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Though I do love creating things, I try to push back on the urge to always be producing something; one of my favorite ways to do that is by reading. Here are some of the books I’ve read lately.

(Note that the dates indicate when I finished reading the book, not when it was published. Also, the emoji are a quick way to see how I liked the book.)

2023 (16 books and counting)
This book is full of parenting inspiration. I love Holt’s view of children: they’re curious, capable little creatures who are born pre-programmed for success, if only we adults don’t get in their way too much. Teach Your Own largely focuses on homeschooling (which I’m becoming more and more interested in) but is also relevant for anyone hoping to foster their children’s innate ability to learn and grow. β€¦

Playborhood by Mike Lanza

Aug 2023 · πŸ‘
This book is full of practical suggestions for creating a truly kid-friendly neighborhood, and I’m excited to begin putting them into practice. I especially enjoyed the case studies in which Lanza describes successful “playborhoods” around the country; they demonstrate that there are many ways to accomplish this goal. Most of all, I appreciated the way that Lanza’s pragmatic, incremental approach makes a big cultural shift feel like something I can accomplish in my own neighborhood.
This book is an eye-opening – and sad – description of life in North Korea, which I previously knew nothing about. As someone who’s unhappy with the selfishness and inequality brought about by modern capitalism, I found it particularly interesting to see how alternative systems like communism claim to solve these problems in theory but in practice fail miserably to do so. β€¦

Free to Learn by Peter Gray

Jul 2023 · πŸ™Œ
This book changed the way that I think about raising and educating my children. Gray explains how we’ve seriously overcomplicated parenting, wearing out ourselves and our kids at the same time, and makes a convincing case for giving children back the freedom that they enjoyed for the first several thousand years of human existence. I’m eager to learn more and put these ideas into practice.

Humankind by Rutger Bregman

May 2023 · πŸ™Œ
This book has given me loads of solid evidence to back up my long-held hunch that most people are good and that we could build a better society if we accepted that goodness. What’s more, Bregman’s writing is compelling and interesting; it kept me up past my bedtime more than a few times. β€¦

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

May 2023 · πŸ‘
I’m amazed that people continue attempting to climb Mt. Everest – it sounds very dangerous and terribly painful. I guess it takes a stubborn, somewhat reckless tenacity that I don’t have. It does make for a good (albeit sad) story, though, and Krakauer tells it well. I’m excited to read a few more of his books soon.
This book puts into words many of the things that I’ve been feeling as an artificial intelligence skeptic. It explains the danger of trusting important decisions to computer systems that are black boxes, un-understandable even by their creators; highlights the ways that AI further concentrates power into the hands of relatively few; and even touches on how AI can strip our lives of what makes them meaningful. β€¦
This was one of those books that I’m glad I read but I don’t want to read again – too heavy. Kingsolver does a great job shedding light on the struggles of poverty in general and rural poverty more specifically; she left me mourning for those who suffer the way Demon does and wishing that I could do more to help them. β€¦

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Apr 2023 · πŸ™Œ
What a book. What a terrible, wonderful book. I loved it. The use of death as the narrator and its odd ways of describing the world. The atypical writing style, with bolded, titled important tidbits. The “spoilers” that manage expectations without actually spoiling anything. β€¦
This book was mostly great. I loved the way Easter mixed bits of his Alaskan adventure story in with insights about the benefits of discomfort; honestly, I think I would have enjoyed reading a book solely recounting his trip to the wilderness! As for the research findings he shared, the sections about boredom and exercise were particularly interesting and motivating. β€¦
This book was another gift from my brother, but I didn’t particularly like it. Although Davis clearly demonstrates that prisons are often hellish places unfit for human inhabitation, I was disappointed by her failure to present a compelling, concrete alternative; the last chapter, titled “Abolitionist Alternatives”, merely mentions some guiding principles for creating new solutions and concludes with a feel-good forgive-the-people-who-killed-your-child story. β€¦
My younger brother gave us this book a while back, and I finally decided to read it. I didn’t entirely understand Fisher’s very philosophical/academic style, but I think I grasped the basic concepts. I liked several of his points: that we ought to recognize the role that systems and structures play in causing societal issues; that we need to do more than just complain about a system we don’t like; and that there are of course alternative economic systems. I do wish Fisher had explored a bit more what exactly those alternative systems are since, as he makes clear, we live in a world where it’s hard to imagine anything besides capitalism. β€¦
This was a quick, touching read. Eddie tells the terrible story of the horrors he experienced at the hands of Nazi Germany, but he shares plenty of wisdom and hope along the way. I think we could all use a bit more of Eddie’s perseverance, love, and kindness in this world.
Although I enjoy learning about the history of computing, I didn’t love this book. I struggled to keep track of the many people described in the book, and the story seemed to lack a cohesive flow. The supposed tie-in to the counterculture is rather weak, too; Markoff describes the radical political opinions and recreational drug use of several pioneers of personal computing, but the connection doesn’t feel quite strong enough to merit the subtitle. β€¦
Although I found this book interesting, it wasn’t really my style. Its lack of resolution felt a bit depressing, and I think that was intentional, but I prefer something that provides at least a little hope. I should mention that I read the book in Spanish, which I speak and read well but not with native fluency. While I don’t think that I missed anything important, I may not have caught every little detail or appreciated the writing style as much as I would when reading in English. β€¦
I loved this book. I loved the charming, kind-hearted, quirky characters. I loved the themes of hard work and caring. I loved the funny narration. I even loved the fact that the book went on for nearly 600 pages – I enjoyed every one. Most of all, I loved the way many seemingly small threads were woven together to tell the full story of a man rather than focusing on a single big, climactic event. β€¦
2022 (36 books)
This was a casual, relaxing read. I found the book because the On Keeping a Notebook essay was mentioned in another book I read, and then I just decided to read the whole thing. Although I don’t think I entirely understood Didion’s message in every essay, I enjoyed her writing style and had a good time reading the book.
This book was an interesting meta read about reading itself. Wolf makes a good case that the skills required for deep reading are the same skills needed to be an informed citizen who thinks for himself, and that our increasingly digital lifestyle is chipping away at those skills. β€¦

