Books 2021

Last year I failed to track my reading throughout the year on goodreads, but this year I managed reasonably well – here’s an auto-generated list with cover images from goodreads.

If I had to pick out any of the books on the list as ‘must-reads’, it’d be #4 and the last two books included, in combination with the first book I read in 2022. The last part of the list looks full of fiction books and zero non-fiction but this is not a true picture of my reading patterns in November and December; Code Complete probably represents 50 hours of work alone. Worth every second: Read it!

1. Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2, nf. Chelsea Green Publishing). Goodreads review here.

2. Open Access (3, nf. MIT Press)

3. The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense (nf., Regnery Publishing).

4. Algorithms To Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions (5, nf. William Collins). Blog coverage here. I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads.

5. How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide (nf., Da Capo Lifelong Books). Goodreads review here.

6. Spaceflight: A Concise History (3, nf. MIT Press)

7. Information and the Modern Corporation (2, nf. MIT Press)

8. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (5, nf. Penguin Books). I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads.

9. Understanding Beliefs (2, nf. MIT Press)

10. The Holy Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press)

11. The Habsburg Empire: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press)

12. Night Watch (5, f. Terry Pratchett). This book is on my list of favorite books on goodreads for a reason. A wonderful book, in my opinion perhaps the best book Terry Pratchett ever wrote.

13. Interesting Times (4, f. Terry Pratchett).

14. Moving Pictures (3, f. Terry Pratchett).

15. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (5, nf. Yale University Press). I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads.

16. Machine Translation (3, nf. MIT University Press).

17. Clinical Psychology: A Very Short Introduction (1, nf. Oxford University Press). Goodreads review here.

18. Handbook on the Neuropsychology of Aging and Dementia (5, nf. Springer). Short goodreads review here. I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads).

19. Human Anatomy: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press)

20. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (3, nf. Yale University Press). Quotes from the book are included in this blog-post.

21. Ancient Warfare (2, nf. Oxford University Press)

22. Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe (3, nf. Princeton University Press)

23. Exit, voice, and loyalty (4, nf.). Quotes from the book are included in this blog-post.

24. The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press).

25. Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty: From Theory to Practice (3, nf. Springer).

26. Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification (5, nf. Harvard University Press). Goodreads review here. I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads. Some quotes from the book are included in this blog-post.

27. Data Pipelines Pocket Reference: Moving and Processing Data for Analytics (3, nf. O’Reilly Media).

28. The Adventures of Sally (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

29. The Inimitable Jeeves (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

30. Blandings Castle …and Elsewhere (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

31. Summer Lightning (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

32. Thank You, Jeeves (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

33. The Code of the Woosters (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

34. Right Ho, Jeeves (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

35. A Damsel in Distress (3, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

36. Carry On, Jeeves (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

37. Very Good, Jeeves! (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

38. Hot Water (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

39. Volcanoes: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

40. Jeeves in the Offing (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

41. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

42. Leave It to Psmith (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

43. Psmith in the City (3, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

44. Psmith, Journalist (3, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

45. Data Science on AWS: Implementing End-to-End, Continuous AI and Machine Learning Pipelines (nf. O’Reilly Media). Long, code-heavy, not an easy read. Very short goodreads review here.

46. Plague: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press). Very short goodreads review here.

47. Lord Edgeware Dies (5, f). Agatha Christie.

48. Enzymes: A Very Short Introduction (5, nf. Oxford University Press). Short goodreads review here.

49. After the Funeral (4, f). Agatha Christie.

50. Soft Matter: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

51. Poirot Investigates (f). Agatha Christie. A mixed bag.

52. Systems Biology: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

53. Biogeography: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

54. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2, f). Agatha Christie.

55. Forests: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press).

56. Cat Among the Pigeons (2, f). Agatha Christie. Old goodreads review here, written after I first read this book – after finishing the book this year I downgraded the goodreads rating from 3 stars to 2.

57. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (4,f). Agatha Christie.

58. The A.B.C. Murders (f). Agatha Christie.

59. Death in the Clouds (4, f). Agatha Christie.

60. Assessment and Treatment of Older Adults: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals (2, nf. American Psychological Association).

61. Evil Under the Sun (4, f). Agatha Christie.

62. Cards on the Table (5, f). Agatha Christie.

63. Synthetic biology (3, nf.) Oxford University Press.

64. Five Little Pigs (4, f). Agatha Christie.

65. Data Governance: The Definitive Guide: People, Processes, and Tools to Operationalize Data Trustworthiness (3, nf. O’Reilly Media). Work-related.

66. Endless Night (3, f). Agatha Christie. Goodreads review here.

67. Peril at End House (4, f). Agatha Christie.

68. 4:50 from Paddington (3, f). Agatha Christie.

