This is a log of books that I’ve read, starting around late 2018 (i.e. the beginning of this blog).

  • Started 2023-12-27
  • Finished 2024-06-02
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
Holy shit this was long. I feel bad being negative about this book becuase it's beloved by many people and, honestly, I'm pretty receptive to the philosophical points the book is trying to make about living for one's own hapiness and reason being an ideal to strive for. It was just... too long!

Had this book been 100 pages instead of 1000, I think I would have absolutely loved it. Make your points, concisely, and without belaboring them. Also, leave something to be inferred by the reader - it's more satisfying that way. Instead, it felt like every point was dragged across 100 pages. The epitome of this was John Galt's 100 page speech which, honestly, I almost couldn't get through.

My other complaint is the extreme way in which she ideolized a certain group of people while vilifying another. I'm not trying to do what she hates (bothsidesism), it's more that she described John Galt & co as perfect ideal human beings incapable of any negative human emotions and... well, there's just a lack of nuance.

Anyways, I don't want my review to come across as overly negative. I liked her points. I found most of it to be pleasurable and interesting to read. My favorite part of the book was the story of the twentieth century motor company (told by Jeff Allen, the tramp on Dagny's train). I think that story by itself was a masterpiece of exploring the implications of a philosophical idea (a very bad one, according to the author). I just found the length and the lack of subtlety to be a bit grating.
  • Started 2023-10-21
  • Finished 2023-11-06
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
This was the first book for which I momentarily considered dethroning my favorite book ever. In in the end, I regained my senses and Flatland remains my top pick, but this is now my clear second favorite book ever. The fact that it made me wonder whether I liked it more than flatland is just about the highest praise I can give.

Every story was very very good, but "Division by Zero" and "Story of Your Life" were particularly incredible. Division by Zero seems like it must have been written for me; it's a story about Godel's incompleteness theorems and the consistency of arithmetic. Who is this guy Ted Chiang and how can we hang out?
  • Started 2023-10-19
  • Finished 2023-10-20
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
I really enjoyed it. It's short and a very fast read. Really engaging, interesting premise, well written. Kind of reminded me of ready player one, but only a little -- it's very much it's own thing.

I'm not sure I have that much to say about it. I liked the central message, which I saw as: for something to matter, there have to be consequences. That feels similar to something that I feel very strongly which is: everything in life is relative. Good is only good in relation to bad. There is no absolute good or bad. When everything is good, then nothing is.
  • Started 2023-10-14
  • Finished 2023-10-17
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
Yes. Just yes. 10/10. I think it's probably a little weird how much I liked this book. It was honestly cathartic.

Parenting is hard. Having kids is hard. There are so many things that I feel as a parent that nobody talks about. I'm not sure whether it's because other people don't feel those feelings or -- more likely -- it's just not socially acceptable to talk about them. Well, that does not stop Jessi Klein. She blows right by any pretense of social norms in just the best way. Her essays (chapters) are brutally honest, laugh-out-loud funny (literally), vulgar, and yet at the same time caring and vulnerable and incredibly relatable. I need more of this type of honesty in my life.

Let me stress again how funny Jessi Klein is. I can't even.
  • Started 2023-10-05
  • Finished 2023-10-12
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
Wow what a story. I don't know how much to trust Michael Lewis' version of the story, but it was incredibly well written and very hard to put down.

I was particularly interested in how he would portray Jane Street, especially after Flash Boys. I thought his portrayal of Jane Street, while certainly not perfect, was fairly balanced. I do feel bad for a few Jane Streeters who were mentioned by name and for whom details of personal relationship were shared. That felt unnecessary -- why not obfuscate the name like in the story about the intern who made a bad bet?

I like that Michael Lewis painted a fairly nuanced picture of Sam. I would have been sad if, after everything that unfolded, his book painted him as a one-dimensional villain. Honestly it felt like Michael Lewis kind of likes Sam - or at least appreciated his strengths. Someone he does not seem to like one bit is John Ray (the CEO presiding over the bankruptcy proceedings - the same guy who did it for Enron).

