Favorite Books of 2019
36 books, 12,000+ pages. I read more than I was expecting to this year. And there were quite a few standout books among those.
Make It Stick (Peter C Brown)
Great book on how to learn better. Talks about why we choose ineffective strategies to learn and the techniques that allow for better retention. I haven’t done enough to incorporate the lessons from this book when learning new things, but that is something I want to improve upon this year.
Atomic Habits (James Clear)
Fantastic book about habit formation, full of actionable insights on building good habits and getting rid of bad ones. It’s one book that has had the most impact on my routine over the past few months.
Deep Work (Cal Newport)
This book has significantly changed the way I think about the time I spend at work. I was aware of many of the strategies described here. But it was a much needed reminder about how poorly I’m doing at following these principles.
Decisive (Chip and Dan Heath)
Provides a very useful framework for thinking about decision making. Definitely another one of those books where I will return to skim in the coming years.
Why We Sleep (Matthew Walker)
Brilliant insights into how sleep impacts us, and the dangers of not getting enough of it. The most important takeaway: how correlated sleep is to forming and retaining memories. Another takeaway was the research on how you can’t catch up on lost sleep - the effects can last a while. Motivated me be a bit more disciplined in sleeping on time, and more mindful of things that could lead to worse sleep.
Understanding Exposure (Bryan Peterson)
This book is an approachable introduction to composing great photos. I don’t plan on doing any serious photography, but this was a nice way to understand some of the basics of the subject, especially the photographic triangle - aperture, shutter speed and ISO - and how they relate to each other. Has a lot of beautiful photographs that illustrate the techniques described in it.
Understanding the 4 Rules of Simple Design (Corey Haines)
A short book that explains the four rules of simple design, originally described by Kent Beck in the 90s. It uses Conway’s Game of Life (a problem used in code retreats) to explain the 4 rules for writing maintainable software - tests pass, expresses intent, no duplication, and small.
Words of Radiance (Brandon Sanderson)
If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, I recommend starting with the first book in this series - The Way of Kings. This is my favorite Cosmere book so far. Sanderson’s books keep getting better. I finished the final 350 pages in one sitting (I did the same for the final 400 pages of the previous book in the series). The characters have grown on me, and Sanderson’s writing of action is unreal.
IQ84 (Haruki Murakami)
The longest book I ever read, at 1300 pages. I picked this up over 2 years ago, and always found the size daunting, and gave up after a few chapters. But on picking it up again this time, I found it really engaging despite the length, and Murakami’s writing is wonderfully weird.
The Last Wish (Andrzej Sapkowski)
The Witcher TV show and video games are based on this series of books. It’s a very different type of fantasy novel, based on Eastern European mythology, and an excellent page turner. It wasn’t at the level I was expecting based on its reputation, and even the central characters weren’t fully fleshed out. But an interesting read nonetheless, if only because it’s so different from other books in the genre.
This year I want to finish 36 books — the same number as last year. One thing I want to change is to do better to remember the ideas from the non-fiction books I read, by taking more notes and summarizing them after I finish.