# Bookshelf

This is my bookshelf—the books I've read recently and my thoughts on them. These do not attempt to be objective reviews. Instead, I try to answer the question of whether I'd recommend these books to somebody already interested in their subject matter. I suggest you browse by clicking on the tags below.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

• #novel
• #sci-fi

This is the third book in the series and I found it a much more interesting read than the first two. The others could be summarised as “sci-fi things happen and then more sci-fi things happen”. This book is the same, but it also has a mystery threaded through. That and new aliens aren’t just more human-aliens; instead, they are interesting starfish-aliens with a novel take on sentience.

I’d recommend it even if you haven’t read the other books in the series—there’s a good summary of them at the start.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## Mickey7Edward Ashton

• #novella
• #sci-fi

This book is set in a hard-ish sci-fi universe, it has characters with conflicting motivations, and it is written well. That said, the entire book feels flat.

The protagonist narrator manages to deliver eating breakfast and walking around with a doomsday device in exactly the same tone. I think this is on purpose and is meant to show how detached he feels due to his semi-immortality, but it just makes everything seem uninteresting.

The fact that the plot is mostly mundane day-to-day activities compounds the flatness of the narration. And this is another novella disguised as a full-length novel which means there just isn’t enough text for much of anything that happens to develop.

I’d only recommend this to somebody who’s already read ~all the other sci-fi books out there and is looking for more.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Build a Weather Station with Elixir and NervesAlexander Koutmos, Bruce A. Tate, Frank Hunleth

• #elixir
• #embedded
• #programming

This book is a solid tutorial in adding some I2C sensors to a RaspberryPi, getting data out of them with Nerves, setting up TimescaleDB with a Phoenix web frontend, and visualizing sensor data in Grafana. The end result isn’t much code, but the difficulty in this sort of project is figuring out what components to use and how they fit together. The authors do a good job of explaining this.

I usually complain that books like this could’ve just been online tutorials, but “ebook sold online” is close enough, and this one actually felt worth the price tag.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the above topics, but knows nothing about them.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Net Zero — How We Stop Causing Climate ChangeDieter Helm

• #climate
• #real-world

The book looks at stopping climate change from a government policy and national economy point of view. This contrasts nicely with Bill Gates’ book which mostly focuses on the tech angle.

The first third of the book is an excellent analysis on the policies enacted in the last 30 years, how they failed, and how they will likely continue failing. Given that the author writes reports on climate change for the UK gov, this is clearly his area of expertise.

According to the author, the three principles for a sustainable economy are the polluter pays, public money for public goods, and net environmental gain. The discussion around all three is interesting, but I think the first one is the most important. The idea is that, since our goal is to get to net-zero globally, we have to not only tax local emitters of carbon, but also importers of carbon in order to encourage the origin countries to tax their own carbon emitters. If we only tax the local producers, then that just moves industry overseas where polluting is free. More generally, we need to target net-zero local consumption of carbon, not just net-zero local production.

At the very end of the book, there is also a short description on how to reform the electricity market to encourage decarbonization. Sadly, not a lot of details are given. I think this was further developed in the “Cost of Energy Review”, but I have not read that yet.

The main problem with the book is that the latter two thirds are a disorganized overview of climate change combined with wishy-washy technobabble. The Gates book makes for a much better overview.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The Silence of Unworthy GodsAndrew Rowe

• #fantasy
• #magic-school
• #novel

This is the fourth book in Andrew Rowe’s “Arcane Ascension” series. Unlike the third book, we actually have an overarching plot this time, so it feels less like a sequence of random actions.

The series continues to have well-narrated fight scenes, characters that make the most of their limited magical arsenal, and pretty good overall writing.

I look forward to the next book in the series.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## How to Avoid a Climate DisasterBill Gates

• #climate
• #real-world

This is an excellent overview of the problem of climate change. Having read it, this is the first time I’ve felt like I grasp the whole scope of the situation, what areas need work, how much work is needed in each area, and roughly what the solutions are expected to look like.

If you feel lost hearing that planting trees is the solution to climate change, then hearing that bogs are the real solution, then hearing that we need more nuclear or more wind or more solar, and have never heard about steel, cement and fertilizer, then this is the book that organizes all the noise into information.

