Books


This is a list of books (174!!!) that I have read since I started keeping track (March 2005) along with any commentary I feel like providing. It is mostly to augment my own memory, but I would be more that willing to answer questions regarding any of these books.

  • "Here I Am," Jonathan Safran Foer Like all of his books, this one is very good, and very sad.
  • "Dark Star," Alan Furst In between the time I started reading this book, and when I finished it, we had our first baby! That may be why it took my over three months to visit it. I'm guessing that my rate of books read will slow down quite a bit for the next two years. Anyway, this was a great book, not just a great spy book. Well written, with very interesting historical context. Recommended!
  • "In the Beginning... Was the Command Line," Neal Stephenson Essay
  • "Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time," Dava Sobel The short answer, a guy invented a clock that was way better than earlier clocks!
  • "Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill," Candice Millard Learned a lot about the history of South Africa. Very glad I read it.
  • "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," Erik Larson Pretty interesting.
  • "Ho Chi Minh: A Biography," Pierre Brocheux I actually meant to read a different biography of Ho Chi Minh! Specifically the one by William Duiker. But this one was translated by Claire Duiker (relation?) hence my confusion. Nonetheless, this book was good, and not too long. You are left with the impression the Vietnam was was an infinitely more complex place than our culture would lead you to believe.
  • "The Last Policeman," Ben H. Winters P. good detective story. Reminded me of "Yiddish Policeman's Union" a bit. I read this while in New Hampshire (it takes place on Concord) for bonus points.
  • "Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot," Mark Vanhoenacker Good, though a slow read. Basically a series of essays about flying. Contemplative.
  • "Pattern Recognition," William Gibson Not really sci-fi, but it has a lot of the mood of science fiction stories. An acquaintance on Twitter recommended it, and it was like $3. I liked it! Even if the ending was a tiny bit of a let-down.
  • "The Circle," Dave Eggers I didn't enjoy this book, mostly for reasons of prose rather than subject matter. It read like YA, where everything a character thinks is exhaustively explained. Then, while I know I'm a bit biased, I also didn't find the story of Tech Co. gone awry too convincing. It just didn't ring true for me.
  • "The Gift of Asher Lev," Chaim Potok Sequel to My Name is Asher Lev. More atmosphere and emotion, less action.
  • "Moby Dick," Herman Melville You heard of this one. My sister-in-law's father in law recommended it. He says he reads it like once a year (?!). Besides the long chapters with explanations of technical minutia, it was a pretty good book. Long, so it took me a while, but worth reading.
  • "The Last Lecture," Randy Pausch
  • "Neuromancer ," William Gibson I read this because it is known as a classic sci-fi book, and I found a copy for 2 bucks. For like the first half of the book, I felt like I had no idea what was going on. I did end up enjoying it though. One weird thing was that they talk a lot about what we would call the Internet, but using totally different terminology, so that even someone who understands the basics of the Internet, like me, has a hard time following along.
  • "The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes," Bryan Burrough Pretty interesting book. Probably the best part was the story of the Hunt brothers and their quest to corner the market on silver in the 1980s. After a while struggled to keep everyone's name straight.
  • "The Sleuth of Baghdad," Charles B. Child Decent short stories, I actually enjoyed them quite a bit and found them charming. But it took me forever to get through this book, both because of the format and a lack of compelling reason to keep reading.
  • "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Jonathan Safran Foer I thought it was amazing. Really touching, sad, exciting, etc.
  • "The Quiet American," Graham Greene Very manly.
  • "Master and Commander," Patrick O'Brian
  • "Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival," Laurence Gonzales Starting to feel like all these pop Non-Fiction books follow the same structure.
  • "Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land," Joel Brinkley Very interesting history of modern (post Khmer Rouge) Cambodia. Makes the point over and over again that Cambodia is basically a free market kleptocracy, to the detriment of its citizens.
  • "Up Country," Nelson DeMille A mystery novel that takes place in modern (ish) Vietnam. Reminded me of Wandering Ghost. All these military mystery novels are the same...
  • "The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States," National Commission on Terrorist Attacks I definitely recommend that any American read this book. It gives a good background on Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, and international terrorism, in addition to the specific events of 9/11.
  • "Such a Long Journey," Rohinton Mistry Got this in India in 2007 but didn't read it until 2015. It was funnier than I was expecting, but still sad. The ending is solid, kind of tying everything together.
  • "A Fierce Radiance," Lauren Belfer Oh it was fine. Writing was so-so but learned some interesting things about the race to develop penicillin.
  • "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition," Caroline Alexander A good book that sticks mostly to the facts of the voyage as gleaned from the sailors' diaries. But the amazing pictures taking by the photographer absolutely make the book.
  • "The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography," Graham Robb I bought this book for a reading group like 7 years ago. I started to read it then, and found it pretty boring. Plus the reading group never actually got around to it. But after 3 years in Belgium, I found it to be pretty fascinating. Most interesting is the boredom of the peasants (7 months out of the year there was nothing to do), and how long southern France remained relatively unknown.
  • "The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Douglas Brinkley Read this just about in time for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The author seems maybe a bit too close to the material, from his personal involvement, and because of that it kind of loses some of its historical or journalistic tone. But, I did learn some very important things. For example,100,000 people in New Orleans had no car AND NO ACCESS TO ONE. You really get the sense that Katrina was a failure in preparation more than anything, and from all levels of government. Poverty again hurts our country in new and surprising ways.
