Books read since July 2012.

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  1. Craig Thompson. Blankets. A beautiful and moving story. Makes me feel nostalgic for the time when I was a teenager falling in love for the first time. I've read it twice within 24 hours. First time listening to Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü and First Issue by Public Image Ltd. Second time in silence. BTW, there should be a charity that gives away copies of Zen Arcade to each 16 y.o. boy. That would solve many problems with growing up. 10/10. (July 2012)
  2. Bruce Eckel. Thinking in C++. An introductory book about C++. Starts with C and gradually introduces C++ features chapter by chapter. Focuses on the language itself, and pretty much ignores the standard library. (to learn about standard library read volume 2, available for free on the Internet. I haven't read that one though.). Plenty of examples, which the author comes back to time and again to refactor them to show the point of different chapters. The exercises at the end of each chapter invite you to explore more design choices on your own. It wasn't updated for C++11. 8/10 (October 2012)
  3. Mike Cowlishaw (Ed.) IBM Jargon and General Computing Dictionary (10th edition). I usually don't read dictionaries cover to cover, but every now and then I can make an exception. As you can expect, this book is somewhat more formal than esr's Jargon File, but still that specific hacker's vibe of playing with words. The book is an unique window into an unknown culture. I read it as an IBM outsider, a mainframe outsider, a hardware engineering outsider, but still I could clearly see the shared values and shared problems of all IT professionals around the world. 9/10 (October 2012)
  4. Sir Isaiah Berlin. Four Essays on Liberty. I don't think OI fully grasped that book. Maybe I lack the necessary background in the history of ideas, maybe the book is needlessly complicated, sometimes with no paragraph breaks for several pages. Highlights include an introduction to live and work of John Stuart Mill (which was the most approachable of the four essays), an interesting (although least approachable) informal taxonomy of different strands of historical determinism in the last 2 centuries or so, and an analytical framework for talking about the idea of liberty, full of carefully examined subtle nuances. This framework of positive and negative liberty is the best known part of the book. Daniel Dennett allegedly said that AI makes philosophy honest. Sir Berlin was not an AI researcher, so the whole book doesn't even pretend to be rigorous and airtight. 7/10 (October 2012)
  5. Cory Doctorow & Charlie Stross. Rapture of The Nerds. This is a singularitarian sci-fi novel. It's packed to the brim with fast-paced action and geeky jokes. The protagonist reminds me of Corben Dallas from The Fifth Element. In order to save the world he has to face adversaries such as the maoist Libyans, stoned Australian backpackers, the First Church of Teledildonics, and even his own relationship with his parents. A clever and entertaining book. A sample oneliner: "'S amazing what a good bathroom can do by way of gender reassignment surgery these days, you know?" 9/10 (November 2012)
  6. Wojciech Eichelberger & Tomasz Jastrun. Męskie pół świata. I was rather disappointed with that book, I guess that based on Eichelberger's reputation I expected something like polish Families and How to Survive Them. Unlike that other book, Męskie pół świata doesn't attempt to present a complete psychological theory, but is a collection of loose reflection. The authors reflect on their life experiences and various relationships with loved ones. Unfortunately, it doesn't ammount to much. Bonus appearance by Paulo Coelho doesn't help either, as he is prone to talk in vague terms about spirituality or something. The only directly actionable thing I got from this book was a description of how many men fail to seek medical help with various health problem, a failure mode which I often observe in my own life. 7/10 (November 2012)
  7. John Taylor Gatto. The Underground History of American Education. This is Gatto's magnum opus. The book delivers exactly what is suggested in the title. Modern American publich schools were shaped by a legion of educators, politicians, religious leaders, philantropists and philosophers, and this is a story of how it happened. The resulting synthesis might be not fully convincing, but you must admire the historical erudition presented n this book. The book is available for free on the internet, but both PDF and HTML versions are poorly laid out. I haven't seen a dead tree version, but I hope it looks better. Best read with some Murray Rothbard -- A History of Money and Banking in the United States or something similar.9/10 (November 2012)
  8. Charlie Stross. Accelerando. Another singularity-themed novel after Rapture of The Nerds I've read recently. This one is more serious and not as focused on fast-paced action. The book contains a broad overview of philosophical problems related to personhood theory. Time and again the characters of this book face another class of beings. Can a limited liability company with bylaws sophisticated enough be considered a person? What about a robotic pet cat? Or reconstruction of historical person? Or an identical copy of a living person, as copied with atomic-scale nanotechnology? What about lobsters? Under what circumstances can californian spiny lobsters be considered a person? As more and more sentient and sapient beings come on stage, the humans need to reconsider what is the true essence of human nature, which probably is love. Doh, it's a geeky novel, not an academic white paper. 9/10 (December 2012)
