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Kevin Anderson

2022 in Reading

Books10 min read

I set a goal each year to read at least 50 books, and people ask me for recommendations from time to time so I figured this year I’d start a tradition of making a formal list. This year I finished 54, of which 9 were duds. This means only 83% of the books I finished were actually worth the time, which is a crummy rate but I’ve always found it difficult to drop a book without completing it. Hopefully you find something interesting here, and if you do please tell me about it! I’m also open to recommendations (many of these were), so please pass along any you have. On to the books.

There are four tiers here:

  1. Must Read
  2. Highly Recommended (read if you have time)
  3. Recommended (read if you have time and are interested in the subject)
  4. Not Recommended (I gained nothing from reading this, but not necessarily a terrible book)

Must Read

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas Hofstadter

This was the best book I read this year, and probably one of the top 5 most thought provoking books I’ve ever read. This book attempts to explain how we can map firing neurons, to ideas and further to consciousness. It’s almost unbelievable that this book was published in 1979, when we had only just discovered the structure of DNA. Interwoven with the mind-bending subject matter is a dialog between a lively cast of characters which serves as an allegory to the themes of the book. This book changed how I think about thinking.

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, John Valliant

If you are looking to learn about Amur Tigers, the history of the Russian people in the far east, life in the wilderness and the power of the human spirit in one book, here you go. I always knew tigers and other large cats were dangerous, but this book opened my eyes to the myriad ways tigers specifically have evolved to be one of the greatest predators to inhabit the Earth. I particularly enjoyed learning about the thought process of wilderness animals as they interpret the world around them.

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, Sean Carroll

If you are in my age cohort (30s at the time of writing) or older, most of the physics you learned about the beginning of the universe in high school and/or undergrad is now outdated. The field has had some incredible discoveries in the past decade and this book does a fantastic job of tying it all together and relating it back to what you may have learned back in the dark ages when we didn’t even have a Large Hadron Collider.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Pérez

This is a very thorough look into the harm which has been caused to women from simply not collecting enough data about how they live, work and interact with the world. Particularly notable and infuriating to me is the dearth of research on how women specifically respond to different medical conditions and treatments. It’s incredibly sad to me that failure to collect data is shortening womens’ lives.

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, Anne Applebaum

I’ll be honest and admit I only picked up this book because when the war in Ukraine broke out, I realized that I had almost no historical context for it. This book lays out the sheer insanity and brutality of the Soviet system and how its objectives were carried out in Ukraine. If you’re curious why the war is so important and why the world cannot afford to give up on Ukraine, read this.

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder

If after reading Red Famine you still haven’t gotten your fill or 20th century brutality, this is a terrifying account of the eastern front of World War 2. Everyone has (hopefully) learned of the atrocities against European Jews during this time, but the amount of other civilian deaths adds substantially to the total destruction caused by these two lunatics, one of whom was our ally.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, Walter Isaacson

Step inside the surprisingly dramatic and competitive world of DNA research. A great overview of what CRISPR is, how it works and its limitations (for now) alongside an equally compelling story about the brilliant scientist Jennifer Doudna who helped bring it to the world.

Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

Sort of a history of disinformation since World Ware II, starting with the tobacco industry’s efforts to conceal the harm done by smoking all the way to the present “debate” about climate change. The most fascinating part to me is that a half century failed government policy on health and the environment was influenced in large part by a small handful of obsessively anti-communist cold war hawks, who may not have even understood the harm they were doing.

The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking, Barbara Minto

As my career progresses I find myself writing and reading more docs, and writing and reading less code. Writing is a known weak spot for me, and this book teaches a great framework to help you ensure your ideas are coherent and easily digestible in both written and presentation format. I normally wouldn’t say a work-related book is a must read, but the concepts here are almost universally applicable.

Highly Recommended

Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven

Pakistan is indeed a hard country. The environment is harsh and getting worse, the law and who exactly is in power at any given time can be ambiguous, and other countries can’t seem to stop meddling in its affairs. Mix in nuclear weapons and a long-standing border dispute with its neighbor India and this is a country everyone should know more about. This book provides a great overview of the modern history of this nation, and explains the complex machinations that make up the Pakistani political system.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, Scott Galloway

Galloway’s predictions about business and economics may have a mixed record but if there is one niche where he seems to be prescient it is Big Tech. If you work in the industry you probably won’t learn anything new, but for everyone else this is a valuable read. There are many reasons to be wary of the increasing power and control big tech companies have over most aspects of our lives.

Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control, Stuart Russell

While I don’t think T-1000s will show up any time soon, I think there are real dangers and threats posed by AI. A surprising amount of what we see on the internet is decided by AI systems based on knowledge they have about us. What does that mean for humanity? This book is a great exploration into some particular problems posed by this technology and how we might solve them.

The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, Pedro Domingos

This is a great intro to machine learning if you have no prior knowledge of the field at all. I’d recommend this to anyone non-technical who is curious about this technology and the many ways it does and will impact humanity.

Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail, Thomas McFadden

In many South American countries, the judicial system is responsible for inmates while they are incarcerated yet they have no actual personnel within prisons. The result is that many prisons are simply a wall that is guarded by normal police with total anarchy within. This is one inmate’s story while incarcerated at San Pedro in Bolivia, which is almost a self-contained city of crime within La Paz.

The Metaverse: And How it Will Revolutionize Everything, Matthew Ball

Before reading this I associated “the metaverse” with an overhyped useless VR world that seemingly no one needs but every (business) wants. It turns out this is correct, but only for a very narrow application of the concept and misses the bigger picture which is that we aren’t sure how the metaverse will ultimately evolve and VR is just one possibility. Think of the metaverse more as the next iteration of the internet and the hype makes more sense. Ball is also quick to point out that we still have enormous technical limitations to overcome. While this change won’t happen overnight, it’s probably prudent to start thinking about how it will affect our lives before it happens so we can shape it to be something we want instead of what corporations want.

Non-fiction (Recommended)

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, Maria Konnikova

The Bootlegger: The Good, The Bad & The Tasty, Karl Phillips

Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict With China, Michael Beckley

The Effective Engineer: How to Leverage Your Efforts In Software Engineering to Make a Disproportionate and Meaningful Impact, Edmond Lau

The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power to National Advantage, Norman Agnell

The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor, Eddie Jaku

How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method, George Pólya and John Conway

In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honoré

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, Clayton Christensen

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America, Russel Shorto

Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony, Akio Morita

Nudge: The Final Edition, Richard Thaler

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Robert Iger

Technology Strategy Patterns: Analyzing and Communicating Architectural Decisions, Eben Hewitt

On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins

Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, Martin Fowler

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood

Practical Doomsday: A Sensible Field Guide to Surviving Disasters, Michael Zalewski

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics, Tim Marshall

Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World, Leslie Valiant

Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Kim Scott

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Erik Brynjolfsson

The Staff Engineer’s Path, Tanya Reilly

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, Anne Applebaum

Fiction (Recommended)

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse

The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe

Non-Fiction (Not Recommended)

The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi

Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, Paul Shapiro

How Highly Effective People Speak, Peter Andrei

The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South, John T. Edge

Lying, Sam Harris

Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, Scott Galloway

Memoirs of Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowd, Charles McKay

Fiction (Not Recommended)

Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

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