69. Murder in the Mews: Four Cases of Hercule Poirot (2, f). Agatha Christie.

70. At Bertram’s Hotel (3, f). Agatha Christie.

71. The Body in the Library (3, f). Agatha Christie.

72. Murder at the Vicarage (2, f). Agatha Christie.

73. The Moving Finger (2, f). Agatha Christie.

74. Sad Cypress (4, f). Agatha Christie.

75. The Thirteen Problems (2, f). Agatha Christie. I stand by the very short review I wrote in 2016.

76. The Hollow (4, f). Agatha Christie.

77. PLC Programming (2, nf). Nathan Clarke.

78. The Clocks (3, f). Agatha Christie.

79. Murder on the Orient Express (5, f). Agatha Christie.

80. Murder in Mesopotamia (4, f).

81. Dumb Witness (4, f). Agatha Christie. Very short goodreads review here.

82. Taken at the Flood (4, f). Agatha Christie.

83. Appointment with Death (3, f). Agatha Christie.

84. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (5, f). Agatha Christie.

85. Death on the Nile (4, f). Agatha Christie. Updated (short) goodreads review here.

86. A Murder is Announced (2, f). Agatha Christie.

87. Black Coffee (2, f). Agatha Christie.

88. A Pocket Full of Rye (4, f). Agatha Christie.

89. The Mysterious Affair At Styles (3, f). Agatha Christie.

90. Blackout (5, f). Connie Willis. When I first read this book I gave it 5 stars but did not add it to my list of favorite books on goodreads. This was a grave mistake. This year I added the book to the list and wrote a new goodreads review, which included this observation: “my current assessment of the book is simply this: This book is one of the best books I’ve ever read.” I repeated this statement in my review of All Clear when I finished the latter book early in 2022. You need to read these books before you die.

91. Code Complete 2 (nf. 5, Microsoft Press). This book is the sole reason why I only read one non-fiction book in the last 6 weeks of 2021, and why there are so many fiction books in a row on this list towards the end of the year – it’s a 960 page book on coding/programming. It’s looong, it takes a lot of work to finish this book. But it’s so worth it – the book is by far the best book I’ve ever read on these topics. I added the book to my list of favorite books on goodreads and would strongly recommend the book to anyone who’s even thinking of working in the fields of programming/coding/software development/… Blog coverage here.