  • "Seveneves," Neal Stephenson This book was basically really enjoyable. It is super grand in scope and ambition, and its conclusion leaves you pretty impressed, happy and optimistic. But I do have some complaints. This book is long. Fine. But sometimes it _feels_ long because of Stephenson's tendency to drone on and on about the minutia of clothing on orbits or spaceflight or whatever. Charles Yu calls them "infodumps" his review. I guess some people enjoy it, but it often made me put the book down. Finally, while Stephenson may have gotten lots of technical details right, I am skeptical of the social story and societal changes that play out in his plot. Still, would recommend.
  • "Last Man in Tower," Aravind Adiga While this book wasn't as funny as The White Tiger, it also wasn't nearly as cynical. I like Adiga's books for the (seemingly) realistic portrayal of every day Indian life, from the rich to the poor. This book was almost like 'Back to Blood', but in Mumbai instead of India. Not amazing, but I would definitely read more of his books.
  • "A Clash of Kings," George R. R. Martin I enjoyed this one, and unlike the first one, it was a fair bit different from the TV show. This book has some really exciting parts, such as the battle for King's Landing.
  • "A Game of Thrones," George R. R. Martin You've probably heard of this one. I'm not really into fantasy, but I decided to read this after watching the first 3 seasons of the TV show. Honestly, it was a tad bit boring, but only because of how closely it matched season 1 of the TV show, which again I had already seen. That being said, it was good enough that I finished it, and now I'm on to book 2.
  • "The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat," Alan Levinovitz I was super primed to like this book, as it basically agrees with my already-held opinions that you should basically just eat normally without worrying too much about your diet. However, I didn't end up liking it. First, it was super short, which was kind of a surprise, although a welcome one. But more importantly, the book itself kind of became that which it was critiquing. The best example of this was his many declarations that, "the science doesn't support X." But most of the books he condemns effectively say, "the science does support X," and as a layperson, how am I really fit to evaluate what the science does and does not support? The book didn't help me to understand _why_ the science doesn't support something. That being said, I did take away a few things from this book. Principally, I can now recognize the basic form of a diet fad. It's interesting to see how often the same patterns occur (e.g., salt, sugar, fat, MSG, gluten).
  • "Cryptonomicon," Neal Stephenson Despite its length, a very quick read. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The worst part is definitely the modern day storyline though. I don't particularly like its main character, and I kept anxiously waiting for things to get back to the more interesting (WWII) story lines.
  • "Telegraph Avenue," Michael Chabon A perfectly entertaining book, but this is Michael Chabon, so you expect big things. For me, not really in the same league as Yiddish Policemen or Kavalier & Clay.
  • "Dersu the Trapper," V. K. Arsen'ev This book was fine but took me forever to read. I got super bogged down in his regular descriptions of the flora & fauna.
  • "Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English," Natasha Solomons This was a very sweet book. Took me a while to read because it was not super captivating, but overall good and, like I said, very sweet.
  • "The Bone Clocks," David Mitchell Pretty much a great book! I really liked how it mixed very normal human stories with... weird, supernatural stuff. But, the last chapter was not so great. It dragged on forever, the story was already basically over, it was an real downer, and it contained some unbelievable parts. Why not just end it before then?
  • "Measuring the World," Daniel Kehlmann A fun fictional account of the lives of two famous Germans (Gauss and Humboldt) living roughly at the same time. I didn't know anything about these two other than the things that had been named after them, but the book was fun to read.
  • "The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom," Marcus Rediker Interesting historical book, that was obviously written by a historian and not a journalist. (I mean that in a good way!) The story of the Amistad is just incredible. I learned a long list of very interesting things from this book. For one, that the Amistad Africans mostly came from cities in Africa roughly the same size as those cities they were brought to in the US. It was also interesting to see how the agenda of the Africans was similar to but in many cases different from that of the abolitionists, who were very interested in spreading Christianity, and didn't always seem to have the highest opinion of the natural intelligence of Africans, even though they were clearly quite dedicated to the cause of ending slavery. It was a while ago that I read this now, and I wanted to say more, but I mostly forgot it. Anyway, would read again.
  • "Blindsight," Peter Watts A good book, but a complicated one. To be honest, I didn't totally understand everything.
  • "Leviathan Wakes," James S.A. Corey A really fun book! Half detective novel, half traveling-through-the-stars sci-fi. I was surprised by some of the later stuff in the book (just thematically) but still was very happy overall. Would read again.
  • "The Martian," Andy Weir Red this pretty quickly, because it's the kind of frantic story of survival that I find to be super captivating. Not very well written (just sounds like it was written by an immature writer) but I knew that going into it and still enjoyed it.
  • "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," David Mitchell Good book! The second of Mitchell's that I've read. It was a very fast read for me. It combined some of my favorite topics, including the Dutch & sailing, and it was very interesting to get a feel for that time period in Japan, especially after having just returned from our vacation there. I would recommend it.
  • "Andrew's Brain," E. L. Doctorow A very short book. At first it annoyed me, because of the main character, a pretentious professor prototype, but later on things got much more interesting, and it was worth the read.
