Jan 10, 2019

A Year of Reading in Review, Vol 4

This is my fourth year of writing up a yearly reading review. In time, that's about equal (more or less) to a college education. I'm not convinced that I've lived up to that in the past, but future reading trends are pointing a more scholarly direction. You can see a type of specialization happening in my reading from this year already -- when I find something I like I really dig down into it.

There were several of these types of 'marathons' this year. Previous years have definitely had themes to them, no doubt about that, but this year's felt particularly interest driven. Michael Lewis and Hannah Arendt are the two biggest carry-overs from 2017, so I definitely 'completed' the goal of reading more of them in 2018. To date, I think I've read almost every book Lewis has published. I'm probably about halfway through Arendt's works. I've got one of her books on the docket for 2019 but I'm not very optimistic about getting through it. My interests for 2019 are taking a bigger role in dictating what I'm prioritizing reading, and I don't think that Arendt quite makes the cut.


I try to keep track of the books that I read in Goodreads. One because it makes it easy to sort and two because they do a nice year end summary of total pages and book counts. I still have to compile publication dates by hand, though. Here's hoping they add that as an easy metric to track at some point in the nearish future. 

I hate to say it but I think I'm going to be extra lazy this year and not put together a 'when was it written' histogram. As much as I love knowing the stats, I'm not feeling particularly up to it at the moment. I might come back and update this later, but probably not.

According to what I've remembered to enter into Goodreads, I either finished (or decided not to finish) 50 books last year, for a total of 15,006 pages. Compared to last year that's almost twice the number of books, but only 5,000 pages (33%) more.


For what it's worth, 2018 felt like the year that reading hard books got a lot easier. Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism in some weird, unfathomable way, marked a big turning point in my personal ability to read 'difficult' works. I mean, I've read a lot of technical, not so easy things over the past decade or so, but something about the subject matter and just Hannah's insightful way of writing feels like it changed the game in terms of both what kinds of work I find myself able to enjoy and my bar for what good writing should read like.

In addition to moar reading, I also did lots more writing in the second half of 2018. Both on this blog as well as my two other media properties, plus Twitter. I also was an 'official' editor for the first time ever in 2018, for The Prepared. I edited the piece they just published on supply chains in Africa.

I also got into reading technical papers and books, more so than any previous year. As with previous years, I spent a lot of time on Twitter -- I probably spent hundreds of hours reading and replying to threads. I wonder how many books that reading time would have translated into. This next week I'm going to try picking up a book in the morning instead of my phone, to see how much farther through my stack I get.

And boy howdy do I have quite the stack right now. 2018 was a big year for book buying. I read a small fraction of the books that I acquired, and I'm looking forward to lots of great reading in 2019. To be honest, this year-end review is a huge motivator for getting through the books I've got piled up, a bit like looking forward to adding them to my killsheet. If we're being honest, if I stopped buying books today (and trashed my library card) I would, hands down, have enough books to get me through 2019.  Is finishing books the point? Yes definitely, because each book represents a specific skill or interest that I'd like to acquire. I'm a very greedy person, in that regard.

As you're wont to do in your senior year, I've finally hit upon a writing project that is going to require a good amount of reading investigation. I expect this coming year to be filled with books that help support my latest academic interest: quantum rhetoric (you can follow along with my reports back on the project's blog: http://foolproof.ink/).

Reviews + Top Picks

Alright, enough exposition. Here's my top picks.

Top Picks

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. Classic on investing and stocks.
Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber. What is money, really?
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt. Great fucking book on where political movements come from, specifically authoritarian ones.

My top picks are all about explanation: political and economical and marketable. See below for a bit more info on these, and every(?) other book I read in 2018.

Hot Takes

The Question Concerning Technology Martin Heidegger, translated by William Lovitt

First off, fuck William Lovitt. As far as I can tell, his is the only translation of Heidegger's essay "The Question Concerning..." in English and it sucks. It is hot, over done trash. It reads like a graduate student's project. I mean yes, I am grateful that he spent the time to translate it because the essay is really phenomenal but I cannot, unfortunately, recommend the translation. It's on my 'todo' list to put out a translation of the translation -- i.e. something actually readable, because the essay deserves it. Sort of.

If you can get past the terrible translation, this essay is marvelous and brilliant and thought provoking and Heidegger is a fucking trolling turkey and I love him for it. Written around the time of the nuclear bomb, Heidegger attempts to situate human's relationship with technology in terms of our general 'nature'. It's an absolutely stunning piece, one that comments deeply on the often talked about relationship between technology and the humanities or arts.

Trouble in Paradise, Slavoj Zizek

I didn't finish this, as I just couldn't get interested in it. Maybe someday, in the distant future. Maybe someday, in a different reality.

The Soul of An Octopus, Sy Montgomery

Yet another book I tried and failed to read. This book fit a writing style or pattern that I seem to be struggling to engage with lately. It's a personal memoir with science-y anecdotes thrown in, more portrait than prose or narrative. Or maybe not, I honestly just couldn't get into it. I wanted more of a contemplation on consciousness, but this book wasn't it.

The Economic Naturalist, Robert Frank

The intro to this book alone is far higher than 2/10 but the rest of the book is incredibly not worth reading. It's mostly a compilation of questions about why the world is the way it is, that's attempted to answer via an 'economic' mindset. Entertaining, sort of but it got old really quickly.

Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, Jane Jacobs

I've concluded that I've read almost all I can by Jane Jacobs that would be new information. This book, sadly, only reinforced that idea. It's got some great interviews with her, but none of them were really new to me. Ce la vie, eh?

Making Things Move, Dustyn Roberts

Oh my goodness this book was absolutely amazing. It's more of a how to for electronics projects, but as someone who knows not very much about circuits or power or how motors work, this book was the perfect introduction. I now own a benchtop power supply because of it and feel 100% more confident in my ability to get motors and other electronic projects up and going. I highly highly recommend this book to anyone who's circuit or electronic project curious.

Worth noting that Dustyn was a professor at ITP, an amazing graduate arts / technology program at NYU.

The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon
The Mime Order,
The Song Rising,
The Pale Dreamer.

Fantasy series from a British author. Good, light reading about a dystopic London filled with magic and shadowy death creatures. I read them while hiking through Portugal on vacation and while I can't recommend them for a hiking backpack (they're a bit voluminous), they're great fun escapism. I'm looking forward to her next 'standalone', The Priory of the Orange Tree

Mastering Bitcoin, Andreas Antonopoulos

This book really changed the career game for me this year. I read it in March/April when I started a new job working on a Bitcoin custodial wallet, and I immediately fell in love with Bitcoin. The book is a great primer on the topic from a technical angle, but is a bit far behind now in terms of SegWit and Lightning. If you're looking for a nuts and bolts explanation of how Bitcoin the protocol works, you could do far worse. I even talked my mom into reading this one. She was suitably not impressed.

Flash Boys, Michael Lewis

This book really opened my eyes to the realities of modern stock market trading and dark pools and front running, and weirdly enough, convinced me that stock trading isn't nearly as complicated as the jargon makes it out to be. Caveat emptor: You may not have the same thought reading this book.  It's the story of a man named Brad Katsayuma and his quest to build a stock exchange that looks after the interests of its investors, not the hedge fund traders looking to bank in on having a technical edge -- one that lets them cash in on microsecond long information asymmetries.  If you're at all interested in how modern money markets work, this book is a must read.

The Big Short, Michael Lewis

I read a lot of Michael Lewis this year. Because his books are great -- every single one of them. This book tells the story of the financial crash of 2008. I took a couple things away from this story. The first is that willingness to dig in and just read the information that's public and out there sets you apart from 95% of anyone in a field. At least, used to. The other is that even money is political. Spoliers coming but: I can't remember the character's name, but the weird med student turned hedge fund trader that sets up shop in California, makes a big bet on the subprime market collapsing, cashes in big, and then gets abandoned by all of his big investors because of the tactics he pulled to make sure that the bet came off ok. Trust is important, no matter what field you work in.

Binti, Binti:Home, Binti: Night Masquerade Nnedi Okorafor

One of the few sci-fi series I read last year. I really enjoyed getting into some shorter fiction. They didn't quite hit my system construction buttons as much as I would have liked, but I think that was a function of length. Short synopsis is about a woman who leaves her small town backwater for space university.

The Tompson Method of Bodywork, Cathy Thompson

My voice teacher recommended this book to me for the vocal exercises in it. I'd never heard of bodywork, but this book is revolutionary in it's wholistic look at emotions and aches. I've long believed that emotions and mindstate is heavily influenced by our bodies -- that the mind/body connection is more connected than the little slash between the two words would have you believe (mind is a construct that originates in the body and all that). This is an incredibly practical book full of low key stretching exercises to help you sort out and find apparent and latent pain. I'm terrible at doing body maintenance things regularly, but this book helped me work through some excrutiating back and arm pain earlier this year. Desk work sucks!

Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit

In a lot of ways, this book helped sparked a movement called `mansplaining`. I'm sure it's good, but I don't remember it so I'm giving it low marks. These sorts of tracts are ones I always have trouble holding in my head, which imo is never a great sign for the writing or topic.

Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt

Forget fucking Anne Frank's diary. This is the book that we should be making high school children read when we teach the fucking Holocaust. Arendt attended the trial of a Nazi party wonk in Jerusalem and wrote back court reports for an American magazine. This book is the compilation of those reports. This is easily one of Arendt's most accessible books, and it's brilliant and scathing and so incredibly damning. It was hugely controversial in the Jewish community when she released it, mostly for how it told the real story of how Jewish communities in Europe inadvertently helped keep the gas stoves full. All in all, this is a world class portrait of bureaucracy and personal responsibility -- issues that are more modern now than ever.

Boomerang, Michael Lewis

I read a lot of Michael Lewis this year. I think this one is the one where he goes around to all the countries that got fried by the 2008 financial crash and reports back what the aftermath of the meltdown has been. Destinations include: Greece, Germany, Iceland, and Vallejo, CA.  This kind of detail on a financial crisis is what makes Lewis such a great, and reliable story teller. His stuff is good because he does the on the scenes reporting, talking to the characters that no one else seems to think to ask about.

Reconsidering Jane Jacobs, Max Page

Another one I don't really remember the content of. I picked this up a while back when I was looking to get a better understanding of what critical work had been put out in response to Jane Jacobs' theories about economies. The short answer is not much. This book has some rebuttals but none of them were particularly coherent or salient.

The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt

Out of all the books I read in 2018, this is one of the ones that I'm the most proud of having finished. It was a real job to get through it, as the prose is incredibly dense. Dense, but so rich. The level and clarity of Arendt's insights into how human political bodies think and the history of their motivations is unparalleled. This work is a classic, and speaks so soundly to our modern era. I truly think that Arendt will prove to be the philosopher of our modern times. It really upsets me that she's not as widely read as other, more ancient philosophers like fucking Descartes or Plato or Nietzsche or fucking Marx. Like fuck Marx. He doesn't have nearly as much relevant shit to say as Arendt fit into this one book.  Briefly, Origins covers three large social trends in Europe from the late 1800's up until the 1940's: Anti-Semitism, Imperialism, and Authoritarianism. Part history lesson, part philosophy, part sociology, Arendt explores the events and motivations for human action that contributed to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and the Bolsheviks in Russia. Meticulously researched, if I let her, she'd have filled up my reading list for the rest of the year with original sources. I did buy Democracy in America on her recommendation, and am looking forward to getting into it in 2019.

Networks of New York, Ingrid Burrington

This book is more like a who's who of network paraphernalia and ISP providers in New York City than the indepth look at computer networking that I was hoping for. It's well researched and the pictures are quite good. I rather liked learning about the companies behind all of the city's connectivity but my initial disappointment at wanting a book on 'networking' rather than equipment and companies is why it's rated so low.

Aw yeah here it comes. The great Lewis run. Ready?

Panic!, Michael Lewis

This book is a compilation of news articles and clippings surrounding the last four biggest stock market crashes that we've had, internationally as well as in the USA. The goal of this book seemed to be to show us how incredibly nothing that we as humans know and understand about financial crashes; both that no one can predict them and that they're devastating. The article format didn't make it the smoothest in terms of narrative, but it did change the way that I think about investing and crashes and that's been incredibly valuable in the last few months.

The Money Culture, Michael Lewis

Compilation of articles Lewis wrote while he was working at an i-bank in NYC in the 80's. Great look at the mentality of men who trade money for a living. A bit dislocated because of the article nature of it.

Home Game, Michael Lewis

Journalistic recounting of the joys and pains of fatherhood. Great short read.

The New New Thing, Michael Lewis

Profile of Silicon Valley told through the lens of the story of the man who made a zillion dollars at least twice during the first dot com boom (Silicon Graphics and Netscape): Jim Clark. In some big way, Clark was responsible for a lot of the way investors approach Silicon Valley. At least, according to this book he is. Most of this book focused on the huge side project Clark worked on during most of his time during the period that he was supposedly starting big new projects -- a self-sailing sailboat called Hyperion. (Which incidentally is now up for sale.)

next, Michael Lewis

I loved this one. It's a short series of profiles of people who's lives have massively changed by the Internet, way back in the 90's. It reads incredibly fresh and relevant, even 20 years later. I'm continually amazed at how Michael is able to pick up on interesting trends and movements in society and then find interesting stories to showcase them. Ace job on this one, imo.

Losers, Michael Lewis

This one's interesting to me, because it doesn't really readily appear on most collections of Lewis's work. I think I found it on Wikipedia, or another book's list of 'other works by'. It's basically a behind the scenes tour from the 1994 campaign trail, from the Republican field as they work towards knocking Bill Clinton off of the pedestal. Ultimately a failure, but it's again fascinating to see how certain, um, trends in the Republican platform have been around for pretty much forever at this point.

Pacific Rift, Michael Lewis

A look at Japanese business and money culture, from Lewis's time working in the financial industry in the 80's.

Coach, Michael Lewis

Short book telling the story of Michael's high school ball coach, that's also a meditation on growing up, personal responsibility, and the role of parents in their children's lives these days.

The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis

I really didn't want to read this book, as I thought the reviews of it weren't that interesting (two economists that work together, who cares?). I was wrong. As usual, Lewis found a great story to tell, this time of two Israeli economists who spent a lot of their time re-evaluating how human emotion and biases impact our actions and judgments. This feels, in a lot of ways, like a furtherance of the themes on bias and numbers that Lewis started with Moneyball.

The Blind Side, Michael Lewis

Absolutely a great story about how the game dynamics of football changed the value of a particular position, and the rise of one particular low-income boy who just so happened to be the perfect build for that particular, now well valued, position.

The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis

Recently, Lewis has been working to understand what kind of an impact the coming Trump presidency will have on bureaucracy in America. For this one, Lewis went around and interviewed a bunch of people that worked on the Trump presidential transition as well as long time bureaucrats who left office with the regime change. Fucking terrifying in its conclusions with regards to project management expertise and the current administration.

Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber

Graeber's one of those writers to watch. If I had a million hours, I'd definitely go back and read everything he's written. Which is a hell of a lot, to be honest. In Debt, he digs into the history of money. Where did it come from? I really enjoyed the anthropological view that he took on money. This book definitely changed the way that I think about both commerce and Plato's theory of forms. It also led me to some particularly interesting insights into Bitcoin, which you can check out in this basicbitch post.

