Monday, June 18

Books

I’ve been reading the following books over the past few months:

*In progress*

En El Tiempo De Las Mariposas. I picked this up in the Dominican Republic this summer. Given that it’s about a real story about the Trujullo regime, it seems only appropriate. Because it’s the first real book I’ve read in Spanish, it’s been slow going, but I’m making progress, and it’s very interesting. I’ll post a full review when complete.

Race by Studs Terkel. This is proving to be an exciting and moving look at how racial issues have affected Chicago and the country in the past fifty years or so. It’s a primary source, which makes it especially intriguing. This was a natural follow up to American Pharaoh because now I have a historical basis on which to evaluate some of these racial issues.

Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers. I’m slooowly working my way through this one. I figure I’ll explore my mathematical side.

*September 2006*
*Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships. This book was given to me by my dad’s friend Steve Willson. It is an intriguing book. It proposes a theory of how societies came into being, by applying an economic angle. It’s pretty much the opposite of either Hobbes or Rousseau, and honestly I found it much more appealing. The idea is that most societies are organized around a “king” or a monarch, essentially an autocrat- a single person in charge of all. But this person gains control not through “social contract” as Hobbes would allow, but by being the biggest thug around and becoming a “stationary bandit.” Then he extracts a tax from his subjects, but not too high a tax, or else they’ll stop producing. And then he goes from there, explores Soviet Russia, and ends up with a really good reason why special interest groups, in excess, are bad for democracy. I think really interesting, and more relevant now than ever.

*July 2006*
The Feast of the Goat. Trujillo was a terrible dictator of the Dominican Republic from the 30s through the 60s. Despite confiscating most of the industry of the country and destroying civil liberties with secret prisons, no trials, torture, etc, he is still revered as a great leader in some parts. This book tells a fictional story that personalizes Trujillo. It let me see some of why people still adore him, but more of why they hate him and why they killed him. For being fiction, it was remarkably real. This was my prep-work for the trip to the DR — Nicole’s family was less than enthusiastic about my reading material, I believe.

*March 2006*
United States of Walmart. A great exposé into the real story behind Walmart. I found this entertaining and motivating. Although I was surprised — I came away feeling less like Walmart itself was somehow an evil company, and more upset about the way our American communities allow it to propogate itself. It’s not like it is a shining beacon of capitalism — if anything, Walmart would not be able to be as big as it is without the tax breaks and subsidies provided at the federal, state, and especially local level. Seems like that is the place to fight it — just provide it an equal playing ground. If it were even, then sure, Walmart would still be huge, no doubt, but it wouldn’t be able to be *that* big. Honestly, I think it only becomes a problem when it is so big that it has so much power concentrated in one company.

Cyrano de Bergerac. I read this in anticipation of watching the play with Dave Ignacio and Nicole. Such a good play! I haven’t read it since high school, and even then I sort of skimmed it and didn’t really focus. Weird how when I was supposed to be read something for school, I always shirked it, but when I chose to read it on my own, I was done in two days. I highly recommend this fantastic play.

*February 2006*
American Pharaoh History of Mayor Daley — what a bastard! This is an eye-opening tale of the history of my own humble town. Makes me a little less proud to be a Chicagoan, and feel a little more helpless in the face of the truly powerful.

Bud Not Buddy This is the first fictional book I’ve read in a long time, and it was great! It is such a moving book, and it again highlights the racial issues swimming around in my head these days.

*January 2006*

The Art of Deception. This is a real fun and quick read by Kevin Mitnick, the acclaimed and notorious hacker. Kind of scary and makes me just a little more paranoid about what’s possible out there.

Shelters of Stone. The fifth book in the Earth Children series (Cave Bear is the first), this just came out a few years ago, after my period of obsession. I’m reading it while also working through the series again with Nicole. Sort of a weird sandwich effect.

Clan of the Cave Bear, audio book. Nicole and I listened to this book on our vacation. Good book, interesting. I read the whole series back years ago, but now it’s more fun to listen to it as an adult, with Nicole’s perspective as well. It’s more fun than watching a movie :).

*December 2005*

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Studs Terkel. This is a touching book about life and death, with intimate stories from those who have been touched by death.

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace The point of this book is that as technology progresses, we as a society will have to make choices regarding our freedoms. The internet and the new technologies coming out have the potential to be the greatest liberators or the greatest oppressors ever seen. Probably they will be somewhere in between, but it’s not a natural path — people will choose, specifically people who care. And his point is that we should care. Great book, especially in light of all the wiretap scandal stuff coming out lately. Written in 1999, but especially relevant today.

