What I’ve been reading

SD › Books

Favorite books.

June 30, 2022
Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter
Detailed look at the digital attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. (B+)

June 19, 2022
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
Fascinating book on the origins of Juneteenth and the state (Texas) where it began. (A)

June 10, 2022
The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure by Dan Werb
The first half is a thorough look at the history of Corona viruses. The second half is a bit muddled (though still interesting) and assesses the scientific response to Covid-19. (B+)

June 6, 2022
Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett
A dreamy mix of words and thoughts and events. The best novel I’ve read in a year or more. (A+)

June 2, 2022
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
An amazing life, richly detailed. Douglass’s story (whether this book or his autobiography) is required reading for anyone who wants to understand American history. (A)

May 23, 2022
Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World by Tyler Cowen & Daniel Gross
Insightful, untypical, and thought-provoking advice for people who search for talent. For the general reader, podcasts with the authors will probably be more interesting: here, here, here, here, and here. (C+)

May 18, 2022
The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings by Geoff Dyer
Wonderful exploration of endings – and beginnings, failures, successes, and transitions – in art, sports, careers, and life. A fun and moving book. (B+)

May 14, 2022
Riverman: An American Odyssey by Ben McGrath
A man canoeing from New York to Florida goes missing in North Carolina and the author researches his background and disappearance. (C+)

May 9, 2022
Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra
A novel about modern India. A meditation on the country’s past and present, and despite its wild growth and modernization, how little some things have changed. (B)

May 5, 2022
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
Detailing the ethical bankruptcy of the Sackler family and the pharmaceutical company they owned. A corrupt and incompetent FDA plays a key role. (A)

April 25, 2022
More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources – and What Happens Next by Andrew McAfee
Important, powerful, inspiring, and richly detailed. A better world is dependent on what McAfee calls the four horsemen of the optimist: capitalism, tech progress, public awareness, and responsive government. And what should an enlightened citizenry focus on: Reducing pollution (especially greenhouse gases); promoting nuclear energy; preserving species and habitats; promoting GMOs; funding basic research; and promoting markets, competition, and work. (A+)

April 24, 2022
Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand by John Markoff
The founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. His life, work, outlook, and evolution during California’s tech boom. (B)

April 11, 2022
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
A young woman’s plunge from health to illness (leukemia), and the never-ending journey back. A harrowing story, a fantastic book. (A)

April 9, 2022
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
The characters are clueless, self-absorbed, and wonderfully lovable. Their economic and climate science beliefs are so ignorant they are caricatures of modern progressives. And yet the writing and story float along like a dream. (A)

April 9, 2022
We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O’Toole
The author was born in 1958 as Ireland joined the European economic community and (slowly) began to modernize. A hopeful, sobering, fantastic story. (A)

April 2, 2022
Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar by Oliver Craske
An amazing and eventful life. India’s founding and first half-century are the backdrop. Also a good introduction to Indian classical music. (B+)

March 31, 2022
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
A novel in the form of a self-help book. Fun, flippant, and affecting. (B+)

March 20, 2022
Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla
The trials of an untouchable, communist, Christian family in 20th century India. (C+)

March 14, 2022
The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age by James Crabtree
A lively depiction of modern India’s business, political, and cultural scene – corruption and all. (B+)

March 10, 2022
Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters by Steven Pinker
A guide through the tools of reasoning. A bit like a textbook in parts, but (almost) always interesting. (B+).