June 26, 2021 Posted by | Books, Personal | Leave a comment


  1. “Originally, I set out to understand why the state has always seemed to be the enemy of “people who move around,” to put it crudely. […] Nomads and pastoralists (such as Berbers and Bedouins), hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, runaway slaves, and serfs have always been a thorn in the side of states. Efforts to permanently settle these mobile peoples (sedentarization) seemed to be a perennial state project—perennial, in part, because it so seldom succeeded. The more I examined these efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state’s attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion. Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft. […] much of early modern European statecraft seemed […] devoted to rationalizing and standardizing what was a social hieroglyph into a legible and administratively more convenient format. The social simplifications thus introduced not only permitted a more finely tuned system of taxation and conscription but also greatly enhanced state capacity. […] These state simplifications, the basic givens of modern statecraft, were, I began to realize, rather like abridged maps. They did not successfully represent the actual activity of the society they depicted, nor were they intended to; they represented only that slice of it that interested the official observer. They were, moreover, not just maps. Rather, they were maps that, when allied with state power, would enable much of the reality they depicted to be remade. Thus a state cadastral map created to designate taxable property-holders does not merely describe a system of land tenure; it creates such a system through its ability to give its categories the force of law.” (James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, pp.1-2)
  2. “No cynicism or mendacity need be involved. It is perfectly natural for leaders and generals to exaggerate their influence on events; that is the way the world looks from where they sit, and it is rarely in the interest of their subordinates to contradict their picture.” (-ll-, p.160)
  3. “Old-growth forests, polycropping, and agriculture with open-pollinated landraces may not be as productive, in the short run, as single-species forests and fields or identical hybrids. But they are demonstrably more stable, more self-sufficient, and less vulnerable to epidemics and environmental stress, needing far less in the way of external infusions to keep them on track. Every time we replace “natural capital” (such as wild fish stocks or old-growth forests) with what might be called “cultivated natural capital” (such as fish farms or tree plantations), we gain in ease of appropriation and in immediate productivity, but at the cost of more maintenance expenses and less “redundancy, resiliency, and stability.”[14] If the environmental challenges faced by such systems are both modest and predictable, then a certain simplification might also be relatively stable.[15] Other things being equal, however, the less diverse the cultivated natural capital, the more vulnerable and nonsustainable it becomes. The problem is that in most economic systems, the external costs (in water or air pollution, for example, or the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources, including a reduction in biodiversity) accumulate long before the activity becomes unprofitable in a narrow profit-and-loss sense.
    A roughly similar case can be made, I think, for human institutions — a case that contrasts the fragility of rigid, single-purpose, centralized institutions to the adaptability of more flexible, multipurpose, decentralized social forms. As long as the task environment of an institution remains repetitive, stable, and predictable, a set of fixed routines may prove exceptionally efficient. In most economies and in human affairs generally, this is seldom the case, and such routines are likely to be counterproductive once the environment changes appreciably.” (-ll-, pp. 353-354)
  4. “If the facts — that is, the behavior of living human beings — are recalcitrant to […] an experiment, the experimenter becomes annoyed and tries to alter the facts to fit the theory, which, in practice, means a kind of vivisection of societies until they become what the theory originally declared that the experiment should have caused them to be. (Isaiah Berlin, “On Political Judgment”)
  5. “Before a disaster strikes, all your preparation looks like waste. After a disaster strikes, it looks like you didn’t do enough. Every time.” (‘Coagulopath’, here)
  6. “The effort an interested party makes to put its case before the decisionmaker will be in proportion to the advantage to be gained from a favorable outcome multiplied by the probability of influencing the decision.” (Edward Banfeld, quote from Albert Otto Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Harvard University Press)
  7. The argument to be presented [in this book] starts with the firm producing saleable outputs for customers; but it will be found to be largely — and, at times, principally — applicable to organizations (such as voluntary associations, trade unions, or political parties) that provide services to their members without direct monetary counterpart. The performance of a firm or an organization is assumed to be subject to deterioration for unspecified, random causes which are neither so compelling nor so durable as to prevent a return to previous performance levels, provided managers direct their attention and energy to that task. The deterioration in performance is reflected most typically and generally, that is, for both firms and other organizations, in an absolute or comparative deterioration of the quality of the product or service provided.1 Management then finds out about its failings via two alternative routes: (1) Some customers stop buying the firm’s products or some members leave the organization: this is the exit option. As a result, revenues drop, membership declines, and management is impelled to search for ways and means to correct whatever faults have led to exit. (2) The firm’s customers or the organization’s members express their dissatisfaction directly to management or to some other authority to which management is subordinate or through general protest addressed to anyone who cares to listen: this is the voice option.” (ibid.)
  8. “Voice has the function of alerting a firm or organization to its failings, but it must then give management, old or new, some time to respond to the pressures that have been brought to bear on it. […] In the case of any one particular firm or organization and its deterioration, either exit or voice will ordinarily have the role of the dominant reaction mode. The subsidiary mode is then likely to show up in such limited volume that it will never become destructive for the simple reason that, if deterioration proceeds, the job of destruction is accomplished single-handedly by the dominant mode. In the case of normally competitive business firms, for example, exit is clearly the dominant reaction to deterioration and voice is a badly underdeveloped mechanism; it is difficult to conceive of a situation in which there would be too much of it.” (-ll-)
  9. “The reluctance to exit in spite of disagreement with the organization of which one is a member is the hallmark of loyalist behavior. When loyalty is present exit abruptly changes character: the applauded rational behavior of the alert consumer shifting to a better buy becomes disgraceful defection, desertion, and treason. Loyalist behavior […] can be understood in terms of a generalized concept of penalty for exit. The penalty may be directly imposed, but in most cases it is internalized. The individual feels that leaving a certain group carries a high price with it, even though no specific sanction is imposed by the group. In both cases, the decision to remain a member and not to exit in the face of a superior alternative would thus appear to follow from a perfectly rational balancing of prospective private benefits against private costs.” (-ll-)
