Mary Rose Cook's notebook

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Books I read in 2018

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries

A useful how-to for an approach to making sure the problem you're solving is one that it's valuable to solve, and making sure the solution you're creating actually solves the problem. Sometimes the descriptions were a bit wooly, making it hard to pin down the ideas.

The Odyssey, Homer

Read it in parallel with my dad. I loved talking about it with him. His feeling is that the gods are manifestations of the characters' emotions and desires.

I loved discovering the origins of so many tropes and symbols and myths.

Some of the phrasings were magical.

"The sun went down and all the ways grew dark."

"Athene, the goddess of the flashing eyes."

Arbitrary Stupid Goal, Tamara Shopsin

An account of growing up in the West Village in New York. The biographical specifics never branched out for me into any greater truths about the world.

The Swimming-Pool Library, Alan Hollinghurst

A novel about the lives of gay men in the '40s and '80s. Beautiful prose.

Principles, Ray Dalio

A memoir by the founder of a large investment firm. Lays out the author's approach to self-improvement. Makes a case for the value of quantifying the unquantifiable and analysing the unanalyzable. Helped me solidify my approach to improvement: do, reflect, adjust. I also loved the stuff about trying to face reality.

The New New Thing, Michael Lewis

Grit, Angela Duckworth

About the psychological trait of grit: perseverance plus long-term passion for a topic. The main thing I took from this is that success in an endeavour is about long-term dedication to a goal, as well as short-term persistence through adversity. But, overall, Mindset provided a much richer and more useful approach to the same terrain.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Elizabeth Pantley

Guess what happened this year.

Creative Selection, Ken Kocienda

A memoir written by an engineer who worked on the iPhone keyboard and on Safari. Fascinating descriptions of parts of the design process at Apple. Plus failed attempts to tie these methods into some sort of philosophy.

Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday

Some helpful stuff about making sure to solve a real problem.

The Death of Grass, John Christopher

A novel that is a systemic exploration of what happens in a world where most of the crops are killed by a disease. Badly executed: the system and the ideas poked through the characters and story all over the place. The Day of the Triffids maintains the facade of a novel much better.

Domain Modelling Made Functional, Scott Wlaschin

Domain driven design seems to often be enmeshed with object-oriented techniques. This book is a nice alternative that links it to functional techniques.

Also a lucid account of taking some business processes and implementing them with a functional approach.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters

A novel about a formerly rich mother and daughter who take in lodgers in order to stave off ruin. Waters's first novel, Tipping the Velvet, was one of my favourites as a teenager. The Paying Guests is the first book of hers that I've liked in a long time. I think perhaps because it captures a similar romantic frisson. It also manages a slow, painful narrowing of the world as things get bad for the characters.

Your Baby Week By Week, Caroline Fertleman

Can you guess?

The Art of Game Design, Jesse Schell

Very much from the school of let's-not-make-an-overfitted-grand-theory-and-instead-let's-use-many-different-models-(lenses)-to-find-insights. Solid.

Your Self-Confident Baby, Magda Gerber

The baby book that fit my brain the best. Help your child feel secure in your love. They can then use that as a base from which to build their own competence.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

A novel about magicians. Once it reached magical lands, I lost interest.

City of Thieves, David Benioff

A novel set during the siege of Leningrad. Two men go on a mission that takes them all over the city. It was interesting to read about what it's like to live under siege. I like WWII and I like reading about crisis situations, so this was right up my alley. But I didn't find the story very meaningful.

Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe

I enjoyed some of the descriptions of building subsistence. But I got tired of the minutiae of enacted plans.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, James Gleick

Taught me quite a lot about the history of written communication. I found the parts about Claude Shannon's work particularly interesting.

Learning Javascript Design Patterns, Addy Osmani

You Don't Know JS: Up & Going, Kyle Simpson

Peak, K. Anders Ericsson

About deliberate practice. It had useful tips on practicing effectively. But its main value was to shunt me further towards believing that I can learn anything.

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