Tag Archives: books

Little Book of Humanism

While there is nothing wrong with “The Little Book of Humanism,” it wasn’t for me. Some people need to see aphorisms or testimony about their chosen faith. If that’s you, if you’re a humanist, then this book fits the bill. Similarly, if you’re Humanism-curious, then this book might fill in some gaps in your knowledge.

None of the sections span more than a few pages and it’s filled with quotes and stories by people who were publicly Humanist or at least espoused the same values. The vignettes cover life from birth to death and everything in between. Some I’d heard of before, others were new to me. It’s longer than I was expecting, though it’s easy to dip in and out; there’s no need to read the whole thing beginning to end.

I don’t think I need these stories or quotes. This says more about me than the book. I was never religious, meaning I have no need to replace a sacred text. And I have never found other people’s testimony persuasive1. But if hearing about other people with a similar outlook gives you the warm fuzzies, or if you’re curious about what Humanism means, then this book might be what you’re looking for.


  1. I always found it odd that many believers go straight to testimony as a way to convince you that their particular brand of faith is the right one. Is it that the approach works or is it that people enjoy talking about themselves? ↩︎

Code- The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

While I have more than enough books on my “to read” list, I am always up for suggestions. “Code” came up in a Twitter conversations about computer hardware. I noted that one of my favourite courses from my Computer Science degree (in hindsight if not at the time) was where we went from “What is electricity?” right up to a pretty much fully working CPU. “Code” was recommended as it covers the same ground.

If you’d like to refresh your memory or you never took such a course, this is great introduction to how computers work.

It’s a book of two halves.

The first half starts with the foundations and principles. It starts with the concepts, like Morse Code, before building up from relays, to logic gates, to half-adders, to a complete, working CPU.

That bit is great. Clear steps and descriptions. I was reminded of many things that I first picked up at university and learned some details that I’d either completely forgotten or had never internalised at all.

After you get a working CPU the book largely turns into a history lessen, albeit from the year 2000. It talks about the rest of the computer but, out of necessity, in significantly less detail.

I found this second part to be weaker, though this may be because I’m coming at it from 2021 rather than 2000. These last sections have dated much more than the earlier, CPU-bound section and I wonder if the book had been about building just the CPU rather than the whole computer it would have dated better?

Having said all that, while weaker than the first half, it’s still well written and easy to understand.

Even if you skim the later sections, what quickly becomes apparent is that a computer has layer upon layer of abstractions. You may not understand every layer in the same amount of detail but knowing that they exist is, I think, useful as a software developer.

I can’t help but recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.

I’m a Joke and So Are You

“I have read just about enough about a large enough number of things to be wrong about nearly everything.”

It took me a long time to read “I’m a Joke and So Are You” by Robin Ince, but you shouldn’t take that as a reflection of the book itself. Instead, it’s more about timing and other distractions.

If you’re familiar with Ince’s work on the Infinite Monkey Cage, the structure of the book should make sense. The theme is “What makes comedians a special breed?” He asks comedians and scientists about various aspects, throwing in thoughts, quips and stories of his own,

He starts with childhood and meanders through many aspects of life from “the self” to imposter syndrome, finishing with death.

While it’s not earth shattering, with no huge reveals that make you reevaluate your life, it’s an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking read.

Sweet Caress

I rate William Boyd as one of my favourite authors, so when I say that “Sweet Caress” isn’t his best work you have to calibrate it appropriately.

As a structure, it’s almost identical to “Any Human Heart.” It’s a journal or memoir of an interesting character, covering pretty much their entire life. In this one, Amory Clay is born early in the twentieth century and lives a full life as a photographer in Europe, North America and Asia. The timing allows her to see the World Wars, the rise of fascism, the Vietnam war and much more besides. It covers her successes and failures, and the consequences of them both.

What makes it work is that Clay is entirely believable. She’s fun and brave, impulsive and flawed. Lacking any of those qualities might have made it less of an entertaining read or less plausible.

Boyd is a great writer. He has the characters, the structure and the story all wrapped up in a way that appears effortless. There are surprises and twists. Even the ending is satisfying.

The plan was to read more fiction this year. This was a good start.

Sex Power Money

This book isn’t what I was expecting. I know Sara Pascoe’s standup and thought this might be some fun, light reading.

To be fair, the writing does have fun bits but the subject matter? Not so much. Relationships, power dynamics, tesosterone, prostitution. Heavy stuff! She’s clearly done reseach and quotes interviews1 she’s conducted. This is no “memoir” as many comedians have done. But nor is it an academic treatise. There are still personal bits, as she discusses the struggles she had grappling with some of the more challenging concepts or how her opinions had changed over time. It’s a refreshing approach as most authors push the solution rather that the journey to it. Sometimes the route is more interesting than the destination.

Overall it’s thought-provoking stuff and worth a read for that reason alone. You may not agree with all of it but you might have the odd snigger reaching that conclusion.


  1. She has a podcast series with some of them. ↩︎

Facebook: The inside story

I’m not a big fan of Facebook. And the odd thing is that it feels like Steven Levy isn’t either.

I’ve read most of Levy’s previous books and, while he’s never been uncritical, there has always been a mostly positive spin. From Apple, to Google, to the “hacker culture” (including Stallman) I don’t recall any of his previous works quite being so down on their subjects.

It’s to the credit of Zuckerberg and his crew, then, that they were so involved in its creation. All the big names were interviewed on the record and, frankly, few come off well. Zuckerberg himself comes across as petty, jealous, arrogant and not terribly likeable. Even Steve Jobs had a fun, mischievous side.

That’s not to say the Levy doesn’t give credit where it’s due. The coverage comes across as fair, so maybe it’s more fair to say that reality is skewed against Facebook than this book!

It covers everything from Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook projects, through to its founding, move to California, early growth and the last decade of being practically ubiquitous.

Most of the early phases have been well documented elsewhere (including in the Social Network movie), which made the discussion of some of Facebooks biggest missteps, and the threads that connect them, the highlight. The focus on growth at all costs, the organisational split between Zuckerberg and Sandberg, and the belief that connecting people is an unalloyed good seem to be the key to most failings and, disturbingly, they don’t seem to have learned that lesson.

Overall, it’s a fascinating, well written book about a troubling company. If we can’t avoid the company, we should at least try to understand it.