Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Books highlights of 2019

I’ve been reading and summarizing for five years now (cue Ratatat). I’m not sure that it’s helped much with retention, but at the very least, having an easily searchable corpus of my book-related notes is worthwhile.

A decent year for fiction, I finally read Invisible Cities, which I enjoyed not viscerally, but more as an art piece. I liked The Fiddler is a Good Woman for the author’s ability to retell the same sordid tale from multiple perspectives. Diamond Age was a collection of incredible ideas and surprisingly relevant for my job. I also enjoyed Hyperion, especially Sol Weintraub’s tale, which touched me deeply. The Fifth Season was interesting, but I have some identitarian reservations. I think my overall fiction highlight was Homer’s Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson.

I read two non-fiction books which were a little too extreme for my tastes: Deschooling Society, which just read like an angry and ill considered screed and Radical Markets, which had some really interesting ideas, but presented as a whole seemed ridiculous. I really enjoyed Timefulness, a whirlwind overview of geology, and Range, an ode to generalists. The standout non-fiction for me was Seeing Like a State, which will continue to turn over in my mind for years to come. I listened to fewer history lectures than usual, but can wholeheartedly recommend The Story of Medieval England. Instead, I focused on parenting books, which are pretty bad as a genre. That said, The New Father served as a worthwhile companion to skim during the first year of Eliana’s life, and Yes Brain had practical suggestions for digesting mindfulness into something that small children might be able to understand.

I also begun a new long-term book summarization project, which is to digest Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, and visualize it as a Civ-style tech tree. Hopefully I’ll have something to report on that front in 2020!