Quiet by Susan Cain

Dec 2022 · πŸ‘
As an introvert, I thoroughly enjoyed this book’s exploration of introversion. Cain highlights lots of interesting research and sprinkles in only tiny quantities of advice, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Although the book claims to be about the power of introverts (and in many ways it is), I found that it was also a great reminder that people of all personalities, introverts and extroverts alike, have important gifts to contribute to the world.
Yet another book on reducing the influence of technology in our lives – it’s probably becoming obvious that I like this topic. Zomorodi explores various ways in which tech (particularly the smartphone) has a negative effect on our lives and provides ideas we can use to regain control. I prefer Cal Newport’s more extreme approach, but I’d guess that most people would find Bored and Brilliant to be a better place to start. β€¦

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Nov 2022 · πŸ‘
This book was an interesting and harrowing read. Larson tells the story of the Lusitania’s final voyage well, including plenty of backstory while also keeping things moving. I was intrigued throughout, and the weight of the tragedy makes me grateful for the relatively peaceful times in which I live.
This book may be the densest thing I’ve ever read; its subtitle, A Philosophical Inquiry, is quite accurate. In spite of the difficult reading, I enjoyed the book. It made me reconsider the ways in which technology shapes my life without my realizing it, and it felt remarkably relevant despite having been written in the early 1980s. β€¦
I found this book’s take on how we interact online refreshingly constructive. (Despite its somewhat misleading name, the book is about online communities in general, not just Wikipedia.) Portraying online communities as a useful supplement to our in-person communities, Bruckman analyzes the benefits and difficulties of connecting over the Internet and gives thoughtful suggestions for ensuring that the Internet is a force for good. β€¦

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Sep 2022 · πŸ‘
I almost gave up on this book because it was so heartbreaking to read. By following the stories of just a handful of people, Desmond allows the reader to build a connection to them and feel truly saddened each time life doesn’t work out in their favor. He powerfully illustrates the way that deep poverty sucks the energy out of one’s life and makes a convincing case that eviction is more a cause than an effect of poverty. I particularly appreciated the fact that Evicted ends with some concrete suggestions for helping improve the plight of the chronically poor. β€¦
I had a wonderful time reading this book. It was interesting, insightful, and compelling, and despite its ominous take on the attention economy, the book still felt relaxing. I appreciated Odell’s in-depth analysis of the danger of our dwindling attention spans; rather than simply encouraging a few anti-technology practices, she examines the importance of truly paying attention in all kinds of different ways. I particularly enjoyed How to Do Nothing’s emphasis on getting to know one’s bioregion, and I’m eager to read more on that subject.
I loved this book’s focus on “microbusinesses” – it’s full of stories of people who started businesses with little to no outside investment and intentionally kept them small. Some of the stories lacked detail, but for the most part, they got the point across. Reading The $100 Startup got me excited about some business ideas of my own and helped me think through them – I would definitely recommend it to anyone hoping to start a small business.
(Disclaimer: I didn’t finish this book.) The first few chapters of this book were fun, interesting explorations of the way we deal with human-nature conflicts. However, I started losing interest as Roach shifted from discussing how we deal with these conflicts to merely writing about their occurrence. Around the same time, her writing style, although initially enjoyable, began to wear on me – a few jokes are funny, but after too many, the humor feels forced. Perhaps Fuzz would be better enjoyed by reading a chapter here and there over several weeks.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Jul 2022 · πŸ™Œ
I chose this book hoping that it would shed some light on how to improve the plight of people like my 107-year-old great grandmother, who still lives at home thanks to help from nearby family members but who seems rather depressed by her deteriorating life; I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed. Gawande makes a compelling case, arguing that our end-of-life care systems are too focused on making life longer rather than on making our final years better. I found Being Mortal quite interesting, and I hope I can convince my loved ones to read it and plan for their futures as they age.
I enjoyed the way that this book told an interesting story while also raising a tricky moral dilemma. Although the main story takes a more violent route than the Bomber Mafia had envisioned, the book ends on a hopeful note; it’s encouraging to know that technological advances are used to reduce civilian casualties in war. Next step: let’s just not go to war at all because, as Gladwell notes, “all war is absurd.”
What an incredible story! I am appalled at the tragic way in which Alabama’s legislative system failed Hinton, but his hopeful perspective and willingness to forgive amaze me; despite having spent 30 years of his life wrongfully imprisoned on death row, Hinton tells his story without animosity. He also communicates an important message about the value of every life. I had never seriously considered the death penalty before, but Hinton’s story provides moving evidence that an imperfect justice system has no business killing anyone and that even the most vicious criminals can change.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Jun 2022 · πŸ‘
It’s both exciting and alarming to discover that you (and everyone, really) have a totally distorted view of the world. That’s the experience I had reading this book. Rosling does a great job of pointing out humans' fundamental perspective problems in a hopeful, inspiring way. I’d say that Factfulness should be required reading for everyone everywhere.

