Recent Books — Transit, Paying for the Party, 1491

  • Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit by Christof Spieler. Oh I love maps, and this book is chock full of them, and a great overview of transit in the US. It is easy to focus just on your community and not see the big picture, this really helps to provide context. If you just read Seattle papers, you’d think Seattle is screwing up transit constantly, but this book suggests Seattle is doing a decent job at building out an effective system.
  • Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton. This book intrigues and aggravates me. Which means it is worth reading and thinking about. A pretty damning takedown of the mainstream college education experience. It doesn’t line up with my own experience — but I saw signs of this dark side, and maybe I just lived in ignorance due to my focus and my advantages heading into college.
  • 1491 by Charles Mann. Great exploration of the civilizations in America before the arrival of the Europeans. I don’t think I realized just how dramatic the die off due to European diseases was, nor how as a result, the world lost cultures and civilizations that rivaled those of Asia. Sobering, sad.

Recent Books — Age of Fracture, Exit/Voice/Loyalty, Medusa Uploaded

  • Age of Fracture by Daniel Rodgers. I really really wanted to like this book, it is well-regarded and seems to have an interesting thesis about what has happened in the last 50 years in our country. But overly wordy and repetitive, I just couldn’t stay with.
  • Exit, Voice and Loyalty by Albert Hirschman. What a difference from the work above. Tight, focused arguments with detailed supporting notes, with clear economic thinking. Really enjoyed this, a lot of insight into company behavior and political party behavior. Very nice.
  • Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport. Starts out super strong, a laborer on a generation ship stumbles into layers and waves of conspiracy. But flags in the last third.

Recent Books — Bannerless, Order of the Day, Beatles, IQ, Electric State

  • Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn. Excellent detective tale set in a future America devastated by ecological change. The protagonist is an investigator who travels town to town, and finds herself caught up in a mystery that drags up issues from her own past.
  • The Order of the Day by Eric Vuillard. Short history of the events leading up to the German invasion of Austria. Literary, lyrical, almost whimsical in its writing, tho undercut by the great tragedy that was unfolding. And of course the book offers pointed lessons for our own time. Easy to see why this book has won so many honors.
  • Here, There, and Everywhere by Geoff Emerick. A personal and much more human look at the Beatles career by one of the few people who were in the room with them a lot. The book is not without bias, but still super interesting.
  • IQ by Joe Ide. Fantastic first novel featuring Isaiah Quintabe, a high school dropout working cases in LA for friends and associates. Great character, great setting.
  • The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag. Exceptional story/art/graphic novel about a strange future/alternative America, where we have let technology run amok. The art is so integral to the story, I can’t imagine the Kindle version is worth buying.

My favorite books of the year — 3 fiction, 5 nonfiction

I just reviewed all my books I read over the last year. Here are the ones that stick with me.


  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells. The first in a super fun science fiction series
  • Still life by Louise Penny. The first in her series featuring Inspector Gamache, every entry I’ve read in the series is great.
  • Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Hilarious series of letters from a disgruntled professor

On the nonfiction side:

Welcome any comments or reading ideas from others!

Dead of Winter — best board game this holiday season

Every year we play a couple board games over the holiday season. This year’s winner was Dead of Winter. The combination of collaborative play with individual secret objectives is great — encourages a lot of dialog but you never quite know if you are hearing the truth. And the surprise changes to objectives or surprise events that happen every turn keeps everyone hoping. Not a short game to play but a lot of fun. We played with 5 people and it was perfect.

Recent Books — Darkling Sea, Guest Room, Bring Me Back, Army of None, How Fascism Works

  • A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias.  Ugh, how did this thing get decent reviews?  Reads like Asimov from early 70s which I enjoyed when I was 12 but hasn’t aged well.
  • The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian.  Sad story about human trafficking and its victims, wrapped up inside a suspense novel.  A little uncomfortable at times, human trafficking is an ugly business.
  • Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris.  Marketed as a great beach read, at first I thought this was an engaging tale, and then I realized that the two protagonists are possibly the two stupidest people I have ever encountered in a novel.  Abandoned.
  • Army of None by Paul Scharre,  An examination of the issues around autonomous weapons.  Mixed feelings.  Some of the writing is very clumsy, but the discussion of the human/weapons systems integration issues are interesting.
  • How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley.  A catalog of the mechanics of fascism (and an examination of how they are being used today).  Depressing.

Recent Books — Ghettoside, Murderbot, Gone World, Darkest Secret

  • Ghettoside by Jill Leovy.  In depth story about homicides in the poorer parts of LA.  The author makes the strong case that the high rate of crime is a consequence of poverty and lack of strong government, not surprising.   At times a very sad story.
  • Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy by Martha Wells.  Last two books of the Murderbot series, I just love this character.   An inhuman killing machine with a heart of gold and more humanity than most humans.
  • The Gone World by Tom Sweterlisch.  Very inventive, humans travel to the stars and the near future and back — and something horrible comes back with them.
  • The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood.  A missing child case turns much darker as her sibling uncovers ugly secrets years later.  Fun.

