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I find I do around 90% of my fiction reading around Christmas and New Year (mostly because I get days to just read, nothing else; and also because people give me books), so usually have quite a queue. Right now it seems a bit empty though.

So I thought I’d ask what are some good books people have read in 2014? Please answer both technical and non-technical books, as I’m sure people are interested in both (I’m more interested in non-technical, but that’s just me). I’ll put an answer in below.

I was going to say “recently”, but that’s badly defined.


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    • The Martian by Andy Weir
    • Wool by Hugh Howey
    • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

    Technical non-fiction

    • Four Rules of Simple Design by Corey Haines
    • Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS by Jonathan Snook

    Other non-fiction

    • The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
    • 2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron
    • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
    • CS Lewis on the Final Frontier by Scwartz
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      I just noticed that five of those nine books were originally self-published. Interesting sign of the times.

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      An an experiment, this year I wrote capsule reviews of all the books I read. I’ll copy over the generally highly-recommended ones:

      • So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Cal Newport, non-fiction. A criticism of “follow your passion” and path to mastery and meaningful work. A little repetitive (the “tell them three times” style), but engaging, well-researched, and valuable.
      • Homicide. David Simon, true crime. Stunning, engaging writing shadowing Baltimore’s homicide detectives for a year. See the sausage get made.
      • The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. Dan Ariely, science. Excellent science writing, similar to his previous book Predictably Irrational. Useful for community planners.
      • The Leprechauns of Software Engineering. Laurent Bossavit, science. Excellent investigation of how research becomes common knowledge, and how some big cherished software myths (cone of uncertainty, the origin of waterfall, exponentially increasing cost of bugs/change, 10x developers) are false.
      • Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby. Sandi Metz, technical. 4th read. A very polished and insightful book. When I first read it I constantly thought “Yep, that’s how I’d implement that/make that change” and then Metz constantly pointed out the problems that I would struggle to articulate.
      • Trust Me, I’m Lying. Ryan Holiday, culture. A two part book: first an exploration of how blogs make money by churning reader outrage and marketers manipulate them, then a darkly humorous mea culpa with the author whining about this broken system turning against the him, while shedding the requisite crocodile tears for society at large. He’s thoroughly reprehensible (so hit the library rather than buy a copy), but the understanding of how mass media now works is vital.
      • The Mom Test. Rob Fitzpatrick, business. How to effectively interview potential customers to evaluate a business idea. Must-read for entrepreneurs.
      • What If?: Randall Munroe, science. Dryly hilarious answers to ridiculous physical scenarios.
      • The Martian: Andy Weir, sci-fi. Astronaut accidentally abandoned alone on Mars struggles for survival. Good humor and good science.
      • Anathem: Neal Stephenson, sci-fi. 10th read, my favorite sci-fi novel of the last decade. Nerd teens investigate a mystery growing to loom over their sheltered existences.

      Fellow Lobsters may also enjoy many of the technical books on the full list. More importantly, I’ve gotten more value than I expected out of keeping this review list and recommend the practice to every serious reader.

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        Plucked from my Kindle list. I have boring reading habits:


        • Trading & Exchanges (Larry Harris) - excellent overview of markets & market microstructure.
        • Algorithmic Trading & DMA (Barry Johnson) - more of the same, compliments the above very well
        • Quantum Computing and Quantum Information (Nielsen, Chuang) - great, readable, understandable overview of the subject
        • Inverse Problem Theory (Albert Tarantola) - a refreshing book on the subject, written from a physics/applied mathematics viewpoint moreso than a traditional statistical/computer science one.
        • Essentials of Game Theory (Leyton-Brown, Shoham) - very readable technical overview of the subject.
        • Category Theory for Scientists (Spivak) - readable introduction to category theory. Very introductory.
        • Types and Programming Languages (Pierce) - excellent read, not as dry as I initially expected. I’ve been using this as a reference for work in large part as well.
        • Parsing Techniques (Grune, Jacobs) - great, readable, comprehensive text.
        • Penetration Testing (Georgia Weidman) - interesting perspective on security and the like.
        • The Hacker Playbook (Peter Kim) - ditto
        • Practical Vim (Drew Neil) - self-explanatory. Great for picking up assorted vimisms you didn’t know existed.