This book focuses mostly on technological solutions to climate change: what tech breakthroughs are needed and what R&D is in the pipeline. For government policy and national economy oriented solutions, see the book by Dieter Helm.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## Accidence will HappenOliver Kamm

• #writing

This is the first writing style guide I’ve read that actually had justifications for the suggestions. For instance, every other guide emphasizes the critical importance of using “who” and “whom” correctly. This one instead uses the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster to show examples of “misuses” throughout history, including by famous authors. It then points out that neither dictionary actually advises using “whom”, and since confusion is unlikely to occur, writers shouldn’t worry about it and instead focus on more important aspects of the text.

This is my favourite style guide now.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The Scholomance TrilogyNaomi Novik

• #fantasy
• #magic-school
• #novel

The snide summary for the Scholomance books is “Mary Sue goes to dark edgy magic school”. It’s ok fantasy and it’s fun to read, but there’s nothing memorable and there are no new ideas to take away.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Use of WeaponsIain M. Banks

• #sci-fi

This is the third book in the Culture series. It feels a lot more like the “Consider Phlebas” than “The Player of Games” in that it has a fairly weak overarching plot and is mostly characters reacting to events beyond their control.

It uses a gimmick where half the chapters are in chronological order, and half are in reverse order, and the two kinds of chapters are interleaved. I think the point of this was to flesh out the main character by providing bits of his backstory. It succeeds in this, but it was annoying to read, especially given that some of the flashbacks are essentially fever dreams.

All said, the book provides more details of how the Culture operates, so it’s worth a read if you’re into the setting.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The Slide RuleLee H. Johnson

• #math
• #slide-rule

This is the best user’s guide for a slide-rule that I’ve found. It covers all the operations and has many solved exercises for practice. It contains very little theory, but in any case, figuring out why things actually work is half the fun.

The Internet Archive lends out the book, but it’s also not hard to find a PDF of it online.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## An Easy Introduction to the Slide RuleIsaac Asimov

• #math
• #slide-rule

This book focuses on the theory behind how slide-rules work. It has the best introduction to logarithms that I’ve found and then a very slow-paced explanation of how a slide-rule uses them.

I think the biggest reason to read this is to be able to out-nerd almost anybody. “Oh, you’ve read all of Asimov’s books? But have you read the slide-rule one?”

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## Dawn of EverythingDavid Graeber, David Wengrow

• #history
• #real-world

This is a book about how humans have historically organized themselves into societies. It’s structured as an argument against the simple story that, as numbers of individuals increased and technology advanced, humans naturally organized into hierarchies.

The book presents many examples of human societies covering the period from 10,000 years ago to a few centuries ago, and focuses on whether they were hierarchies and what these were based upon. The sheer variety of modes of organization surprised me. In particular, I didn’t know that there were very many variations on egalitarianism, that some of them were fairly recent, and that they worked on a scale of tens of thousands of people.

I recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in organizing people.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

• #novel
• #sci-fi

This is a standalone post-post-post-apocalyptic novel. It’s a fun story about the scheming happening in the last city on a dying Earth.

I read this right after “The Gulag Archipelago”, so when half of this book took place in a gulag, it felt quite real. The take was more light-hearted of course, but not by much.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## 99 Variations on a ProofPhilip Ording

• #math

The book consists of 100 proofs for “If $$x^3 - 6x^2 - 6 = 2x - 2$$, then $$x = 1$$ or $$x=4$$”. The proofs include expected and unexpected approaches: “substitution”, “calculus”, “analytic”, “origami”, “found”, “medieval”, and “slide rule”. It is a very fun read.

This is the best demonstration I’ve seen that different branches of mathematics are really just tools and that they can be used to solve problems that are not strictly within their target domains.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## The Gulag ArchipelagoAleksandr Solzhenitsyn

• #history
• #real-world

This was an unpleasant book. What shocked me the most was how little padding it has: every paragraph describes some cruelty inflicted by the soviets on their own people, and every chapter describes some systematic way in which the cruelties were doled out.

The book is essentially a hit-piece on communism. It argues that communism cannot function without death camps, and since death camps are clearly evil, communism is also evil. This argument is more concise and harder to argue against than any argument I’ve found before.

