2016 Reading List
How to Make Sense of Any Mess — Abby Covert Daemon — Daniel Suarez† Burr – Gore Vidal Fire in the Valley – Michael Swaine and Paul Freiberger
I often think about what I missed by not being “in tech” (or rather “in the Bay Area”) when I was a bit younger. I graduated high school in 2004, meaning that if I had my shit together I could have gotten the fuck out of Tampa and high-tailed it to the west coast just in time to be on the ground floor to something cool. I had very little idea how much location factors in to participating in the digital economy.
Instead I went to college and said “fuck computers.”
This book isn’t about the years after the first dotcom bubble, it’s about an earlier time when fortunes were made just as quickly, but there was no internet to fuel the personal computer revolution. Just a bunch of hard working, often scheming, nerds and true believers making the hardware and the fabulists selling a dream of a digital future. They created a scene where there was none, and seemed to have fun doing it. They probably weren’t self-aware of that the minutia of their day to day “work stuff” becoming the geeky history of how personal computers helped spawn the modern tech industry.
I rarely admire or envy baby boomers, but the people and events described in this book make a clear exception to that policy.
After high school, I knew I was “good” with computers—whatever that means, I’m still trying to find out— but really I just lacked the vision to understand that I could hustle my way into tech if I wanted to. I didn’t manage to do that until 2009, and only then after deciding to at the end of 2008.
Recently I read the New Yorker profile about Sam Altman and couldn’t help but feel the familiar hot sting of envy even thinking about the scene at Stanford in 2005. Right place at the right time, the way I figure it.
Like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack at the Homebrew Computing Club—I can’t read about that and not wish for that type of kismet in my life.
This book stirs up some strong feels.
Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Ascent of Money – Niall Feguson The (Mis)Behavior of Markets – Beniot Mandelbrot
Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
I didn’t grow up around surfing, despite being somewhat near the beach. The Gulf Coast is known for its calm white-sand, warm-water beaches. Not really a place for good waves. The Atlantic coast of Florida is a little better, but this is just the type of thing that’s elusive for kids in the suburbs. I was lucky enough to have a mom willing to drive me an hour to the skatepark (and I still skate to this day, so it wasn’t for nothing), but driving 2 or 3 hours to the opposite side of the state to try out a new board sport wasn’t in the cards. Surfing was something that only happened in the fictional Saved by the Bell universe of Southern California.
Continuing on a theme, this feels like another nostalgic take on a subject (and time) that passed me by. It’s too late for me to commit to another brutal, dangerous hobby. My wife agrees with me.
Sometimes I’m in awe of what a trip books are: it isn’t my expression, but the notion that you stare at a bunch of symbols on a page and experience vivid, emotional, waking hallucinations with zero physical effort or deleterious side-effects is fucking flabbergasting.
This book places you in the water, on the board. It makes me pine for those types of memories, but I’m happy to share a sliver of the experience without getting wet.
Sapiens – Yuval Harari Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview – Jacques Derrida
The Killing Moon – N.K. Jemisin
I bought this based on an enthusiastic employee recommendation placard at Borderlands Books in San Francisco but set it down less than a quarter of the way into it for reasons I can no longer recall. I decided to pick it up again this year and loved it.
Jemisin is a creator of vivid universes: they pull you into their orbit until they envelop you completely, at which point you’ll find yourself thumbing back to previous chapters scanning for the precious and minute x devices that do so well to establish an exact tone and setting. There’s just enough narrative white space to contrast with the hyper-detailed emotional awareness of the characters and settings so that the story is framed with elaborate societal backstory that has clear eye-line to the sequel(s). Great sci-fi recommendation.
Update: also going back and listening to this now on on Audible
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Finally, finally got around to reading this after letting it languish on my Kindle for several years. Recommended by both my wife and best friend, I was pleased to so quickly become completely immersed in it. Gaiman creates moody settings that feel rich without going into Stephen King–levels of hyper-detail.
I did have a funny note about Laura, though. Is it just me does she mostly serve as a corpse-ified version a manic pixie dreamgirl?
Influx — Daniel Suarez†
Yet another Daniel Suarez tech thriller that I liked. I listened to this one instead of reading it, and as if this is any sort of compliment, but it made doing the dishes and assembling IKEA furniture thoroughly enjoyable.
The Illuminatus! Trilogy — Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
I’ve read this before and I absolutely love it. Pure sci-fi zanyness with enough acid trips, talking dolphins, and fractal structure make it prime re-reading material, allowing for the slow jokes to play out with more more anticipation and certainly with more perspective to better take in the instant shifts betweens characters and timelines.
- Kissinger: 1923-1969 The Idealist — Niall Ferguson
Brian Eno: Visual Music — Christopher Scoates The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu Civilization — Niall Ferguson Inherent Vice — Thomas Pynchon† 7 Days In Ohio — Nathan Rabin
- Time Travel — James Gleick
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk — Peter L. Bernstein
- The Sovereign Individual — James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg
Fooled By Randomness — Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black Swan — Nassim Nicholas Taleb Superforecasting – Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
- Digital Gold – Nathaniel Popper
Related: 2015 reading list