Here are the 52 books I listened to on audible in 2022 in rough order of most to least preferred.
The Dream Machine, M. Mitchell Waldrop - An all time great book about J. C. R. Licklider, the intellectual history, and people surrounding the birth of the personal computer and the internet. One of the main lessons I'm drawing is that the lack of diversity in early computing, which was dominated by a few universities and companies and a handful of men with similar life stories and idiosyncratic behaviors, likely slowed the development of personal computing. Licklider's leadership, vision, and mentorship are really admirable. I've read a few other history of some aspect of tech books, but this feels like the definitive must-read version of here's how and why computers are the way they are.
Snow Crash, His Lordship Neal Stephenson - This was my second read of this masterpiece and let me tell you, it is even better than you remember. The daddy of cyberpunk, the lord of dystopia, the titan of thrills and the the king of satire. Read this and be floored, entertained, and demolished. I decided to write more about this work here.
All You Need is Kill, Hiroshi Sakurazaka - Old Man's War, but grittier and with a cool time mechanic. Strongly recommend this.
The Splendid and the Vile, Erick Larson - A stellar author takes on a famous subject. Yes, please. I love the image of Churchill naked, besotted, and vibing with FDR. An all time great read.
Fierce Intimacy, Terry Real - My relationship with my wife is perfect. Nevertheless I read this book in the hopes of potentially helping one of my readers. Real describes a lot of negative patterns that I hypothetically could imagine seeing in my relationship with my wife if it were not as perfect as it is, where those patterns come from, and techniques to break them. I read it twice. Likely will read again.
One Shot, Lee Child - Picked this one up sort of as a joke with my Nerd Book Club (not currently accepting new applicants) after we watched the Amazon Prime series. Not going to lie, this book rocks.
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks, Patrick Radden Keefe - This is a collection of previously published essays on the subject of rogues, obviously. Radden Keefe is on the "read every book he publishes" list and is one of the best nonfiction writers around. Some of the standout essays for me were “The Jefferson Bottles” on the subject of counterfeit wine, “A Loaded Gun,” a profile of a mass shooter from the 90’s, with a twist, “The Hunt for El Chapo,” “Winning: How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an icon of American Success,” “The Worst of the Worst: Judy Clarke excelled at Saving the lives of notorious killers. Then she took the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev” and “Journeyman: Anthony Bourdain’s movable feast.” Anyone looking for something true crime adjacent will enjoy this read.
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie - This book gets billed as YA, but that only applies to the pacing, which is fast. In terms of gore this is at least a PG-13. I think you’d like this if you like action, fast pacing, and fantasy worlds.
Killing Floor, Lee Child - This is the book that was adapted into the Amazon Prime Jack Reacher Series. The show is very similar to the book, but better. I enjoyed this book, just not as much as One Shot.
Running While Black, Alison Mariella Desir - Desir writes a memoir covering her story as a runner that explores how white supremacy dominates the world of running. White runners, time to do better.
Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, Annie Duke - I really liked this pop social science kind of an anti-Outliers book. I really liked the idea of kill criteria, which is a signal that if you see in the future would tell you that it is time to quit. Kill criteria have states and dates - if by some date, I haven't reached some state, I'll quit.
The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, Martin Gurri - This is probably the most compelling and thought provoking "why Trump?" book I've read. What makes it good is that it is predictive. It was originally published in 2014. Gurri's description of the descent into nihilism that is the result of the public's disillusionment with authority resonated really strongly. It's very easy to over correct from I trust authority 100% to bring out the guillotine when faced with inept authority. Gurri reads center-right to me, so there is a bit too much of bothsidesism in this piece, but his lens is more descriptive and explanatory than prescriptive.
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien - This is my second pass at The Silmarilion. I read it first in probably 2003 or 2004. I decided to pick this one up because of the Amazon show Rings of Power. I got serious WWI vibes from the book. Melkor (Sauron's boss for the uninitiated) is always releasing foul gasses, raining fire, and unleashing his hosts across various plains from his underground fortress. I could definitely imagine Tolkien writing some of this while recalling a trench on the Western front. If you are very into Lord of the Rings you should read this book. If you only like Lord of the Rings but maybe don't have the stamina to read the Middle Earth bible, you might consider just reading the Akallabeth, which is the fourth part of The Silmarillion and is the story of the fall of Numenor and the deceits of the Dark Lord Sauron. God I love Sauron's deceits.
Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), Dean Spade - Honestly, this left me feeling optimistic. Here is a book about the history, methods, and rationale for mutual aid, which is an anti-capitalist approach to organizing.
Kings of the Wyld, Nicholas Eames - Fantasy with soy banter a la a Marvel movie, and set in an over-the-top Warcraftian universe. A lot of, “Uhhhh did I just see that?” kind of lines. Could be a fun movie or tv show adaptation as long as it did not take itself seriously at all.