  9. Cory Doctorow. Little Brother. This book is a teenage techno-thriller set in the near future. Yet another book by Doctorow I've read in recent months. It's about hacking, and punk rock, sexual discovery, and everything you'd expect from it. It also contains numerous intermissions that introduce less tech-savvy readers to basic concepts of programming, cryptography and related topics. But that's not important. This week all the hacker news are about Aaron Swartz's suicide. Doctorow first met him when Swartz was 14 or 15. I bet that he was inspiration for the protagonist of this book - a brilliant young hacker. And now Aaron Swartz is dead. In real life there's no guarantee that The Hero will defeat The Villain and win the heart of a beautiful girl in the process. And the war is not made up. It's very real. This book was meant to show what's at stake. Aaron Swartz's death makes that message much more salient. 8/10 (January 2013)
  10. Marvin Ammori. On Internet Freedom. This is a short book that describes some current legal tussles regarding the Internet. Topics like SOPA, network neutrality etc. It is written by an actual lawyer and, so it is full of relevant legal precedents, and explains legal theory that underpins how the First Amendment Freedom of Speech clause is interpreted in courts. It is very educational to have these things explained by a real legal scholar. An important question for me to research later: what's the libertarian/anarchocapitalist view on network neutrality? 9/10 (January 2013)
  11. Gary Chapman. 5 Languages of Love. This is a self-help book. The author has some reasonable academic credentials and a long career in marriage counselling, so I hoped that it's above the mediocrity typical for the genre. Based on his counselling experience he catalogues 5 different ways in which people communicate love. Sometimes marriages fail because there is an impedance mismatch in this communication. Some of the metaphors feel corny, but the whole concept might be valuable as an entry point to a discussion with your spouse. (April 2013)
  12. Nick Winter. The Motivation Hacker. A short and inexpensive self-help e-book. Low on motivational BS, moderate on academic grounding and full of reports on self-administered experimentation. The book stresses focus on empirically measurable results and quick iteration of experiments. (April 2013)
  13. Douglas Hofstadter. Gödel, Escher, Bach. This book is a rare gem. The topic of the book is meaning. What does it mean for something to mean something? This is a weird, self-referencial question. Indeed this book is full of all kinds of self-reference and recursion. As the title suggest, the author looks for inspiration in this search for the source of meaning in countless places—logic, art, music, and many more. All in all reading this book was a great intelectual adventure. (June 2013)
  14. James Altucher. Choose Yourself. I think that this book is a good introduction to James Altucher. Some parts were recycled from his blog, Altucher Confidential, with some new material thrown in to make the whole more coherent. I'm not convinced that this book is generally a good self-help book. It is not connected in any way to academic research in psychology. It is unclear to what degree things that worked for James Altucher will work for the reader. One of the core concepts of the book is daily practice. It probably is a sound idea—"daily" is the easiest schedule to follow in habit formation, and it's always good to make sure all your psychological needs are met in a robust way, although the list presented in the book is overly simplistic. (July 2013)
  15. Albert Jay Nock. Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. This is Nock's autobiography. It's not a typical autobiography, as you won't learn almost anything from it about Nock's life - whom he married, where he worked, and such. Nock describes his childhood and school years in some detail, then decides that the rest is his private matter. Instead he focuses on his views on social problems, focusing on education and various political problems. (August 2013)
  16. Bruce Sterling. The Hacker Crackdown. A very interesting book about the early history of legal scirmishes about the computer networking. Written by a sci-fi author, who stumbled upon this story as it was happenning, and briefly became a historian rather than a fiction writer. Compared to Underground by Suelette Dreyfus it's much more objective and impartial.(September 2013)
  17. Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman. Team Geek. Two experienced programmers share their advice about the softwer aspects of having a career in software engineering. Anectodal evidence and life wisdom seems to be systematically too little to write a decent self-help-like book. So, yeah, optimize your political position in your team. It sure is a tractable problem. (October 2013)
  18. Hyperbole and A Half. Allie Brosh. This book is a beautiful gem. The stories in it are often trivial, the pictures simplistic, yet after reading it the reader remains deeply amazed and enthralled—I suppose by the courage the author had to show to openly write about all the (as the subtitle goes) unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened. (Jan 2014)
  19. Effective C++. Scott Meyers. This is a very important book that levels up C++ developers from beginner to intermediate skill level. It is full to the brim with subtleties of the language—e.g. there are 6 pages on how to do a simple swap() function. For such a detailed and technically intense book it is quite a good read. The author slowly and carefully leads through all the nooks and cranies, but even so the reader most likely will not be able to thoroughly comprehend everything at once, so I guess it's the best to keep it as a general reference. TODO: maybe ankify all the rules. (March 2014)