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05 Jan 2014
The best books I read in 2013

Tech-related books I loved reading in 2013

Emergent behavior

  • Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds by Mitchel Resnick - Thoughts on experiments in emergent behavior using a Logo variant.
  • Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology by Valentino Braitenberg - I maybe kinda have a thing for the concept of emergent behavior. I blame having read Hofstadter at age 14-ish.

Design

  • Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby by Sandi Metz - This was the sort of technical book you can both read on the train and actually get something valuable out of, which is a bit of a rare combination.
  • Confident Ruby by Avdi Grimm - Guarding the borders.
  • The Unix Philosophy by Mike Gancarz - “Every program written since the dawn of computing is a filter.”

Problem-solving

  • Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael C. Feathers
  • How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya - This is an extraordinary book. It claims to be about solving math problems, but of course it applies to problem-solving generally. No hugely new-to-me ideas, but I was mostly reading it for help articulating concepts when trying to teach debugging techniques, and it’s great for that.

History

  • Engines of the Mind by Joel Shurkin - Includes lots of good stories about Ada Lovelace and von Neumann (why didn’t anyone ever tell me he was a Hungarian Jew with a penchant for dirty limericks?!).
  • Coders at Work by Peter Seibel

Functional

  • The Little Schemer by Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen - Started off with a bunch of stuff I already knew (yeah yeah recursion whatevs), and then in the last maybe 30ish pages it suddenly sped up and got fascinating and brilliant and wonderful.
  • Understanding Computation by Tom Stuart - Walks through automata, turing machines, lambda calculus, &c, writing interpreters and parsers along the way.
  • Coffeescript Ristretto and Javascript Allonge by Reginald Braithwaite - Clear explanations of closures, combinators, &c.
  • Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good! by Fred Hebert - Okay, I confess, I still haven’t actually finished reading this one yet, but I’d never written any Erlang before starting it and now I have, so it’s definitely been useful already.

Other

  • The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications by Michael Zalewski - Tremendously useful introduction to where things can go wrong.
  • Learn Vimscript the Hard Way by Steve Losh
  • The Unix Programming Environment by Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike - I’m only almost done with this at the moment, but I read most of it in 2013, so it totally still counts.
  • A Unix Shell in Ruby by Jesse Storimer - Reading this made it finally click in my head what a shell is and isn’t, I think. The turtles are revealing themselves.
  • Ruby Under a Microscope: An Illustrated Guide to Ruby Internals by Pat Shaughnessy - Wonderfully clear explanations of how MRI especially works. My favorite bits were the step-by-step explanations of C snippets along the way. Worth reading for the sake of learning about compilers, even if you’re not interested in Ruby.

Books I loved reading in 2013 that were emotionally difficult:

  • Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali - Riveting, intense, emotionally difficult. I would urge everyone to try to read this book, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for deciding it was too dark to handle. The history of torture and how different governments use different techniques, their goals, their lineage, and how public scrutiny has led to the proliferation of clean torture (that which does not leave marks) rather than lessening torture.
  • In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick - I found that by the time the humans were dying of dehydration and starvation, I found it a bit hard to have sympathy for them, having just read so much detail about what they’d done while whale-hunting.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls - A novel that reminded me of some people I’ve known. This book tore me to pieces. Basically, it was a spectacular book that made me feel like I was going to throw up all the way through.
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers - Creepy as fuck novel. I’d stick it near The Handmaid’s Tale if my shelves were organized more organically. Themes of family and feminism and right to control over one’s own body.

Fiction I loved re-reading in 2013:

  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge - The best of Vinge. Best read in quick succession with Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark.
  • No one belongs here more than you. by Miranda July - Amazing short stories.
  • Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch - Still LOVE it. A comic book about an Orthodox Jewish girl fighting a troll.

Other Fiction I loved reading in 2013:

  • Heiresses of Russ 2012: the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction edited by Connie Wilkins and Steve Berman - A bunch of truly fantastic stories!
  • The James Tiptree Award Anthology 3 edited by Karen Jay Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, and Jeffrey D. Smith - These are the best anthologies.
  • The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi - A bit Charles Stross, a bit Alistair Reynolds, a lot good.
  • Emissaries From the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro - Decent scifi, made great by the presence of a character who is comprised of two linked humans who have transitioned into a single person and who has to deal with a lot of the same issues as trans people in our society.
  • Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders - Short story and novella collection. His characters all have the same voice, but it’s a voice that really speaks to me. Marvelous satire, resignation, acknowledgment of futility, sharply hilarious and depressing all at once.
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross - Financial mystery and space travel!
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - I’m incredibly burnt out on Holocaust stories, and I still loved this one. (My grandparents were in Auschwitz. Ask me what my grandmother says about Dr. Mengele sometime, I dare you.)
  • A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava - A novel of philosophy and the NYC criminal justice system. Deeply nostalgic for me - this must’ve been written by someone who has actually spent time in the NYC criminal courts.

Other non-fiction I loved reading in 2013:

  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer - Memoir of disaster when climbing Everest.
  • Positively Fifth Street by James McManus - Poker and murder. Good, though I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I actually understood poker. It kinda makes me want to finally learn to play, though.
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber - I wouldn’t take this as a serious history, but I found it sociologically fascinating regardless.
  • Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife by Marie Winn - I want to hang out in the park now and find owls and identify moths and watch slug sex!

Total number of books read in 2013: 123

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