  • "Neal Stephenson," The System of the World This is the last book in the Baroque cycle. Overall I just really enjoyed the whole thing. Of course it was long, but it was a lot of fun along the way. I learned a lot, about history, coinage, and even remembered some calculus. There were lots of characters and settings so I never really got bored of it. I even recommended it to my dad, which is a pretty rare thing. I guess one negative thing I could say about the last book was that, but half way through I seemed to be at the climax, and from there on out it felt like things were wrapping up, when in fact there was much more to go. But this could have been my own strange expectations. Still, overall, I really enjoyed it.
  • "The Confusion," Neal Stephenson Follow up to Quicksilver, I read this one even more quickly than the first. Although to be honest, some of the sections taking place in India tended to drag on a bit.
  • "The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics," Daniel James Brown These populate non-fiction books are all the same, in terms of their pacing, language etc. But I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It's the story of the 1936 Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington.
  • "Quicksilver," Neal Stephenson A great book! It's super huge, but I really got into the setting (the Enlightenment) the characters and the style (pretty funny, actually).
  • "Kitchen," Banana Yoshimoto A collection of a few short stories. Banana is a well-know Japanese writer, and I wanted to read a little bit of Japanese fiction before our trip to Japan next month. I am starting to realize that some of the prose I thought was just strange translation is actually common to Japanese authors. Take, for example the following phrase: "These days I was well aware of how the blue air of dawn makes everything seem purified." The book is chock full of lines like that, but so are many other books by Japanese authors. I'm realizing that it's part of the style. Decent book, quick read.
  • "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," Haruki Murakami A gift for my 32nd birthday. A good, short read. It made me want to keep running.
  • "A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower," Kenneth Henshall A pretty good history book for someone who wants to know a little (but not too much) about all of Japanese history. The weakest part was the last section, which was written for the most recent edition. While the author wanted to cover recent events, such as the tsunami and nuclear disaster, ultimately this chapter just read like a random sequence of things that happened (or elements of contemporary Japanese culture).
  • "The Black Book," Orhan Pamuk Takes place in Istanbul, I was pretty excited with this book at first, but ultimately the middle... and then the end dragged on and on for me. Can't say that others won't enjoy it, but I was really happy to be done with it.
  • "Back to Blood," Tom Wolfe Basically "A Bonfire of the Vanities" in Miami, so not too bad.
  • "Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet," John Bradshaw Some of the stuff at the beginning of the book was really tedious for me (like how the modern house cat evolved from wildcats) but in general I did enjoy this book. One of the most interesting hypotheses he puts forward is, in modern society only the feral/homeless cats, the most unloved, least trusting of humans, actually get to breed, and as a result we are taking cats away from their ideal characteristics. He talks a lot about how the cat is widely hated (? sounds like he was taking about the UK and Australia) and for it to survive we need to actively breed in characteristics that make them fit well with modern families, and breed out the ones like hunting.
  • "Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others," Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman A quick read. Maybe nothing I didn't know somewhere in the back of my head, but nice to hear it all written out.
  • "Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever," Reed Albergotti, Vanessa O'Connell This book will make you think Lance is a bad, bad man.
  • "Infinite Jest," David Foster Wallace I'm still digesting this one, so it's hard to say exactly how I feel. Suffice to say that it was a very enjoyable read. I read it in about 2 months, from the beginning of July to the end of August. During most of that time, I had trouble putting it down. The book is notorious for its difficulty, with most of the attention focusing on the footnotes. However, I found that with a Kindle copy, neither the footnotes nor the vocabulary posed much of a challenge, and actually because of its conversational style, I found the book relatively easy to read.
  • "The Gun," C. J. Chivers Interesting non-fiction book about the history of the AK-47. Rather than just being about the technical aspects, it focuses on its production in a planned economy, the US's failure to understand its importance, and it spread to the middle east, and Africa.
  • "Tender Is the Night," F. Scott Fitzgerald I enjoyed this. It started off way over-wrought, but redeemed itself. Read it while in the south of France for bonus points.
  • "La Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh," Philippe Claudel Another French book! Still doesn't count. This one was sweet and slow.
  • "The Blue Book," A. L. Kennedy Powerful stuff. Super British writer and writing style.
  • "L'Enfant de Noé," Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt In French, so it doesn't totally count, it was still pretty good. What I could understand.
  • "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?," Thomas Kohnstamm This book was basically like a Tucker Max travel memoir, and that is not a compliment.
  • "Bailout," Neil Barofsky The main thing I took away from this was that the people who work in the Treasury are a bunch of jerks, in both the Bush & Obama administrations. I'm pretty sure that was intended. The book is more than a little self-serving.
  • "Steve Jobs," Walter Isaacson I've read a million books about early Silicon Valley before, including iWoz and Fire in the Valley, which cover a lot of the same ground, at least the early parts. So I felt like I knew a lot of the stuff in this book already. It does reemphasize to me how abrasive a personality Jobs really was. But he definitely had the ability to lead and motivate. I couldn't help but get the feeling that this book was written too early. It's nice that Isaacson got complete access to Jobs, and got to do interviews with him and so many others before Jobs' death (actually, the book as clearly published before his death) but I feel like the true legacy of Jobs is not yet known, particularly now at the start of the post-Jobs phase. We'll need another biography in 20 years or so... Finally, this book definitely has a recently bias, focusing a lot on the iTunes-iPhone era Apple. It's important since, it was the most successful phase, but I imagine also the easiest to research.
