books I've read in 2023

Wednesday December 27th 2023 by SocraticDev

Although I seem to be reading 3-5 books at the same time, I've read some books cover to cover and now, I wanna dig a bit into them in this blog post. Surprise! zero books about programming per se. Perhaps a reflect on the state of my career: writing less code, but providing value by getting stuff done by other means. For example, LEAN and systems thinking provide infinite value by being thinking more clearly about the objectives: the value provided thru the software delivery lifecycle.

Reading literature classics, unusual stories, and non-tech related books are also important to unwind and have a good time.

This year was a good year in books: a healthy mix of tech and non-tech books

qntm(2018), "There is no Antimemetics Division"

This "sci-fi" novel is the best story I've read in 2023. I surrounded sci-fi by quotation marks because it is not your regular science-fiction novel. It is nothing you've read before: a mix between philosophy, journalism, and science-fiction. You'll read the narrative of a researcher who works at a mysterious institution, the Antimemetics Division where the subject-matter is memory and how it can be weaponized.

"An antimeme is an idea with self-censoring properties; an idea which, by its intrinsic nature, discourages or prevents people from spreading it.

Antimemes are real. Think of any piece of information which you wouldn't share with anybody, like passwords, taboos and dirty secrets. Or any piece of information which would be difficult to share even if you tried: complex equations, very boring passages of text, large blocks of random numbers, and dreams...

But anomalous antimemes are another matter entirely. How do you contain something you can't record or remember? How do you fight a war against an enemy with effortless, perfect camouflage, when you can never even know that you're at war?

Welcome to the Antimemetics Division.

No, this is not your first day."

John Carreyrou(2018), "Bad Blood", Knopf

In late 2015, Carreyrou began a series of investigative articles on Theranos, published in The Wall Street Journal on the blood-testing startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes. The articles questioned the company's claim to be able to run a wide range of lab tests from a tiny sample of blood from a finger prick.

Carreyrou's Wall Street Journal articles were instrumental to blowing the whistle over Theranos scam and led to its fall.

Beyond what the public already knows about the Theranos debacle, I took home a few learnings that consolidate my opinion about the evil side of human nature. Especially since lying and "faking it" have become de rigueur for those who care about reaching poorly reflected on goals. Stretching the truth, making excuses, and making use of fallacies such as as appeals to pity are daily faults to most of humanity. Innofensive crimes most of the time. Most of the time we simply stop trusting such characters. But when such characters are charismatic enough to fool the powerful people of the world, they gather an almost invincible strenght. And that's what happened in Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes and her lover, Ramesh Balwani, rose to power by money and blind trust shoveled their way from four-star american general James Mattis and other major figures. And with money they were able to silence their employees with systematic use of intimidation by infamous lawyer David Boies. That David Boies who is known to leverage private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents, to track and intimidate victims and journalists.

Ian Gibbons (1946-2013) was a british biochemist who served as Chief scientist of Theranos. In 2013, Gibbons intentionally overdosed on acetaminophen the night before he was scheduled to be deposed in a lawsuit related to Theranos. He was hospitalized for several days and died from liver failure.

What marked me in this sotry was he untimely death, by suicide, of a Theranos employee Mental health being just as important as physical health, such events are a cold reminder that we are not our job. Despite the constant demand to be a team player and to bend over backward to employer, I would offer but one advice: play the role for which you're paid for, but preserve your autonomy at all cost. Concretely: keep at least a year salary in your bank account, live below your means, and invest in yourself.

Whatever seeds each man cultivates will grow to maturity and bear in him their own fruit.
Pico della Mirandola

Donella H. Meadows(2008), "Thinking in Systems"

Another book that challenges deeply rooted misconceptions and proposes a new paradigm to reflect about systems. Getting introduced to systems analysis will improve your professional success and the value you provide your customers.

Systems analysis is "the process of studying a procedure or business to identify its goal and purposes and create systems and procedures that will efficiently achieve them"

Gene Kim(2014), "The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win"

A cute novel about a newly minted manager learning how to improve process at his workplace.

This book was recommended by my team's dev manager. I had started reading it but stopped because I experienced cringe from it... Came back to it a few months later and glad I did. Beyond the cringe, I've learned it exposed this manager's profesionnal philosophy. A philosophy based on LEAN and understanding the importance of flow; even in a software engineering context.

While the manufacturing metaphor doesn't perfectly fits software engineering, I'm sure software engineers' happiness will improve if their managers adopt some sort of LEAN mindset. Otherwise, competent engineers will get slowed down by lack of a sound process or assigned to soul-sucking duties by un-enlightened managers who reward firefighters and yes-persons.

Skelton and Pais(2019), "Team Topologies"

Most people working tech don't really know what they are doing. Software developers fuss over design patterns, linting, and code review while hating security and operations people. Operations people are suspicious about developers creating bugs. Product people can't figure out why they developers can't "just" produce what they want (emphasis on the awful word "just").

