2023 Reading in Review

This year I decided to not only make more of an effort to read more, but to actually capture what I read, and while it wasn't the primary goal the ability to do this year's-end post was enticing (I'm always impressed by people like Fogus). There were probably auxilliary intentions like reading more widely, and reflecting on what I'd read rather than just churning, but for the most part I had the most success around simply capturing. One thing I did make a conscious effort about was not multi-tasking; sometimes if a book is dragging on and something else shiny is attracting my attention I'll switch to that "just for a bit", and before you know it I have 4 or 5 on the go, and eventually abandon some of them. I allowed myself to explicitly not finish books (although I don't think I did), but this made me more intentional about what I was consuming and stifled a few urges to meander.

I read 40 books in total, with another 4 on the go at the end of the year (Aurelien Geron's Machine Learning with TensorFlow book, "Remember It!", a mini collection of Aurelius' "Meditations" from a second-hand shop years ago that I never actually opened, and Brendan Gregg's Systems Performance which is so good that I ordered a hard-copy. I'll read a few more chapters, but probably leave it as a reference for now).


I used an org-mode file (of course), with a couple of nodes: one for my backlog and in-progress, and one for everything completed. Each book entry is simply archived into the finished node when I'm done (type "w" if you have org-use-speed-commands enabled). I also had a node for "skimming", which was intending to capture books I only read part of (might be a technical topic, or training, or a cookbook), but I didn't really use this. For each book I captured the author, and start and finish date using properties. I also used org TODO progress tracking with tags for notstarted/started/finished. Toggling to "finished" also sets (a different) close date, as well as the one I set manually in the properties. Then I'd try and write at least a brief note about the book, although I didn't do a great job of this. Often it was a mix of "wanted to read this because… " followed by an in-progress half-baked thought, and sometimes that was it! Not exactly erudite reviews, but the simple attempt to jot down thoughts can clarify things at times (even if that thing is "I wish I could remember the turn of phrase I thought of while out on a run")

With all that in place I expected it to be a simple task to produce a nicely-formatted list for the requisite year-in-review post, and without pushing the envelope here that was a bit of a mixed outcome (I'm pretty sure I could do a lot better with a bit of elisp, but that can be another job for next year). I've wound up using a dynamic column block for a summary table. I intended to tidy my notes up a bit, but… at this stage that feels like cheating. (I did however remove the "FINISHED" tags that otherwise accompany every entry, and the "CLOSED" timestamp). I also feel that the dates could be formatted better.


A written backlog was surprisingly effective at making me think about what I was reading. In the past I've definitely been guilty of making grand plans about what I'll read next(ish), which many people would recognise tends to grow unbounded, but being able to view what I've already semi-committed to definitely makes you think harder about what's realistic and desirable.