  • "The Hobbit," J. R. R. Tolkien This is the second time I have attempted reading this book, the first time I finished it. When I first picked it up in college, I though most of the old-timey language and sensibilities were completely corny and boring. But this time I found them charming, actually. Also, I don't think there was a single female character in the entire book, which is kind of a shame, because I got the impression that the story was meant to be empowering for the young (who would identify with Bilbo?)
  • "King Leopold's Ghost," Adam Hochschild This is the story of how King Leopold II of Belgium came to privately own/control the Congo Free State colony. The way this book presents it Leopold, mostly useless in the Belgian democracy, came to want a colony more than anything else, and he was willing to search all over the world for one. He came to control the Congo in part for humanitarian reasons. (He claimed to want to rid Africa of Arab slave traders.) But in a horrible irony, he manages over the course of a few decades to extract lots of rubber and ivory from the Congo based mostly on forced labor. This book was fascinating. I had a hard time putting it down. If I had to criticize anything, there are parts of the book that seem more than a bit sensationalist, but I would account that just to the author's background in journalism, rather than as a historian. (And in all honesty, it's probably why the book was so interesting to read.) The events in the Congo are important in the history of the world! It is believed that millions of Congolese people died during Leopold's reign under truly horrible conditions.
  • "How Can One Not Be Interested in Belgian History? War, Language and Consensus in Belgium since 1830," Benno Barnard, Martine van Berlo, Geert van Istendael, Tony Judt, Marc Reynebeau This book is deeply academic, in the negative sense of the word. Take, for example, the attempt at playfulness that is its title, and yet not quite playful enough to use the grammatically incorrect but more common "You" for "One." And in general this book suffers from its genesis (basically the published results of a workshop of the same name). It has no central point or theme, other than Belgian history, because it is told in successive chapters by different authors. It is also pretty negative on Belgium and its chance of surviving its current existential crisis (some Flemish would like to separate from the country). Still, given all of that, I learned a good bit about Belgian history. In particular, its history of oppression of the Dutch language. I learned what I learned mainly because the same history was more or less repeated in each of the chapters, albeit with each author's own personal spin on events. Do I sound negative? I shouldn't be. I'm better off now that before I read it.
  • "Dead Spots," Melissa F. Olson This book is definitely young adult, so it's not in my normal wheelhouse. Also it's about an underground world full of vampires, werewolves and witches, so that would make it doubly not in my wheelhouse. Still, I thought this book was pretty good. Pretty well written, enjoyable, and had enough twists to keep it interesting. There's an interesting writing trick of going back & forth between the 1st person story of the main character and a 3rd person story following Jesse the police officer. The main character is a 'null' who has the ability to cancel out the magic that allows all the crazy underworld characters to do their thing, so it makes her perfect as a kind of cleaner-upper, until she gets accused of one of the murders. This book is chock full of LA references, particularly geography. If you don't care, you probably won't notice it, but it's a nice bonus for those of us who have lived there. I hear there's another book in the series coming out soon. I'll probably give it a read!
  • "Middlesex," Jeffrey Eugenides What a great book! I am very skeptical of these generational novels, but my skepticism was misplaced. The stories in this novel are great. But I think even more I enjoyed the history of then Greek-occupied Turkey and Detroit. Would recommend.
  • "The Cloud Atlas," David Mitchell This book really sucked me in. I just bought it at the airport before a flight but I was immediately glad I did. I think you should read this book knowing as little as possible, so mild spoilers follow. This book contains a number of different stories from different time periods and recurring characters. There's not really one moment that this book leads up to, as I was expecting, rather it's a book where you just enjoy going through each part. The writing is also excellent.
  • "Sag Harbor," Colson Whitehead Darn. I read this a while ago but never got around to adding it. Good book.
  • "The Cat's Table," Michael Ondaatje Pretty interesting. It's mostly the story of a boy taking a journey from Sri Lanka to London via boat, but there are lots of flash backs and flash forwards, and there's some complexity there. I now want to travel across the Atlantic by boat.
  • "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)," Mindy Kaling Pretty funny
  • "My Name Is Asher Lev," Chaim Potok Great book! My dad has been trying to get me to read this for like ten years.
  • "Adventures of a Red Sea Smuggler," Henri de Monfreid A fun book, a fast read. This guy was an old-school adventurer from the 1920s. He reminded me of Indiana Jones. The book is mainly about one trip of his, where he and his crew attempt to smuggle a large amount of hashish into Egypt from Greece. Also, I want to go sailing now...
  • "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Stieg Larsson A very popular book. I enjoyed it, although there were Dan Brownian moments where the author attempted to teach us too much, ruining the prose.
  • "Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3)," Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games books were fine. Some parts were more exciting than others, and the first book was the highlight, but this contained some excitement too, and was worth reading. Writing style is definitely juvenile fiction, as you would expect. My main annoyance with Katniss: She's always searching for anterior motives in others when they have none, and yet is always completely blindsided by any real twist in the plot.
  • "Catching Fire," Suzanne Collins This is the second book in the Hunger Games series. Still pretty corny writing, but still pretty engaging.
  • "Ready Player One: A Novel," Ernest Cline It's hard to say. This was the first sci-fi book I've read in a while. I think the plot was pretty good. It's about a nearfuture, messed up by global warming & economic collapse, where everyone spends all their time in World of Warcraft (basically). Some of the writing was kind of corny, but it was good enough that I read it quickly.
  • "The Hunger Games," Suzanne Collins I saw the movie first, and that made me want to read the book. The plot is definitely engaging! The writing style is not as appealing however. But what did I expect, it's juvenile fiction. Still glad I read it.