  10. “The preference that [an] individual ends up conveying to others is what I will call his public preference. It is distinct from his private preference, which is what he would express in the absence of social pressures. By definition, preference falsification is the selection of a public preference that differs from one’s private preference. […] It is public opinion, rather than private opinion, that undergirds political power. Private opinion may be highly unfavorable to a regime, policy, or institution without generating a public outcry for change. The communist regimes of Eastern Europe survived for decades even though they were widely despised. They remained in power as long as public opinion remained overwhelmingly in their favor, collapsing instantly when street crowds mustered the courage to rise against them.” (Timur Kuran, Private Truths, Public Lies, Harvard University Press).
  11. “Even in democratic societies, where the right to think, speak, and act freely enjoys official protection, and where tolerance is a prized virtue, unorthodox views can evoke enormous hostility. In the United States, for instance, to defend the sterilization of poor women or the legalization of importing ivory would be to raise doubts about one’s civility and morality, if not one’s sanity. […] strictly enforced, freedom of speech does not insulate people’s reputations from their expressed opinions. Precisely because people who express different opinions do get treated differently, individuals normally tailor their expressions to the prevailing social pressures. Their adjustments vary greatly in social impact. At one extreme are harmless, and possibly beneficial, acts of politeness, as when one tells a friend wearing a garish shirt that he has good taste. At the other are acts of spinelessness on issues of general concern, as when a politician endorses a protectionist measure that he recognizes as harmful to most of his constituents. The pressures generating such acts of insincerity need not originate from the government. Preference falsification is compatible with all political systems, from the most unyielding dictatorship to the most libertarian democracy.” (-ll-)
  12. “How will the individual choose what preference to convey? Three distinct considerations may enter his calculations: the satisfaction he is likely to obtain from society’s decision, the rewards and punishments associated with his chosen preference, and finally, the benefits he derives from truthful self-expression. If large numbers of individuals are expressing preferences on the issue, the individual’s capacity to influence the collective decision is likely to be negligible. In this case he will consider society’s decision to be essentially fixed, basing his own preference declaration only on the second and third considerations. Ordinarily, these offer a tradeoff between the benefits of self-expression and those of being perceived as someone with the right preference. Where the latter benefits dominate, our individual will engage in preference falsification.” (-ll-)
  13. “Issues of political importance present individuals with tradeoffs between outer and inner peace. Frequently, therefore, these matters force people to choose between their reputations and their individualities. There are contexts, of course, in which such tradeoffs are dealt with by remaining silent […]. Silence has two possible advantages and two disadvantages. On the positive side, it spares one the penalty of taking a position offensive to others, and it may lessen the inner cost of preference falsification. On the negative side, one gives up available rewards, and one’s private preference remains hidden. On some controversial issues, the sum of these various payoffs may exceed the net payoff to expressing some preference. Certain contexts present yet another option: abandoning the decision-making group that is presenting one with difficult choices. This option, “exit,” is sometimes exercised by group members unhappy with the way things are going, yet powerless to effect change. […] For all practical purposes, exit is not always a viable option. Often our choices are limited to expressing some preference or remaining silent.” (-ll-)
  14. “In a polarized political environment, individuals may not be able to position themselves on neutral ground even if they try. Each side may perceive a declaration of neutrality or moderation as collaboration with the enemy, leaving moderates exposed to attacks from two directions at once.” (-ll-)
  15. “[C]ontinuities [in societal/organizational structures] arise from obstacles to implementing change. One impediment, explored in Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, consists of individual decisions to “exit”: menacing elements of the status quo survive as people capable of making a difference opt to abandon the relevant decision-making group.2 Another such mechanism lies at the heart of Mancur Olson’s book on patterns of economic growth, The Rise and Decline of Nations: unpopular choices persist because the many who support change are less well organized than the few who are opposed.3 Here I argue that preference falsification is a complementary, yet more elementary, reason for the persistence of unwanted social choices. Hirschman’s exit is a form of public identification with change, as is his “voice,” which he defines as vocal protest. Preference falsification is often cheaper than escape, and it avoids the risks inherent in public protest. Frequently, therefore, it is the initial response of people who become disenchanted with the status quo.” (-ll-)
  16. “Public opinion can be divided yet heavily favor the status quo, with the few public dissenters being treated as deviants, opportunists, or villains. If millions have misgivings about a policy but only hundreds will speak up, one can sensibly infer that discussion on the policy is not free.” (-ll-)
  17. “…heuristics are most likely to be used under one or more of the following conditions: we do not have time to think carefully about an issue; we are too overloaded with information to process it fully; the issues at stake are unimportant; we have little other information on which to base a decision; and a given heuristic comes quickly to mind.” (-ll-)
  18. “What most people outside of analytics often fail to appreciate is that to generate what is seen, there’s a complex machinery that is unseen. For every dashboard and insight that a data analyst generates and for each predictive model developed by a data scientist, there are data pipelines working behind the scenes. It’s not uncommon for a single dashboard, or even a single metric, to be derived from data originating in multiple source systems. In addition, data pipelines do more than just extract data from sources and load them into simple database tables or flat files for analysts to use. Raw data is refined along the way to clean, structure, normalize, combine, aggregate, and at times anonymize or otherwise secure it. […] In addition, pipelines are not just built — they are monitored, maintained, and extended. Data engineers are tasked with not just delivering data once, but building pipelines and supporting infrastructure that deliver and process it reliably, securely, and on time.” (Data Pipelines Pocket Reference, James Densmore, O’Reilly Media)
  19. “The S in IoT stands for security.” (‘Windowsteak’, here)
  20. “Do not seek for information of which you cannot make use.” (Anna C. Brackett)

June 26, 2021 Posted by | Anthropology, Books, culture, Data, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment