All of the books I read during 2018. I would recommend most of these, but my ambivalence toward some will be obvious in the blurb.
If you only read one thing from this list: Washington
Past reading lists: 2017
- The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin – The author was the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. More of a memoir of his journeys through chess and martial arts, but there is a lot to absorb if you are looking for an extra edge in your performance. I found his exposition of the philosophies of learning, in particular when teaching children, refreshing.
- Mastery by Robert Greene – Worth a read, if for nothing else but the plethora of mini-biographies of masters throughout history and up to the modern era. The whole section on creativity is fantastic, as is the elevation of simple practice and humility. The author’s confidence is evolutionary dogma makes him write some weird things, but those are easy to overlook.
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott – I feel this book would make a great primer for any inexperienced manager (myself included in that category). It’s also great for anyone in authority. Lots of examples. Written with clarity and humor. We all hate giving criticism, but this provides some oil for the gears.
- The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack – This is a book I see myself revisiting often in the future, just to remind myself of some of the common-sense advice. It helped re-awaken a passion in me for the numbers of running a business.
- Blessed are the Hungry by Peter Leithart – To be read in bite-sized morsels. This is a great primer on the cosmic significance of the Lord’s Supper and will help you appreciate more your place at the table.
- The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – This is a short book, but I feel it could have been shorter. Still, the examples and hypothesis ring true. Beyond just making sure basic stuff is completed every time, checklists can also help reduce centralization, increase teamwork, and create more equality in certain environments. His stats on surgical mistakes are pretty eye-opening.
- The Message of Daniel by Dale Ralph Davis – Davis is always worth reading for drawing some practical wisdom from Old Testament narratives. This one was not as strong as some of his other Old Testament commentaries, but provides a good overview of a difficult book.
- Daniel: The Handwriting on the Wall by James B. Jordan – If you are interested in a deep dive into Daniel, this is worth a read. Just keep your discernment high. It goes from absolutely brilliant insights to things that make you scratch your head, and often on the exact same page.
- Living Zealously by Beeke and La Belle – This is a distillation of what some of the Puritan writers wrote about Christian zeal. A good introduction to the Puritans, though you would probably be better served by reading the primary sources of this book. Still, convicting and encouraging.
- Washington by Ron Chernow – A masterpiece. After I finished, with Washington and his wife dead and officially off the historical stage, I felt a profound sense of loss. Chernow has some strange blindspots, but he is fair, and his respect for Washington reaches out and holds your eyeballs open to keep you reading.
- Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – This was the first biography from Isaacson I’ve read, and it will probably be the last. He writes like a journalist, not a historian, and I feel like I learned more about Isaacson than Leonardo. Stick with an older biography. Some gems, but overall not worth it.
- Domain Driven Design by Eric Evans – I’d recommend this to any programmer. Good case studies and thought exercises to help you start asking better questions, and to help you clarify your thinking. All software problems are ultimately people problems.
- Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson – Book 3 in the epic Stormlight Archive saga. A fun read. Answers several questions while raising some new ones, like all good middle books in fantasy sagas do. My only nitpick is that the flirting scenes between two main characters went on a bit too long, just past the point of eye-rolling and awkwardness.
- Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny – one of the classics of science fiction that reads like fantasy, this one lived to the hype. What if a group of men took control of technology and set themselves up as gods, and in particular, the Hindu pantheon? The book is full of subtle digs at its own conceit, with several of the “gods” dying and being replaced at multiple points. The lofty, high prose adds to the illusion of the numinous that we see gradually breaking down. A fun read.
- Judas Unchained by Peter Hamilton – The sequel to Pandora’s Star, this book was almost non-stop action. It’s predecessor was 800+ pages of meticulous setup and world-building. This was the rollercoaster after cresting the hill. A lot of fun. The author also finally addressed a bit of the despair that could infect a society based on consumption and pseudo-eternal life.
- The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse – If you know anything about Jeeves and Wooster books, you’ll know what to expect. This one had some fantastic lines, including the insult “you ghastly goggle-eyed piece of gorgonzola.”
