Books I Read in 2017

Like last year, I tried to keep track of all the books I read.

In roughly chronological order, here they are.

Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinksy

Max Temkin read an excerpt from this on a podcast I really like, inspiring me to pick it up from the library. As the book’s subtitle describes, it is “A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals”. It simply describes how to achieve political goals of change and advancing social justice.

This year being what it was, I found it very useful to read a practical guide to how things can be changed for the better.

Patterns of Software, Richard Gabriel

A collection of essays from a programming great. I got a great deal of insight from them, which kind of kicked off a period of metacognition about programming for me and inspired me to start thinking more deeply about what kind of work I do and how I want to do it. In conjunction with the teaching programming I’ve been doing, this had quite an effect on the way I now think about what the goals of programming languages and tools should be.

A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander

An obvious follow-on from Patterns of Software, as it is mentioned repeatedly and Christopher Alexander is cited as the (inadvertent) inventor of the idea of design patterns in software.

This book is nominally about patterns of architectural design, but begins with how all of human societies should be structured and only gradually narrows its focus. An exceptional book and one of the few that I really want to own & refer back to frequently.

Thoughts Without a Thinker, Mark Epstein

A book that I also heard mentioned on Do By Friday, about Buddhism and mindfulness. Interesting enough, but didn’t really stay with me very much.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

I quite enjoy Salman Rushdie’s novels (read two last year), but hadn’t read his most famous one. I did enjoy this one, but I think his more recent ones are better – it is interesting seeing him develop themes that you know will come back in his later works.

Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowel

Amanda recommended this book to me after she read it as part of her work (developing an environmental education resource incorporating Indigenous perspectives). Very good book, providing a really good, modern summary of an Indigenous perspective in Canada.

Blitzed, Norman Ohler

This book had been recommended a bunch in quite a few places and didn’t disappoint. A pretty wild ride through the bizarre drug-addled Third Reich.

The first half of the book covers how the German army in World War 2 was basically fueled by crystal methamphetamine, the second bit covers Hitler’s personal physician and the extremely weird things he fed the dictator, leading into his rampant drug addiction, then wraps up with some truly horrific drug-related things the navy did in partnership with the SS.

It is meticulously researched and would have to be, because the claims that it makes are really unbelievable.

Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu

Very good science fiction from a Chinese author.

I don’t want to spoil it, but I enjoyed it a lot and just learned that there are two more books by the same author that I will be trying to read in the near future.

I really enjoy hard sci-fi and it was really cool to read something set in China (starting during the Cultural Revolution, with most of the book during the present day-ish). Too much science fiction comes from a Western perspective and it made an already-engrossing story doubly interesting.

Lilth’s Brood, Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is great.

This is a trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago) collected in one volume. I really, really enjoyed it.

It’s a science-fiction story about gender issues, motherhood, personhood & belonging, and is just very interesting. A book that I thought a lot about.

The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt

A depressing book that I’d heard good things about.

A first-person account of how totalitarian regimes come to be. Very disturbing to read in today’s political climate!

Romeo and/or Juliet, Ryan North

A nice chaser to the previous book. A fun, funny chose-your-own-adventure version of Romeo and Juliet.

Very enjoyable, really funny.

The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon (abridgment by D. M. Low)

I have an old copy of this from my late grandmother’s house and finally started reading it.

While this is an abridgment, it is still quite a weighty tome. Pretty much what it says on the tin – very through history of how the Roman Empire declined.

It was interesting reading such an old book and seeing how many segments seem like they were written yesterday, but then being startled into realizing that it was written two hundred and fifty years ago and some of the social mores don’t quite line up.

The Road to Serfdom, F. A. Hayek

Didn’t finish this; I found it incredibly annoying to read & mostly be repeated assertions that socialism is the worst.

The Cultural Nature of Human Development, Barbara Rogoff

Another book from Amanda.

This is one of the books she read as part of her program (master’s degree in child psychology and teaching) and she thought I would enjoy it. Indeed, I found it fascinating.

It discusses the differences between cultures as it pertains particularly to children and child rearing. Really engaging and provides valuable perspective on some of the things that are taken for granted.

Theories of Childhood, Carol Mooney

A follow-up from Amanda.

This is a brief survey of some of the dominant theories of child development.

As someone that teaches (albeit adults) and wants to have children soon, it was a very useful little summary.

Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno

Trying to mix things up and read some more challenging works.

I was curious about Frankfurt School philosophy and post-Marxism in general and this book, while a bit difficult to read, was very interesting and I did get some very interesting ideas from it.

This year, I look forward to trying to get deeper into this school of thought.

The Terror, David Andress

One of two books that I got recommended to me via Twitter as good French Revolution histories that are kind of counter-points to Citizens (which I read last year).

This one focuses on, obviously, the Terror period of the revolution, but gives a bit more of a nuanced perspective.

A People’s History of the French Revolution, Eric Hazan

The second of the recommended French Revolution books.

I liked this one a lot. It seemed like a much more modern interpretation of events with lots of very useful addenda and asides.

I think that you’d need to already have a pretty good grasp of the events (which is why it was the last of four books on the topic I read), but if you do, I recommend it highly.

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder

A very short, quick read.

It takes the form a bunch of things you can do to combat tyranny.

It is, unfortunately, something that most people should probably read soon.

Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), Jeff VanderMeer

Very fun, different fiction series.

It’s sort of ecological cosmic horror?

Highly recommended, in any case.

On Revolution, Hannah Arendt

Hannah Ardent taking a somewhat more upbeat tone.

The book mainly discusses how most revolutions have taken their cues from the French Revolution and ignore the more successful American Revolution.

She makes some interesting points about the driving principles behind the different revolutions, but it’s a little hard to consider the American experiment “successful” right now.

Coders at Work, Peter Seibel (re-read)

A bunch of interviews with famous programmers, asking them how they work and how they think about writing software.

I had read this book previously, but I got a lot more out of it this time through.

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx

Obviously a very short read, but something that I figured I should read, as I get more interested in politics, particularly leftist politics.

An Introduction to Poetry, X. J. Kennedy

A textbook that I found at my grandparents’ house (which is approximately 30% books by volume).

I’ve always loved language, but was never able to get into poetry, although I kind of wished I could. I’m enjoying going through this book quite a bit – hopefully it will prove instructive.