Books read in 2018

The πŸ”Š next to a book's title means that I listened to the audiobook. The ⭐️ means "highly recommended."


Rework by Jason Fried and DHH

A collection of concise and thought-provoking takes on business from the founders of Basecamp.

The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business ⭐️ πŸ”Š by Josh Kaufman

Helpful broad overview with lots of references to dig deeper into specific topics (for example, it led me to the next book on this list).

Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss

Besides loads of detailed information about the nuts and bolts of starting and running a solo consultancy, this book has panache. Repeatedly makes aspirational references to "soaring with the eagles."

Badass: Making Users Awesome ⭐️ by Kathy Sierra

The big idea is that as the provider of a product or service, your goal is to give your users superpowers, i.e., make them more badass. And possibly your goal is even to make your users' users more badass. It lays out practical ways to do that, and think like that, and it presents a lot of interesting research. A fun and indeed badass book.

How to Win Friends & Influence People πŸ”Š by Dale Carnegie

Spammy title but not half bad. TLDR: actually listen to what other people are saying and actually care.

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing πŸ”Š by Harry Beckwith

Mostly tips for selling services.

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup by Rob Walling

Detailed playbook for bootstrapping a small online company by the cofounder of Microconf (which I'm attending this year!).


The Go Programming Language by Alan Donovan, Brian Kernighan

I looked at a couple similar books first and ended up liking this one the most as a relatively thorough introduction to the language.

Kubernetes: Up and Running: Dive into the Future of Infrastructure ⭐️ by Kelsey Hightower, Brendan Burns, and Joe Beda

Excellent hands-on guide for familiarizing yourself with kube. To me it strikes just the right balance between the declarative ("here is what kube is and how it works") and the procedural ("here is how you do kube").

Terraform: Up and Running: Writing Infrastructure as Code by Yevgeniy Brikman

The early chapters contain a thoughtful overview on the what and why of infrastructure-as-code.

Linux Pocket Guide: Essential Commands by Daniel Barrett

What it says on the tin. Related plug: TLDR is a useful command-line tool that is kind of like this book meets the man pages (which is to say, the man pages, but focused on essential use cases and throwing out a lot of noise).

Real-World SRE: The Survival Guide for Responding to a System Outage and Maximizing Uptime ⭐️ by Nat Welch

Great practical guide aimed at smaller-than-behemoth-tech-company organizations.


To the extent that one "reads" cookbooks

The Noma Guide to Fermentation ⭐️ by René Redzepi and David Zilber

Practical fermentation for the home cook presented by the folks who run Noma, a world-class restaurant. If you would like a fridge full of kaleidoscopic sour flavors that basically never go bad, you'll want to get your hands on this book ASAP. This book led to my purchasing a vacuum sealer, which – separately from fermentation – revolutionized my kitchen's efficiency. What was I doing without a vacuum sealer??? Flying blind, that's what.

Hiltl. Veggie International. A World of Difference by Rolf Hiltl

Recipes from an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in Zurich that's been in business since 1898.

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page

Reference book. The most common use case: you look up some ingredient and find a list of other ingredients that are rated according to how well they go with yours. Very useful for improvising in the kitchen and creating your own recipes.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing πŸ”Š by Marie Kondō

TLDR: for each of your possessions, hold it in your hands and ask yourself earnestly if it brings you joy. If it doesn't, toss it, even if your mom gave it to you. Then, apply this practice to your life more broadly.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success ⭐️ πŸ”Š by Carol Dweck

Even if you're familiar with the now-somewhat-popular idea of fixed vs growth mindset, this book, grounded in research, will help you understand it in much greater depth. This book may cause you to realize that a lot of shit is bullshit and actually you can do anything.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions πŸ”Š by Johann Hari

"Wise, probing, and deeply generous Hari has produced a book packed with explosive revelations about our epidemic of despair . . . I am utterly convinced that the more people read this book, the better off the world will be." - Naomi Klein

Concur. Also: the audiobook is narrated by the author.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise πŸ”Š by Anders Ericsson