The big problem with the book is that it is un-sourced. As in, the sources are the author’s own experiences in the gulag and the testimonies that he personally collected. We’ll never know the true scale of what happened (whether larger or smaller) because the soviets killed most of the witnesses and their records were either fabricated or destroyed.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Never Die TwiceMaxime J. Durand

• #fantasy
• #litrpg
• #webnovel

This was an interesting fantasy book. It’s got a Norse-inspired setting and it’s told from the perspective of a necromancer with neutral-evil alignment. This is the first book I’ve encountered where the evil protagonist is played straight—they aren’t some misunderstood hero, they aren’t an anti-hero, they’re just evil, but not comically so.

The aspect that prevents me from just recommending it is that it’s a sad book—it’s a story where the necromancer wins. I recall being miserable while reading this and it wasn’t a page-turner despite the interesting story.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## Vainqueur the DragonMaxime J. Durand

• #fantasy
• #litrpg
• #webnovel

The joke is that an ancient red dragon discovers the class and leveling system. It then decides to be an adventurer because completing quests is a more efficient way of increasing its hoard than attacking merchant caravans.

This is funny for about two chapters. However, there are many chapters in the book, and there are more books in the series. Everything else is just a bog standard progression novel with the twist that it’s the monsters who are leveling up and gaining skills.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## 500 Lines or Lessmany authors

• #programming

This is one of the “Architecture of Open Source Applications” follow-up books and it was pretty bad. I think it’s been mostly downhill in terms of quality since the first book.

Out of the 22 chapters, I found only 4 to be interesting. I have a better hit rate just by reading the front page of lobste.rs.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The Perfect RunMaxime J. Durand

• #cyberpunk
• #sci-fi
• #webnovel

I had fun reading this. It’s a time-loop story with super-hero elements set in a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic world.

The prose is well-written, the plot gripped me, and many scenes were funny, interesting, or just plain delightful to read. Given that this was originally published on Royal Road, I would’ve expected it to be the usual LitRPG slog, but it’s actually not: when we join our protagonist, he’s already had his time-loop powers for a very long time and has already mastered them. The story revolves around him piecing together what’s going on, facing his past, and planning for the future.

The one thing that prevents me from just recommending it is that there’s a lot of side-questing towards the end. I suspect the author had a list of plot hooks he left in the story, realized he was reaching the end, so he rushed to tie up all the loose ends. It adds some amount of world-building, but the main plot grinds to a halt whilst this is going on.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The 3D Printing HandbookBen Redwood, Filemon Schöffer, Brian Garret

• #3d-printing

This textbook is a good overview of the different 3D printing technologies, how they work, what strengths they each have, and what difficulties to expect when using them.

I read this because I thought it would help me choose which 3D printer to buy. It did not help in that, but at least now I’ve got a better idea of how 3D printing could be used in industry.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Fugitive TelemetryMartha Wells

• #novella
• #sci-fi

This is another novella set in the murderbot universe sold for the price of a full-length novel. Like the other books in the series, it’s solid sci-fi, but it’s not good value-for-money.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The War of Broken MirrorsAndrew Rowe

• #fantasy
• #novel

The three books in the series are fun fantasy novels.

The setting is a fairly traditional sword-and-sorcery world with some twists. While the magic system isn’t as developed as in the author’s later works, it’s still versatile enough that the characters can do interesting things with it. It’s refreshing to see magic make some amount of in-universe sense, and characters that try to make the most of their limited abilities.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## Something & AnythingDakota Krout

• #litrpg
• #novel

The joke is that the protagonist’s class in-universe is literally “murderhobo” and that he solves every problem by being extremely violent.

This is an entertaining read for about half the first book. However, there are three books in the series and there’s nothing else to carry the narrative along.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## Shards of Earth & Eyes of the VoidAdrian Tchaikovsky

• #novel
• #sci-fi
• #space-opera

The “Final Architecture” novels are the best space opera I’ve read in years. They have everything from a large and complicated galactic setting, interesting characters that change during the story, and a plot that is both small enough for the characters to matter and large enough to impact the whole setting.