  • "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," Charles Duhigg
  • "Wandering Ghost," Martin Limon A fine mystery book. I read it because it takes place in Korea. It was kind of dark, which I wasn't really into. It did have a bunch of interesting anecdotes about Korean society, however.
  • "James Church," A Corpse in the Koryo Pretty engaging but it was about North Korea and I meant to read about South Korea. Pretty much exactly any detective story about New York except it takes place in Pyongyang and the main character is Korean.
  • "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea," Barbara Demick This book was a fascinating (I read it in two days over the weekend) and really sad depiction of life in North Korea as reconstructed from the stories of 6 defectors. I highly recommend it.
  • "The Art of Fielding: A Novel ," Chad Harbach This book was good! It was not nearly as serious as I was expecting. Actually it kind of reminded me of a John Irving book.
  • "Your Republic Is Calling You," Young-ha Kim I read this because I am interested in Korea. It was sold to me as a spy book, kind of 24-style. There were some enjoyable parts but ultimately it was kind of a let-down.
  • "Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer," Paul Freiberger A long but interesting history of the PC. It was written in like 1984 so it doesn't have as much perspective as one might like. For instance, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple right after this book was written, and then later came back to save it. I liked this book because it had more technical detail than you might expect.
  • "iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon," Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith Steve is pretty impressed with himself. This book contained some interesting stories, but mostly I wanted to be done with it by the end.
  • "The Moviegoer," Walker Percy One of the "classic New Orleans books" that I had never read before. It was pretty good, if pretty similar to other angsty, "what is life all about?" sorts of books.
  • "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," Laura Hillenbrand This is a pretty amazing story.
  • "The Good Soldier Švejk," Jaroslav Hašek A pretty funny book. Basically like "Catch-22" if it were written 40 years earlier.
  • "Everything is Illuminated," Jonathan Safran Foer
  • "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," Michael Chabon Just a fantastic book.
  • "The Coming of the Third Reich," Richard J. Evans A well-written history book describing the Nazis' rise to power in Germany. It begins at the reunification of Germany in the 1800s and ends in 1933 right as the Nazis' control of the country seems to be total.
  • "Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem," Simon Singh Interesting popular book about Fermat's last theorem and the quest to prove it.
  • "Keep off the Grass," Karan Bajaj Meh...
  • "The White Tiger," Aravind Adiga I really enjoyed this book! It had a real sense of humor, even though it was pretty dark and cynical. So far this is the best book I have read by an Indian author and about India.
  • "Into Thin Air," Jon Krakauer A pretty amazing story. Krakauer's writing is pretty engaging, this being the second book of his that I have read.
  • "Twenty-First-Century Jet: The Making and Marketing of the Boeing 777," Karl Sabbagh While it was interesting to see a lot of the nitty-gritty details of plane design and manufacture, this book ultimately did not hold my interest very well.
  • "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," Jon Krakauer I did a review of this book on my blog.
  • "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters," Chesley B. Sullenberger with Jeffrey Zaslow This is the autobiography of Sully Sullenberger, the USAir pilot who successfully ditched flight 1549 in the Hudson River after both engines were destroyed in a bird strike. It's clear that Sully is not an author and the biography parts dragged on a bit. The story of the incident and the events that followed, though, were quite interesting and worth it for me.
  • "Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth," Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou I got this graphic novel from Rand for Christmas 2009. It was great, and I was extremely happy and surprised to learn that something like it even existed. The book is about logician Bertrand Russel and the search for the foundations of mathematics which occurred during the early part of the 20th century (and late 19th century). While I knew only a little about Betrand Russel (mostly his paradox) that was okay, as the book was a great introduction to the history of formal logic and that which would eventually become the basis for a lot of computer science, programming languages and type theory. Recommended for anyone in C.S., and even for those outside who are just curious!
  • "Goodbye to Berlin," Christopher Isherwood I bought this in Berlin. Good book. It was the source (indirectly) for the musical Cabaret.
  • "The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of Our Time," David A. Vise and Mark Malseed Seems like every single book I read has a subtitle... Or maybe that's just every non-fiction book? Anyway, The Google Story is kind of like the history of Google, right? And in that respect, this book does exactly what it sets out to do. In Some ways, the book takes a sort of, Google Fanboy approach, by which I mean that just about everything Google does is lauded and just about everything others do in response or to disparage Google is mocked. That's not entirely true though. Some amount of time is spent discussing privacy issues and the various lawsuits that have been filed against the GOOG. Most interestingly, the one filed by Overture, who held a patent for a ad-selling services that is very similar to Google's AdWords auction. Um, but more importantly annoying, after the initial few chapters, each chapter just seemed to contain a bunch of information about Google smashed together. There was not always a consistent theme that I could find. Overall, still reasonably entertaining.
  • "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable," Nassim Nicholas Taleb Another book from the author of Fooled by Randomness, which I read a while ago. Many of the points he makes are the same, but in a more refined form.
  • "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age," Steve Knopper A pretty good, and short, book about the record industry. I have to say there are a lot of names in this book. A lot of managers, record executives, and industry analysts. After a while it's a little hard to remember them all. Still, an enjoyable book if you really want the technical details.