All in, it was an incredibly fun read. I didn't learn a bunch of shocking new facts, but (assuming we can trust Michael Lewis) I do have a better sense of the background and narrative arc of how Sam went from Jane Street to the billionaire sensation that he was at the peak.
Excellent book! I learned a lot more than I expected. My hope in reading this book was that I would understand the case for evolution in a first order way as opposed to a second order way. Put differently, I've believed in evolution for a long time, but my strongest evidence was actually that it seems to be an overwhelming scientific consensus that is believed strongly by other individuals that I respect. I think that's a perfectly good reason to believe in something, but it's less satisfying than understanding why _those_ individuals believe it.

As I expected, this book mostly accomplished that goal. What I didn't expect, though, was the number of interesting tangents that Dawkins went down. It reinvigorated my interest in certain topics that I haven't spent any time on since high school science classes. All in all, this book was intellectually engaging and a lot of fun.
  • Started 2023-04-05
  • Finished 2023-04-12
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
I enjoyed reading the book, but was disappointed by the ending. Maybe I just didn't understand it? I was hoping this book to focus a bit more on the technical/futuristic aspects but instead it was really a book about a man's struggle to understand himself and his family. Totally fine premise, but it didn't scratch an itch like Hail Mary did.
  • Started 2023-03-31
  • Finished 2023-04-01
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
Wonderful book - exactly what I was looking for. Mysterious, intriguing, and very different from the things I usually read. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Started 2023-02-01
  • Finished 2023-03-30
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
I think I'm rating this book a bit harshly because of reading it directly after Measure What Matters and Atomic Habits and being a little tired of the genre of "here is the secret to being successful" books. Honestly, the book was extremely well written and I found it pretty balanced.

I'm quite suspicious of books that in order to be successful you need to do "X". The thesis of this book is that you need to "have range", i.e. be a generalist and have a broad range of experiences. Even though I was somewhat biased to agree with this book because I consider myself more of a generalist than a specialist, I was still eager to disagree with it for some reason. However, the book started off by citing an excellent counterexample to its thesis: the Polgar sisters!

It then went on to clarify that, there really do exist some "kind" learning environments in which specialization and repeated practice really do outperform generalization, and chess is an excellent example. However, it thinks that most real-world environment are not "kind" - they're "wicked". Compared to chess, real world situations are less predictable, have incomplete information, and do not give immediate and reliable feedback. In those situations, having a broad range of experiences from which to draw from and make analogies to often outperforms having extremely specialized expertise - even if the expertise is directly relevant to the task at hand.

This book has made me think a lot about my own personal experience managing a team. Some people are excellent cultural fits which feels really nice, safe, and easy. Other people feel more like outsiders. They're not great cultural fits and can sometimes even cause problems. I think this book (and to some extent my experience) would suggest that these outsiders will bring outsized value because their ideas will be meaningfully different than the rest of the team's. Essentially they provide a different perspective and a lot of variance. I think this book moved me a little in the direction of thinking the cost of having outsiders on the team is worth it.
This book is extremely practical, relatable, and easy to read. It gives lots of good advice, most of which sounds kind of obvious in retrospect, but is useful nonetheless. One of the biggest takeaways for me was to be less "goal oriented" and more "identity oriented". A habit is more durable if it's just part of "who you are" as opposed to if you're just trying to hit some arbitrary goal. I want to be the type of person who works out most days.

I feel a little similarly about this book as I do about Measure What Matters. The books actually have really similar structures. Each chapter starts with a story that illustrates an idea, and then it talks about the idea itself. I like the structure -- it makes it a really easy read -- but the stories always feel so cherry-picked to me. I'm sure you could find stories that start out the same way and end very differently. I don't really have a constructive suggestion, I'm just pointing out that the stories don't carry a lot of weight for me personally.

That said, honestly I agreed with just about everything James Clear said in this book. The way he thought about habits and his insights felt spot on to me.
  • Started 2022-11-12
  • Finished 2022-11-16
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
  • Related Posts:
I flew through this book, which is pretty rare for me. I really enjoyed it considering it was a non-fiction book about management and goal setting. I think there's a > 50% chance that insights from this book can meaningfully improve my work.

My one hesitation is that there's clearly a massive amount of selection bias in the company stories that he featured. If a VC firm tells 100 companies to use OKRs, and a few of those companies wildly succeed and a bunch don't, it's not clear how valuable OKRs are. But you can still talk about those few companies who did incredibly well (and who also used OKRs).
  • Started 2022-08-14
  • Finished 2022-08-30
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
I thought the book was fine. It had lots of interesting examples of graphs/charts/etc. that will hopefully give me ideas for how to nicely display data in the future. But it wasn't mind-blowing by any means. After a while, I started reading/skimming which I think is probably the right approach. I think my biggest insight is that I should use sparklines more often.
This was kind of like "The Joy of X" on steriods. It looks and even starts to read as if it's going to an extremely approachable, dumbed-down book about introductory physics. Oh boy is that not the case. I came into the book arrogantly thinking I would blow through it in a couple days, as my real target was the "Special Relativity and Classical Field Theory" book of the Theoretical Minimum series. But I figured, hey, why not start with the first book in the series to quickly get the background before quickly moving on. Yeah... this book is hard. Not the beginning - the beginning is easy - but the later chapters on Lagrangian mechanics, Hamiltonian Mechanics, Poisson Brackets, Vector Fields, and even Gauge Fields... they sailed above my head. In retrospect, I'm really happy I started with this book. It showed me that I probably need to take this journey of trying to actually understand Special and General Relativity even slower than I thought (and I wasn't planning on taking it particularly fast). This book gave me a whirlwind tour of the areas that I need to now go and actually study. Although I admire this book, I'm not exactly sure who the target audience is. It moves through concepts so fast that I can't really imagine someone who doesn't already know the subjects being able to follow along. For example, all of Hamiltonian Mechanics was explained in about 15 pages. But overall totally worth the read.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a very soft introduction to relativity, which is exactly what I was looking for. I'm planning to read several more books about relativity and increase the rigor with each one, so this was a perfect place to start.
  • Started 2022-02-10
  • Finished 2022-03-14
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
Super fun! Extremely nerdy and mathy. First non-fiction book that I've read in a while and I really enjoyed it.
  • Started 2021-09-20
  • Finished
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
  • Started 2021-09-17
  • Finished 2021-09-20
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
I absolutely loved this book. Not only are surreal numbers a fascinating number system but the way the book encouraged one to discover the topic for oneself before reading on and seeing what the characters in the book discovered made it way more engaging than a typical textbook. Knuth's philosophical musings on math that he interspersed with the "real content" were surprisingly insightful and resonated strongly with me. PDF
  • Started 2019-01-10
  • Finished 2021-09-01
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
This was the book I'd been looking for in my quest to understand Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. Reader beware, though, it's more of a logic textbook than a lay person's guide to understanding Godel. Smith gradually builds up the necessary foundation in logic to understand, in precise technical detail, what Godel's Theorems say. Then, he walks though Godel's method of proof, providing enough justification for each step that I think I finally could (given enough time) reconstruct Godel's proof from scratch. Bravo. PDF
  • Started 2019-09-29
  • Finished 2019-10-29
  • Enjoyment
  • Learned
I really liked this book, but it's too easy. It just touches the surface of many interesting topics before quickly moving on; I wish it went deeper. I suspect I'm not exactly the target audience. Either way, very enjoyable and totally worth the (quick) read.
Hofstadter's love of (obsession with) self-reference, and "tangled hierarchies" comes through clearly. His writing is whimsical, creative, and deep. It's just... too... long. Not only does this have the obvious consequence that it's difficult to hold the reader's interest for long enough to actually finish the book (it took me three tries), but I think it also detracts from the explanatory power of the book. There is too much material, spread over too many pages (and therefore time), for the reader to come away with a clear understanding of Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. I suspect Hofstadter's response to this would be that I've missed the point of the book! There is no clear, simple, linear understanding of Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. In fact, that hope is in direct conflict with the idea that some concepts are inescapably "tangled hierarchies". To that, I'd say... maybe. In any case, length aside, the book is truly a work of art. The way Hofstadter weaves together content and form is impressive. In addition, I appreciated the many self-references he included throughout the book. In summary, if your goal is to spend a long time metaphorically bathing in the essence of Godelian self-reference, this book will be unparalleled. However, if you want a no nonsense understanding of Godel's Incompleteness Theorems, then this book is likely not the best way to achieve that goal.
A short, clear, and to the point introduction to Godel's Poof - attributes that I appreciate even more now that I'm 300 pages into GEB. PDF
This is a fascinating book. It does a good job of walking through a series of QM experiments which build on each other to arrive at some truly mind-bending conclusions. Doesn't attempt to teach you any of the math behind them, though, so I'm left more intrigued but similarly confused as when I started.