A book about cultivating expertise, but even more generally, about effectively cultivating skill at any level. Among other things, this book is the antidote to the misleading idea (and the book) proclaiming that 10,000 hours of doing THING X equals expertise in THING X.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life πŸ”Š by Mark Manson

I enjoyed the book but found it to be somewhat overrated and unnecessarily long. One way to embody giving even less of a fuck would be condensing the thing into like 30 pages.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity πŸ”Š by David Allen

More useful than expected. But if you really want to get things done, you could probably get 80% of the book's value by looking at this small section of a Wikipedia page.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High πŸ”Š by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Less cheesy than expected. Contained several useful strategies for more effective communication. Still somewhat cheesy, but hey.

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically πŸ”Š by Peter Singer

This is a book about people who aim to quantify "impact" and calculate how they can most likely maximize their positive impact on the world, and who then act accordingly, even if their actions seem counterintuitive – such as taking a job on Wall Street to make the proverbial fat cash, then sending the large majority of the money to developing nations to help strangers in extreme poverty. A shorter and enjoyable introduction to the subject of effective altruism can be found in this podcast episode.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work πŸ”Šβ­οΈ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Breaks decision-making into four vaguely linear stages and looks at what most often goes wrong at each stage, and then devises several actionable strategies for preventing those issues, thus ending up with a better chance of a favorable decision. References a good deal of research.

This book contains the following statement, delivered unflinchingly and without irony:

David Lee Roth was no diva. He was an operations master.

Which automatically grants it "highly recommended" status.


The Bluest Eye πŸ”Š by Toni Morrison

A powerful story about the profoundly shitty effects of racism, especially upon the self-worth and confidence of young people. Narrated by the author.

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

A novel about how and why companies sometimes suck, and how DevOps and translating concepts and techniques from manufacturing engineering to IT is sometimes cool.

Misc non-fiction

Thinking in Systems: A Primer πŸ”Š ⭐️ by Donella Meadows

I loved this book. It's both theoretical and pragmatic. It reminded me that in software engineering there is so much more we could borrow from other fields to our advantage.

Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials πŸ”Š by Malcolm Harris

Uses facts and incisive prose to put to rest many half-baked and annoying narratives about Millenials (aka Snake People). Fellow Millenials, make sure to read this before the next time you go home for the holidays.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup πŸ”Š by John Carreyrou

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. You should probably read it.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable πŸ”Š by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If you can tolerate Taleb's episodes of blowhardiness, you may find a lot of fascinating information in this book. The TLDR is that a comparatively teeny number of events have an outsized impact on history, and good luck with inductive reasoning, and everyone truly sucks at prediction, but there are things you can do to position yourself optimally in relation to an unknown future by evaluating characteristics of the present.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder πŸ”Š by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

TLDR: we need a new word for the opposite of fragile; fragile means that something is weakened or destroyed when exposed to stressors, so antifragile means that something grows or becomes stronger when exposed to stressors. Antifragility is different than resilience; the latter doesn't lead to gains when exposed to stressors.

Same caveat as above; if you aren't (understandably) put off by the author's attitude the book contains a lot of neat ideas, including many that I think are relevant to software engineering (and not just resilience engineering, chaos engineering, etc.)

Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor ⭐️ by Erik Dietrich

Reviews the history of guilds, trade associations, and corporations, to help us understand the current structure that we fit into as knowledge worker employees. Provides instructive (if oversimplified) models for understanding how corporations work. One key insight is that software developers (and other knowledge workers) own their means of production to an extent that is historically unique, and that this fact can be leveraged.

Provides roadmaps for how to succeed within corporations as an employee, or how to succeed outside of that system by doing your own thing (the author's recommended course). Lots of ideas. Speculative but also down to earth. Recommended reading for software developers.

Becoming ⭐️ πŸ”Š by Michelle Obama

An engaging and empowering memoir. On top of her existing mountain of accolades, Obama was the best narrator of any audiobook I listened to this year.

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