- The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – A worthy sequel to The Mote in God’s Eye, though it felt much smaller and intimate. It takes place 25 years later and follows Kevin Renner and Horace Bury, who were on the first expedition to the Mote. Some great scenes and characters, with palpable, realistic friendships. It also invites reflection on the role of commerce in bridging cultures. One quote from the book I found funny: “Space-fleet engagements…they’d be boring if they weren’t terrifying.”
- The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – This sequel to The Three-Body Problem outshines its predecessor. The book presents a possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, and it is carried along by well-drawn characters that never quite do what you expect. Both moving and action-packed, I’ll be revisiting this one again.
- Death’s End by Cixin Liu – The consummation of the Three-Body trilogy is hard to describe without spoiling some of its best moments. But this is an epic masterpiece that raises many interesting questions, with a story that will stick with me for a while. It’s also obvious the author doesn’t really care about Western feminized sensibilities and is unapologetic about the dangers of the suppression of masculinity in society.
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – I read part 1 last year and finished up part 2 this year. Encouraging and convicting. While the book might seem a bit heavy-handed, Bunyan is no slouch at weaving a narrative and offering insights into human nature.
- The Iliad by Homer (Robert Fagles’ translation) – My first-ever read of this book, and I wanted to start reading it again as soon as I finished. The story takes you through every emotion of the human experience. This particular translation was easy reading.
- Superluminary by John C. Wright – A fun space opera that wraps up in a way that spins the whole crazy story as a powerful allegory. And by crazy, I mean completely bonkers. At one point, the protagonists make our sun go supernova in order to kill a bunch of space vampires, and that’s not even close to the craziest thing that happens. The paperback is available from Castalia House.
What I Read to the Kids
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – It had been a while since I read this book, close to 18 years. I always remembered it as being “meh.” Whenever I did another read-through of the series, I always started with the 3rd book, which is my favorite. But the book is great, and it certainly cast its spell on my own children. They immediately wanted me to read the next one.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – Again, this one was better than I remembered. The kids loved the idea of the giant snake. Professor Snape is more horrible and vindictive than I remember, and it makes it obvious that Rowling hadn’t quite figured out what to do in the long run…but she was close. It seems redundant to recommend this book…but I will anyway.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – I remember this one being my favorite, when it really clicked that I couldn’t wait to read the next book. It didn’t disappoint. The emotional core of this book is almost perfect, and its a delight to experience Harry gain two surrogate father figures.
- Outlaws of Time: The Last of the Lost Boys by ND Wilson – This concluding book of the trilogy was probably the best. It started out very strong, with a new main character to follow. It ended too abruptly, and I don’t think it earned the emotional payoff it was going for. It was a fun read with some good throwbacks to the tower of Babel.
- Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert Heinlein – This was the second time I’ve read this book, and it has solidified as one of my favorites. Full of heroism and memorable characters. Heinlein really invests some heart even into his side characters in this book. Our seven year-old was able to follow along just fine and seemed to enjoy it.
- The Green Ember by S.D. Smith – I really wanted to like this book, and I could tell what the author was trying to do, but overall it was an amateur attempt and really needed the guidance of a good editor. Too many words, clumsy plotting, forced dialogue, etc. I had trouble finishing it, but my children did seem to like it. The ending comes together a little better than it deserves.
- The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – I always enjoy this book. It continues some of the biting digs at the education system and contains one of Narnia’s best supporting characters in Puddleglum, the brave but pessimistic Marsh-Wiggle.
- The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – a near perfect way to wrap up the Chronicles of Narnia. My daughter loved the unicorn. It is weird to say that everyone lived happily ever after, because everyone dies at the end. But it’s the truth.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson – Funny and poignant. Deserving of its reputation. The kids loved it.
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton – A well-deserved classic, with well-written characters that come alive. My children had to ask if Borrowers actually existed.
The last list only includes novels. There are gobs of picture books that we have read and re-read and the list would stretch from here to….someplace far away. At least to the house across the street.