One interesting concept I hadn’t encountered before is the idea of a technological ceiling: there are multiple races in the setting and all are at around the same level of technology. The explanation is that this is basically the highest tech level attainable with their understanding of the laws of physics. Then there’s the one race that’s more advanced than anybody else and whose technology nobody can reverse engineer because they just don’t understand the principles by which it functions. Of course, there’s also the obligatory precursor race whose understanding of the universe was so deep, that all the artifacts they left behind look like magic to the current races.

I look forward to reading the third book when it comes out in Q2 2023.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## DichronautsGreg Egan

• #alien-physics
• #sci-fi

This is another Greg Egan book with alien physics. The gimmick this time is that the universe has two dimensions of space and two dimensions of time. The result is a very weird world. The author’s website has more details on how the physics work out.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## Hexarchate StoriesYoon Ha Lee

• #sci-fi
• #short-stories
• #space-opera

I was hoping this would further flesh out the Hexarchate setting. Instead, it was a bunch of mostly uninteresting short stories. As I write this eight months later, I can’t remember a single one.

I have a suggestion for the author: if you’re going to write an author’s note bragging about how quick and easy it is to write these stories, don’t put it after the one that’s just a really long sex scene. Instead, put it after one of the stories that’s actually like the main books and that has something actually interesting happen.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## The GridGretchen Bakke

• #electricity
• #real-world

This would’ve made for a pretty good magazine article. Instead, the content was stretched to book length by the repetition of the few core ideas and offtopic anecdotes.

I recommend “Living on the Grid” by William L. Thompson instead.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Mother of LearningDomagoj Kurmaić

• #fantasy
• #litrpg
• #webnovel

This is another take on the “fantasy character stuck in a time-loop” trope. It’s well written, even if the middle part feels like a slog, and the mystery of the setting is good enough. The big problems with it are that it doesn’t do anything to set itself apart from the crowd and that it’s very long.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## Living on the GridWilliam L. Thompson

• #electricity
• #real-world
• #systematics

The book is an overview of how the electric grid of the US functions from the point of view of an experienced operator. It focuses on how hard it is to balance supply and demand of power on a moment-by-moment basis, how different kinds of electricity generation and loads affect grid stability, and how hard it is to recover from failures.

I found this to be a very interesting read both because there are parallels to distributed systems, but also because it unambiguously answers questions like “Why can’t we replace everything with solar power?”.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Black Hat RustSylvain Kerkour

• #infosec
• #programming
• #rust

This book by Sylvain Kerkour was a broad overview of a few security topics, descriptions of some tools to explore said topics, and then Rust code to implement the tools. This is the book for you if you know nothing about infosec and want to follow a tutorial implementing a web crawler in Rust, among other things.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## Columbus DayCraig Alanson

• #novel
• #sci-fi

This book tries to be a space opera seen from the point of view of a human grunt in a setting where humanity has not actually developed space travel and gets shanghaied into the galatic war. To say good things first, the setting seems interesting and it has a few fresh takes on the usual galaxy-scale conflict trope. But that’s not enough to carry the boring plot or the unwitty writing.

For instance, one of main character’s traits is that he is a redneck who repeatedly mentions his superiorirty to dem city folk. And then the super advanced AI with godlike powers chooses to present itself as a Bud Light can. I know the author was really pleased with himself for this specific joke because he drew attention to it in every single chapter in the second half of the book. I think the writing tries to be witty, but it just isn’t.

The writing might get better in later books in the series, but there’s just better stuff to read.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Ancillery Justice & Ancillery SwordAnn Leckie

• #novel
• #sci-fi
• #space-opera

The first book in the trilogy is an interesting sci-fi story about a trans-human making her way through a universe shaped by the millennia-old actions of other trans-humans. It is very good.

The second book throws out everything that made the first book interesting and is instead just a story about rooting out some corrupt officials on a space station. Mind you, it isn’t a bad book exactly, but it’s just generic sci-fi schlock.

The second book was disappointing enough that I’m not going to bother reading the third one.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## He Who Fights With MonstersShirtaloon

• #fantasy
• #litrpg
• #webnovel

I think this might be the arch-typical progression novel. It is insanely long and just follows a single character as he grinds experience at a snail’s pace. There’s probably a plot somewhere in there, but it’s impossible to see from how thin it’s stretched.

There are certainly funny scenes, but I found the protagonist to be extremely annoying. Every one of his lines tries to be a quip, his contribution to conversations is usually some non sequitur, and he just never ever shuts up. The book acknowledges this and implies he’s doing it to distract and annoy his adversaries. But I have to read this crap too and it annoys me just as much.

