Archive | Books

Favourite Books from 2020

I read 25 books in 2020. Here are my favourites. In no particular order. 

Tools and Weapons book cover
Tools and Weapons
How To Argue With A Racist book cover
How To Argue With A Racist
Entanglement book cover
The Pursuit of William Abbey book cover
The Pursuit Of William Abbey
Beyond Weird book cover
Beyond Weird
We Need New Stories book cover
We Need New Stories
Sweet Harmony book cover
Sweet Harmony

Mini review – Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers

We hear a lot about how state actors are using cybercrime techniques in order to influence opinion and attack infrastructure in other countries. But we rarely see a well-argued analysis that backs up this assertion. This book provides just such a well-argued analysis that outlines persuasively which organisations, and which country, were behind the devastating cyberattacks WannaCry, NotPetya, and others. And it outlines who is gaining malicious access to the control systems for the infrastructure that powers our modern world. Such as the electricity generation and supply systems, transport systems, communications and broadcast systems, and other industrial control systems. It also provides enough evidence to support the conclusion that the same, or closely associated, malicious actors were behind attempts to influence elections in Europe and the USA. Probably in other countries as well.

The case against the perpetrators, who are identified in the book, is built up logically and comprehensively. Everyone should read it and then draw their own conclusions. I know I have. One of the best books of 2019. Undoubtedly the best on cybersecurity.

The audiobook is really good.

Review: The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

The Science Of Fate book Cover

The Science of Fate book cover

I’m always wary of books that address the concept of free will. Many people assert that we don’t have free will due to the deterministic nature of the physical universe, or due to evidence from experiments that shows our subconscious brain makes ‘decisions’ before our conscious mind performs an action. Such as flicking a light switch. It’s still our brains making a choice though. Our subconscious is part of us. The deterministic universe arguments against free will just annoy me. There is plenty of space in the layers of reality above the quantum realm for emergent behaviour that includes our ability to act as agents that can choose. We have free will in that sense. So I went into the audiobook edition of Hannah’s book with some trepidation. Would it be another book advocating that we don’t have free will? Thankfully my fears were unfounded. This is a book about how our biology shapes our behaviour via biochemistry, neurobiology, and psychology. It’s an excellent survey of how behaviours have been shaped and honed by natural selection and evolution. It’s undoubtedly a fact that there are many behaviours that humans (and other animals) exhibit that are predetermined by our biology and environment. The level of this predeterminism varies depending on what is being discussed. Most humans (without medical or psychological problems) can override the higher level impulses that our biology shapes. My take after reading this book is that humanity in the round does have free will with respect to the higher level activities such as “will I eat this apple or throw it over the fence into my neighbours garden.” Our free will emerges with the complexity in the underlying biology, which in turn arises from chemistry and physics. On a technical note: the audiobook is excellently read by the author who is experienced in audio delivery from many science podcasts and other media activities. I highly recommend this book. In whatever format you like the best.

Favourite Books from 2018

I only read 27 books in 2018 (got through 52 in 2017.) I’ll set a goal of 26 for 2019 and aim to read a book a fortnight. From the 27 I finished here are my favourites. I read all four of the books in the Fractured Europe Sequence but I’ve just listed the two most recent ones in the list below.

Favourite Books from 2017

I managed to read 52 books in 2017. Over the three formats of paper, iBooks, and audiobook. My favourites, in no particular order, are the six below. It was initially going to be a list of five, but Who Let The Gods Out? snuck onto the list in the final week of the year.

Bought the subscription model

I’ve always felt more comfortable buying digital goods outright if I wanted them. But lately, I’ve been subscribing to more and more services to get access to content. I think I’m now at the point where I’m close to being fully in the subscription model camp. It’s been a gradual transition. Much like the (fictitious) slowing boiling a frog metaphor I haven’t noticed until it was over.

The transition started with Apple Music. I subscribed to that when it was launched in June 2015. I first used it as a way to get access to new music in high quality from a safe and reputable source. But for a long time, I was still buying any songs or albums that I liked and wanted to have in my iTunes library.

Over the two years since the Apple Music launch, I’ve subscribed to several other services on an annual or monthly fee basis. My subscriptions list at the end of July 2017 now includes:

Software subscriptions: 1Password, Pocket, Setapp, Office 365, Evernote, Grammarly, Parallels Desktop, FreeAgent, SocialChess, Chess 24, DropBox, iCloud Storage, RescueTime

Film and TV Subscriptions: Virgin Media TV Large, NowTV, Netflix

Other: Audible UK, Apple Music

That’s a lot of software service subscriptions. When you list them out, it shows that this is rapidly becoming the new model for digital sales.