Recent Books — Aware, Buddha’s Brain, Missing, Presumed, Our Little Secret

  • Aware by Daniel J. Siegel.  A recommended text on meditation, but too much handwavey pseudo science for me.  Did not find worthwhile at all, rather found it annoying.
  • Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson.  Another text on meditation, way better with much more underpinning and solid practical guidance.  And there is an app!
  • Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.  Excellent start to a detective series, central character is mid-career detective in London with a complex and messy personal life, embroiled in a high profile missing persons case.  Very good.
  • Our Little Secret by Roz Nay.  Ooh a dark little tale about obsession, betrayal.  Nicely structured.

Recent Books — Waking Up White, Beyond the Pale, Light Years, Koryta, Murderbot

  • Waking Up White by Debby Irving.  A lot to process in this book.  I am probably just a few steps along the path to really understanding race in the US and my own role in the issues.  This is definitely worth reading and thinking about.
  • Beyond the Pale by Clare O’Donahue.  Pleasant little detective jaunt set mostly in Ireland.  An appealing couple of main characters.  The MacGuffin is a little forced, but the chase for it has some fun parts.
  • Light Years by James Salter.  A bit of a throwback, and oh so nicely written — very very smooth.  Makes the above modern texts seem clunky.
  • How It Happened by Michael Koryta.  Solid thriller set in coastal Maine — murders, drugs, tawdry secrets.  Engaging
  • Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.  Gosh this MurderBot series is fun.  I want a wisecracking sidekick murderous robot.

Recent Books — Children of Time, Educated, Fear

  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.  Award winner, and an interesting precept about a future human diaspora to the stars, but oh my gosh did it drag on.  Editor please.
  • Educated by Tara Westover.  A nearly unbelievable memoir, an incredible story about rising up out of an impossible childhood filled with abuse and neglect.
  • Fear by Bob Woodward.  The overall impression I get is more “chaos”, there is no rhyme or reason to the operation of the Trump Presidency judging by this book.

Recent Books — Ghost Map, American War, Command and Control

  • The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.
    Great retelling of the cholera epidemic in 1854 London, and the detective workto find the source. We look back andthe infectious mechanism for cholera seems so obvious to us — and yet we are no smarter than the people of 1854 London, we just have some accumulated science at our disposal. What will people in 2178 think about us, what are we missing today?
  • American War by Omar El Akkad.  A new American civil war b
    reaks out in 2075.  Unthinkable!  And yet it does feel like our society is getting more rancorous.
  • Command and Control by Eric Schlosser.  Holy cripes, it is amazing that we have never had one of our nuclear armaments accidentally explode, and it is terrifying when you consider the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations.  It is just a matter of time.  Excellent history of US nuclear armaments and the many accidents and near-misses.

Books — Origin Story, New York 2140, Everything Trump Touches Dies

  • Origin Story by David Christian.  Great story about the long waves of development over the entire course of history.  Focusing just on the human development part of the story, human societal development has been characterized by increasing energy consumption and increasing levels of complexity to both consume energy and to find energy.  The tale falls down a little in the last chapter though as he shifts from the story of increasing energy consumption, and now asserts that everything has to change.  But still a good read.
  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson.  I don’t think Robinson is a great story teller or a great builder of characters, and the book was overly long, but still an interesting exploration of what our lives might be like 100+ years from now as we deal with climate change.
  • Everything Trump Touches Dies by Rick Wilson.  This quote near the end says it all:  “Everything about Donald Trump’s presidency and character is a disaster for America.  The victories Republicans think they have achieved are transitory and ephemeral and come at the cost of their principles and, probably, their immortal souls.  He is a stain on the party, on conservatism, and on this country that won’t easily wash out.”  And that is the most temperate thing Wilson says about Trump.

Recent Books — The Legacy of the Civil War, The Power, Reinventing Capitalism, Imperial Twilight

  • The Legacy of the Civil War by Robert Penn Warren.  The book is almost 60 years old and still super relevant.  And demands careful reading, he doesn’t cater to the reader who isn’t willing to think or work.
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman.  No real surprise here — absolute power corrupts absolutely, regardless of who has it.  The book is solid but over-hyped.
  • Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data by Viktoe Mayer-Schönberger and Thomas Ramge.  Ok the very first example in this book pissed me off and I set the book down.  Talking about a cookware purchase, the author describes a magical future where some system knows all your preferences and purchase history and just magically selects the right item for you in seconds.  And this seems like horseshit as it completely devalues design, ignores the fact that some people like shopping, ignores the value of the shopping process itself, etc.  I just didn’t care enough to read another page.  The book gets nice reviews tho.
  • Imperial Twilight by Stephen R. Platt.   The story of the Opium War.  Well written and much to learn here.  And what a great contrast to the book above.  The pop business book spins some BS tale about how humans will behave.  The deep history book examines exactly how humans did behave and reasons about how that will apply in the future.  The history book is way more insightful.

