Summary and review of some books I read after creating this page.


The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts

Compiled by the creator of Farnam Street Blog. Book is collection of real life examples categorized by mental models and some commentary from the author.

Learning this way is better than someone instructing you and synthesizing the results for you to digest.

Ego gets in the way, locking reality behind a door that it controls with a gating mechanism. We optimize for short-term ego protection over long-term happiness.


Fahrenheit 451

First book by Bradbury that I read. Interpolating the tech at the time of writing to the era that book is set in is a hard problem for an author. More like how records were destroyed in 1984 and then changed to control past, there is a dedicated department to burn books. Other theme explored is how shallow entertainment is degrading society and makes people complacent. People worrying more about celebrities than family members and someone so caught up in all this that they don’t even remember how they met their better half.

Now I know the inspiration behind the hounds in Kingsman.

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.


A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Meaning of stoic is entirely different from what leading dictionaries tell. This book discusses stoic philosophy, history and how the author incorporates it in his life. A good start to understanding stoics and a collection of gems from stoic literature with deliberate discussion. Book does its job in describing that principles of stoics are not to be taken literally and applying them in your life is simply guided by common sense. Try reading it if you don’t have a philosophy of life or if you’re worrying that you may mislive this life fighting the wrong battles. At the end it also points you to all the right places.


The War of Art

Book is about how hard it is to do creative work and what stops most artists. Can be easily extended to how hard it is to do knowledge work and the roadblocks we’re up against while doing it. I don’t usually read self-helps but what is the point of discriminating, there is nothing to lose. It has its good parts, end of the book is not one of them. Still equips with you the information who your enemy is and it is half the battle.


The Phoenix Project

  • Interesting read, way better than teaching all the managerial maxims in a non-fictional manner. Didn’t know that CI and 10 deployments a day is not the norm everywhere and how much amount of work it takes to get there. Still characters are predictable sometimes and more of caricatures of the role they’re in which somehow helps the narration.

  • Recommends The Goal by Eli Goldratt


Pirate Cinema

  • A great take on piracy and its implications and the concept of intellectual property. Covers the real-life conflict between megacorps and people over content and culture respectively.

  • From what I’ve read everywhere it is not the best work of author but it felt very good and new to read and tastes are subjective. Loved the way how lively and life-like Cecil and his friends are. Not so predictable David v/s Goliath story.

You can relate this with true story of piratebay, in this podcast


Swipe to unlock

  • Liked the way TCP/IP was explained. Book is written with the intention of being accessible. Not that illuminating for your daily hackernews visitor, but it is good as an introductory book for anyone who wants to make sense of what is going on in the tech world.

  • As the cover says, book is strictly for non coders, coders or someone familiar won’t get much value out of it


1984

All the time while reading it I was comparing 1984 depicted in the book and some constructs of society today, how telescreens, manufacturing consent through media and surveillance is mainstream today. The book mainly intended as a warning written in 1949 works as a manual in 2020. There are couple of movies based on the book but none matches the cruelty and intensity of the book.


Food rules : An Eater’s manual

Took a detour from the dry and lengthy books I was reading, it is a short and very spaced out book filled with witty and nicely explained nuggets of food wisdom like “Don’t eat what your grandma won’t recognize as food” to “whiter the bread, sooner you’ll be dead”. No nutritional gobble-de-gook used, everything is stated as simply and coherently it can be.


The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage

Book is exactly what its title says. At the beginning I thought that the hacker is a warm-up and will be caught at the end of first 20 pages and main course is due after that but you can never imagine how that story spans through about 250 pages and none of it is filler. Loved how it takes you back to earlier time in computing when average computer user had more digital literacy than people have today (technology is so accessible). Above all the story is true and very engaging.

As they say two of the most famous products of Berkeley are LSD and BSD (Unix).


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

It refers to flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi numerous times, after reading the first chapter you can get away without reading the rest of the book. Though it has a lot of useful further reading links to explore at the end, which led me to famous essay by Peter Drucker titled Managing oneself published in Harvard business review, more value in that essay than this book but both scratch a different itch. Author defines 3 frameworks of motivation for human beings, citing third framework as somewhat unintuitive and better at explaining things which its predecessors can’t but no framework is valid all the time, there are many situations where motivation 2.0 works.


Permanent Record - Edward Snowden

Very engaging read, he has been instrumental for bringing in shift and much needed discussion and action towards more private web and communications. There is also a movie named Snowden, but it would have been much better if they included the scenes where he contacted journalists hopping on different wifi networks by kicking off everyone on the network and stealing creds (but there is so much in this book for a movie to cover). Book doesn’t assume anything about the reader and is very approachable unlike Cuckoo’s Egg where you have to know all that technical stuff to make sense of things.

A little bit of math can accomplish what all the guns and barbed wire can’t: a little bit of math can keep a secret


The 22 immutable laws of Marketing - Al ries, Jack trout

Was reading tools of titans and then author talked about Law of Categories, so finished this book first. Book was written in 1994, and some examples are really outdated (didn’t age well) and funny to read now. Like calling Microsoft’s move to offer all office software under one roof a mistake. There are many successful megacorps today which defy law of line extension. So, instead of laws they’re more of general ideas, because general ideas can accommodate outliers. Many firms discussed are not around today but still it interesting to note why they’re not. An interesting, easy to process book with actionable wisdom.


The Vault of Vishnu

One of the fastest 300 page book you’ll read. Story defies the title of the book though, I don’t know if title was selected before writing the story just because it has alliteration and sounds cool. Premise is really interesting, biologically enhanced soldiers created with age old concoction with a supernatural connection, but execution in the end and climax betrays many of the expectations and is not as interesting as the first 70% pages. References a lot of scriptures and books, I still was not able to find any English translation of Rasavinoda online.


Irresistible : The Rise of Addictive Technology and Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Case study on different addictions, comparing addictions of past to modern digital stimulants which exploit the same reward mechanisms. I didn’t know that someone is called Steve Jobs of gaming industry before reading it. You walk out with a clear understanding of what qualifies as an addiction in general sense, how it works, some ideas on how to make it work in your favour. It is a systematic breakdown of why we do what we do and how addictive experiences around us are engineered. Most striking fact that I learned was that you can’t leave a habit cold turkey, there are parts to it which need to dismantled or just replaced one by one and some caution to be taken to not including the same cues in your environment which will surely result in relapse.

Motivated perception shapes how we take negative feedback, categorizing loss as “almost win” and then coming back for more.


Planet of the Apes

Original book that started all those spin offs and movies sometimes expanding on a few pages of the book or adapting it to a completely new storyline. It is exciting to see how much control a writer has compared to the director of a movie. A writer can direct your attention to even most mundane or subtle things which you’ll otherwise overlook or will seem lost in the sensory overload a movie provides.

Read the book even if you have watched the movies, just read it.

Chitralekha

Book is an exploration of sin, human nature and effectiveness of imposed abstinence. There are two kinds of abstinence, one is absence of desires and the other is just suppressing them, latter is deteriorating. How most coveted things lose their charm and appeal when you have them and the chaos we create while moving on from one hit to another.

जीवन एक अवि‍कल पि‍पासा है। उसे तृप्त करना जीवन का अंत कर देना है। जि‍से तुम साधना कहते हो वो आत्‍मा का हनन है।