I have been chronicling the books I have read on my blog since 2012. For 2014 I wanted to do something different: I created the virtual equivalent of Book Spine Poetry.
This page here (on e-stangl.at) seems not fit into my overall system of writing and curating content in different places. But on the other hand I had once started the first list here, stating that what you write about books says more about you than about the books.
Last year I read mainly about:
IT security and related culture and history. I'd attribute this to nostalgic flashback and the feeling I can and should tell some funny anecdotes many years after they had happened.
Sleep research. I believe that sleep is underrated and professions are self-selecting. I am a different being when I can sleep in harmony with my inner clock. I have briefly reviewed three of these books in my blog posting on hacking the biological clock - written under the impression of the upcoming most hated Sunday of the year, end of March 2014.
Technology and its interdependence with work and life. I wrote only three posts that might qualify as book reviews, and they represent my inner inconsistency and ambiguous thoughts:
- Nicholas Carr's thoughtful critique of too much automation. Though I was some sort of tech professional, maybe even an evangelist, most of life, it struck a chord with me. Not only am I bragging about using a scythe tongue-in-cheek, but I sometimes prefer the less automated and 'smart' solution. I can relate to architects and photographers renouncing of software voluntarily.
- Automattic's (WordPress') way of organizing its global workforce. I also enjoy working 'remotely' and communicate 'asynchronously'. We have worked in IT like this for a long time, but we have also started to do so in our down-to-earth heat pump projects.
- Douglas Coupland's Generation X. Gen X’s denial or envy of their boomer parents’ values and social security, and their denial of their considerably younger siblings who are cooler and more career-oriented. Yet, Coupland ends on an optimistic note.
I read (many) books, and I often pick them in order to answer peculiar specific questions of mine. 2013 was dedicated to: Biographies of scientists, popular science, physics text books and essays that deny categorizing.
These are my top five books of last year:
by Graham Farmelo.
Dirac trained as an engineer and searching for a job without success. He was driven by a top-down approach to physics: by the beauty of mathematical equations that eventually match a model of reality. Dirac’s usage of mathematics and his way of inventing new symbols (Dirac said he invented the bra) was said to give proof of his engineering mindset.
by Ray Monk.
It is a book for those interested solely in Wittgenstein’s life as well as for amateur philosophers who had tried to decode the Tractatus in vain (as myself). I am not sure if you grasp the combination of his logical analysis of language and his allusions to the mystical without knowing about Wittgenstein’s debut in philosophy as Russell’s mentee on the one hand and his desire to be given the most dangerous task in World War I, in search for a life-altering experience, on the other hand. Peter Higgs has recently stated that he would not have been successful in today’s academic system. The more we are flabbergasted by reading about Wittgenstein’s lifelong reluctance to publish anything.
...a sensationalist title. In my opinion Jim Baggott gives a rather balanced account of the history of physics – I would recommend this book to anybody who wants to understand what the big questions in fundamental physics have been in the past 100 years.
by Susan Cain
...an eye-opener. I am typically considered an extremely extrovert person by people who know me personally. Cain tells me otherwise, my reluctance of “social” company events gives proof of that. Probably I am a faker on a mission: Introverts are able to transcend their limits if they want to achieve their goals. I enjoyed Cain’s experiment of attending a Tony Robbins workshop for research purposes.
by Nassim Taleb.
This book belongs in a class of its own. In a nutshell, antifragility is the opposite of fragility. This definition goes beyond robustness. Taleb applies his ideas to very diverse aspects of life and work - from medicine (and detrimental iatrogenics), personal fitness, to politics and science / innovation. He has the deepest respect for small business owners and artisans - he is less kind to university professors, particularly those specialized in economics and employed managers, particularly those of banks. Some of Taleb’s ideas appear simple (to comprehend, not necessarily to put into practice), often of the What my grandmother told me variety – which he does not deny. But he can make a nerd like me wonder if some things are probably – simply that simple. In case you are not convinced he also publishes scientific papers loaded with math jargon. Taleb mischievously mentions that his ideas called too trivial and obvious have been taken seriously after he translated them into formal jargon.