Reading books like Team Topologies, Systems thinking, and The Phoenix Project are must read for everyone to build a comprehensive, holistic, vision of the software delivery lifecycle (SDLC). And be better and happier at their role.

How to organize development in an organization? Team Topologies provide a thorough framework to do so. It is also the new trend in modern software delivery: a healthy mix of software craftmanship and LEAN thinking.

Here is what Martin Fowler says about Team Topologies:

"Team Topologies is designed explicitly recognizing the influence of Conways Law. The team organization that it encourages takes into account the interplay between human and software organization. Advocates of Team Topologies intend its team structure to shape the future development of the software architecture into responsive and decoupled components aligned to business needs.

George Box neatly quipped: "all models are wrong, some are useful". Thus Team Topologies is wrong: complex organizations cannot be simply broken down into just four kinds of teams and three kinds of interactions. But constraints like this are what makes a model useful. Team Topologies is a tool that impels people to evolve their organization into a more effective way of operating, one that allows stream-aligned teams to maximize their flow by lightening their cognitive load."

Neil Strauss(2011), "Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness"

I love Neil Strauss writing. He is known as a "pop culture journalist" who had written books about american survivalist groups as well as pick-up artist (seduction) groups.

"the book is a compilation of more than 200 interviews" with artists like Trent Reznor, Neil Young, Courtney Love, stc.

Great read!

Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe(2023), "When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World's Most Powerful Consulting Firm"

I was a big fan of conspiracy theories... until things went out for hand with Trump and COVID.

If there is an entity who controls the world, McKinsey Consulting firm is the first suspect.

This is a book for decent skeptics who are now unable to quench to the conspiracy theories well without a bad conscience.

Jonathan Ames(2001), "What's not to love?"

Not a book for everyone. If you're not comfortable reading about really kinky stuff or if you're looking for moral improvement it ain't for you.

Me? I just love Jonathan Ames. I read his books cover to cover within hours, usually.

"This wonderfully entertaining memoir is a touching and humorous look at life in New York City. But this is life for an author who can proclaim “my first sexual experience was rather old-fashioned: it was with a prostitute”–an author who can talk about his desire to be a model for the Hair Club for Men and about meeting his son for the first time."

Mark Twain(1885), "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

Wow! Travelling on the Mississippi in the mind of a runaway youth in the 19th century. It naively depicts slavery, con artistery, and frienship in an entertaining fashion.

A classic everyone should read.

Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, the narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective) and a friend of Tom Sawyer. It is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The book is noted for "changing the course of children's literature" in the United States for the "deeply felt portrayal of boyhood". [better source needed] It is also known for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Set in a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist over 20 years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism and freedom.

Maurice Maeterlinck(1890), "Les Aveugles"

19th century short play by Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck. A quick read I imposed on myself before attending the play at local theater.

At Quebec City's "Le Diamant" theater, no more than 50 spectators enter a totally dark room and clumsily find a seat. On stage are 12 lighted faces projected on blank masks.

"Twelve blind people, six men and six women, are portrayed. They go out for a walk under the guidance of their hospice chaplain. The priest sits them on tree stumps and stones in a “very ancient northern forest” and tells them to wait for his return. But he doesn't come back. Night falls, the blind talk among themselves..."

Les Aveugles(The Blinds) is a one-act play, written in 1890 by Maurice Maeterlinck. As part of an artistic residency at the multimedia room of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal, Denis Marleau chose to approach the piece by continuing his research on video integration in theater. The technological phantasmagoria that results from this creative work at the museum is a “theatrical session” lasting 45 minutes where the play Les Aveugles is played entirely by video projections on masks. Two actors, Céline Bonnier and Paul Savoie, play the twelve characters. Denis Marleau thus crosses the own reflections of Maeterlinck, who like Jarry and later Craig, sought in his writings on the theater another alternative than the living actor as vector of the text through effigies, puppets or other shadow projections . This innovative project uses cutting-edge technology which demonstrates that theater can be in complete harmony with the times. It has been presented nearly 800 times in around twenty countries on four continents. Le Diamant, "Les Aveugles", 2023

J.D. Salinger(1953), "Nine Stories"

Oh my god! this book is the best piece of literature I had read in a long while. Perfect prose, awesome story telling.

"The themes of alienation, concealment, and disguise run through Nine Stories as a whole. The Laughing Man literally wears a mask to cover up his deformities; other characters, like the narrator of "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period," pretend to be someone they are not in order to disguise their fear and insecurity."

Bruce Schneier(2024), "A Hacker's Mind"

This book isn't bad, but I would not recommend it.

In a nutshell, the author insists on not talking about computer hacking, but about non-technical frauds and law-bending events that, by some stretch, are hacking too.

There are so many great books waiting to be read, this is not one of them.