I listened to the first audio-book, but I won’t be bothering with the other eight (and counting).

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Seeing Like a StateJames C. Scott

• #real-world
• #systematics

This is an interesting history book looking back at the failures of scientific forestry, collectivization, artificial new country capitals, and more.

The book doesn’t really reach any compelling conclusions, but it does have a few interesting ideas to take away. The first is the concept of legibility: it’s well known that maps and models don’t precisely describe the reality they represent. I’ve always thought of this as just a warning to not blindly trust predictions made by models. The book has a different take: when states found that they didn’t have the bureaucratic capacity to model reality accurately, they made reality more “legible” by, for instance, reducing the number of tree species in a forest, or by relocating villages to farm grid-layout fields, or by imposing arbitrary family names on a population that had none before.

The second idea is that of the “modernist aesthetic”. The book points out that many of the “scientific” things done in the 19th and 20th centuries were really arbitrary decisions dressed up as science. For instance, cities were built with grid layouts and architects had some sciencey-sounding theory about why this is better. However, the architects failed at the scientific process and didn’t do the crucial step of testing whether the new layout was actually better in practice. They just wanted something that looked nice on a map and made some vague untested predictions about how this would work out in practice.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in large-scale systems.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## To Sleep in a Sea of StarsChristopher Paolini

• #novel
• #sci-fi
• #space-opera

I have mixed feelings about this novel. It is certainly a good science fiction novel with lots of features. It’s got space travel, hard sci-fi technology, ancient alien artifacts, several alien races that actually feel alien, memorable characters that develop over the course of the story, an evolving universe, and it’s all tied together in a single story that never gets dull.

My main issue with the book is that none of the elements felt great. I finished reading it and I wasn’t thinking about how good the book had been—I was instead thinking about I’d read next. This is unfair because I think the book ticked off all the items on my “good sci-fi checklist”, but it felt like it did stopped at that and did nothing more.

All said, I’d still recommend it. It’s a solid space opera, and there’s been a dearth in this genre in recent years.

I can't imagine anyone I would recommend this to. This is not necessarily because the book is bad per se; it's just that there are many better things to read.

## MapReduce Design PatternsDonald Miner, Adam Shook

• #big-data
• #programming

This book was an overview of a few ways to organize map-reduce jobs in terms of splitting work and merging results. It was an interesting read—I learned a few things—but the text is padded out by uninteresting Java code. On the whole, the book should’ve been a wiki or a series of blog posts.

If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you should read this.

## Project Hail MaryAndy Weir

• #hard-sci-fi
• #novel
• #sci-fi

This is a hard sci-fi book about people solving a massive, but fundamentally basic, problem with limited resources. It’s refreshing to see physics experiments replace techno-babble as the sci in sci-fi. The plot is also interesting—it is essentially one big research project—and all the plot twists are eminently plausible in context.

If you like hard sci-fi, you’ll like this.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Existentially ChallengedYahtzee Croshaw

• #fantasy
• #novel
• #witty-writing

This is the sequel to “Differently Morphous”. It’s a fun read and showcases Yahtzee’s dry humour, this time mixing occult societies, British bureaucracy, and net culture.

This is one of the few books I’ve read in recent years that’s carried not by its plot, setting or characters, but by its very witty writing. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## Arcane Ascension 1-3Andrew Rowe

• #fantasy
• #magic-school
• #novel

These are sword-and-sorcery stories with a hint of progression novel. The many dungeon puzzles are fun to read about, the fight scenes are well-narrated, and the cast of characters is likeable.

I’d recommend this to anyone into fantasy, especially if they’re looking for a non-Tolkien and somewhat lighthearted setting.

If you read a lot in this subject area, then I think this is worth reading.

## The Mom TestRob Fitzpatrick

• #communication

The central premise of this book is that people are naturally bad at giving feedback, especially if they’re afraid they might offend. The book presents strategies and questions to extract useful opinions even in these adverse circumstances.

I didn’t find the text particularly interesting because I’ve grown to have very low expectations of people when I solicit feedback. That said, this is a good book to recommend to people who might not realize that everybody lies to them about their work.