Here are some of my favorite books that I read in 2017, out of the 102 books I’ve read this year:
Revelation Space series (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap) — Hard scifi space opera. Greatly enjoyable, with memorable characters, backstory, science, history, and of course the requisite galactic-scale threats.
House of Suns — Set outside the Revelation Space universe, Alastair Reynolds manages to craft a compelling tale that spans galaxies and offers new mysteries of its own.
Stories of Your Life and Others — Succinct almost to the point of austerity, Ted Chiang’s hauntingly written tales waste not a word to weave a web of wonder, delight, and, at times, echoing mystery.
Invisible Planets — Translated from Chinese by Ken Liu (who translated The Three Body Problem), this collection of science fiction short stories offers new and intriguing perspectives on both classic and novel themes. Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing struck me as particularly moving and poignant; an imaginative meditation on inequality, class, and power.
Reamde — A fun, rollicking romp across worlds both virtual and real, told with Stephenson’s usual brilliant flair for detailed history and similarly detailed prognostication.
The Neapolitan Novels/L’amica geniale (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) — Told in an evocative, warm, almost conversational style, this quadrilogy compellingly tells the story of the life of two girls who grew up in Naples, and all that life brought them to bear, and all they brought to bear to life. Moving and meaningful.
The Old Man and the Sea — Somehow I hadn’t read this classic until this year. Hemingway at his finest: a simple tale, beautifully told.
Dreamland — Powerful exposition on the modern history of the opiate drug trade in the United States: how it came about, how it prospered, how its tale interweaves with that of prescription painkillers, and how it rages on today, with more Americans dying each year to drug overdoses than die in car crashes.
The Way of Strangers — Why would someone join the Islamic State? This book examines that question both at the personal and global level.
Dynasty — Caesar is dead. Long live Caesar. This book explores the immediate history of Rome after the murder of Julius Caesar, narrating the machinations and consolidations of power that led to the reign of the emperors for the next several hundred years.
Seeing Like a State — An amazing book. Introduces the powerful lenses of legibility and metis; illustrates, with examples from scientific forestry to communist Russia, the dangers of hubris and model-blindness. Thought provoking, particularly considering the increasing legibility and inherent reductionism of a future mediated by ever-more-prevalent technology.
The Rise and Fall of American Growth — Argues that 1870 to 1970 comprised the most productive hundred years of history and that future growth will not reach those heights of productivity any time soon. Strongest in its economic history, offering insights into the everyday and illustrating the impact of now-commonplace inventions such as the car, lightbulb, indoor plumbing, television, and flight.
Radical Candor — Preaches the importance of radical candor: a combination of caring personally and directly challenging. Contrasted, in sometimes humorous tales from the field, with the failure modes of ruinous empathy and obnoxious aggression. Clearly and concisely written, with lessons applicable to all, whether manager or individual contributor.
Principles — How to live and work effectively? This book explores, in great detail, Ray Dalio’s own approach, how he arrived at it, how he put it in practice, and why he believes it works. Not all lessons are every where applicable, but there’s something to learn from here.
The Attention Merchants — A comprehensive history of advertising, thoughtfully told, from the penny press to the native ad.
The Upstarts — Much like Brad Stone’s earlier work The Everything Store explored the history and rise of Amazon, this book examines the rise of Uber and Airbnb, along with a few other companies that didn’t quite rise so far. Published in early 2017, so it doesn’t take into account the most recent upheavals at Uber.
WTF?: What’s the Future — Tim O’Reilly counters the zeitgeist’s prevailing pessimism about the future of tech and offers an inspiring vision of how things could/should be. Written with learning, humility, and love.
Visual Explanations — A classic that long rested on my bookshelves but that I hadn’t properly read, cover to cover. Dated in parts, stunningly farsighted in others, the book is treat to enter into and read.
The Shape of Design — Delightful meditations upon the nature of design, and indeed, of this wonderful world we find ourselves in.
The Righteous Mind — Each of us arrives at our most deeply held convictions through rigorous application of reason, right? Wrong. This book illustrates how and why.
When Breath Becomes Air — Moving, meaningful, lyrically written. A powerful reflection on what it means to be human.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck — Stoicism for the digital age. Entertainingly written, with profound lessons hidden beneath seemingly casual prose.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics — Short (86 pages!) and sweet. Evocatively explores seven aspects of modern physics and communicates the author’s passion for his field.
Machine, Platform, Crowd — A splendid book, replete with riches. Vital for understanding where we, as a society and an economy, are and where we’ll be heading in the decades ahead.
Soonish — You know that sparkle in your eye when you learn something new? This book is full of those sparkles.
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