A List of Books I Read in 2019

  • 2019 Goal: 25 BOOKS
  • 2019 Actual: 21 BOOKS

I didn’t reach my goal of 25 books read in 2019. I have great excuses though!

In early March my wife gave birth to our second daughter. I don’t feel as though it was properly explained to me how having 2 children would mean that almost ~19-20 hours a day could be spent caring for the kids. Distractions were frequent, routines were shattered. But our kids are happy and healthy!

I also dove headfirst into podcasts, finally. I gorged on The Bill Simmons podcast and all the archived episodes of R.U. Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME?, The Rewatchables, etc. I started listening to The Lead from The Athletic, a ton of engineering management podcasts, cloud computing podcasts, etc. I was many years late on this trend. Combine that with more Netflix and a buffet of streaming services, and I’ve become a perfect member of the consumer demographic.

Other notes:

  • I found it hard to focus on books that didn’t sell me before I even read them.
  • I also found it hard to select books by women or other minorities, and did worse than usual in this regard.
  • I almost completely avoided politics because of the depressing reality of a collapsing American empire to the hands of kleptocrats.
  • I became more acutely aware of how I find new books: sometimes it’s the subject of a NYTimes article, but increasingly it’s an off-hand mention covering some other story, or author network graphs. I hate reading lists of books from other people; I rarely find any overlaps in my own interests.
  • I have some personal interest areas for which I’ve gotten a lot closer to not finding documentation, books, or discussion on. While I’m pragmatic and typically don’t use things without a sufficient body of evidence and other people proving something’s viability, I also feel like I’m trying to catch up, and getting closer to the border of known unknowns feels like progress to me.

I am going to set my limit to 20 books for 2020. It’s only fitting, given the year. But I also am humbled with 2 young kids, little travel planned, more working from home planned, and more podcasts on the commute instead of reading.

Books I read in 2019 (10 is a must-read, 8-9 is very good, 6-7 is bare minimum, and 5 and below is like how did I get conned into reading this?):