  • "A Prayer for Owen Meany," John Irving Yet another John Irving book in the summertime, and this one may be my last. A Prayer for Owen Meany is about a boy named Owen who is very small and very strange and communicates with God. (The movie Simon Birch is apparently loosely based on this book.) Overall I think this was a good book, and I would recommend it. However, I am starting to realize that all of Irvings books share very similar themes, and I guess I am getting a little bored, hence this book potentially being my last. I have now read four of his books, and in each one several of the following themses have been present:
    • Vienna
    • New Hamshire
    • Incest
    • Marital Infidelity
    • Prostitutes
    • Hyper-Sexualized Female Characters
    • Pets
    • Stuffed Animals (As in taxidermy)
    • Death of One or More Parents
    • Rape
    It's not that these are bad themes or anything like that, but to have them repeat in so many novels seems a bit strange to me, and more importantly, they get old after a while.
  • "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror," Reza Aslan I was very excited about this book because of an interview with the author that I saw on The Daily Show. He seemed very reasonable and level-headed. I did not enjoy the book nearly as much, unfortunately. I still agree with the basic thesis, but found that is was mostly only discussed in the final chapter and the Epilogue. Most of the book itself seemed to be a wandering discussion of various social and religious groups. It also annoyed me in one technical way by not using any mark to indicate which text had associated end-notes. Yes, there were end-notes, sourcing many of the points made by the author, but because there was no way to tell which sentences did and did not have sources, I had a hard time telling when the author was related and established fact and when he was merely asserting.
  • "Rounding the Mark," Andrea Camilleri I started reading this book because I thought it took place in Genoa. It does not. Genoa is briefly mentioned in the beginning, in the context of a particularly violent G8 summit, which was held there. Otherwise the story takes place in Sicily. It's your standard mystery story, and it's pretty forgettable. It would have been a quick read except that I never really got interested in the plot so I put off finishing it for a long time.
  • "Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science," Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont The authors make some pretty good points here...
  • "Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets," Nassim Nicholas Taleb Actually, I read this book in college, but it was before I started counting so I didn't get credit for it. So I read it again. The author comes across as pretty pompus, but it still a pretty good book.
  • "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk," Peter L. Bernstein
  • "The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron," Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
  • "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," Doris Kearns Goodwin Another huge history book that I received for Christmas, but it was also another great one. Team of rivals tells the story, primarily through primary sources such as personal correspondence, of Abe Lincoln and his political career, with a special focus on the other members of his cabinet. Abraham Lincoln is a larger-than-life figure in American history, so it can be hard to take seriously claims of his preeminence. This book, however, is a mostly believable claim of just that. Abe comes across as a great politician and a good man. He wasn't the first person to decide that slavery was wrong, and he may not have been color-blind in the modern sense of the term, but once he made up his mind about slavery he did not waver.
  • "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House," Jon Meachum A pretty interesting book about the life of Jackson told through the correspondence of him and his close associates. Definitely worth reading.
  • "The Gospel of Food," Barry Glassner
  • "God of the Door," Rob Dalby A self-published book that my dad gave me. It's about cults and stuff in New Orleans.
  • "The Soul of a New Machine," Tracy Kidder
  • "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs," Chuck Klosterman While this book is not without its laughs, nor its share of honest, and accurate observations, for the most part it feels trite and pessimistic. Maybe that's too strong. How about, "I liked a lot of it, but don't necessarily agree with most of its philosophical assertions."
  • "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," Michael Chabon I loved this book! I would recommend it to just about anyone. Not only does it have neat, alternative-history aspects, and a great detective plot, but it's actually very funny and extremely well-written. Let's not even mention the great cover!
  • "The Right Stuff," Tom Wolfe
  • "Moneyball," Michael Lewis Michael went to my high school! I reread this again in 2011 when the movie came out.
  • "No Country for Old Men," Cormac McCarthy
  • "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," Philip K. Dick
  • "White Noise," Don DeLillo For the most part, I really liked this book. It's full of a sarcasm that is not too abrasive, and doesn't get on your nerves. It's well written, and the plot, which centers around a chemical leak, is pretty exciting. I did see the climax coming (and it needs a little work) but otherwise, this is the sort of book I like.
  • "I Love You Beth Cooper," Larry Doyle While the plot of this movie seems very formulaic, it is executed quite well and ultimately led to a book I had trouble putting down. During his speech as valedictorian, Dennis (super-nerd/valedictorian) tells Beth Cooper (head cheerleader/super hot) that he has loved her since the seventh grade. The book reads like many graduation comedy movies from the 80s up to today, but does so in a rather self-aware manner. It manages to be really funny at some points, and the characters themselves aren't quite as predictable as the plot would suggest. Turns out they're actually making this book into a movie as we speak.
  • "Dreaming in Code," Scott Rosenberg Dreaming in Code is the story of the development of "Chandler," a personal information management tool. This could be the best book about the development of software written for people who don't develop software, but it's still got it's problems. There are things I liked about this book. It ultimately passed one important litmus test: This will be the first book I give my dad so that he can ultimately come to a better understanding of what it is I do. (Whilte my dad is smart, and has a technical mind, but knows little about software.) This book describes the open-source movement, programming languages, and the strange fact that what we really do as software developers is to create abstractions. It describes why the development of software is so often so difficult, and I think is to be commended for this. On the other hand, the book takes goes off on several long tangents that I think are both unnecessary and will be difficult for non-technical readers to understand, which is really too bad. There is a long discussion about static vs. dynamic typing in languages, important to me but not to the book. Other tangents take entire chapters. Finally, there is a depressing lack of closure, which while a part of the development process, could have been avoided by simply waiting a few years longer to release the book. Overall, a good book. We'll see what my dad says.