Recent books — Sabrina, Bad Blood, The Soul of America

  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso. Graphic novel, odd little story which wanders around and doesn’t really go anywhere.  Reviews were excellent but I found it dull.
  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. The Theranos story.  Wow. Unalloyed ambition, the worst of Silicon Valley.  Holmes and Balwani are clearly bad actors but their investors and legal partners get off too easily — they created and fed the monster.
  • The Soul of America by Jon Meacham.  Division and bigotry has been part of America forever, every generation has struggled with it.  The best of our Presidents have been unifiers and have worked to bring us together — and the country has survived the divisive demagogues, but it will take engagement and action on all our parts.  Excellent perspective.

We need more CSNY “Ohio”

CSNY’s “Ohio” (Wikipedia, Youtube ) hits me hard every time I hear it.  I still see the bodies on the news, the classmates in anguish. “How many more” resonates through my head.

CSNY pushed that record out in 3 weeks.  They were at the top of their careers, already had an album for sale, but they didn’t play it safe, they made an emotional statement that resonates to this day.   I was quite young, but this event hit me hard and contributed to my suspicion of authority and power.

We have terrible issues in society today.  Gun violence and school shootings affecting many more people.  Inhumane treatment of desperate people at our borders.  None of the artists of today want my opinion — but too often I see artists talking at rallies and events, but it is their art that is impactful and emotional, and they could be more effective in reaching us if they spoke through their art.

One artist that is doing it today is Donald Glover — if you haven’t seen Childish Gambino – This Is America (Official Video), you should.  It is hard to watch.  I am sure there are others.

Recent Books — Ninefox Gambit, Have You Tried Working, The Darkening Age

  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee.  This settled down into basic space opera but some fun language and ideas about an era in which we have dramatically more control over the physical world.
  • Have You Tried Working? By Anthony Gardner.  Ugh.  Poorly written, and then his flippancy about CTE turned me completely off.  Can’t figure out why I bought this.
  • The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey.  This won’t be popular with some people, a look into how the intolerant early Christian Church destroyed the arts, literature, and science of Western world and contributed to the dark ages.

Recent Books — Six Wakes, Wrong Stars, Scarlet Sky, Wolves of Winter

  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty.  Awesome tale of 6 travelers on a space ship, trying to figure out who among them is trying to kill all of them.  Agatha Christie in space!
  • The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt.  Space opera — pirates, aliens, wormholes, etc.  Fun but not that memorable.
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  World War II escapades of a young Italian spy. Based on a true story, very engaging.
  • The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson.  Post-apocalyptic tale of survivors in the Yukon.  Ok but pretty well-trod ground.

Recent Books — Semiosis, No One Is Coming to Save Us, Originals, Kamau Bell, Bellassai, Nanoscale Communications

  • Semiosis by Sue Burke.  Very good first contact tale, the things we meet might be very very different than us.
  • No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts.  Another independent bookstore pick up, waaaay outside my comfort zone, and I just couldn’t get thru it.  
  • Originals by Adam Grant.  I expected to hate this as I tend not to enjoy pop business books, or books that justify people being jerks.  But it was better than that.  Useful tools for encouraging creativity in yourself and your teams.
  • The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell. Interesting story of a developing comic and his experiences with racism. I need to watch his show on CNN.
  • Everything is Awful by Matt Bellassai.  Another book by a comic, and this one is thin gruel after reading Bell above.  Couldn’t finish, seemed so lightweight.
  • Nanoscale Communication Networks by Stephen F. Bush.  From 2010, so in this field this is like a billion years old,  but still interesting.  Transport mechanisms, delay characteristics, accuracy are so different at the nanoscale.

Recent Books — Ungentlemanly Warfare, AJ Fikry, March, Amatka

  • Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. Deep dive into the British efforts to combat the Nazis with sabotage, resistance, even terrorism. Well done.
  • The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I picked this up at random on Independent Bookstore Day at Elliott Bay Bookstore.  Fantastic hopeful book about loss and love.  Great characters.  Very glad I took the chance — what I really like about independent bookstores is their “staff picks” area.
  • March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell.  Great graphic novel about the life of John Lewis.
  • Amatka by Karen Tidbeck.  Another Independent Bookstore Day purchase.  A town whose very existence is defined and controlled by language, and what happens as some of the residents start to rebel against control and language.  A little trippy but I enjoy tales like these.