Saturday, May 9, 2020

Second 10 books I read in 2020

Reading Period: May 9th - June 15th
1. When Genius Failed, by Roger Lowenstein

    This is probably my favorite finance book. Roger chronicles the rise and fall of LTCM, a story with important lessons about risk, leverage, and hubris. The overconfidence displayed by LTCM's partners is honestly astounding, and it is very hard to have any sympathy for any of the parties involved. Two quotes I found particularly insightful:

"No investment can be judged on the basis of half a cycle alone"
"As Keynes noted, one bet soundly considered is preferable to many poorly understood"

    Diversification is not everything. Markets have fatty tails. Overall, a Nobel Prize pales in comparison to proper risk management.

2. Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

    I needed a break from non-fiction, and this was a good escape. I read it in one day, fun fantasy story about a wizard detective who solves crimes. Not the best writing, but accomplishes what it set out to do. Overall a fun and fast read. I read that this series gets better as it goes on, and I might save the next few books for a rainy day.

3. Python Crash Course, by Eric Matthes

    I probably shouldn't have read this book, I'm already pretty familiar with the language already, and it is more for beginners. Still, there were some parts that I found useful, and it would have been very useful to read as a beginner. I didn't delve too much into the side projects at the end, I have done more complicated ones for work. Overall good enough starter book.

4. The C Programming Language, by Kernighan and Ritchie

    I really only read this book because my parents had it laying around. They both programmed in C in the late 1980s. Easy read, less than 200 pages, but I am not familiar with direct memory management so the entire discussion about pointers was lost on me. Also I am not familiar with Unix, so that part was lost on me too. Understanding the rest was pretty easy, the structure is similar to most other languages and it seems clear that Python was heavily influenced by the syntax. This book demystified C, and was worth the short read.

5. Code Complete, by Steve McConnell

    At over 850 pages, this book is very intimidating. However, it was extremely informative, and I now know more about software development than I ever expected to know. I am curious to see how useful this book will be for my current job, and I am guessing that it was mostly benefit me in ways not at all related to programming.

"Nobody is really smart enough to program computers. Fully understanding an average program requires an almost limitless capacity to absorb details and an equal capacity to comprehend them all at the same time. The way you focus your intelligence is more important than how much intelligence you have."

    It is very weird how insightful this book was in every way, but mostly in ways not related to coding. Project management, time management, teamwork, and many other important business skills are emphasized. I'm sure a lot of the technical information was lost on me, but the overall message and emphasis on reducing complexity is now buried in my brain.

6. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

    This book is really a collection of essays. The problem with books formatted in this way (see Hackers & Painters) is for some reason only around half of the essays are usually good. The first essay is very well written and insightful, while the rest vary wildly in merit. Overall, I wasn't too impressed by the book, it seemed that the narrator's unreliability did not have the desired effect. Also, Tim seemed to be trying too hard to be profound, when other war books more grounded in reality have been much more impactful.

7. Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, by Charles Petzold

    Before I picked this book, I asked myself, "what topic do you know the least amount about?" I decided that I really, fundamentally do not understand how computers work. I doubt many people understand the entire stack of inter-workings, but I decided to learn the basics. The first 100 pages were honestly jaw-dropping. Over the course of the whole book you build an entire computer from scratch, and learn important electrical engineering and mathematical concepts along the way. This book ended up being hard to get through, but it was well worth it.

    This is probably the most informative book I have read in a while. I have newfound respect for the giants on whose shoulders we now stand.

8. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom

    Probably the most interesting book I have ever read, at least in terms of tangible outcomes that will directly impact humans in the centuries to come. Nick is probably the most intelligent writer there is, and an obvious expert in his field. One of the most creative thinkers shares his warnings and potential solutions for near-term groundbreaking technology. It really does not get any better than this. Parts of the book are extremely dry, but if you look past the verbose language and boil the book down to core concepts, this really is one of the most interesting books out there. This very well might be my favorite non-fiction book.

9. Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

    An extremely popular first-hand account of the Holocaust from a survivor, accompanied by the author's conclusions about the true meaning of life. The first part is very informative, and I support at least some of his initial conclusions. I did not like the second half of this book, which is essentially a sales pitch for Viktor's new therapeutic approach called "logotherapy." In my opinion, this discussion detracted from the overall story. Still, I would say this is worth the read, as long as you are prepared for some very heavy, depressing material.

10. Ways of Seeing, by John Berger

   I know essentially nothing about art, despite being to dozens of art museums and working in an office that is also classified as an art gallery (owner of the company I work for loves art). This is one of the most famous books on art, and it was certainly eye-opening in some respects. John shows you how to look at paintings, and he cuts through the unnecessary "mystification" surrounding art pieces in order to show the reader how to decode these pieces by themselves. I still feel way out of my depth, but I understood the key concepts. Overall it was an interesting detour from my regular programming and I am looking forward to learning more.

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