March 7, 2022
The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley by Jimmy Soni
The praise of the Paypal team might be deserved, but it’s still a little too gushing for my tastes. The book’s epilogue tells of two inmates who turned their life around, in part, motivated by the Paypal story. It’s an amazing finish and I sort of wished that’s the story the author told. (B+)

February 28, 2022
The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future by Sebastian Mallaby
The potent mix of cooperation, competition, and innovation that makes venture capital the engine for a wealthier, healthier, and happier world. The flaws and failures of VC are covered too. (A)

February 22, 2022
Normal People by Sally Rooney
A relationship spans friendship and romance; high school, university, and working life; small-town Ireland, Dublin, and Italy. Even the sad parts are sort of enjoyable and fun. (A)

February 22, 2022
The Basics of Bitcoins and Blockchains: An Introduction to Cryptocurrencies and the Technology that Powers Them by Antony Lewis
A great introduction to cryptocurrencies, blockchains, tokens, and digital assets. (B)

February 20, 2022
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch
So many names and places, dukes, lords, princes, and kings that I never could feel confident where I was in the whole thing. But the more I ignored the small details and just read for the larger themes the more I enjoyed it. (A)

February 9, 2022
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
The Troubles produced many grim stories, spoiled dreams, ruined lives. There are no heroes in this book. (B+)

February 6, 2022
The Sea by John Banville
Meandering, melancholy, and a little magical. Finishes strongly, though the author never made me care about any of the characters. (B)

February 4, 2022
Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World by Annie Lowrey
An excellent introduction to UBIs and direct cash giving. The middle chapters are a distracting and pointless checklist of every social justice talking point. Stick to the early and closing chapters and this key takeaway: Inefficient aid is wasted aid. (B)

January 30, 2022
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
How to think, learn, and gather feedback in a complex world. A fun read with many cool insights and interesting anecdotes. (B)

January 21, 2022
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
An intoxicating tour of homo sapiens’ journey from foragers through 3 revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, scientific) to today’s world. (A)

January 17, 2022
Actress by Anne Enright
I was bored for long parts of this one, but there were several interesting scenes with a good emotional punch. I liked this line near the end: “You will realize that you think too much and live too little and that most people, men and women both, are mostly fine.” (C)

January 13, 2022
Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic by Scott Gottlieb
A thorough recap of the first 18 months of the pandemic and a good introduction to many of the health and scientific concepts. Gottlieb typically explains something once, recaps it again a little later, and then repeats everything a third time. Overkill for some, no doubt, but I appreciated the multiple opportunities to take it all in. (B+)

January 7, 2022
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
A gem of a novel. Phenomenal. (A+)

January 6, 2022
A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine by Gregory Zuckerman
A thrilling, inspiring account of how the Covid vaccines were researched, designed, produced, and tested. Detailed, meticulous, and enlightening while never tedious. (A)

January 4, 2022
Collected Works of Jane Austen
Near the start of the pandemic I decided to revisit all 6 of Austen’s novels and today I finished the last one, Persuasion. They are all wonderful, of course. Sense & Sensibility is the most emotive. Northanger Abbey the most playful. Emma and Persuasion are both near perfect. My only small complaint is the closing of Mansfield Park which feels hurried and not quite fully worked out. Pride & Prejudice remains my favorite book by any author. (A+++)

January 1, 2022
Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone
The author of the Everything Store returns to the Amazon/Bezos story 10 years later to give an updated take on the company’s rise to global dominance. (B+)

December 24, 2021
The Dig by John Preston
One of the few instances where the movie (fantastic) is better than the book (good but not great). Still, many interesting tidbits about archaeology and excavation. (C+)

December 20, 2021
Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts
The best book I’ve read in the last year. Churchill is a towering figure and still, somehow his real life is bigger, grander, and more remarkable than what I expected. (A+)

December 5, 2021
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A mad romp through France and Spain with bull fighting, fishing, eating, cocktails, beer, and wine. And then some more drinking. (B)

December 1, 2021
Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson by William Langewiesche
I’ve read this several times. It’s a fascinating look at the famous water landing on the Hudson River. But it also takes a deep dive into the airplane technology that made the landing possible. (A+)

November 21, 2021
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
A long meditation on a life devoted to surfing. Lots of travel, and close calls, and left breaks, and right breaks. Beautifully written and in the end, it works. (A)

Get All New Content

My Travel Newsletter