, easy to understand, and tackles nearly every part of the healthcare system. You’ll understand more how we got to the mess we’re in today and I think you’ll feel hopeful about our ability to innovate to a better state in the future. It left me more excited about working in Healthcare-IT and about how the system might be improved to make everyone healthier.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday – This is essentially a follow-up to his previous book, The Obstacle is the Way. Written in a similar style and format, it shares stories and lessons from history about how to remove your Ego from most situations and how that can lead to a better, happier, and more successful life. I’d encourage everyone to tread this because it is applicable to nearly every one in every situation.
Managing Humans by Michael Lopp – Michael writes at his blog Rands in Repose. I came to his work, I think, through the website Hacker News. This book is all about being a software engineering manager. There are enough parallels between my day job and his experience that I found a lot of value in it.
Deep Work by Cal Newport – In the past I’ve read So Good They Can’t Ignore You and loved it. Cal came this year with Deep Work and it’s just as good. its premise is simple: you need long stretches of time to do meaningful, deep work. This is one of those books that you’ll come back to because it keeps you inspired and motivated.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – This is written like an alien species is studying the human race. It’s a fascinating insight into our species and makes you realize that we are all just apes.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris – This book took me the longest to get through at around six months. But it was worth it. Teddy Roosevelt is a man for the ages. This is just the first book in the trilogy and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next two.
The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin – Robert has been, well, making the case for humans to go to Mars for decades. It finally seems like we’re going to get there on the backs of SpaceX. The coolest part of this book was when I got to the part about making bricks on Mars. Of course you can make bricks! There’s water, there’s dirt, so make a brick!
Trust Me I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday – A timely book due to the meme about fake news going around. Much of the news always has been fake. This book details the dark side of news and the media and about how it’s about being first, not being correct. Disturbing book that doesn’t do much to make you feel better.
Lock In by John Scalzi – A fun, entertaining read about a world in which a percentage of the population are locked into their bodies but can control androids. It’s a speculative science fiction book that puts a murder mystery as the main set piece against a backdrop of human and humanoid robot interactions. Quite enjoyable!
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink – A former Navy Seal, this is a straight-forward and down to earth book about the principles of leadership and extreme ownership. If there’s one thing you take away from the book then it should be the title. Own everything and be a leader.
Trekonomics by Manu Saadia – I backed this book early on Inkshares because the premise was fascinating. In the world of no money, aka the world of Star Trek, how do people function an have a society? What does a post-scarcity world look like? These questions have been more interesting me as we see the faults with extreme capitalism laid bare. What comes after capitalism when you really do have abundance in basically everything? This book starts to answer that question.
Overall, 2016 was a very good year in books for me. There were only 7 books I gave a 3-star rating, which means, to me, they weren’t bad but they weren’t that great. Everything else was a 4 or 5.
I think, for 2017, I’m going to back off on my reading goals a bit. I enjoy reading but I need to back off and create more instead of consuming so much.
> Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. ~ Albert Einstein
That quote feels very true to me. I’m filling my head with ideas but I’m not coalescing them into anything greater. I haven’t allowed my brain to form its own opinions and test in the battle of the real world. This is evidenced most glaringly to me every time I read the comments on an article before the article itself. I argue that it’s for the sake of speed and convenience, but in reality it’s because it’s easier and I’m settling into lazy manners of thinking That needs to change.
Next year I’m going to halve my reading goal to 25. But in addition to the books, I’m mandating a goal of accompanying each book with at least two blog posts. They don’t have to be about the book at all, but they do need to be published for them to count. I’m not going to let it stop from reading if I don’t write in lockstep with each book, but the guilt will be there and I think that will be enough to motivate me to continue with the effort.
My ambition is to create more and consume less in 2017. This is one step of many in the effort to achieve this goal. Here’s to 2017: may it be filled with more great books and more creating.