The Last Cowboys by John Branch

Jun 2022 · 🀷
I’ve always sort of wished I could be a cowboy, so this book was a fun read for me. It was interesting to learn more about the struggles of trying to keep a ranching operation going and about the difficult rodeo life. The book seemed a bit repetitive in its description of similar events across several years, though.
This was a well-written book about an impressive woman. I was amazed by Elizabeth Packard’s perseverance and bravery, and Moore told her story in a suspenseful, engaging way. Overall, The Woman They Could Not Silence was a refreshing dose of positivity, reminding me that a single determined person can make a big difference in a short period of time.
This book was full of interesting stories and valuable insights – that humans naturally assume others are truthful (and that’s a good thing), for example, or that divining how someone feels/thinks without knowing them well is nearly impossible. However, the book did not feel particularly cohesive to me; it wasn’t always clear what point Gladwell was trying to make, and some of the stories didn’t really seem to fit. I enjoyed reading Talking to Strangers, but it didn’t contain much of the practical advice for interacting with others that I’d hoped for.

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

May 2022 · πŸ‘
This book left me feeling deeply disappointed in the way humans often treat each other. I grew up aware that there was conflict around Israel, but I never knew enough details to feel much of anything about it; The Lemon Tree certainly changed that. Tolan’s account makes it clear that the history written by the winners tends to be painfully inaccurate and should be thoroughly scrutinized. β€¦

Braving It by James Campbell

May 2022 · πŸ‘
Reading Braving It made me feel excited to spend more time outdoors. It also made me afraid of having teenage children of my own. 😬 Campbell does a good job telling the story of his and his daughter’s Alaskan adventures, using enough detail to communicate the beauty and hardships of the wilderness without getting boring.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Chris Knight’s remarkable 27-year-long stay in the woods of Maine. In fact, this book made me want to escape from the world and go camping for a bit myself. I found the author’s asides about the power of solitude and why some people seem to need far less social interaction than others particularly interesting, and I plan to read more about those topics soon. The end of the book was a bit anticlimactic and felt too abrupt to me, though.
This book was a fascinating mix of history, adventure, and mystery. I thought Preston did a great job interleaving his own story as part of the expedition to discover an ancient American city with historical context, and he piqued my interest in the pre-Columbian civilizations – I’ll certainly be looking for more books about the ancient Americas soon. β€¦