        • Coders at Work (Peter Seibel) - fantastic interviews with various titans of the field.
        • How To Write A Lot (Paul Silvia) - Targeted at academic writers. I thought this book was unpretentious, straightforward, lacking in BS fluff, and useful.
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          Any highlights in the algorithmic trading corner? The industry looks interesting; looking for a good introductory read.

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            TAPL has been on my list for a while. Glad it’s not as dry as it might seem.

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            • “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (Richard Flanagan): a harrowing story, but incredibly well written.
            • “Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” (Robin Sloan): an exciting novel blending tech and old-world booky sleuthing. It’s at least a year old, I read it last christmas, but still love it. It has a short prequel out in the last year called “Ajax Penumbra, 1969”


            • “Concepts, Techniques, and Models of Computer Programming” (Van Roy et al) (aka CTM). I have found it’s a great exposition of programming, and challenging to read, but good. I set it as a “book I’ll finish over the summer” and failed, and it’s been sitting waiting to be picked up again, but I’ll get back to it soon.
            • “Designing Data-Intensive Applications” (Martin Kleppmann). Martin asked me to review this for me, though it is incomplete. I think it’s great so far, but I suggest waiting until he’s finished before reading it. It sounds all wishy-washy in its title, but in fact is not only general (so not tied to any tech), but also teaches the topics very well.

            I probably have a few more to recommend, but I’m not sure they count as “recent”.

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              I’ve actually started reading a lot more since graduating from university. In the past year I’ve read and enjoyed the following books.

              • Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi - A sort of sci-fi/courtroom drama mash-up in which a disbarred lawyer-turned-prospector fights to get an alien species recognized as sentient.
              • Redshirts by John Scalzi - A Star Trek parody in which a group of new officers on USS Not-the-Enterprise investigate the abnormally high death rate of their fellow crewmen. A really fun read for all you Trekkies out there.
              • Rule 34 by Charles Stross - A near-future murder mystery in which a police inspector normally tasked with monitoring weird internet porn finds herself investigating the bizarre and seemingly unconnected murders of internet spammers. Talks about the effects of internet surveillance, augmented reality, and 3D printing on crime, police work, and society.
              • The Family Trade by Charles Stross - The first in Stross’s Merchant Princes series. It’s a portal fantasy about a tech reporter who finds out she has inherited a genetic trait which allows her to travel to our world and an alternate earth which has not progressed past the middle ages. She meets her long-lost family in the other world, who have been using the family trait to amass wealth and influence. Explores some interesting ideas about economic development. I also read the next two books in the series, which continue the story.
              • The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross - A novel in Stross’s Laundry Files series, which are a sort of spy-fi/Lovecraftian horror parody. In this series, magic exists and is a branch of applied mathematics called computational demonology. Essentially, certain computations can summon gibbering horrors from the higher planes of mathematics. This series follows the adventures and misadventures of Bob Oliver Francis Howard, a British government agent tasked with keeping a lid on occult activity using his wits, special training, CS degree, and some handy “spells” saved on his smartphone. This series is as bizarrely funny as it sounds.
              • All Men are Brothers by Shi Nai'an, translated by Pearl S. Buck - Chinese title 水浒传, also translated as Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh. This is one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. It’s a semi-historical novel about a band of outlaws active during the Northern Song dynasty. The novel is interesting mainly because the cultural context of the novel is just so different from our own. The “protagonists” of the book, being outlaws, commit crimes which seem reprehensible to our modern sensibilities (including many murders, several of which are particularly gruesome). However, these actions are presented in the book as being perfectly justified.
              • Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay - A fantasy novel set in what is essentially a fantastical version of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. The novel is based on the events surrounding the beginning of the bloody An-Shi Rebellions, which marked the end of the Tang Dynasty’s golden age. The plot sort of peters out in the end, but I rather liked how Kay worked Tang dynasty society and poetry into the narrative. Bonus points for inserting the famous Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai as the protagonist’s sword-swinging, poetry-spouting, hard-drinking traveling companion.
              • The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay - Another Kay novel set in an fantastical version of a historical time period. In this case, it’s medieval Spain at the beginning of the reconquista. The novel focuses on three protagonists, one Muslim, one Christian, and one Jewish, who befriend one another but are eventually split apart due to the religious conflicts of the time.
              • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré - A Cold War-era spy novel written by an actual MI6 officer. Carré’s books consciously lack the action-packed heroics of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. There is very little violence in the book, and the conflict is mainly psychological. The protagonists are also morally ambiguous and deeply cynical.
              • River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay - Yet another Kay novel set in the same world as Under Heaven but 300 years later in the Chinese Song Dynasty. The novel is a retelling of the Jurchen invasion of China and the transition from Northern Song to Southern Song. There was also a shoutout to All Men are Brothers in the novel’s early chapters.
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                I’m trekking in Nepal at the moment, so haven’t been reading as much as I would like, but I was given Papillon for Xmas, and recommend it. It’s a real rollercoaster of a read. (I’m embarrassed that I haven’t read it til now. Next up, The Hobbit ;))

