Its a few days late, but like many others, I want to take a moment and give a quick summary of the books I read this year. I’ve got quite a few more partially finished, so the 2015 follow up post should be great too!
Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight by David Mindel
According to Goodreads, I actually finished this book on December 31st, 2013. But I’m putting it here because I easily re-read it twice in 2014: I based much of my talk from Mountain West Ruby and RailsConf on content from the book. Digital Apollo does an excellent job of covering development of hardware and software during the Apollo Program, and really all the projects leading up to it. There are technical sections, but they aren’t overly in depth and the main narrative isn’t dependent on understanding every detail.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I have to credit Star Trek: The Next Generation for really making me aware of these excellent stories years ago, and while I’ve read a few here and there, it was only this year when I sat down and finished this 12 story collection. They’re amazing bits of writing, and hugely refreshing from non-fiction, which is what I generally read the most. Some of the plots that must have been original when these stories were published seem cliché today, but surely they didn’t when first published.
Failure Is Not An Option by Gene Kranz
Far more than an interesting story about the space program, this is a great read for anyone who has ever wanted to accomplish something extremely challenging that no one has done before. Kranz does an incredible job of describing the details not just of all the technical challenges and accomplishments of manned space flight, but of the emotions and team dynamics as well. Anyone doubting that any person can, with the right amount of determination and teamwork, accomplish anything should read this book.
The Path Between the Seas by David McCulloug
I’ve been reading this book on and off for almost two years (I started in early 2013). It’s truly a monstrosity, covering the building of the Panama Canal in incredible, but interesting detail. To be honest, I found the first half of the book, which details the comically failure-ridden initial efforts by the French, much more entertaining and useful. The second half, where the Americans basically come in, fix all the problems, and triumph, is great for national pride, but there’s not as much to learn from it.
The Day the World Discovered the Sun by Mark Anderson
Astronomy and history are both long time interests of mine, but I found this book mediocre at best. It covered too many characters, interweaving their stories in a way that was hard to follow, and the writing felt like it was trying to be too “grand”. Still, it’s a short book, and describes a very interesting and dramatic series of scientific endeavours spanning the entire globe, so I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it a little.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
In some senses, everything in this book is obvious and self-evident to anyone who has ever had feelings. On the other hand, the writing style is quite enjoyable and it’s at least a great reminder of how to work with others. For most of us, is probably a deeper exploration into describing what makes humans happy and angry than we’ve thought about before. If you’re turned off by the social-engineering-sounding title, one of my friends proposed a more accurate, alternate title: How to Be Friendly and Be an Influencer.
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
While I found it hard to follow at times, there can be no doubt after a chapter or two why this book won a Pulitzer: the depth of research and fantastic writing style make this book practically a work of art. I was pretty tired of epic history books after reading The Path Between the Seas this year, and Embers of War last year, but still had to finish this book once I started. While both have similar themes, I preferred Embers of War.
All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer
After The Guns of August, the straightforward but extremely captivating writing style of this book was refreshing, and I finished it in just a day or two. Anyone looking for a lens into the cultures of the middle east would benefit from reading this short but exciting book.
One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs
Yet another captivating history, this time on the Cuban missile crisis. Unlike The Day the World Discovered the Sun this book is not hard to follow despite covering dozens of events all over the globe happening just minutes apart. As yet another book documenting the folly of war, this time because of the inability of even leaders like Kennedy and Khrushchev to control their own forces enough to avoid terrible outcomes, I’ve pretty much got that genre covered for a while. Fortunately, next on my reading list is Moby Dick: a complete departure the trend. I didn’t quite finish it in 2014 though.