Friday, May 1, 2020

First 10 books I read in 2020

Reading Period: March 1 - May 8.

1. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
    This is probably one of the most insightful and interesting books I have ever read. It essentially takes the reader on a tour through the history of the universe. Bill breaks down almost every single branch of science, from cosmology to botany. Essentially, you will learn about geology and plate tectonics in one section, and then learn about evolution in the next. You may be thinking, who cares? I know about evolution, Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, people were mad that we “came from monkeys,” etc. Well, you know way, way less than Bill does. If learning about the most important discoveries and most influential scientists of essentially every branch of science sounds interesting, this is the book for you. Plus, did you know the guy who named all the plants was obsessed with sex? Only complaint is that it is 544 pages, so not really that short. But c’mon, it’s the history of nearly everything.

2. A Grief Observed, by CS Lewis

    Sad. Like really sad. Great book though, and insightful to see how a thought leader and religious devout deals with extreme grief. Imagine reading Mere Christianity and then this. Would be an interesting juxtaposition.

    “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand” (C.S. Lewis, 36)

3. Seven Languages in Seven Weeks, by Bruce Tate
    So sorry guys, not foreign languages. Programming languages. Ruby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Clojure, Erlang, Haskell. Basically, Bruce said let’s pick seven languages that are all extremely different and represent every type of programming language out there. Ruby is object oriented, Prolog is logic based, and Haskell is rigid functional programming. The basic idea is hey, here’s the basic syntax, advantages/disadvantages, and brief functionality of each. You will not learn a single programming language by reading this book. You will learn something much more important though, perspective. Knowing what tool is best for a problem is likely more useful than knowing how to use just one tool very well.

4. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
     Hell yes, a book under 100 pages. In the top 5 best-selling books of all time, estimated at 200 million copies. A children’s book, make sure you read it with that in mind. Strangely insightful, but some of the translation is awkward. Worth the afternoon read.

5. Excel 2016 Power Programming in VBA by Michael Alexander
    VBA IS NOT DEAD! Just kidding it totally is. The good news is languages never die. Why the hell are there still COBOL programmers? It is quite simple, companies are lazy, inefficient, and afraid a lot of the time. While not supported anymore by Microsoft, VBA will be around for a very, very long time. When I started my job as an analyst, I made a promise to myself to myself to never learn this language. However, pretty much everything my company does is run through VBA in some way or another. I lost the battle, and decided screw it, if I’m going to sell out I might as well sell out all the way. Great book, I learned a lot. I probably only read 400 of the 700 pages, as a lot of the material will only be relevant to pretty hardcore application development. Worth the read if you can stomach it.

6. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
   Imagine reading a 250-page book about the 1893 Chicago fair? Sounds terrible. Imagine reading a 200-page book about some dude in the 1890’s murdering women and children? Sounds terrible. Good news, the combination of the two, a 450 page book with these interweaving plot lines, is actually really good. The second you start getting real fed up with the details of Olmsted’s sicknesses and the excruciating details regarding the building of the fair, Holmes murders someone. And the second you’re fed up with Holmes murdering everyone, you’re grounded by some more excruciating (but very interesting nonetheless) details about Chicago’s grandest accomplishment. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I’m sure many will find it slow paced and boring.

7. Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
  Climbing Everest is very dangerous, who would’ve thought? Imagine making it to the top with your team of six, and only you and one other make it out alive. Crazy story, fast read, and will really solidify your disinterest for risking your life to climb things for bragging rights. Or maybe it’ll make you want to do exactly that. Still haven’t made up my mind on which way I’m leaning.

8. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

    It has been a long time since I read a fantasy novel, and this one didn't disappoint. It was a fun read, short, and had one of those satisfying endings where there are no loose ends. It was certainly a nice break from non-fiction, and I am very motivated to read more of Neil's work.

9. Introduction to Machine Learning with Python, by Andreas Muller

    The first 20% of this books is pretty straightforward and simple. Then it gets real complicated, real quick. Once the charts moved from 2D to 3D I was completely lost. The last ~40% of the book is general pre-processing and data standardization, which is as important as it is boring (very). Overall, I learned a hell of a lot, but this book was not what I was expecting. There is essentially zero theory or explanation of the algorithms. This was disappointing, but at the same time I understand. This books is about getting straight to the code, so that you can instantly start analyzing datasets. If your goal is to right away start working on projects, without getting bogged down in the details, this book is for you.

10. Hackers & Painters, by Paul Graham

   This was not exactly a book, but rather a collection of essays that Paul wrote on his blog over the years. They vary in quality and insight, and it is obvious that this was written in 2004. Paul is a computer whiz, someone who built a successful startup and made a ton of money through developing software. For me, I would say that around half of his essays are worth reading. Hackers and Painters, How to Make Wealth, Mind the Gap, and Beating the Averages are, in my opinion, really quite good. The rest you can probably skip, unless Lisp really excites you.

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