  • "A Death in Vienna," Frank Tallis Part two in my, 'reading books about Vienna because I am going to Vienna' series.
  • "A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889," Frederic Morton This was one of the most engaging books on history that I have read in a while. It is written in the style of a novel and is primarily centered around Rudolph, the crown prince of the Austrian empire and his part in a double-suicide. Other notable characters, such as Freud, Klimt and Brueckner, show up, and we get to see their lives before they had yet achieved fame.
  • "Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer," Maureen Ogle I later reread this once I started brewing.
  • "Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft," G. Pascal Zachary A little bit outdated, but an interesting read nonetheless. This book takes us through the creation of Windows NT, and focuses primarily on David Cutler, the ex-Digital dude who was in charge of the project. He was pretty much a hard-ass, and expected a lot out of his people, sometimes to the point of being completely unreasonable. Most interestingly, he completely did not care about security, and treated it as an afterthought. While the author did not draw too much attention to this point, I feel like if this book had been written more recently with all of Windows' security vulnerabilities, a bigger deal would have been made of this point. I'd like to see a book like this about the creation of Vista, which I hear was equally painful.
  • "Managing Ignatius: The Lunacy of Lucky Dogs and Life in New Orleans," Jerry Strahan
  • "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," David Eggers It's too meta but I enjoyed it.
  • "The Golden Compass," Philip Pullman It's the anti "Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Ugh.
  • "Sirens of Titan," Kurt Vonnegut Good book. My second book club book.
  • "Baudolino," Umberto Eco I am actually reading this book along with the book club of which I am a member. This is a good thing, because I truly enjoyed this book, but it's in particular genre that I never in all my life would have picked up on my own. It's all about the guy Baudolino who lives in the 1100s and is telling the story of his life to Niketas. Or maybe he's telling the story of his life. He might be making the whole thing up, since we know him to be a world-class liar. Two details about this book that I loved: The characters are constantly getting into realistic-sounding arguments about science and the Christian faith (e.g., can a vacuum actually exist). Also, every time we cut back to Baudolino and his telling of the story to Master Niketas, Niketas is always engaged in some over-the-top feast, which he finds to be most inferior to the sumptuous meals to which he is accustomed. Okay, there are lots of other good parts too, so go ahead and check it out.
  • "Off Magazine Street," Ronald Everett Capps Since I kind of am willing to read any book about New Orleans, and because I actually live off Magazine street (at least when I'm in New Orleans), I thought I'd give this one a try. It was a really quick read, and enjoyable, but it's really more about atmosphere and attitude than, say, plot. I mean basically nothing happens the whole time, and there is nothing that I would call a true climax, but still I'm glad I read it. There's an indie movie, too, with John Travolta and Scarlet Johansen, so I'll probably check that out.
  • "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Tom Wolfe Okay, I'll admit it. I really liked this book. It wasn't nearly as stuffy as I thought it would be, based on my original impression. Tom Wolfe has a style that is very much in line with other slingers of pop fiction. It was a very easy book to read. (I seem to say that a lot, don't I?) My sole complaint would be the rediculous size and weight of the hard-cover version. Why can't all books be paperback?
  • "The Great Indian Middle Class," Pavan K. Varma Absolutely ruthless in its denouncement of the ethical state of the Indian middle class, his main hypothesis is that the middle (and elite) class needs to become more invested in the concerns of the large Indian underclass population before this population makes its needs heard.
  • "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck Nels, you ask, are you reading this for your high school summer reading list? No silly. In fact, I never actually read "The Grapes of Wrath" before, and decided that now was as good a time as any to read it. I wasn't dissapointed. I loved this book in fact. It was extremely well written and for some reason (maybe this exposes an ignorance on my part) it seemed somewhat relevent during my travels in India. Or at least I felt that the poverty and hardship experienced by the Joad family was not just some quaint relic of an earlier time. Man, though, that ending sure is sad...
  • "The Hotel New Hampshire," John Irving It's summer time, so it must be time to read a John Irving book. I didn't like this one nearly as much as "The World According to Garp," or "The Cider House Rules," but it still had its moments. For some reason, having something to do with the narrator's tone, the entire second half of the book sounded like a denoument. It felt like I was at the end of book for practically all the time I was reading it!
  • "One Night @ The Call Center," Chetan Bhagat Didn't really enjoy this one too much. I have to say, I haven't read a book in a long time where I felt so unsympathetic to the characters. I really couldn't have cared less whether things ended up good or bad for them.
  • "All the King's Men," Robert Penn Warren An overall fantastic book. I wrote a real review of this book that I was going to post, but I think I'd rather just keep it short; this story is extremely well written. While it claims to be a book about politics, it really is a book about one's own past. It's pretty dense though, so even as good as it was, I was glad it was over by the end.
  • "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Hunter S. Thompson
  • "Freakonomics," Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner This book was fine, although it reminded me a lot of "The Culture of Fear," a book that I enjoyed much more.
