Favorite Books of 2017
I read 28 books, and over 10,000 pages in 2017 – a long way behind my target of 52 books. The move to Ottawa, and the settling in, got in the way, but now that the winter is here, I should be able to get back to that long to-read list.
The Ascent of Man (Jacob Bronowski)
This is a remarkable book that uses the evolution of science to trace human history. Starting with the use of stone as weapons by homo erectus, all the way to quantum physics, this is a fascinating picture of the rise of civilization. Quite a bit like what Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is to the history of the Universe.
The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins)
An absorbing read on evolutionary biology from the perspective of individual genes. Especially loved the game theory based explanations that explain natural selection. One of the most engaging science books I’ve read.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
As a long time listener of Tyson’s Startalk podcast, I’ve heard a lot of this stuff covered on the show. Tyson has an amazing ability to convey the vastness of the Universe in a way that could get anyone interested in the topic. My only complaint is the use of imperial units over metric, making it confusing for us non-Americans.
Made in Japan (Akio Morita)
The story of the founding and growth of Sony. The book traces Morita’s early life during WW2, the early days of Sony and its emergence as a cutting edge technology company, and about Japanese business and management styles. Morita writes well, and effortlessly switches between these topics, so it feels less like memoirs, and more like a book about business. Excellent read if you want to read about how Japanese management styles compare to those of other countries.
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
A book with talking animals may not sound serious, but it’s a very accurate representation of the political class. Although based on the Russian revolution and Stalin, it captures the shenanigans of today’s politicians, even the supposedly democratic ones. I can think of one or two world leaders whose brazen distortion of reality isn’t too far off the behavior of the pig leaders on Animal Farm.
Mistborn: The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson)
I’ve wanted to read Sanderson’s books ever since I read his fantastic conclusion to the Wheel of Time series, and this book didn’t disappoint. It’s fast paced, but doesn’t sacrifice world building and character development for it. The magical system is well developed, and allows you to form your own theories on where the story is going. I’m usually bored by long descriptions of fights, but Sanderson is especially skilled at keeping you hanging on to every word.
Fuzzy Nation (John Scalzi)
My favorite scifi novel of the year. The characters are complex, funny and memorable – even when they are creatures that don’t speak, like the protagonist’s pet dog. Towards the end it turns into something of a legal thriller that debates what it means to be sentient.
Seveneves (Neal Stephenson)
Intriguing premise – the moon mysteriously explodes, and the Earth has two years before the debris kills all of humanity. Explores how existing space technology can be jury-rigged to move as many people to space as possible.
Stephenson’s books can be slow and meandering, but this one was interesting from page 1. Has a lot of details about the workings of the International Space Station. Going from long explanations on orbital mechanics on one page to the machinations of power hungry politicians on the next, it was one hell of a ride. I’ve been looking for good hard-sci-fi novels since reading The Martian, and this one is definitely worth a read for fans of that book
The final third is speculative fiction about set 5000 years in the future, that is effectively a sequel to the first 2/3rds. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the story set in near future, which has a lot of details about space technology. Despite the disappointing final third, I think it was a terrific sci fi novel overall.
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
First person narrative in an epic fantasy novel is unusual, but here it works. Has some great world building, although doesn’t depart from the typical Tolkienian fantasy style much. Sadly, there are few supporting characters that are well fleshed out. There are also some chapters that would be better off in a bad romance novel. Not as good as I was expecting based on the reviews, but a decent fantasy novel all the same.
Inkheart (Cornelia Funke)
What if someone had the power to literally bring characters to life by reading a book? Bibliophiles will definitely enjoy this one. This is technically a children’s book, but like most good children’s novels, it can be enjoyed by adults as well.
All You Need is Kill (Hiroshi Sakurazaka)
Nice, fast paced scifi thriller with a great premise - a soldier who is fighting alien invaders accidentally resets time every time he dies, and wakes up the previous day. I’m glad that the movie adaptation (Edge of Tomorrow) changed the plot enough that it didn’t spoil this book too much.
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
Set in 2044, people are using a massive virtual reality universe to escape the bleakness of the real world. The VR’s creator leaves all his wealth to whoever can find the easter egg he left in the simulation. The writing style and the dialogue keeps reminding me that it’s a YA novel, but a fun read so far. The people in the story, unfortunately, feel more like video game characters than the real world people that are playing the games. Someone who grew up around the 80s geek culture might appreciate this more, and that probably explains the massive fan following. Entertaining read, nonetheless.
Dune (Frank Herbert)
It’s great in so many levels – you can read it for the fast paced epic adventure, the scifi novel, the messiah story reminiscent of many fantasy series, or even Herbert’s philosophical ruminations. Although it’s a scifi novel, it has a lot in common with fantasy - some parts of it reminded me of the Wheel of Time. Took me a few chapters to really get into it, but in the end I couldn’t put it down.
In 2018, I’m hoping to read 30 pages every day. That’s easier said than done, though – I’ve missed a few days already. I didn’t read a lot of programming books in 2017, so I’m hoping to pick up more of those this year.