• "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque - a beautiful fictional account of the experience of war, told from the point-of-view of a young German soldier during World War I (semi-autobiographical, I guess, based on the author's own WWI experience). If there's one book to read to understand what war-related PTSD comes from, this should be it. The author describes not only the horrors of war, but also its futility, in an amazingly powerful way. Little wonder that this book was on the black list in Nazi Germany in the years leading to WWII. This is one of the very few books I re-read almost immediately after finishing it for the first time.
  • "Simply Einstein - Relativity Demystified" by Richard Wolfson - yet another laymen's explanation of relativity, mostly focusing on special relativity. While this book is better than "What is relativity", it suffers from the same basic problem all books in the genre have - general relativity is explained very vaguely with much hand-waving and little intuition. I guess some of that is by necessity, as some things are just not very intuitive, and others explain very complex mathematics.
  • "Ego is the Enemy" by Ryan Holiday - a curious mixture between ancient stoic philosophy and a modern feel-good self help book. While it's well written and overall entertaining to read, I didn't find this book to be very insightful. Unfortunately, it succumbs to a very common error of the genre -- attributing too much to the topic of focus. Many of the examples the author presents of people who succeed and/or fail aren't convincingly ego-related, at least not in the very specific sense the book implies. Update: it inspired me to read the biography of Sherman, whom the author dubbed an ego-less man because he refused the presidency after the civil war. Sherman's biography mentions very little about his lack of ego, quite the contrary actually. It's clear that Sherman was driven by ego in a lot of his doings, and his refusal of the presidency is better attributed to a deep hate of politics from very young age.
  • "Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman" by Robert O'Connell - a biography of Sherman, well written overall. There's a lot of interesting history in this book, since Sherman was in many important places at the right time. Not just the civil war, but also his stint in California in the 1840s, and also the trans-continental rail laying job after the war.
  • "California: A History" by Kevin Starr - this book, although of medium size, feels too short to cover such a vast topic. Anecdotally, the same author has a much longer book just about California in the 1950s. I do think that it's a pretty good introduction to the topic, though. It gives a reasonable overview for someone wishing to focus more on certain aspects or eras of the history of the state.
  • "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo - a very good book about life in central Maine in the late 90s (?) with historic flashbacks to about 20 years earlier. Even though it has a protagonist, the actual story is really the typical town and its population in the wake of harsh economic times, following the closure of traditional manufacturing plants in the area.
  • "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by A. Faber, E. Mazlish - parenting books are hard, but this one is pretty good. Lots of interesting insights. The cartoonish tutorial-y format makes it much longer than it should have been, IMHO, but there are definitely important ideas there to keep in mind.
  • "A More Perfect Union: An Introduction to American Government and Politics" by J. Tony Litherland - an introductory textbook covering the structure of the US government, its constitutional basis, and how politics "works" in general. It's an OK book, fun to read (for a textbook, at least) but I found it lacking in some respects. It seems like a very large chunk of the book focuses on history. Some of it is justified (like early colonial-age history that shaped the constitution), but much of it isn't, and feels like filler. So while the book does have a bunch of relevant content, it's much less than its size would lead one to expect.
  • "Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About American Law, 4th ed." by Jay Feinman - A whirlwind tour of the first year in law school, according to the author. The book covers a range of topics in law, giving a big-picture overview of each. I wouldn't hope for such a book to be a page turner, and it isn't; however, all considered the author does a good job making it readable and not too "heavy". What I liked most about it is the attempt to present background that makes certain law topic make more sense, since law and lawyers in general get quite a bit of heat in popular media. In particular, I found the rationale for the way tort law works enlightening.
  • "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren - A historical political novel, about a governor of a Southern state (probably Alabama?) in the early 1930s, dipping into earlier history of the narrator (the governor's right-hand man) and the governor in the 1910s and 1920s, and also into the narrator family's past in the late 19th century. Very well written overall, this novel tries to depict the corruption present in the highest echelons of power in a philosophical way. I particularly enjoyed the Boss's notion that he won't let other "dirty" politicians to have anything to do with his hospital, clearly judging his own less-than-stellar morals and ways to be on a higher level than those of his opponents. The ending could've been better, IMHO. The book wouldn't suffer if the last 2 chapters were cut out.
  • "Clojure Applied" by Ben Vandergrift and Alex Miller - I had high hopes for this book, but was mostly disappointed. It appears to be heavily targeted towards Java-like enterprise CRUD uses of Clojure, which both shows the least pretty parts of the language and targets only a small subset of potential readers. Another major gripe is that large portions of the book are spent showing how to work with a plethora of cool-kid-of-the-day 3rd party libraries, something I never appreciate in a book.
  • "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt - what a prescient book! Written in 2012, it sets out to explain - mostly to liberals - why other political views - mostly conservative - can make sense from a moral, psychological and even evolutionary point of view. The author is a professor of Moral Psychology, and the book is very well organized and carefully laid out to present scientifically-backed fundamentals in a fairly abstract manner, before using them to dive into the political divide in the US. Very important read for anyone shocked by the results of the 2016 election.


  • "Pale Blue Dot" by Carl Sagan


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