  • "The Wind Up Bird Chronicle," Haruki Murakami Summer seems to be the only chance I ever get to read for fun. That's okay, as I usually more than make up for the rest of the year. Let's see what we can scrounge up in the summer of 2007. Anyway, this book was recommended to me by Randolph. It's modern Japanese book translated into English, which is a little unusual for me. I normally try to avoid modern foreign books, and wait until the hands of time have wrung out the best and brightest, deeming them worthy of proper translation. Well if anything had been lost in this translation, I would be surprised. The language itself is heavy and poetic. The story itself is a little hard to describe, except that it's a tale of dissapearance and the supernatural in modern day Japan. However there are many characters and plot elements in the book that are tied back to WWII era Manchuria which at the time was controlled by the Japanese. And while I feel like a bit of a weakling saying this, my main problem with the entire story was a feeling of constrantly being in the dark, even after I had finished it. It is certainly a page-turner, but I was left unsatisfied and looking for more of an explaination behind the logic of the supernatual events. Actually, I normally really hate it when authors of screenwriters feel the need to drill in the explanation at the end of the story ("don't you get it, he was a ghost the entire time!") but here's one time when I honestly wouldn't have minded.
  • "Virtual Light," William Gibson You see I don't like science fiction, but the works of William Gibson (in particular his Bridge Trilogy) are growing on me. This book, just like "All Tomorrow's Parties," takes place in a future LA and SanFran. This was actually the first of the trilogy, and maybe that's why it doesn't so much end as run out of pages. Sort of like this review!
  • "Black Hole," Charles Burns This was a neat book given to me by Rand. It is a comic book/graphic novel that takes place in the 1970s about a strange disease that is affecting a lot of teenagers. It sort of follows some different characters who contract the disease as they become outcasts as a result.
  • "The Devil in the White City," Erik Larson Read in preparation of my visit to Chicago, this was an interesting book about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and a serial killer who was committing his crimes in Chicago at around the same time. This story includes a lot of information on the architecture of Chicago and the history of the fair as well as the historical context in which the fair opened.
  • "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald No, this is not a joke. Not much has changed since high school. This is still a great book. It seemed even more relevent for this phase of my life than it ever did when I first read it.
  • "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," Mark Haddon Strangely, this book read much like The Last Samaurai, mostly because of the style and language used by the narrators in each book. Both are intelligent but naive in the same sort of way. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one a lot.
  • "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken," Seth A comic book. It had nice illustration.
  • "High Fidelity," Nick Hornby
  • "Running with Scissors," Augusten Burroughs
  • "The Last Samurai," Helen Dewitt This book took me forever to work my through, partially because it was somewhat long (maybe 550 pages) but mostly because I just wasn't giving it my full attention. It would be wrong to say that it wasn't an engaging book as much as I wasn't personally engaged. This story is essentially divided into two parts, the first describing the education of the main character, and the second describing his quest, and I can say that I did end up thouroughly enjoying this second half. Briefly, and cryptically so as not to give too much away, the story describes Ludo, a young prodigy, and his single and sometimes eccentric mother Sibylla.
  • "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," Michael Chabon Since I enjoy reading books about places that I have been to or are currently living in, I figured it was about time I read a book about Pittsburgh. This book was recommended to me by a friend. Michael Chabon is the same guy that wrote the book "Wonderboys" which I did not read but did see the movie. That one also took place in Pittsburgh. Anyway, Mysteries is the story of a recent college graduate and his summer after graduation. It has many of the same themes as "Less Than Zero" but with fewer drugs. It also has some action, which certainly surprised me. But in the end it wasn't enough. I did enjoy reading about the neighborhoods around me, Squirrel Hill, Hill District, Craig Street and the Cloud Factory, but I never really cared that much about the characters of the story. The main character's life takes some interesting turns, but I guess I just didn't really buy it. Maybe it's just my mood right now, but I have enough of this "The Stranger" style detachment from life. I need to read about people who are living it up, and not letting a single moment pass by. So that's what I think, for what it's worth. I'll probably change my mind later...
  • "All Tomorrow's Parties," William Gibson This has some good scenes in future San Francisco.
  • "The Day of the Jackal," Frederick Forsyth
  • "Bringing Down the House," Ben Mezrich
  • "The Call of the Mall," Paco Underhill
  • "The Cider House Rules," John Irving
  • "David Sedaris," Dress Your Family Up in Corduroy and Denim
  • "Prime," Poppy Z. Brite
  • "Pompeii," Robert Harris
  • "A Confederacy of Dunces," John Kennedy Toole So good. Currently my favorite book ever.
  • "Angels and Demons," Dan Brown Still wouldn't recommend it...
  • "Da Vinci Code," Dan Brown Wouldn't recommend it...
  • "Planet Simpson," Chris Turner A neat look at different elements of the Simpsons and how they reflect and relate to our own culture. It has a lot of references so you may not enjoy it if you're not a fan of the Simpsons. Also, it gets a little repetitive and is kind of a slow read.
  • "A Nation of Rebels," Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter An amazing and interesting read. Another one that went by very quickly.
  • "The Beach," Alex Garland Good book. Quick read. And it's better that the movie too, a movie which I sort of enjoyed.
  • "Billions and Billions," Carl Sagan This is definitely a pop-science book, but it's the first of his that of read so they may all be this way. It's actually mostly about the environment, global warming, etc. It's a good read for people (like me) who don't know too much about those topics except for the poor explanations given in popular discourse. It was also written at the very end of Sagan's life, so there's a whole part at the end where he talks about his disease and his hospital experiences. Overall a pretty good book. If you don't like it, you won't be reading it for very long. I read it on a plane flight from LA to Atlanta.