Reading 2016

Coming into the beginning of last year I decided I would try to read more books. I do most of my reading on my commute and the previous couple of years I had not had to regularly go to an office, so I managed few books and no novels at all.

While my total of twelve books may not set the world on fire, I managed to read some interesting ones so I thought it might be worth writing a few words on each one.

“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life,” Scott Adams

It’s a good thing that I have the ability to compartmentalise things. Some of his recent writing about Trump has not been to my taste but this book is interesting. I’m not big on “self help” books but this one espouses a philosophy I can vaguely get behind. And Adams’ writing is always engaging.

“The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets,” Simon Singh

Not one of Singh’s best but still interesting. As a bunch of short mathematical stories tied together by episodes of the Simpsons (and a few from Futurama), it may be better as a hook to get people interested in science and maths than as a structure. I don’t regret reading it but I will concede that it took me a while to get through (with a few pauses while I read other books).

“I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan,” Alan Partridge

Most books that are TV or movie tie-ins are terrible. I only got this one because it was on sale for £1 and, even then, it took me over a year to get around to reading. I’m happy to report that I was wrong. It’s surprisingly well written, you absolutely get the “voice” of The Alan, and there are some real laugh out loud moments. The sound-track is also spot-on.

“The Kingdom by the Sea,” Paul Theroux

Theroux toured the UK in 1982 when it was the “sick man of Europe,” Margaret Thatcher was just starting out and the Falklands conflict was on-going. It made an interesting contrast with 2016. As ever, it was surprising how much had changed and how much stays the same.

“I Think You’ll Find it’s a Bit More Complicated Than That,” Ben Goldacre

Like Singh’s, this is not Goldacre’s best book but, as a collection of essays, there’s still a lot of good stuff.

“The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind,” Steven Pinker

Where language comes from, whether it’s biology or nurture or both, is clearly far from a solved problem but this is a fascinating discussion. Accessible for a layman (like me) but quite detailed.

It’s especially interesting right now as my two year old gets increasingly expressive.

“And Another Thing…,” Eoin Colfer

I wrote a full blog about this. In short: it’s really hard to follow Douglas Adams. It’s not that Colfer did a bad job, more that Adams was an impossible act to follow.

“Ready Player One,” Ernest Cline

I heard lots of good things about this and then I learned they were making a movie. I knew a had to read it before I saw the film.

I didn’t get into gaming culture as much as some, so I may have missed some of the references, but what’s there brings back some nostalgia and it’s mixed with a decent story and mostly believable characters.

“How to win friends and influence people,” Dale Carnegie

I spent a lot of time ridiculing this book, mostly for the title if I’m honest – it sounds smarmy.

Then I read it. And, maybe I was wrong.

Like the Pinker book, it’s also fascinating to watch my kids and see the bits they understand purely instinctively. My son, at five, is already better at this stuff than I’ve ever been.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Stieg Larsson

I finished another book, got stranded on the Tube and, lacking anything else to read, started this. I’d seen the movie (both versions) and still couldn’t remember the end.

The writing is not great but it’s still a bit of a page-turner.

“The Bug,” Ellen Ullman

Not as good as I wanted it to be. I think, perhaps, I’d have enjoyed it more if I weren’t a programmer. (I can’t really say much more without giving away some of the plot. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t read it.)

Having said that, it did encourage me to write my first Apple TV app so it wasn’t for nothing.

“Inside the Machine,” Jon Stokes

I remember enjoying the articles about CPU design on Ars Technica that this book is based on. I added it to my Amazon wish list ages ago… and then it went out of print. Last year I found it on Safari Books Online.

The processors it talks about are pretty dated now – the newest are Intel’s Core and IBMs PPC 970 – but what’s important in many ways is the progression from early chips, so it stands up well. At times it feels that Stokes is trying a little too hard to write an academic text book, but I’ve not seen any books that are quite so accessible and detailed.

“Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?” Ian Dunt

What a depressing year 2016 has been, and Brexit has been a big part of that. If it’s going to be a fixture in our lives for the next few years I figured it was probably a good thing to understand it.

What he writes is pretty convincing, well structured and approachable. Kind of like the exact opposite of the current governments approach to it.