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Apr 2022 · πŸ‘
This was an eye-opening book about the causes and persistent, deep effects of racial division in the United States. Wilkerson clearly demonstrates the harmful effects of not just overt racism but of the unconscious bias that comes from growing up in a society which continues to teach us, whether consciously or unconsciously, that white people are superior to those of other races. I feel that I’ve gained a new level of understanding from this book that will help me treat others more equally. β€¦
I’ve been working on finding ways to improve my relationship with technology, especially with my smartphone, for several months now, but I haven’t had great success. I think this book may have changed that (although time will tell – it’s only been about a month since I started the book). Newport convincingly describes not just how to improve one’s relationship with technology, but rather how to get technology out of the way and start living a more fulfilling life. I found his recommended digital declutter process quite effective, and the advice he gives for being a digital minimalist is so good that I’m considering buying a copy of the book for future reference.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Apr 2022 · πŸ‘
This is the kind of story that seems so crazy it can’t possibly be true, but it is. I was amazed that Shackleton and his crew managed to survive months on the Antarctic ice pack, two journeys in tiny boats on the open ocean, crossing a never-before-crossed island, and more. Lansing did a great job telling this remarkable story.
This was a moving story about the effects of death, or more precisely, the effects of being confronted with death. The book caused me to consider what is most meaningful in my life and how I can ensure that my actions reflect that. β€¦
This book about Joe Rantz and his rowing crew mates might be my favorite kind of book. Non-fiction; centered on someone interesting but not too well-known; told at a relaxed pace with lots of detail (but not to the point that I get bored); and told skillfully as a fascinating, heart-warming story. Basically, it’s a wonderfully written inspirational sports story. I loved it. β€¦
Wow, what a book. I was both riveted and horrified for the entire thing. I do most of my reading before going to bed, and American Dirt caused several restless nights as I lay wondering how people can possibly be so cruel to each other. On the other hand, there are many amazing acts of kindness portrayed within the book, stories of people who hardly know each other but are united in fleeing from terrible situations. I was impressed by the fact that seemingly small acts of kindness can make a world of difference to a those in need. β€¦

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Mar 2022 · πŸ‘
My son started watching the 2011 Disney Winnie the Pooh movie a year or so ago, and although neither my wife nor I grew up caring much about this classic stuffed bear, we both found it quite charming. I decided to read the book, and it was a fun, quick read. I’d love to read it to my kids at bedtime when they’re old enough to pay attention despite the scarcity of pictures.
This was a short but powerful book. I found that I kept wanting more and more of Morrie’s wise advice, and I finished the whole book in less than 24 hours. (It helped that I had extra time because my kids were sick and slept lots.) I came away from the book touched by Morrie’s goodness and inspired to be less self-absorbed and more willing to help others.
This book helped me better understand the values and origin of the free software movement. Williams clearly depicted Stallman’s firm dedication to free software as an ethical issue, and I came to respect the consistency with which he has fought for his values. β€¦
Wow, what a fascinating book! McBride artfully interleaves the story of his own childhood as a black boy in New York with the story of his white mother’s upbringing in Virginia. The book includes many heavy topics – abuse, racism, drugs, death – but moves so quickly from one thing to the next that I never felt weighed down when reading it. In fact, I finished the book feeling both hopeful and in awe because of the enormous success that McBride’s mother had in raising her children on hard work, faith, and love alone. The Color of Water was exactly what I was looking for – a thought-provoking book about someone interesting but relatively unknown.
I’ve heard about this book for years, and I think it’s an open source classic for a reason – Raymond articulates many of the reasons why open source development is capable of producing great results, often better than any commercial counterpart. However, probably because the book is more than 20 years old and open source has already become an accepted success, I didn’t find the book especially interesting; the arguments feel obvious and somewhat unnecessary at this point. But while its ideas aren’t particularly novel in 2022, The Cathedral and the Bazaar did get me thinking about why, despite its clear advantages, open source hasn’t taken over the commercial world. β€¦
Reading about the early history of the Internet – from the origins of the ARPANET in the 1960s until it was decommissioned in 1990 – was fascinating. It’s amazing to realize that even the people who built the foundation of the Internet had no idea what it would become. I was also struck by the way ARPA functioned – it had lots of government funding and almost as much freedom to choose its research directions – and by the persistence required for each innovation that led to the Internet of today. All in all, Where Wizards Stay Up Late was an interesting, inspiring read.
I cruised through this book, partly because I enjoyed it and partly because my daughter was sick and I spent lots of time holding her (and reading) while she slept. The first half, which covers the time period from Linus’s childhood through the early years of Linux, was my favorite part because it told his not-so-typical story in a very relatable way. It’s inspiring that curiosity and determination took him all the way from typing for his grandfather to developing a world-class operating system. β€¦
After re-watching the 2019 movie over the holidays, I decided to read Little Women. I enjoyed the way the book began as a carefree, humorous account of the girls' childhood and became more somber (although still amusing) as they grew up and experienced some of the hardships of life. Alcott skillfully composes many short stories into one cohesive narrative and teaches the reader that a truly happy life includes hard work, hard times, and especially love.
2021 (1 book)

Range by David Epstein

Sep 2021 · πŸ™Œ
I thoroughly enjoyed Range. Epstein does a great job explaining why, in a world that seems to encourage everyone to specialize, generalized experience is still essential. He doesn’t attack specialization, but rather defends generalization, arguing that a breadth of knowledge is a prerequisite to creativity and innovation. This book was particularly interesting since I’ve been considering grad school.