The List

The Book of Why Pearl, J. <2022-12-25 Sun> <2023-01-10 Tue>
The Iron Samurai Simmons, L. <2023-01-01 Sun> <2023-01-06 Fri>
Totem Pole Pritchard, P. <2023-01-10 Tue> <2023-01-15 Sun>
Neurotribes Silberman, S. <2023-01-15 Sun> <2023-01-26 Thu>
Doctor Adder Jeter, K. <2023-01-25 Wed> <2023-01-29 Sun>
Cities for people Gehl, J. <2023-01-29 Sun> <2023-02-05 Sun>
The man who solved the market Zuckerman, G. <2023-02-05 Sun> <2023-02-13 Mon>
How the world really works Smil, V. <2023-02-13 Mon> <2023-02-25 Sat>
Anapurna Herzog, M. <2023-02-25 Sat> <2023-03-04 Sat>
How to Prevent a Climate Disaster Gates, B. <2023-03-05 Sun> <2023-03-13 Mon>
Kraken Mieville, C. <2023-03-13 Mon> <2023-03-25 Sat>
Snowcrash Stephenson, N. <2023-03-26 Sun> <2023-04-08 Sat>
The Mastermind: The hunt for the World's most prolific criminal Ratliff, E. <2023-04-08 Sat> <2023-04-18 Tue>
Life Richards, K. <2023-05-06 Sat> <2023-05-19 Fri>
Podman in Action Walsh, D. <2023-05-19 Fri> <2023-05-27 Sat>
Red Team Blue, Charles Stross Stross, C. <2023-04-19 Wed> <2023-05-06 Sat>
The City and the City Mieville, C. <2023-05-27 Sat> <2023-06-06 Tue>
The Rosie Project Simsion, G. <2023-06-06 Tue> <2023-06-15 Thu>
Who's #1? Langville, A.; Meyer, C. <2023-01-19 Thu> <2023-06-26 Mon>
Pricing Money Wiseman, J. D. A. <2023-06-25 Sun> <2023-07-12 Wed>
The Rosie Effect Simsion, G. <2023-07-13 Thu> <2023-07-23 Sun>
AWS Security Shields, D. <2023-02-18 Sat> <2023-08-04 Fri>
How big things get done Flyvbjerg, B.; Gardner, D. <2023-08-05 Sat> <2023-08-12 Sat>
Growing in to Autism Thom-Jones, S. <2023-08-12 Sat> <2023-08-18 Fri>
Small is Beautiful Schumacher, E. F. <2023-08-19 Sat> <2023-09-01 Fri>
Lessons in chemistry Garmus, B. <2023-09-02 Sat> <2023-09-07 Thu>
The Internet Con Doctorow, C. <2023-09-07 Thu> <2023-09-10 Sun>
Programming Pearls Bentley, J. L. <2023-09-10 Sun> <2023-09-24 Sun>
The Icon Handbook Hicks, J. <2023-09-24 Sun> <2023-09-26 Tue>
Around the world in 80 days Verne, J. <2023-09-27 Wed> <2023-10-03 Tue>
Mindfulness-integrated CBT for Well-being and Personal Growth Cayoun, B. <2023-04-05 Wed> <2023-09-30 Sat>
Rogue Code Russinovich, M. <2023-10-14 Sat> <2023-10-19 Thu>
The Persuasion Story Garfinkel, D. <2023-10-19 Thu> <2023-10-25 Wed>
Secrets of the autistic millionaire Plummer, D. W. <2023-02-18 Sat> <2023-10-31 Tue>
The Importance Of Not Being Earnest Kurlanksy, M. <2023-11-13 Mon> <2023-11-24 Fri>
Rogue Code Russinovich, M. <2023-11-24 Fri> <2023-12-07 Thu>
The Joyous Season Dennis, P. <2023-12-08 Fri> <2023-12-12 Tue>
The Way of Zen Watts, A. <2023-12-13 Wed> <2023-12-19 Tue>
Zed Attack Proxy Cookbook Soper, R.; Torres, N.N.; Almoailu, A. <2023-10-02 Mon> <2023-12-24 Sun>
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Franklin, B. <2023-12-19 Tue> <2023-12-26 Tue>

The Book of Why

I struggled to follow for a while because a lot of ideas (the "rungs of causality") are introduced in the intro, and then taken as assumed knowledge. I felt that the "do-calculus" was also assumed a bit early. But otherwise, clearly illustrates how different variables in networks can be accomodated, mediated for, etc.

The Iron Samurai

Louie's autobiography, in the third person (notionally as the titular "iron samurai" alter-ego, although this doesn't really come through), and history of Westside Barbell and its alumni. Not high literature, but the accomplishments alone are worth reading for.

Totem Pole

Amazing account of survival and adapatation and recovery into a new life, from an accomplished climber. Describes the lead-up to the accident and his own recollections, as well as the aftermath and revisiting the site on the year anniversary for a documentary, sandwiched around his diary from his time in recovery.


A history of autism, from early misunderstandings through the gradual formulations of theories and attempts at treatments. Initially it was lumped in with schizophrenia, and considered a child-only disease. Coverage is in terms of the many personalities, with Aspberger and Kanner occupying early chapters, and the many parents who took matters into their own hands, refused to give up on their children, and mobilised grass-roots support networks. Aspberger is given quite a charitable coverage, relative (I gather) to his historical reputation due to association with Nazi Germany (the book proposes a theory of how he was both self-preserving but also endeavouring to save his patients). Chapter 3, with its focus on Nazi history and their extermination policies, was incredibly grim. It ends almost abruptly, but with a positive coverage of self-organising and how the internet provided a means for people to identify and more-effectively communicate and supporte each other. Also though, later pages emphasise that it's only society that makes a difference into a disability, and that much of progress is probably due to the diversity. The vaccine drama also of course gets coverage.

By autistic standards, the "normal" brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud, and full of people who have little respect for personal space.

I cannot tell you how hard that quote spoke to me.

Doctor Adder

https://twitter.com/cstross/status/1612386757147770883 Apparently the "first" cyberpunk book; shopped around but not published, until Neuromancer was a success. Very-dystopian, where Dr Adder rules over the "interface" of LA, a surgeon who uses a drug cocktail to determine people's perversions, which usually involves amputation or disfiguration.

Cities for people

One of the first things I noticed being aware of when I started travelling was the differences in city organisation and urban planning. I love to explore by walking, and I noticed things like the countdown on traffic lights, and I was particularly taken with the Hong Kong finance district, where the gleaming sky scrapers were actually part of the pedestrian landscape; a network of overpasses and lower floor shipping centres meant you could traverse on foot without crossing a road. Years later I attended a public meeting discussing the proposed redevelopment of my town's waterfront, to make the city more walkable, and presented many more examples of pedestrian friendly (and the opposite) cities around the world. The presenter is the author of this book, which is all about exactly what makes a walkable city and why. (He is not a fan of overpasses; see pp133-3!)

The man who solved the market

This was a little disappointing; the introduction is essentially a long disclaimer that hardly anyone would talk to him about the topic, Jim himself did grant him an interview but also asked him not to write the book, and everyone who worked there signed a comprehensive NDA. The result is basically a dramatised version of what is publicly known, which had some interest for me but probably not relative to the length of the book. Ed Thorpe's "A man for all markets" is at least autobiographical, and includes his own perspective on independently developing the Black-Scholes equation which you can reference separately, etc.

How the world really works

Smil is apparently Bill Gates' favourite author, which is a tempered recommendation (it could go a couple of different ways, really). I gather a lot of his books are a lot more detailed, but this is more of a ground-up exploration of… how the world works (and how it developed into that way), but also why we aren't going to be able to change in a hurry because of the deeply-embedded reliances on core materials and processes. Specifically, the carbon reduction spoken of as crucial isn't realistic by 2050 in his view. Each chapter picks a high-level topic, such as energy, food (using a quantity of diesel fuel to illustrate how much is involved in the production of a particular foodstuff, once you consider fertilizer, harvesting and processing, and transport), etc. The later chapter on Risks feels a bit out of place.


First hand account of the first successful ascent of an 8000m peak. "The whole of this book has been dictated at the American Hospital in Neuilly where I am still having rather a difficult time.". Boy wasn't he! This was a classic old-school expedition, where not only did they complete the summit without the aid of supplementary oxygen or modern equipment, but they didn't even have maps of the region and had to undertake an extensive reconnaissance to even find a plausible route. The story of the climb is fascinating, but the descent and aftermath is harrowing.

How to Prevent a Climate Disaster

Following from "How the world really works" (recommended by billg), which was ultimately fairly sceptical of our chances, I was curious about Bill's own takes. Ultimately it's a more light-weight, and admittedly accessible version of the same; leaning on much of the same quantification at times, and a bit more optimistic that technology will find a way.


Recommended by a colleague; "Kraken is probably my favourite – the sheer density of crazy ideas in that book is extraordinary. Plus he credits Pop Will Eat Itself with inspiring it!". I'm not going to argue with any of that; it's notionally bizarro-supernatural I suppose which I wouldn't normally read, but superbly executed and great play on language.


Re-reading a classic, back in attention thanks to the recent "metaverse" flurry. I recently went looking for a quote, and was reminded of so many more. It held up very well for me! I vaguely remember it, and it has something of a reputation for, finishing rather slowly (or dragging on and petering out rather than coming to a conclusion), which I didn't find this time. Now I'm curious to look more into Sumerian culture and language.

The Mastermind: The hunt for the World's most prolific criminal

Started with a long-form series of articles. Unbelievable in scope, although the flow of the book unfortunately slightly reflected the uncertainty around some of the facts (it's only a quasi-linear narrative, and basically jumps over the beginnings)


Read this on the road, and loved it! The Stones were one of the early bands that got me into music (long story), but I was surprisingly ignorant of a lot of their back-story, and Keith's personal history – legends aside, which get plenty of air-time. The story behind iconic riffs and songs were great.

Podman in Action

I power-read this on the road, but it's quite accessible. Written by the core author (and SELinux contributor, I gather), it does a great job of explaining how Podman differs from Docker and the reasoning behind those decisions (with a particular emphasis on security, which has its own section).

Red Team Blue

Finished as we were landing in Italy! Short but fun read, with an emphasis on the non-IT side of "red team" hacking and mindset.

The City and the City

I ended up quite enjoying this, albeit maybe not quite as much as my first Mieville book (Kraken). The friend who put me on to Mieville mentioned that basically every book was a different genre. It took me a little while to get into it, because I read chapters sporadically and while travelling and tired, and so I didn't fully absorb the core concepts of the world described. That world – around which a basic police crime-solving drama is set – consists of two interwoven cities, whose inhabitants are forbidden from and conditioned against even glancing at the others. In common ("crosshatched") areas, they are trained from birth to identify gaits and manerisms and avoid but not perceive inhabitants from the other. Transgressions are called "breach", with a mysterious shadowy power responsible for enforcement. It's a bizarre world, but works well enough and is obviously key to the evolving story. (Note that inhabitants can legally enter the other city, via a single border-crossing, at which point they must cease noticing their own city for the duration)

The Rosie Project

I loved this, but boy-howdy did I feel like it was describing me at least 85% of the time. Not all the time; I'm not that meticulous with time for eg, and unfortunately don't quite have his memory, but pretty much every comment about scheduling, routine, clothing choice, mannerisms etc were… uncomfortably close to home!

Who's #1?

I've had this on the shelf (and in storage) for years now. I can't remember how it originally came across my radar (John Cook's blog is a reasonable bet, but I can't find the post if it was), but I think the original impetus was an interest in sports gambling. It's remarkably well-written and approachable, describing the approach in high-level terms before delving into the maths, and using some running sports examples. They cover a few different methodologies, then weighting (eg, more recent results should carry more importance than early-season) and aggregating multiple rankings, and also how to compare rankings.

Pricing Money

Available online, converted to epub. Written for people coming into the industry, so mainly describes the various derived products, with a small amount of context such as the roles involved. Less clear, but explained by the author in a HN comment, is the "why": "The purpose of financial markets, sometimes but not always wholly achieved, is to transfer risks to those best able to hold them. E.g., you are not the optimal person to hold the risk that, through no fault of your own, your house burns down. That risk exists, and you are not the optimal holder of it. Hence insurance. A Lincolnshire farmer — and yes, I like the non-abstract solidly of the example — is not the optimal holder of the ‘risk’ that the Australian and Kansas wheat harvests are super-bountiful. Markets allow that risk to be transferred to a non-farmer better able to hold the risk."

The Rosie Effect

I enjoyed this, although something of the novelty has possibly gone. I didn't find Rosie all that sympathetic this time around, possibly because I personally relate to Don. Still plenty of parts I once would have said I related to all too closely.

AWS Security

May end up being one for the skimmed/dipped-into pile, but I feel like I need to understand IAM and associated constructs better (even though we don't do much work in AWS). Did end up skimming the latter half, but it was a good overview of IAM and the rest, and some examples of incident response.

How big things get done

I did not have high expectations for this (it was a recommendation, and others in the genre often seem quite fluffy). To be clear it was a little bit "pop sci", but the core take-aways were fascinating: using prior art as your estimate anchor (which implicitly incorporates the unknown-unknowns in overruns), not focussing on the factors that make your project unique (it probably has more similarities than you think), etc.

Growing in to Autism

This has personal implications obviously, and the first couple of chapters resonated extremely hard. I even found myself suddenly incredibly emotional at one line, without being completely aware why (it was close to a personal experience, but not a traumatic one or anything like that).

The author describes it as "autobiographical, but not an autobiography"; it's what autism is like for her, with the aim of conveying the experience to those who are curious, or those on the spectrum themselves by way of support. She clearly experiences more and more vividly than I do (for example, I am very affected by noise, but she is also very sensitive to lights, textures and even tastes. Parts of it were so unfamiliar that I felt "normal" (which doesn't help my imposter syndrome), then other parts I felt incredibly validated.

Small is Beautiful

Available online at http://www.ditext.com/schumacher/small/small.html


Finding this a little tough going, partly because of the language and partly the distracted state I'm reading it in. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a bit of a socialist "textbook" or icon, as it has a strong "for the workers" aspect to it, although the main thrust is how to help (for example) the third world: the main thrust is to get as close to full and gainful employment as possible, which means not automatically adopting the most-efficient factory processes which are automated. There's some interesting ideas in it, but I've started speed-reading to a certain extent. It wound up with quite a socialist push, with profit-sharing and mutual ownership, etc. I didn't absorb most of the arguments and I suspect it's more preaching to the converted, which is a bit of a shame as I'm interested in the general ideas.

Lessons in chemistry

Light fluffy romance (kind of), but I didn't mind it. Was recommended to me because… in a similar vein to recent reading I suppose (not that there's an ASD element, but the main characters are fairly black-and-white rigid)

The Internet Con

Subtitle: How to seize the means of computation. Essentially, looking at the reasons "big tech" got so big, and how it might be unpacked: basically, interoperability (both mandated, and allowing reverse-engineering), then examining all the issues that go in to enabling that such as past lobbying against such legislation.

Programming Pearls

A re-read (I'm not sure I ever finished it, to be honest) of a classic from my bookshelf. I did mostly skip the exercises which obviously makes it even shorter, but even only reading it the messages of thinking hard about a problem and considering the tradeoffs for data structures and algorithms is a lovely process.

The Icon Handbook

At the start of my non-academic software engineering career, I was a "full-stack engineer" (ie, the only engineer). I was aware of the importance of design and aesthetics, but utterly incapable of implementing much by myself so I devoured a bunch of material like "Design for Hackers" and articles on colour theory, etc. I still have no design sense, but I had this book on my shelf from those days. It's a little dated in places (mainly, icons presented as "standards" that are more rare these days, such as "share"), and more of a coffee table book with interviews and advice than a how-to, but a nice book nonetheless.

Around the world in 80 days

I read this as a kid, so I'm curious how it's going to read now, as a moderately-well-travelled adult. Verdict: still good fun, but I don't know that I resonated any further with any of the places! (or modes of transport)

Mindfulness-integrated CBT for Well-being and Personal Growth

So, pushing 50, I have realised that I'm autistic (topic for a separate post, perhaps), the psychologist I'm seeing is the author of this book. I'm only a few chapters in so far and, while I don't mind the practice, I'm unsure how mindfulness and CBT will affect the visceral physical reaction to noise I get, that was the impetus for seeking help in the first place.

Rogue Code

I just felt like some trashy fiction, because sleep etc was making progress through Systems Performance even slower than it might otherwise be. Now that I've started it, I'm enjoying it more than I expected (I don't remember being that into the first in the series, but I don't remember details at all). Once upon a time I'd have sneered at the description of "super-human" malware, but following the Google Project Zero blog (which reverse-engineers zero-days found in the wild), I am now more believing. (and it doesn't hurt that the author, as the blurbs all point out, does know his stuff so at the very least he's not going to destroy plausibility too easily!). It isn't exactly dated, but a couple of points were curious in the current context: no mention of ransomware (when describing what malware got up to), and the protagonist choosing a phone with "his preferred Windows OS" (hardly surprising given the author's employment, but amusing nonetheless)

The Persuasion Story

For work (it was mentioned by my business partner), and while I'm not the head of sales, I do like explaining things and taking that side seriously, plus a better way to represent your business always helps. (Also it was on sale for $1 so I didn't think very hard about it). It presents persuasion stories and shorter anecdotes (contrasted with hero's-journey style elaborate stories for entertainment), and covers a range of categories (origin stories, "I feel your pain", etc) which were interesting but I didn't particularly gel with his examples, mainly because they seemed to be drawn from the sort of long-copy full-page web ads I tend to skip over. A penultimate chapter on common attributes was useful.