                Other recommendations:
                * Pump Six and other stories by Paolo Bacigalupi - fantastic, well-written sci fi.
                * The Most Dangerous Game and Save Yourself, Mammal! by Zach Weiner out of SMBC.

                (What is the markdown for bullet points?)

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                  Asterisks work, but the list must be separated from the heading by a line break, like so:

                  Other recommendations:
                  * Recommendation 1
                  * Recommendation 2
                  1. 1


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                  • Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters (2014) James Mahaffey.

                    An approachable treatise on the discovery of radiation, and the development of nuclear technology – both weapons and power generation. Contains some fascinating observations and conclusions, both about the technology and, perhaps more importantly, the behaviour of engineers, operators and the public at large. Definitely recommend reading.

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                    The Rithmatist - Brandon Sanderson

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                      • The Instructions & Hot Pink by Adam Levin

                      No description I give can do his writing justice. The Instructions colonized my brain for a good few months.

                      • The Collected Works of Jorge Luis Borges

                      Some of his works just slay me. Everything up to The Aleph (in chronological order) is riveting, I especially like The Lottery of Babylon. A bunch of weird math stuff, lots of shout outs to 1001 Arabian Nights. You like knife fights? Borges has knife fights.

                      • Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy by Gabriella Coleman

                      An ethnography about Anonymous. The first thing I’ve read that gives me a feeling of the organization, its evolution, and some of the people that make it up.

                      • Mythologies by Roland Barthes

                      Lots of cultural references I don’t get, but tonnes of fun to read all the same. The theory presents as good a lens as any through which to examine social media.

                      • Clojure Programming by Chas Emerick

                      My favorite introductory text for Clojure, and the first one I’d recommend to a programmer interested in learning the language.

                      • The Joy of Clojure 2nd Ed. by Fogus

                      A great intermediate text with tonnes of delightful rabbit holes.

                      • On Lisp by Paul Graham

                      Probably the first book I’ve read that justifies the arguments for lisp’s goodness rather than accepting them as axioms.

                      • Let Over Lambda by Doug Hoyte

                      I’m not done this book. Occasionally downright painful to read but the deepest book on macros I’ve come across. Grating style, fantastic content.

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                        It takes some effort to start and keep track of the story line. But it is proper science fiction in how technology transforms society. Not space travel though, but the possibility to be able to upload the mind to some kind of cloud.

                        Edit: Typos.

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                          discovered two excellent new-to-me fantasy authors, robin hobb and martha wells. they’ve both been around a while, but somehow i’d never gotten around to reading any of their books.

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                            • SICP: Worked through it in 2014; must say it lives up to the hype.
                            • Artificial Intelligence: A modern approach (norvig & russel): actually a re-read; worked through parts of it in 2003 as part of bsc ai curriculum; was amazed by how stuff falls into place with a few years of experience.

                            Non technical:

                            • Steve Jobs (the bio): meh; nice read, nothing more.
                            • Getting Things Done: Not convinced of the method, but use parts of it. Method described is - imo - too invasive.
                            • Not finished: The 7 habits of highly effective people: Unfinished because I don’t find it a ‘pleasant read’. (So not a good book, but perceived to be one, just my 2c)
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                              • A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail
                              • The Eight by Katherine Neville
                              • The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss


                              • Operating Systems Concepts (uni textbook) by Abraham Silberschatz, Peter B. Galvin, Greg Gagne
                              • Algorithm Design (uni textbook) by Michael T. Goodrich, Roberto Tamassia
                              • The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt, David Thomas
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                                I found Greg Egan’s Permutation City interesting. A medium length review here.