Summary of reading: April - June 2022



  • "Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Course of American Empire" by Tom Chaffin - a comprehensive biography of Fremont, focusing on his famous cross-continent journeys of discovery. Though long drawn at times, this book is good and provides an interesting glimpse into a critical time in Californian history
  • "If Not Now, When?" by Primo Levi - historical fiction about a group of Jewish partisans in Russia, Ukraine and Poland during the second half of WWII. Beautiful writing and an unusual, highly realistic writing style. While the book is fiction, it's very different from what would be considered a "thriller" or "action" genre these days - it seems to reflect reality much better.
  • "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë - although I found the last quarter or so of the book a bit too fantastical, overall it's a really excellent novel that I somehow neglected to read in the past. Very good writing and character development; given that the book was written in 1847 it's clear why it is considered to be an important early work of feminism.
  • "Ingredients" by George Zaidan - secondary title is "The strange chemistry of what we put in us and on us". An interesting take on nutrition and the science behind it. I liked this book, though all the toilet humor and other dirty jokes are off-putting.
  • "Missions to Mars" by Larry Crumpler - a comprehensive account of all the exploration missions launched to Mars to date, from the POV of a planetary geologist that took part in some of them. This book has a lot of good material, but the delivery is very dry - not sure if it's the original text or the audio narration to blame here.
  • "Out of my Mind" by Sharon M. Draper - a nice book for young readers about a highly intelligent 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy.
  • "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer - this is what happens when you pick up a book just because it won a Pulitzer, knowing basically zero about it otherwise. I'm pretty sure I'm missing a lot of cultural context to have enjoyed this one.
  • "Quickstart Molecular Biology" by Philip N. Benfey - short fast-paced introduction to modern molecular biology and generics. Parts of the book are very readable and interesting, parts are completely inscrutable. It covers some very new analysis techniques, which is nice.
  • "The Lincoln Highway" by Amor Towles - having really loved the author's "A Gentleman in Moscow", I had high hopes for this book. It's an odd one! The plot is confusing, mixed up with the points of view of multiple characters, and is not moving in a coherent direction. While the writing is of high quality, it feels like the author is frolicking in his skill and not trying to put a cohesive plot together.
  • "Rust for Rustaceans" by Jon Gjengset - I had high expectations from this book because I really enjoyed watching some of the author's videos in the past. Unfortunately it turned out to be disappointing. The book mixes material that is much better explained in Rust's official book with material that's too specialized, IMHO. The choice of subjects could be more palatable if the exposition was better, but the book is just walls upon walls of text, with very little in terms of diagrams and code samples. There are barely any compilable projects that do something useful - the book's code samples are small snippets that are rarely self contained. I'll keep it handy in case it serves as a useful reference in the future, and will update the review if this turns out to be the case.
  • "The Science of Energy" by Michael E. Wysession - (audio course) an interesting and detailed coverage of energy consumption and production, with lots of fascinating numbers and statistics. No drama or hyperbolics, which are so frequent in press coverage of this topic. The author's explanations are definitely grounded in reality. Though the course is not very old (from 2014), it's fascinating to see how much has changed - particularly the speed of adoption of renewable energies, electric cars and so on.
  • "The Pattern on the Stone" by W. Daniel Hillis - the subtitle is "The simple ideas that make computers work". An OK book, though it's not clear what the intended audience is. When the book was originally written in 1998, it may have been useful for engineering-oriented folks who weren't familiar with computers; in this day and age, do such people really exist? For learning the basics of how computers work, Petzold's "Code" is far superior.
  • "Energy: A Human History" by Richard Rhodes - stories of people involved in the leaps of human energy technology - from wood in medieval England to nuclear power and renewables in the 21st century. The writing is very good, but I feel like the book is lacking something to tie it all together. Still, a fairly interesting read.
  • "Anne of Avonlea" by L.M. Montgomery - the first sequel to "Anne of Green Gables", where Anne is now a 17-year-old school teacher. It involves many of the same characters from the first book as well as a number of new ones. This is once again a mix between a book for kids and charming old-style romance, with a dollop of good sense of humor. I liked the first book more, though.
  • "How to drive a nuclear reactor" by Colin Tucker - a very interesting and detailed explanation of how Pressurised Water Reactors (the most common type of commercial nuclear power reactors) work, starting from the physics and all the way to an exteremely detailed discussion of the various safety systems involved. It's easy to get infected with the writer's obvious enthusiasm and love of the subject, and the writing style is very direct and clear. This book will likely go into way too much detail for most readers, but it's still a great read if you're wondering how nuclear power stations really work.

Re-reads:

  • "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by A. Faber, E. Mazlish
  • "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder
  • "The Prince and the Pauper" by Mark Twain
  • "The rational optimist" by Matt Ridley

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2022.06.20: Why is it easy to implement a Lisp?
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2022.03.31: Summary of reading: January - March 2022
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