Reading 2017

This is the time when people write lists about the past year and the year coming. Why have original content when you can have listicles? And why should I be the one to miss out? So here, just as I did last year, are a few notes about most of the books I read.

Civil War

I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offshoots like their Netflix TV shows, but I’ve never really read the original comic books. I thought I should change that.

I’ve never really read comic books. I was into comic comic books, like the Beano, and loved Oink (kind of like a kids version of Viz) but never the “serious” ones such as Marvel and DC. To ease myself in, I deliberately picked a storyline that I knew from the movies, the idea being I could compare and contrast.

I confess, I thought I’d like it more. I’m not sure if I picked a bad sample or it’s just that I’m not familiar with how to read a comic book, but I don’t think it was my kind of thing.

Becoming Steve Jobs

I hesitated to read another Jobs biography after the disappointing Isaacson “authorised” version. I heard good things about this one and the consensus was broadly correct. (It has been well reviewed and I don’t have much extra to add.)

Speccy Nation

I’ve never been a huge gamer but the time I probably played the most games was in the mid-eighties on a Sinclair Spectrum. That made this the perfect nostalgia book. It has a well chosen selection of classic games and a brief commentary about them.

You could quibble with some of the picks (or absences) but overall it completely hit the mark. If you have fond memories of Kempston joysticks and rubber keyboards, you’ll enjoy this one.

Once Upon A Time In The West… Country

I’ve known about Tony Hawks since at least Morris Minor and the Majors. I’ve read his books, watched his movies and even, on a couple of occasions, drank in the same pub (though I never spoke to him). Which is to say that I was predisposed to like this book, and I did.

The bad news is that it’s really one for the fans. It lacks the comic hook of Around Ireland with a Fridge, or the structure of Playing the Moldovans at Tennis. It’s not even a travelogue. It’s just a bunch of loosely connected stories of “stuff that Tony did,” which is amusing and entertaining enough but makes it far from a classic.

The Good, the Bad and the Smug

As someone who loves Douglas Adams, people often recommend “similar” authors. So it was with Tom Holt. I had no idea what his best material is so this was pretty much picked at random.

I liked it. The whole “new evil” line may age badly (just like H2G2’s obsession with digital watches) but anyone with a sense of humour and a memory of the Blair years would probably enjoy this. I see more Holt books in my future.


I’d “heard good things about” this but overall found it a bit disappointing. Huge chunks of the book were telling me that I’m not alone in being an introvert, there are lots of us around and there’s nothing to apologise for.

Sorry, I know that. I wanted to learn how to more effectively use my “quiet power” rather than seek therapy. I wouldn’t say that it absolutely failed on that but I would say that I probably wasn’t the right audience.


This was another “you’re a Douglas Adams fan, you’ll like this” suggestion. And it’s good one. Like, Tom Holt, I wasn’t sure which of John Scalzi’s books are the best but this one I picked based on the premise. While not completely original, the idea that the “redshirts” in a Star Trek-like universe are always the first to die has good comic potential that’s put to good use. Recommended.

Algorithms to Live by

I found it in a bookshop and decided to take a punt because of the first chapter: say you’re looking to buy a house. At what point do you stop looking and make an offer? Buy too soon and you might miss out on something great. Wait too long and you will miss the best available. This book claimed to have the answer.

As a conceit to show practical uses of algorithms it works well. Some of the later chapters feel like they stray from the path a little but it’s still clearly written and mostly enjoyable.


This wins the prize for my most travelled book of the year. For reasons unrelated to the content, I took it on a few trips without ever actually getting the chance to read it.

It starts slowly and builds to a mostly satisfying ending. If you like Will Smiths other work — everything from The Thick of It to Veep — it might be worth picking up a copy (especially if you can get it for a few quid as I did!) but it seems unlikely to be the start of a successful career as a novelist…

The Elephant in the Room

An easy, short read about some of the madness behind the Republican Party. Worth a shot if you’re interested in American politics.

The Three-Body Problem

Despite the awards and praise, I didn’t rate this book. Large parts feel like monologues rather than storytelling, which is a shame as there are some nice ideas and the scale is impressive. I also found the characters to be thin and unsympathetic. But if you values ideas over storytelling I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t read it.

The Soul of the New Machine

This is one of those classic pop-science computer books that I never got around reading until now. And… I like the idea. Focusing on the people behind the new machine is still pretty rare, and the descriptions of technical subjects are clear and without significant loss of accuracy. But there’s something about it that doesn’t quite work for me. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why. I’m glad I read it but it took a while to get through.

Everything else

I read or skimmed quite a few other books:

  • Brexit: What the hell happens now? I re-read this to find out how much remain-ers could say “I told you so.” Quite a lot it turns out.
  • The Diversity Illusion. I tried to learn about “the other side” of the Brexit debate but this book was awful. He spends more time writing about how you can’t talk about immigration than actually writing about it. When he does write about it, he often contradicts himself within a few paragraphs. For instance, he notes that a robust immigration policy is not necessarily racist (true) but then immediately starts talking about people who are visibly different or non-white (which is). Maybe there are good arguments against diversity and immigration but you won’t find them here.
  • Managing Humans. I read the first edition of this a few years ago and thought it might be worth catching up with the new edition. As before, Rands has some great advice wrapped in relatable anecdotes. If you’re in IT and work in a leadership or management role, it’s worth a read.
  • Speccy Nation, Volume 2: The digital decade. I enjoyed the first book, but this one didn’t quite work. The first book let the games do the talking, but in this the author did a lot of introspection and all the most memorable games had already been covered in the first book.