The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, Craig Whitlock - Foreshadowing more recent government failures, here we learn about the twenty year fire we burned in Afghanistan fueled by human lives, piles of money, and lies.
Run Like a Pro (Even If You're Slow), Matt Fitzgerald - Very solid training manual for anyone interested in getting into running.
All Systems Red: The MurderBot Diaries, Martha Wells - A novella featuring a main character with an uncanny similarity to a good friend of mine (apart from the murdering, I think). This one is funny, fast, and a bit dark.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli - Rovelli is a good writer. I enjoyed the chapter on general relativity in that it actually made some sense whereas many descriptions of Einstein's theory I find pretty difficult to parse.
A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School, Jack Schneider, Jennifer Berkshire - Maybe I’ve been away from education long enough that I can now start reading about it a little more dispassionately. This is a healthy change in my life. And this is a great read on the disgusting vision for education on the right pursued by Devos, Waltons, etc. Many a young, bright-eyed liberal ed reformer have been duped by these reptilian ghouls in the past. There is nothing to be ashamed of, let’s be adults, move forward and invest significantly in our public school system. The authors also have a podcast that is pretty good.
You Can't Be Serious, Kal Penn - I think I would have liked this book more if I read it like five years ago, before the onset of post-Obama cynicism. Still worth a look if you are into the actor memoir genre — Kal Penn is funny and has a cool story.
If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where is Everybody?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life, Stephen Webb - A delightful romp through the famous Fermi Paradox. If you like thinking about how many piano tuners there are in Chicago, you'll like this one.
The. Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math from One to Infinity, Steven Strogatz - The goal of the book is to do an engaging overview of math without scaring people off. I think the author achieves this, but still a lot went over my head.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman - A foundational text that was a slog for me at times. Still, it is quite interesting to read about the various bugs built into our brains and the experiments that can tease them out. I wish I just had this all in memory so when faced with a situation involving cost-benefit analysis I don’t make the buggy choice.
Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella Meadows - I find the idea of systems thinking very appealing. The book is pretty packed for its sizes so this is definitely not a light read. I may have to re-visit.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein - Pop social sci that takes aim at early specialization arguing through interesting anecdotes that interdisciplinary focus and late specialization is actually the recipe for success in most endeavors.
The Big Score: The Billion-Dollar Story of Silicon Valley, Michael S. Malone - This is what Michael Lewis might sound like if he was writing about Silicon Valley in 1985. This history is pretty interesting and covers companies and people enough entrepreneurial generations in the past that a lot of it was new to me. Reading this was a bit like discovering the musicians who influenced your favorite band's influences. Also, there is a fantastic section on the manufacturing process of integrated circuits. It does drag a bit at times. While it covers some of the warts of Silicon Valley, like theft, crime, drug use, exploitation and espionage, it definitely has a positive spin on the whole history which read as a bit propagandistic or possibly naive.
Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies, Cesar Hidalgo - A short work exploring the topics of knowledge, know how and describing how people, firms and economies use information at different scales. It feels like Hidalgo took a significant academic field at the intersection of economics, physics and information theory and reduced it into this treatment. Pairs nicely with Thinking in Systems.
This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, Peter Pomerantsev - A solid deep dive into troll farms and the current state of propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation we all live in.
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro - Did you like finding out in Silence of the Lambs that Buffalo Bill wore his victims’s skin? If so, this might be a fun read for you. Super creepy read.
An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management, Will Larson - This is a very Stripe book.
How to make the Best Coffee at Home, James Hoffman - I am convinced that I do not really want an espresso machine. I love a good espresso, but I'm not really interested in the process of making excellent espresso right now. Maybe someday, but for now I enjoy my Niche grinder and humble Aeropress setup.
Get Together: How to Build a Community with Your People, Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto - Very similar ideas to Mutual Aid, but more focused on the tactics and moves that can build communities. There is less on "why" and "to what end" so parts feel a bit commercial. Still I like the idea of paying attention to the "Hand Raisers." This is worth definitely worth a look if you've been thinking about community.
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, Walter Isaacson - There are really a few books in here. First, there is a history of biochemistry and the early biography of Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna, which was so boring I almost abandoned the book. Then there is a book about the major discoveries around CRISPR centered on the work of Doudna, which was pretty depressing because it revealed how much politics there is in research science. But, then we get a book about the Chinese scientist who was jailed for using CRISPR to edit the genes of twin baby girls. And that was awesome. Then we dive into the ethics of genetic editing, which was also wonderful. Finally we get a treat of a book detailing the missteps of the CDC at the start of the Covid pandemic, and then how scientists rose up against their earlier political infighting to use CRISPR to test for and vaccinate against Covid-19. While I really struggled with the first third of the book, I’m glad I persevered.