I joined NowTV to get access to Sky Atlantic for Twin Peaks The Return. As a bonus, I also got access to Silicon Valley and Veep. Plus Westworld Season 1 will be available from 14th August. So NowTV is a keeper. I subscribed to Netflix to watch The Circle film as it didn’t get a UK cinema release, and I wanted to see it after reading the book. Discovered lots of other good content on Netflix that is well worth the modest monthly fee.

I think that NowTV and Netflix were the services that tipped me over into the subscription model camp. In the last few months, I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped buying albums on the iTunes Store. Rather I just add them to my library from Apple Music. Not sure this is a good thing for the artists. I wonder if the same thing will happen with films over time. I’ve just bought The Ghost in the Shell on iTunes. Will I stop doing that in future and just wait for films to appear on Netflix? Time will tell.

The one product area in which there hasn’t been a viable subscription model for me to adopt is for ebooks to read. I do subscribe to the Audible UK subscription service that gives a single audiobook of my choice per month. For ebooks, the biggest subscription service is Amazon Kindle Unlimited. I’ve looked at it in the past, but it didn’t have many of the books I wanted to read. I must have another look to see how many of the books I’ve read or bought this year are available there.

Reading and walking

I set myself several goals this year. Two of them were to read more and to also walk more. Hopefully read a book per week and walk 1000 miles in the year. A great way to combine these is to listen to Audiobooks when walking. A five-mile walk takes about 70 minutes and an audiobook is usually about 12 hours long. So a few walks combined with the commute to work means that an audiobook can be completed in about two weeks. Reading two audiobooks a month will help deliver that reading goal for the year.

Favourite books from 2016

I only managed to get through 16 books in 2016. I had to do some very early starts (03:30 four days a week) in day job for a few months and it turned my brain to mush. That’s all sorted now, so hopefully I’ll get more reading done in 2017. From the books I did read here are my top five. These would have been up there even if I read 50 books this year.

Speak – Louisa Hall. View on iBooksAmazonAudible

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley. View on iBooksAmazonAudible

Join – Steve Toutonghi. View on iBooksAmazonAudible

The Big Picture – Sean Carroll. View on iBooksAmazon

Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson. View on iBooksAmazon

Favourite books I read in 2015

I read 39 books this year. Here are my favourite five. Spoilers below obviously.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustClaire North. Novel about a man who is reborn again and again after he dies. With all his memories from the lives he has led. Not reincarnated after he dies, but rather reborn at the same time in the past. Same birthday. Same place. He discovers that he’s not the only person like this. The book covers the first fifteen of his lives and his interactions with others like him and normal humanity. It starts slowly, but picks up and is a great idea and is very well executed. Has good plot twists and turns.

TouchClaire North. Read this after liking The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August so much. This is just as good or maybe even better. Deals with a similar subject. The essences of certain people are able to transfer between human hosts just by touch. They then take over full control of the human they are inhabiting and use them as vessels for a while. Could be for minutes, or for years. But someone is hunting people with this ability and killing them. A brilliant sci-fi thriller. Claire North is a real talent.

The Silk Roads: A New History of The WorldPeter Frankopan. This came up in recommended titles on Audible when I was looking to spend a monthly audiobook credit. It looked interesting so I got it. Really good decision. This is the best history book I’ve ever read. It presents a view of the world beyond the western European centric one I got taught in school. The book is presented as a series of essays based around the Asian and Near East Silk Road trade routes, and covers a time period from antiquity up to the 21st century. I liked the audiobook so much I bought the hardback as well. It is a beautiful book. Everyone should read this. It should be mandatory reading in all school history curricula in the western world.

Station ElevenEmily St. John Mandel. I can’t remember how I discovered this book. But I’m so glad I did. It is set around the Great Lakes region of a post apocalyptic North America after 99% of humanity has been wiped out by a very fast acting variant of the influenza virus. In a few weeks nearly everyone is dead. It tells the story of a few bands of survivors eking out a living after the collapse of the modern world we all rely on. There are also retrospective storylines based around the life of an author who wrote, and self published, a comic book series called Station Eleven. All the stories about the survivors are in some way intertwined with this comic book, its author or her acquaintances. The writing is sublime. The way the threads all come together at the end is superb. This is a stunning novel. Everyone should read it.

Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent SoftwareScott Rosenberg. A really enjoyable book about the failed development process for the Chandler Personal Information Manager. Probably my favourite book that is about the technology industry. Everyone involved in software and technology should read this book. I especially liked Rosenberg’s Law.