I have started to write about books I have read in my blog. I am not reviewing books really - but rather books trigger some random thougths of mine.
2013 is my personal year of cybersecurity, security of critical infrastructure and smart meters in particular. As a primer I can recommend this German novel: Blackout, by Marc Elsberg.
I read a lot of books, in particular since I have turned from an e-reader skeptic to a Kindle addict. This is the list of book favorites, pivotal particularly to my understanding of the corporate world.
The descriptions are not intended to represent reviews, and the list reveals more about me than about the books. If I were to name the favorite of favorites - tributes go to Mike Daisey for 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ amazon.com
Konrad Paul Liessmann
[In German]. The Austrian philosopher and university professor Konrad Liessmann defines knowledge and literacy in contrast to standard mantras of modern 'information and knowledge worker society'.
Education cannot be easy-going and in a playful way as we should be transformed in this process of adoption of knowledge. It is not sufficient to just 'know where to search for' (run off to the restrooms at a party to google for the background of a famous quotation).
He critizises ranking and so-called quality control being a playground of management consultants and related dogmas that flood universities. The analysis polemic (entertaining also), but to the point - I wholeheartedly agree to almost any of Liessman's arguments.
Russell describes the history of philosophical thinking with a bias. A bias that he does not deny. Nevertheless tries hard to pay tribute the arguments of his opponents and he explains their reasoning in terms of their situation in a specific era of history (in a way only Russell is able to analyze). Russell is not as kind when talkiing about philosophers who he considers violating basic humanistic principles.
Continuing the tradition established by Microserfs with respect to the dotcom hype in the late nineties.
But compared to "Microserfs", this book reflects the author's personal story: Sarcasm and cynicism wrap a clear message.
I believe that every IT/Tech insider would agre to Mike Daisey. Everybody who has been exposed to IT corporation cult-ure, everybody who is to some extent in IT customer service.
Mike Daisey is an awesome story-teller, gifted with the ability to tell a story about himself. He utililzes self-irony to ist extreme, but he is able to keep some distance to his person in terms of the subject of his story.
Years after the hype induced by this book Mike Daisey is a successful monologist - well deserved.
Coupland describes the life of a bunch of nerds at Microsoft in the mid-nineties and in their own company afterwards. But it is more than that: It is a mosaic of details building a perfect picture of a a generation's way of living and thinking.
Douglas Coupland is capable of portraying the core feelings and the true way of thinking of a generation by a sequence of loosely connected stories and by digging into the details of bizzare everyday items and jargon.
Again, a book that does not fit into any category.
Philosophical reflections on lifeand work, insights into the machinery of mystical Silicon Valley. And an autobiography and/or a novel bringing back hope into the life of people not knowing where they belong to really.
The subtitle names it The Art of Creating a Life while Making a Living. My dream is to write something roughly comparable ten years from now.
A race through seemingly bizarre philosophical and scientific ideas - wrapped in a dialoage, a 'thought experiment'. One of the core question is: What would constitute a challenge for an omnipotent being? The connection between these ideas and 'Dilbert' is not as remote as it seems, in my opinion.
German: Something like the German Version of Generation X, describing the life of young German people (yuppies) in the 80ties.
Compared to Coupland:
- less fiction
- less hope
- more sarcasm
which is most likely not a language issue, but due to cultural differences.
Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger
The soul, meaning and heart of the internet and its implications on modern business in a nutshell. To me: my personal number one in the list of books on internet and society.
The whole book can be downloaded from the website: der Cluetrain-Website
Two of my favourite quotations
- Hyperlinks subvert hierachy (das letztendlich der Anstoß für die Reservierung der Domain www.subversiv.at war)
- We embrace the web not knowing what it is, but we hope it will burn the org chart - if not the organization - down to the ground.
In a talk given by Tom DeMarco I listened to personally he said: 'Every day you do not have the chance to grow and develop yourself, is a lost day'. That is what slack is for.
German: Thoughts on the life, the universe and everything by the Austrian entrepreneur.
After a classical carrier in management Klaus Woltron seems to have found a way to combine work, life and reflection on the basic question of human existance in a better way.