The Souls of Yellow Folk: Essays, Wesley Yang - Thought provoking essays on a variety of topics mostly adjacent to race and in particular the experience of Asian American Men. I really enjoyed “Paper Tigers”, “Eddie Huang Against the World”, “The Life and Afterlife of Aaron Swartz” and “The Liveliest Mind in New York.”
Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manger, Michael Lopp - Some nice tidbits on navigating the modern tech workplace.
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt - A very challenging read. I hope to write a bit more about this one in a separate post, but I’m not trying to be hyperbolic when I say that there are significant similarities between the histories of Soviet and Nazi totalitarian regimes reported by Arendt to the modern right in the US. And unlike many who write about this comparison, Arendt's work pre-dates Trump's presidency by almost seventy years.
The High Growth Handbook, Elad Gil - Dipping into the Stripe Press backlog, this book is a combination of expanded blog posts and interviews covering the mechanics of a high growth startup. As someone still fairly new to the tech startup world, I found most of it pretty interesting.
Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another, Matt Taibbi - Over the past 20 years, the media’s record is absolutely spotless. I trust them implicitly.
Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, Stewart Brand - Similar to How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, but written ten years earlier. Brand discusses the need to embrace urbanization, genetically modified foods, nuclear energy, and most interestingly, geo-engineering.
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, Bill Gates - Not a huge Bill Gates fan or the super rich dude explaining stuff phenomenon, but this isn’t terrible in terms of how it lays out the scale of climate change and the sorts of solutions we need to consider.
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, V.E. Schwab - This is a romance novel about a woman who makes a deal with the devil. She can live forever, but no one will remember her. It’s kind of just enough of a fantasy hook to get me into a genre I typically avoid. I wish this was a bit shorter, but overall I enjoyed it.
Beautiful Country, Qian Julie Wang - A very sad memoir of an undocumented Chinese girl living in extreme poverty in New York City.
Advanced Marathoning, Peter Pfitzinger, Scott Douglas - My last two marathon’s haven’t gone as well as I’d have liked. I went back and re-read the first book on marathon training I ever read, the canonical Advanced Marathoning. I strongly recommend this for anyone thinking about getting serious about running a marathon. I’ve built my summer training program off this re-read.
The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years, Emily Oster - A parenting book about using data to make decisions.
Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Janette Sadik-Khan - I'm pro bike lanes. But I'm deeply skeptical of the Bloomberg technocracy.
Where is My Flying Car?, J. Storrs Hall - An exploration of roads not taken that could have led to a more technologically advanced present day that drags at times. Hall blames regulation, anti-nuclear movement, and most strangely, public transportation. I can't say I agree with his diagnosis. The book concludes with an exercise in techno futurism which is interesting.
Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software, Nadia Eghbal - Not bad. This looks at open source software, how it is made, who makes it, what challenges open source creators face, and the future of open source - a section which goes into different possible models for monetizing open source or not. Lot's of familiar names and stories.
The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood - It’s over before you know it. Pre-war Berlin sounds wild.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 - A collection of short chapters curated by Kendi and Blain each related to a five year period of African American History between 1619 and 2019. Some were better than others.
Anathem, Neal Stephenson - This was a brutal slog. Some interesting ideas — multiverse, mathematics, aliens, salvage cities. I think I followed about 20% of this book and liked 5%. Can’t recommend this one, even though it by our lordship, Neal Stephenson.
The Story of B, Daniel Quinn - Everyone gets one recommendation that I will take on faith. This one looks at environmentalism and evolution wrapped in a shoddy thriller involving a Priest spying on a potential anti christ.
Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr - Off to a propitious start! The first book of the year is a solid, no thank you. A few characters were always slogs, and all of them become slogs toward the middle so we’ll pass on this one. Apparently it comes together really nicely at the end, if that is your thing.
No Gods, No Monsters, Gadwell Turnbull - I didn’t make it to the monsters. I’ve decided to be faster to pick up, but also even faster to put down a book. There is are too many good books out there to spend time on writing you don’t find enriching.
E-Day, Nicholas Sansbury Smith - If you are a dumb middle school boy you might enjoy finding answers in this book to deep questions like what if space marines were also samurai? This book is so dumb I'm sure there is some big reveal at the end that the super good AI actually ends up being super bad, but who cares.
Land of Big Numbers, Te-Ping Chen - This title is very cool, but it went down hill from there. I got half way through and realized that I only really liked one of the stories. Life is too short to not love what you are reading.
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, Wendy Mogel - Finished 2/3rds of this and lost all momentum. Any practical parenting techniques we derive from the writings of people who shit in buckets have to be valuable by coincidence.