I read more books in 2013 than I think in any year before, certainly if you exclude books I read for school.
The Signal and the Noise : Why Most Predictions Fail - but Some Don’t by Nate Silver
I was terribly obsessed with the 2012 presidential election. During that time, I read FiveThirtyEight.com obsessively every morning. Naturally, I was excited to read Nate Silver’s book The Signal and The Noise. I read this over January to March of this year. It is a long, densely packed book and my reading skills were rusty, so it took me a while. I remember it covering the application of statistics and probability in fields such as Weather, Sports, Poker, and Politics with delicious accuracy, rigor, and pragmatism. Statistics and probability is a very interesting topic to me, so it was a very enjoyable read. It was very refreshing to see the ‘victory of the nerd’ - Nate Silver’s storytelling of his pragmatism and rigor creating his many achievements was very inspiring.
Professional ASP.NET MVC 4 by Jon Galloway, Phil Haack, Brad Wilson, and Scott Allen
This year I started a job as a dedicated .NET Web Developer (as opposed to a “jack-of-all codes” at my previous job, so I picked up this book since it is written by some of the lead developers of the platform. It is very informative of the features of ASP.NET MVC 4 and I find myself referring to it whenever I need to find out the details of a given feature. It has helped me get up to speed more quickly in my new day job.
Clean Code by Robert C. Martin
I borrowed this book from a coworker and just finished it today. I read it during my lunchbreaks over a period of about two months - I was surprised at how quickly I was able to read it. It is packed full of good information about what it means to be a professional programmer, and not just some hacker. A lot of the applications are of the ‘well duh’ type, but the examples and rigor that the author went through make those seemingly obvious gotchyas, code smells, and code-debts seem much more ominous. This was yet another book that made me very thankful to be in such an immersive and exciting profession.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
I’m not really a writer. This blog post is the most writing I’ve done in a long long time, save for a few long e-mails and Wiki pages I’ve written for work. But this book was a great read, even for a non-writer like me. It validated a lot of feelings I had towards a lot of really boring text - it really is just poorly written and can be made better. The book is packed full of good advice for improving the writing craft and takes a good critical look at the state of affairs in most publicly-available writing.
I read this before reading ‘Clean Code’, but unsurprisingly, both books had the same main theme, which I would try to summarize as: “Write what you mean, write expressively. Don’t bullshit and be cute.” That advice can be applied to both writing text and writing code.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
I’ve been reading bits and pieces of this before going to bed. Ben Franklin is a very impressive historical figure. He started from nothing and worked his way up to being highly influential in the birth of the United States and the business of printing. Anything I would say about Ben Franklin and what the layman can learn from him has been written elsewhere by better writers.
His pragmatism and ‘beginners mindset’ are values I try to emulate. Once I finish the book to the end, I think I’ll take a stab practicing his set of 13 virtues in the same once-per-day style that he did.
General lessons from reading in 2013
I learned from reading these books a lot of practical technical skills, some inspiration to continue my technical career grind, and more motivation to do some writing myself. I also learned that as you read more and more, you read faster and faster. It took me a long time to get through The Signal and The Noise in the beginning of the year, but only a few weeks at lunch to get through Clean Code.
I also learned that when reading technical books, it is best to not skip anything. Often times I’ll want to skip to the chunks of code I’m interested in, only to be confused by it until I read it from beginning to end. So in the future, I’ll be sure to read code with all of the author’s intended context. ~ ~