Secrets of the autistic millionaire

https://www.amazon.com.au/Secrets-Autistic-Millionaire-Everything-Aspergers-ebook/dp/B09KGF6685 Not sure about this one yet; might be a short interesting read, might be braggadacio. Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi1Lq79mLeE, which I'll watch before making up my mind!

Then I noticed the "commonly highlighted" sections on Amazon: ".. a sense of what the other might be thinking doesn’t come naturally, it becomes a much more mechanical and analytical process."; "People with the symptoms of autism often seem particularly motivated to learn and know what is inside everything."; "The biggest challenge for me is in knowing when to jump into a conversation amongst a group.", and… that's me. I'll dive in.

I wanted to like this more than I did, for a couple of reasons. Ignoring the obnoxious title, I thought that we might overlap a lot more since we share a profession (ie, perhaps we self-selected that way because of overlapping traits), but we probably don't. Secondly, because of that lack of identification, and his very literal coverage of a topic (like a typical autistic "fact dump") without the accompanying broad-spectrum dive and explanation, a lot of it winds up being a description of how he's affected and what he does (but somehow, without enough depth to be that useful to anyone else). On the other hand I was skimming a bit by the end so perhaps I missed some gems.

The Importance Of Not Being Earnest

A $2 kindle deal, but I do like a bit of (early) Hemmingway. I've been pleasantly enjoying it; the author is a writer often musing about writing, as well as Hemingway's own life and writing, including his embellishments, in the historical context such as the Spanish civil war and Franco. It's making me want to revisit a few of his (Hemmingway) books: I found "The Sun Also Rises" to be a revelation when I first encountered it, but the case is made that it appeals to a certain younger generation.

Rogue Code

Final one in the series. Just wanted some trash I didn't have to think about much. Didn't enjoy it as much as the previous one, but that may just have been a mood thing.

The Joyous Season

I think mum read this to me (us) originally, and I'm pretty sure I re-read it as a kid. The timing seems apt. Still entertaining; I'm fairly sure passages of that would have gone over my head last time I read it!

The Way of Zen

Another Kindle deal. I found it a bit heavy-going at times. Mainly I was trying to skim and it's really not a book that lends itself to that, and partly I suspect I was expecting a bit of a "how-to" and this had plenty of dense attempts at conveying the unconveyable.

Zed Attack Proxy Cookbook

Purchase through work, as my part of a continuing-education drive. I'm interested partly just in the pen-testing domain, and also if there's aspects we can practically apply to our own work, such as automated scanning as part of a CI run. Skimming at work for now, rather than working through next to a keyboard (may change, more likely I'll revisit later).

Ended up churning through it a little bit, and didn't do any of the exercises hands-on (although I will later, selectively). At first it seemed like they were trying to fill it out (every exercise in the first chapter started out with "you will need ZAP installed… "), but it got more detailed. The focus was more on pentesting, with the ZAP functionality essentially hand-editing requests and responses for the most part. Use in a CI pipeline was limited to the penultimate exercise, but still useful.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/benjamin-franklin/the-autobiography-of-benjamin-franklin I've been enjoying this, and despite the aged language style it is an easy read. Anecdotes I've enjoyed or remembered: improving his writing by noting from a good piece and then attempting to reproduce it; resolving to cure his "pride" by allowing more space for disagreements and changing his responses to be more accommodating; how he maintained his belief in a god but didn't attend a service because he felt it was about being a better Presbyterian rather than a better person; …

comments powered by Disqus