  1. (5) The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups – Daniel Coyle. A perfect example of an online essay that was painfully stretched out into a book. The concept of team chemistry is fascinating to me but trotting out some military unit and cherry-picking other teams feels like someone padding a college paper.
  2. (9) Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor – Erik Dietrich. How come this book isn’t talked about more? Basically the author argues that, for a software developer, their value is almost always being under-rewarded unless they are consulting. The book forces developers to see the economic reality of companies employing engineers, and implores engineers to demand more money and spend less time working for someone else. My only complaint is that it can get a little dense during the historical catchup portion of the book.
  3. (6) Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1) – Randy Ellefson. It’s tremendously hard to find resources for game world creation. This is a pure attempt. It might be a bit too basic though, providing more of a checklist than a way to tie it all together.
  4. (10) Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America – Beth Macy. This book rocked me to my core. Opioids, rotting the country from the inside out, affect all levels of society, and our institutions are disastrously ill-equipped to fight against dopesickness. This is the kind of book I desperately seek to read every year. It’s like The Wire in an investigative book. I felt so much more equipped to understand the issue after reading this, and personally crushed for how dopesickness has destroyed so many families.
  5. (8) Delta-v – Daniel Suarez. My favorite near-future author. The book is like part Contact, part Danny Boyle Sunshine, post-The Martian. I’d read anything this author wrote.
  6. (10) How Google Tests Software – James A. Whittaker. Why is there such a gap in how to create a team of software testers and engineers-in-test? This is the strongest book in explaining how to form the resources necessary to test well within a department. I don’t even know where to go from here — my sense is that there’s a huge opportunity here.
  7. (7) Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations – Nicole Forsgren. Crystallized the process of devops and effective execution for me. I wanted a bit more in how to reduce feedback loop times though. I felt as though I read a research paper, but I constantly wanted more information on how to apply this to my organization.
  8. (6) Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World – David Epstein. I read an interview with the author on podcast and it spoke to my belief in discovering talent outside current hiring practices, a la Moneyball. I should have stuck with just the podcast though, as this book was more Gladwell and less focused enough on the secret sauce.
  9. (6) The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams – Deepak Chopra.  I read this solely because I respected my beloved management coach who recommended it. This is a book you are supposed to reread often for realignment, with a different law per day. What I took most from it was that I should not let others affect my happiness, and that I am my own primary obstacle towards being a force multiplier to others.
  10. (7) The Truths We Hold: An American Journey – Kamala Harris. I left this book with a much higher opinion of Kamala Harris. I felt as though it influenced my opinion of her and I felt public criticisms against her during her campaign didn’t align with what she talks about in the book. So it succeeded in shaping my opinion but I’m not quite sure if that’s good or bad. Both?
  11. (9) An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management – Will Larson. One of the better engineering management books I’ve read, and it would be on my list of must-reads for managers if I had such a list. Practical and relevant advice, and this goes in my top list for books that helped me in my directorship.
  12. (9) Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It – Mike Monteiro. I love Mike on Twitter. Aggressive, with high standards for design and those within that craft. Points responsibility squarely on makers at FAANGs. I don’t think that he actually believes makers should change tech companies from within, as he states in the book. I think he believes they’re rotten to the core but he’s trying to be positive in the book.
  13. (9) The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower – Michael Pillsbury. One of those books that is so opinionated and backed by legit experiences but not shared by other mandarins, journalists, historians, etc. that I have to investigate separately whether it is legit or not. It makes me angry, China’s intentions or not, that the US is so inept in the face of it all. This book filled gaps of discussion that I missed even at Georgetown, and that concerns me; I’m old and experienced enough to trust my instincts when things don’t add up.
  14. (8) Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow – Matthew Skelton. We modified our teams from horizontal teams to a mix of those and domain teams. This book helped me to confirm I was on the right track, and to put language to what I was feeling. Truly an instructive set of concepts I will take with me to every future department.
  15. (10) Astroball: The New Way to Win It All – Ben Reiter. My favorite book of the year along with Dopesick. Moneyball the book and film captured my imagination. Reading this look at Moneyball 2.0 for a team I watched a lot of in the 80s was umami for the brain. Astros had an edge because of their quant-heavy analysis and marrying it with scouting, but in light of this massive scandal it all takes on a heightened importance. Without trashcans and touch sensors, are their batters legitimately better at taking pitches and drawing walks? Gerrit Cole speaks for himself though.
  16. (4) Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End – Kevin Alexander. The premise of the book sold to me was enough to make me buy the book, but it only talked about the end of foodies at the beginning! It then turned into stories about various entrepreneurs which was only interesting because some establishments my wife and I visited during our courtship (Death & Co, Mayahuel, Pegu Club) were mentioned.
  17. (7) What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture – Ben Horowitz. The Hard Thing About Hard Things felt like a book that was in my corner. This book is a little more Gladwellish. Basically what this book gave me was more confidence that strong leadership empowers and propels an organization, and weak leadership destroys culture and you just can’t explain it to non-believers.
  18. (6) The Effective Manager – Mark Horstman. A decent starter book but shares a lot with other books at this point. I would feel completely comfortable sending engineers to this training though as I’ve listened to their other works also, and in particularly the author’s discussion about CEOs and other leaders of a company and what their mindsets should be seemed like advice you’d have to pay a ton for normally.
  19. (6) Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations – Robert D. Austin. A lot of other books and resources reference this book but it’s a bit dry. Mostly what I want is more case studies about how to link the business and its success criteria towards engineering objectives, and how to track it all with metrics. I can find bits and pieces of these discussed separately, but none brought together. An example might be the oft-quoted tale about Amazon tracking web site latency against revenue: 100ms equaling 1% sales.
  20. (10) The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Digital Disruption, Redshirts, and Overthrowing the Ancient Powerful Order – Gene Kim. Every bit as good as The Phoenix Project. Will reach into your startup past and haunt your dreams. Also fun to see how it completely ran parallel to the first book but rarely directly overlapped with the original story. The book serves as a friend if you are dealing with organizational dysfunction and you don’t know whether or not to trust your instincts.
  21. (6) Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework – Mik Kersten. No doubt the author is experienced and has a great framework, but I wouldn’t know how to apply it to a real-world situation. Too abstract for me to have really identified with it, and it triggered me in some of the ways that only product can to an engineer.