Books I read in 2019
December 28, 2019
Making time to read as a parent of small children is no small feat. I applaud anyone who manages to find the time to read even one book a year while simultaneously suffering(?)/enjoying(?) life in this temporary, albeit rewarding role. It’s not simply a matter of lack of time; it’s a matter of lack of energy. Little kids are exhausting.
Despite it all, in 2019 I managed to read more books than I anticipated I would (I had very low expectations after the birth of our second child), aided significantly by the wonders of e-book technology. As much as I prefer reading on paper (something about the tactileness makes the reading experience more memorable), e-books are better suited to parent life. You can read in the dark, synchronized across multiple devices, and never have to remember to take anything other than your phone with you. This is perfect when you find yourself stuck in the car with a sleeping child, or waiting in a dark room at night for your toddler to fall back asleep, or want to sneak in a page here or there when the kids are playing. I get most of my reading done during nap time, or just before I go to bed.
Because I tend to read a mix of paper and e-books, I usually end up reading two in parallel, and alternating books based on the format that suits the situation. Context decides the medium.
Surprisingly, I didn’t read any fiction in 2019, which is unusual for me. I try to keep a healthy balance of fiction and non-fiction, usually a 30/70 split, in that order. Instead, this year it was mostly a mix of management books and books on technology’s impact on society.
Here’s the list, in chronological order, including medium (printed book or e-book):
- The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier (e-book): One of the few books out there targeting a software engineering audience that outlines the entire management path from individual contributor to VPE or CTO. Better for those just getting into management or contemplating the switch.
- An Elegant Puzzle by Will Larson (printed book): Really loved this book and find myself returning to it again and again as a kind of reference. Dense and full of good ideas, particularly for mid-level management, culture building, and improving processes in an organization. Much more about the systems/structure parts of management and less about developing relationships/leadership skills. Get this book in print; it’s lovely.
- Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows (printed book): Recommended by Will Larson in the book mentioned above. I read most of it but couldn’t really get into it. The opening chapters felt unnecessarily long and its mostly written from the perspective of an engineer interested in natural resources depletion. It could have used more varied examples. Maybe I will revisit it at some point.
- Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher (e-book): Good read on how lack of diversity in tech has lead to biased design decisions in all kinds of products, including those that can substantially alter human lives. It’s limited on scope temporally and geographically (mostly post-2000 Silicon Valley) but a good introduction to the problems of sexism, discrimination and racism in tech.
- Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff (e-book): Basically about how the execution of capitalism is completely failing us in a digital world, and some steps we can take to rectify the growing problem of wealth disparity. Some really good ideas and interesting examples to ponder, but I think some of the proposed solutions (like relying on Bitcoin to mimic a pre-industrial bazaar-like market model) fall flat. We need decentralized systems and corporate restructuring, but digital ledger technology probably won’t be our savior.
- The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore (printed book): Reading Rushkoff, who is at heart a media theorist, reminded me that though I’ve read plenty of books that cite or quote McLuhan, I’ve never read any of his original material. This is a really fun, quick and effective summary of his ideas presented using some graphic design that really pushed the limits, at least at the time (1967). Given the creative use of graphic design, book is a must-read in print.
- Resilient Management by Lara Hogan (e-book): A nice, succinct management book — especially if you’re new to the discipline — and is perhaps one of the better introductory books on the soft skills necessary to be a good manager. That said, I’ve been following Hogan through her blog and e-mail newsletter for some time, and while I enjoy much of the material she gives away for free, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped. Too much pop psychology for my taste.
- The Real World of Technology by Ursula Franklin (printed book): As mentioned in my previous blog post I started reading Ursula Franklin after watching Ethan Marcotte’s talk, “The World Wide Work.”. Such a humanist approach to technology, and so much to unpack here. It reminded me a bit of Neil Postman’s Technopoly, the first book I ever read that exposed me to humanist critiques of technology. I imagine I will be revisiting this book several times over the next year or more, and will likely be quoting it many times in posts to come.