Summary of reading: April - June 2020



  • "America's Constitution: A Biography" by Akhil Reed Amar - a fairly dense discussion of the constitution, focusing on the historic background of its clauses and amendments, as well as the political and legal implications. This book is much closer to academic than to layman level; IMHO it's more suitable for syntopical than "for fun" reading.
  • "Siddhartha" by Hermann Hesse - story of self-discovery during the time of the Buddha in ancient India. Very nice writing style - simple and flowing. I liked the book, but was left with a feeling that I'll need to re-read it for deeper understanding.
  • "The Box" by Marc Levinson - secondary title is "How the shipping container made the world smaller and world economy bigger". A detailed, interesting account of the development of shipping containers and their impact on transportation and other industries.
  • "Database Internals" by Alex Petrov - the first part of the book focuses on the storage algorithms underlying database systems - mostly B-trees and variants. The second half is about distributed algorithms like distributed transactions and consensus. I found the first part more interesting; the second reads more like a literature overview, and there's far too little space dedicated to each problem and algorithm.
  • "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri - another collection of short stories about Bengali immigrants to the US north-east. Though I liked "Interpreter of Maladies" a bit more, this is still a very good book.
  • "The Path to Power" by Robert A. Caro - Volume 1 of Caro's epic biography of Lyndon B. Johnson; this volume focuses on LBJ's early life and path all the way to the house of representatives and the failed election to senate in 1941. Masterful writing - it's hard to explain how great a biography this is (Caro won two Pulitzers for a reason...). It's not that I'm particularly interested in LBJ himself, but the book provides an amazing backdrop to the whole period of the mid-20th century and packs lots of interesting background information about life in Texas, how politics is done in Washington, etc. Because the book is enormous (close to 1000 pages) and dense, it's not a very easy read even though it's so good. Listening on audio helps, IMO.
  • "Pluto Files" by Neil deGrasse Tyson - secondary title "The rise and fall of America's favorite planet". Very short book on the Pluto debate started by the author's changed museum exhibit in 2000 and capped by the International Astronomical Union's decision in 2006 to remove the planet designation from Pluto. This book is OK, with not much scientific discussion and a lot of focus on the actual drama around the events.
  • "Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation" by Timothy J. Jorgensen - discusses the discovery of radioactivity and its implications on health, trying to dispel some common myths. Nice book.
  • "The Great Influenza" by John M. Barry - I wanted to like this book, and overall it's a good history of the influenza epidemic of 1918, but it has too many problems. First, the book spends a LOT of time on tangential issues of medical research and the lives and characters of prominent researchers. This on its own isn't necessarily bad, but the author provides little scientific background, focusing on the researchers' personal lives and relationships instead, a classical page filler in non-fiction books. In addition, the book spends way too much time just listing fatalities and other fallout from the epidemic, city by city, country by country. I'd be happy to read a more focused, scientifically complete book on this subject.

Re-reads:

  • "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck
  • "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
  • "Crime and punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • "Eloquent JavaScript" by Marijn Haverbeke - technically a re-read, but now of the 3rd edition (initial read in 2013 was of the first edition). The 3rd is about twice longer, and treats more modern JS (ES6). Good book overall, with lots of useful code, projects and exercises with full solutions. Not for beginning programmers, though.
  • "Norwegian Wood" by Haruki Murakami
  • "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right" by Arlie Russell Hochschild

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2020.06.13: You don't need virtualenv in Go
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2020.03.31: Summary of reading: January - March 2020
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2020.02.24: Implementing Raft: Part 1 - Elections
2020.02.22: Implementing Raft: Part 0 - Introduction

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