Thinking in Bets, Annie Duke

I didn't finish this because I couldn't stand the narrator. I'd classify this as an overhyped business book. It might have some gems of wisdom in them, but I'm not about to torture myself to get them. Ostensibly about Duke's experience winning poker hands.

The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham

This book is a bit slow going, but really great. If you get it, get the updated copy with commentary from Jason Zweig -- some of the regulation and availability of different securities has changed in the last 60 plus years.  Graham 'invented' the concept of value investing, which basically means buying stocks that are worth the money. He also goes into how bonds work, and various different types of investments. I learned a lot and it's really made picking stocks out a bit more fun than it was before. If I was actually taking his advice though, I'd buy index funds. I might try to set this up for 2018.

Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, Silvia Federici

Collection of essays and articles by feminist Federici. This is one of the most coherent takes I've seen on the chronic undervalue of women's labor -- both at work and in the home. Federici argues that we should be paying women a wage for housework and I couldn't agree more. Between this book and Graeber's Debt, I think I've got a pretty good case for the masculinity of money.

Distributed Systems, van Steen and Tannenbaum

I wanted to take a course on distributed systems, but couldn't make it work with my schedule so instead I read the textbook. That was this one. I managed to get through it in a week, which was no small feat but holy cow did reading this book change the game for me in terms of understanding both Bitcoin and modern problems in computing. I'm not sure I'd totally recommend it though, since the writing style is more case study like than explanative. That being said, it's really clear that the authors know their stuff -- I really appreciated their ability to understand and sort convey the importance behind a bunch of key work in distributed systems.

The C Programming Language, Kernighan and Ritchie

This book is about the C programming language. It's good for people that are new to the language. I really enjoyed the tone that this book was written in and found the exercises incredibly helpful. It's short, to the point, and does a great job of pointing out the nuances of the language in an easy to understand way.

The GNU Make Book, John Graham-Cunningham

Just ok, I think. I picked this up because I don't really understand Make. I understand it a bit better now. This book did a good job of talking through some of the more advanced usages of the make system, but I didn't love it.

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach

A short book slash parable about what it'd be like to be god. Pretty good if you're into new age philosophical works.

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground, Kevin Poulsen

It feels like I read a bunch of books about early Silicon Valley this year. This is one about a hacker named Max Butler who gets into the stolen credit card game, what was easily the biggest 'digital money' available for stealing on the Internet, at least until Bitcoin. It was interesting to read about the Hungry Hackers gang -- it seems like a good number of them still live in the Bay Area.

Prometheus Rising, Robert Anton Wilson

I picked this book up because it teased something about quantum mind states. It turned out to be another new age philosophy slash metaphysics books. It goes through the levels of consciousness and awareness, consolidating thought from  Freudian, yogic, tarot practices, to name a few.  Thought provoking and a quick read, I learned a lot about tarot from it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Great book by an amazing comic. I was, in some way, struck by how similarly the Adams' prose mimics some short stories I've written in the past. It was eerie to realize that other people had a similar style. About the book: adventure story about getting blasted around the galaxy with a man who's a professional intergalactic hitchhiker. I was really shocked by how close this book gets to discovering quantum rhetoric on its own.

How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan

Both a history and personal recounting of psychedelic research in America. Based on the broad conclusions of this book, I would love to see psychadelics both decriminalized as well as institutionalized in terms of being an easily available form of treatment for depression and addiction.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh

Depressing fucking book about what happens if you disappear from your life with the help of a bunch of prescription pain pills. Sort of a great portrait of what a disconnected, disappearing life in New York City is like. I really like reading books based in NYC, so this one was super fun for that.


‪some days I remember the lies you told me and i laugh at both of us‬ ‪at me, for wanting so badly to believe you‬ ‪at you, for having t...