Jan 22, 2016
Like last year, I have compiled a list of books which I have read throughout the year.
Scott Rosenberg — Dreaming in Code
The book describes the tale of a talented, experienced and rich software engineer with a vision for a large piece of software: a personal information management tool which is distributed, secure and supports any kind of information. He assembles a team of genius programmers and they try to fulfill his vision.
Well… so far so good. The long story short: the project was basically aborted after 8 years with practically no outcome, even though it had perfect prerequisites. A similar story can be found in a lot of software projects and the book shines some light on the process of wrong going. It is written by a journalist who accompanied the company from the start. For 2-3 years he sat in a lot of meetings and interviewed a lot people; after this period it became very unclear if the company would ever make it to a product and thus he left.
I found the book a very nice read. As an external observer I read the book in helpless despair, watching the project go mad. In a lot of ways I could relate to my own experiences in projects with other students. Some of my highlights: after two years of still not having anything to show, the developers decide for the third or fourth time to rewrite their backend once again. At this point they still don’t know for sure if the general idea will even work. Once a designer is finally brought into the project to create a user interface (after two years straight into the project) it turns out that a lot of backend things will have to be done differently. The book also shows quite clearly that each newly hired expert sees the project as a mean to fulfill his own life goals. That’s why after a couple of years into the project there is still no prototype, but three or four huge side projects that have very little to do with the initial goal of the project (e.g. the standardization of calendar formats and an entire standalone database software).
The book reminded me of the importance of prototyping as fast as possible in order to fail early and fast. The book also illustrates that projects need management: since the developers were all outstanding experts, no one wanted to tell anyone how to do stuff.
Michael Crichton — Jurassic Park
This book was an awesome read and got it me excited about the Jurassic Park series again. I was surprised by how much it differs from the movie.
Michael Crichton — The Lost World
A nice read, though not as excellent as the first book. There was no necessity to write a second book.
Ashlee Vance — Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
The (authorized) biography on Elon Musk was an interesting read. I disliked that the author sometimes seems to glorify Musk a bit. Perhaps this is the American mentality. Words like “work-life balance” seem to have a negative connotation in the context of this book.
Robert A. Heinlein — The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
This book got my attention after I watched a Q&A with Elon Musk and he mentioned it as one of his favorites. After reading a bit about it, I found that it was often mentioned as one of the best science-fiction books ever written. Reasons enough for me to read it. Heinlein describes the rebellion efforts of a small colony on the moon. The rebellion is planned in a very clever way (which explains the books popularity in the anarchy scene). I found the book quite entertaining and inspiring (not in an anarcho way, in a technological way ;-)).
Stephen Davies — Hammer of the Gods
The book aims to tell the story behind “Led Zeppelin”. I found this copy whilst poking around in a second hand bookshop in Thailand and it got me interested. From what I have read about the book, not every tale or story from it should be taken for granted, as the author seems to not have done an entirely proper investigation. But the book is an interesting and informative read and I guess even if all the anecdotes in the book are incorrect, there is still a lot of (authentic) information left on how the band got together and came to its success. It certainly gave me a new perspective on Stairway to Heaven, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
Tony Wheeler, Maureen Wheeler — Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story
This book is an “autobiography” on the Lonely Planet. Tony and Maureen describe how they founded the company and its following success. I stumbled upon this book in a small bookshop in Bangkok and it got me interested immediately. Only after buying and unpacking I realized that it was pirated. The color-copied cover didn’t give much clues, but the pages themselves were clearly copied — dirt marks, slightly rotated pages, etc.. Well, at least the pirates also copied the copyright and licensing information page of the book…
The book itself contained some interesting infos and some nice anecdotes, but in total I found it had some long parts where the overall story got lost in boring details.
Wolfgang Beltracchi — Selbstporträt
I got first interested in the author after reading an interview with him a couple years back (I think it might have been this one). Basically, Beltracchi was an art forger until not so long ago. A very good one, one should mention. He never copied existing paintings, but rather made an effort to understand the workings of an artist and immerse himself in the person. He then went on to create “new” paintings, which did fit very well in the repertoire of an artist. Beltracchi did very well and remained undiscovered for a very long time. This book is his (and his wifes) autobiography. The book was a rewarding and very good read.
Andy Weir — The Martian
Very entertaining, liked it. Haven’t seen the movie (yet).
Christoph Warmer, Sören Weber — Mission Startup
The book is a collection of interviews with German startup founders (mymuesli, fritz kola, Vapiano, mytaxi, etc.). Some interviews were interesting to read and the book offered nice insights into the German startup scene.
What really annoyed me about the book is that it is typeset in such a careless way. Questions which sometimes are bold and sometimes not and a gruesome usage of word spacing.
Stephen King — On Writing
Another biography! The book consists of two parts: Part 1 describes autobiographical details and Part 2 consists of notes on writing and becoming a writer. It seems to me (after reading Mr. Kings Wikipedia page) that he left out a great deal of biographical details. Whilst reading I oftentimes had the impression that he is reluctant to write about himself and is rather eager to get to Part 2. Nevertheless, the book fostered my understanding of the person.
Sam Harris — Waking Up
Harris describes his personal experiences concerning meditation. This was an accompanying book to me starting meditating regularly again. The book contains a vast number of interesting information and I need to read it again, since I didn’t grasp everything the first time.
Neil Strauss — The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships
Very good read, contains a lot of truth indeed. The book centers around the authors’ search for a fitting style of relationship.
Orson Scott Card — Ender in Exile
I don’t know how I could have missed that Card wrote many more books in the Ender universe besides the Ender Quartett (Enders Game, Speaker for the Dead, Children of the Mind, Xenocide). One of them is “Ender in Exile”. The book fits right in the (multiple thousand years) gap between “Enders Game” and “Speaker for the Dead”. I liked it, it was a rewarding read. I have started reading some of the other stuff in the Ender universe as well. Currently I am reading “First Meetings”, a short story collection with some Ender characters.
Ulrich Ott — Meditation für Skeptiker (“Meditation for Skeptics”)
Ott is (similar to Wolf Singer) a well known neuroscientist who researches meditation. This book is a scientific (but well understandable) report on the state of research concerning meditation. The author gives a very broad overview over the topic and describes in detail which commonly postulated advantages of meditation have a scientific base and which not. It was an interesting read and provided some helpful information to me.
To conclude the 2015 book list, I need to mention that there were some books which I didn’t finish: the book “Robert Bosch” by Gunter Haug aims to tell a fictional autobiography of Bosch. Therefore the author imagines thoughts and feelings of Bosch and enriches this with biographical details. I found this approach not working for me at all. The author presumes a lot of stuff about the inner workings of Bosch without any recognizable credibility.
The other book which I stopped reading — though I plan to complete it in 2016 — is “The Singularity is Near” by futurist Ray Kurzweil. It is a very interesting read and the reason for stopping was solely that I was not in the mood for something technical at that point in time.
I read all books (in total 15) in their original language — 13 were in English, two in German.