*October 2005*

Mountains Beyond Mountains . This book was suggested to me by my neighbor Michelle. She is a nurse, and we both like Tracy Kidder, so we traded novels. I lent her “The Soul of a New Machine”, which really embodies a lot of what working at Amazon and in tech in general is about, and she lent me this book, which is the chronicle of Paul Farmer’s attempt to solve world health problems in Haiti. Both books are outstanding, but I’d have to say this one is a bit more … inspirational. I’m not sure where it’s going yet — haven’t finished — but it’s definitely gotten me thinking. Look for a blog entry in the near future on it.

Design Patterns . I’ve been cranking through this one while reading other stuff. It’s a core OO-design book and I really need to know it, but whenever I read I just want to go out and code, so I don’t finish :).

Lovelock . I have to say, I was sucked into this book much like I was into Ender’s Game, but I left with an expectation that more was to come. I’d recommend this to any Orson Scott Card fans, it’s interesting in that it’s not just his book but a collaboration with another author. I could see several Ender’s Game and Alvin Maker features here, such as the use of diary entries to tell the story and a fixation on young genius kids. It was a quick read but nothing outstanding.

*September 2005*


The Pragmatic Programmer 
. This book describes some suggestions for how to become a better professional software developer. I found several of the recommendations useful, although I felt like I had to sort of force myself to keep reading. Kind of dry, not at all as cool as Scott Meyers’ books. Oh well.


Citizen Soldiers 
. Stephen Ambrose writes some of the best books. This one sucked me in and really made me think about the horrors of war. I wonder if the leadership in our country has read books like this one, to really understand the hardship that our troops endured. It’s so frustrating to read about some of the best and brightest Americans in the high school classes of 1942-45, just blown up and killed and so much of it is the luck of the draw, the inefficienceis in the system, and the chaos of war. This book really made me feel like I knew what it was like at the front line, and answered many questions I didn’t realize I had. Highly recommended.

*August 2005*


What’s the Matter with Kansas? 
. This politically-charged book gives me quite the perspective on the way our country works today. There are a lot of assumptions the author makes about economics and the free markets, etc, but so much of what he says strikes me as true.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. 
. This is a cute one, makes you get all weepy. It’s about an autistic boy’s journey through England to find the solution to a mystery of a dead dog. It’s a fun fictional look into a different perspective. Highly recommended.


The Magician’s Nephew 
. This book was recommended to me at church. It is one of the Narnia series, which I never read as a kid. It’s a quick read, and sort of lame actually, but fun nonetheless. The biblical themes are painfully obvious, and I probably won’t re-read it, but as a classic it was educational.

*July 2005*


Alaska 
. I read this book while travelling in Alaska. Reading about the fictional stories of the Alaskan Russian pioneers and American gold rushers, all the way to the modern day Eskimo issues, was exhilarating. It helped that I was able to see the land of Alaska while reading the book. I highly recommend this.


I Sing the Body Electronic 
. I have really gotten into this book. It’s about the work that went on to create the Explorapedia at Microsoft, after Encarata was released. It takes some of the mystery out of “How do they create those massive software projects, anyway”. It just seems like so much. It makes me glad to be at Amazon too, where I think things are a little different. But being a developer now, and reading this book, I feel like I can relate an awful lot to what’s going on.


Maestro 
.
I really like reading biographies, I’ve decided. Especially about people who are interesting. In this book I learned a ton about economics and the effects on the bond market of Greenspan’s decisions in the 90s. More than that though, I feel like I’ve learned somewhat how he evolved outside of his public persona. Woodward is really a great reporter. Plus I feel more of a connection with my dad because he was trading bonds throughout this entire story, and at the time I was oblivious.

*May 2005*


El Cucuy de la Mañana: En la cumbre de la pobreza
. I am trying to learn Spanish a little
bit more fluently, so I am working my way through this one slowly.

The HP Way: How Bill Hewett and I Built Our Company
. I’m always interested in the biographies of entrepreneurs, especially
tech company founders. HP is the foundation of Silicon Valley, and
so this story is especially important. However, I think it is a bit
out of date and Packard strikes me as way too old.. the book is a bit
too much of a PR campaign and doesn’t really have a lot of honesty.

ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World’s First Computer
. Man, these guys guy screwed. John Mauchly and Paul Eckert basically created the first computer, but then they had not
enough business sense to turn it into a success for themselves. But
the thing is that this book presumes you must be profitable in order
to be a success, and I’m not sure I agree with its premise. However
it tells the story quite well, and it’s a story that I hadn’t heard
before.

*April 2005*

Amazonia.
I eat this stuff up. Working for this company, it’s very interesting to me. I work every day with folks who went through this
time period, and it is so cool to see how the company has changed
since the ’90s.
Brave New World.
I never read this in school, so I figured I’d take a stab now. I
really like this book!
The Plot Against America. Cool book, interesting premise. Some of the only fiction I’ve been reading.
Guns, Germs, and Steel . This has been at the top of the charts, and with good reason. Since Western Civ, I’ve been looking for answers like this
without even realizing it … it’s a fascinating theory of why
the world is the way it is.