Category Archives: Reading notes

Summer 2018 book recommendations from Bill Gates, with St. Louis library links

Bill Gates recently posted a reading list for summer 2018 on LinkedIn: 5 books worth reading this summer. He describes that whys and wherefores in the article, but I'd like to extend that with some links to more information and where you can pick up a copy of the books in St. Louis.

(SLPL is St. Louis Public Library, i.e., city library, SLCL is St. Louis County Library.)

Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson:
SLCL (audiobook) - SLPL (audiobook)

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler:

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders:
SLCL (audiobook) - SLPL (audiobook)

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian:

Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund:

Now reading: WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us

Tim O'Reilly, WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us (2017)

(Posting notes here.)

I feel like everyone that knows how to make something with a computer ought to know who Tim O'Reilly is because of the wealth of computer books his company has published over the years. Honestly that's about the extent of what I know about him, although what I know was augmented recently by listening to a podcast that interviewed him. (Danny Fortson, Tim O'Reilly: "It's our brains that are being hacked", Danny in the Valley, 2018-01-25.) He struck me as a kind of Silicon Valley Kurt Vonnegut: optimistic in the possibility of humans to do the right thing, but a bit skeptical of the probability of it. Since much of the ground covered there was related to this book—and because they had a copy of it at the nearest STL County Library—I went for it.

From the podcast interview (notes):

[38:32] Just imagining the things that you can imagine, you will always miss things that, in retrospect, seem quite obvious. There'll be some breakthrough, and then all of a sudden a set of people will go, "Holy shit, this is what we can do with that." There's so much that's happening around us. The future happens, as I like to say, gradually and then suddenly.

Finished reading: When

I just finished reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink. It was pretty good—a popular science book that doesn't get too heavy, that covers a lot of ground and digests it for you. However, he does put citations to the various scientific journal papers that he derived the content from in the back—notes here, if you'd like to see the bibliography. (Fairly certain I'm the only one who's interested in that sort of thing. Party Animal.)

There were two ideas from the book that stuck with me.

One was the idea of chronotypes: the idea that some people are naturally late risers and late peakers, or early risers and early peakers, or more likely something in the big middle of that distribution. That's fairly obvious, sure—but it does give some basis for not hassling people who are late starters for being lazy. It might just be how they're tuned. And never mind other people—I've been using this insight for letting go of some kinds of heavy work during the middle of the day when gross unproductivity sets in instead of fighting it. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. Best to recognize it and plan for drudge work that needs to be done anyway.

The second idea that stuck is the U-shaped performance curve that you see from the beginning to the end of a task. You see it in running also: the fast start, the lag in the middle, the kick at the end. Again: pretty obvious. But: with citations that explain the extent and some of the psychological mechanisms behind it. This was my secret weapon in running. In high school, in the 800m run, you know that other runners tend to slow down from 400m to 600m. Since I wasn't all that fast at 800m, I could still do well by pushing that segment of the race, knowing intuitively that many other competitors weren't. Similarly, in endurance racing, the middle third or the third quarter was a lag for most people after a strong start—my secret weapon there was to start near the back, let the others burn off their adrenaline at a too-fast pace at the beginning, and eat them up over the second half of the race. So I didn't know about the U-curve, but I knew about it.

Six books suggestion by Dan Pink as further reading:

Suggested reading, A Walk in the Woods

The following books were listed in the "Suggested Reading" of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson:

  • Attenborough, David. The Private Life of Plants. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
  • Bailyn, Bernard. Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.
  • Brooks, Maurice. The Appalachians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986.
  • Bruce, Dan "Wingfoot." The Thru-Hiker's Handbook. Harpers Ferry, WV: Appalachian Trail Conference, 1995.
  • Cruikshank, Helen Gere, ed. John and William Bartram's America: Selections from the Writings of the Philadelphia Naturalists. New York: Devin-Adair Co., 1957.
  • Dale, Frank. Delaware Diary: Episodes in the Life of a River. New Brunswick, NH: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
  • Emblidge, David (ed.). The Appalachian Trail Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Faragher, John Mack. Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer. New York: Henry Holt and Col., 1993.
  • Farwell, Byron. Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1993.
  • Foreman, Dave, and Howie Wolke. The Big Outside: A Descriptive Inventory of the Big Wilderness Areas of the United States. New York: Harmony Books, 1992.
  • Herrero, Stephen. Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. New York: Lyons and Burford, 1988.
  • Houk, Rose. Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Col, 1993.
  • Long, Priscilla. Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America's Bloody Coal Industry. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
  • Luxenbourg, Larry. Walking the Appalachian Trail. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1994.
  • Matthiessen, Peter. Wildlife in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
  • McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature. New York: Anchor, 1990.
  • McPhee, John. In Suspect Terrain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.
  • Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.
  • Parker, Ronald B. Inscrutable Earth: Explorations into the Science of Earth. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984.
  • Peattie, Donald Culross. A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.
  • Putnam, William Lowell. The Worst Weather on Earth: A History of the Mount Washington Observatory. New York: American Alpine Club, 1993.
  • Quammen, David. Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature. New York: Avon Books, 1996.
  • Schultz, Gwen. Ice Age Lost. New York: Anchor, 1974.
  • Shaffer, Earl V. Walking with Spring: The First Solo Thru-Hike of the Legendary Appalachian Trail. Harpers Ferry, WV: Appalachian Trail Conference, 1996.
  • Stier, Maggie, and Ron McAdow. Into the Mountains: Stories of New England's Most Celebrated Peaks. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 1995.
  • Trefil, James. Meditations at 10,000 Feet: A Natural History of the Appalachians. New York: Macmillan, 1987.
  • Wilson, Edward O. The Diversity of Life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 1992.

Afghanistan travel writing, via Salon

While browsing for works about desert travel, I found this article about travel writing in Afghanistan: "Destination: Afghanistan," Salon, 24 August 2006. It was an interesting article, in large part because it is one of those places on Earth that I do not -- and likely will never -- remotely understand, nor will I ever likely visit.

The following is a list of works mentioned in the article:

Also, the following was suggested in the comments added to the article:

_1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die_ Spreadsheet

Update 2018-10-29: I just fixed the broken links to the spreadsheet. Sorry about that. By the way, if any of you find this sort of thing useful, leave a comment below (preferred) or send me an email—I'd be happy to improve the spreadsheet (it's a ten-year old post/spreadsheet, plenty of time to learn some new tricks to apply, eh?)

Making good on an earlier note to be active on LibraryThing, I went to the 1001 Books to read before you die group to look for suggestions on what to read next. In the past three weeks, I read Mother Night and A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (all three highly recommended). I wanted something new, something unexpected, and getting a friendly nudge from a suggested list seemed like a good place to start.

So, I went to the Harris County Public Library on Monday and picked up two books from the list. I have no idea what either of the books are about -- it's nice to start with no expectations.

  1. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

In the group on LibraryThing, I learned about a nifty spreadsheet by Arukiyomi that lists all of the 1001 books. An updated version in the group discussion list even included 1283 books, since the list was created in 2006 and revised in 2008 with additions and subtractions. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, the inspiration for the group, is a book by Peter Boxall.)

I made a few modifications and, with inspiration from the Google Spreadsheet version posted to the group, I created a interactive version of the spreadsheet that differentiates between the 2006 and 2008 editions of the list.

  • View the spreadsheet
  • Copy a version of the spreadsheet (if you have a Google account, this will copy the spreadsheet to your Google Documents)
  • Download the spreadsheet as: .xlsx - .csv - .html - .ods - .pdf - .txt

Similar to the original by Arukiyomi, it calculates the percentage of the 1001 books that you have completed. In addition to that version, I am collecting links to the books (on LibraryThing) and the years of publication. I don't think I'll finish all 1001 books, but I am interested in reading a subset of the books that spans all of the time periods included in the list.

If you want to help me work on the spreadsheet, first I'd recommend that you join the group. Else, if you're not interested in that but want to help, email me and I'll give you edit access to the spreadsheet. It is a work-in-progress. If someone somewhere out there finds it useful, let me know -- suggestions and collaboration welcome.

As of... now, I have read only 19 (1.90%) of the books in the 2008 edition. My progress on this list can be seen here.

(Note: I've never seen the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I've only latched onto it as a way of finding books to read that I otherwise never would have found. I have no opinion of contents or omissions of the list, except that I regretfully noticed it was missing my second favorite book, Desert Solitaire, by Ed Abbey.)

Time to kill... books I read in 2005

Since the website to buy train tickets in India is moving slow... I'll list the books that I've read in 2005. I don't know why, but I had an urge to do this today and now I have nothing better to do as I wait. These are in quasi-chronological order, meaning that I've tried to remember them in the order that I read them, but I'm not trying that hard to have any real order.

  • First science fiction books I ever read: Red Mars then Green Mars then Blue Mars, all by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac—this was the second time I read this book, and it had a bit more meaning this time around, seemed less depressing and more... I don't know, more real once I discovered that the events in the book were more-or-less all true.
  • Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac (1947-1954) edited by Douglas Brinkley (in progress)
  • Neal Cassady: Collected Letters 1944-1974 edited by Dave Moore (in progress)
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Writing About Your Life by William Zinsser
  • Etiquette Guide to Japan by Boye Lafayette De Mente
  • The Giver by Lois Lowery, a flashback to a book I read in seventh grade
  • New Moon Rising by Keith Cowing and Frank Seitzen
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • Failure is not an Option by Gene Kranz
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau (never finished this one)
  • Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

There were probably others—I'll update as necessary.