Transformative Reading ... 2017 Edition?!

So I found this list of books I read and which I wanted to put on this blog in my inbox.

It’s from a migration from OmniFocus to Emacs/org-mode from 2019, and the title is “Transformative Reading 2017”.

What were the picks back then?

And being 7 (!) years wiser, what do I think about the picks now?

Here’s the list. I don’t know why I originally ordered them this way, but I left it as-is.

The book links are affiliate links. I’m only linking books I do actually think are worth buying. I’m also handing out 1 to 5 stars in total, but each ranking only once. The rest goes unranked.

Transformative Reading 2017

  • Scott Rosenberg: (2007) Dreaming in Code
    • ★☆☆☆☆ Was a fun story about, as the subtitle says: “Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software”. You won’t learn how to program, but you’ll learn something about programmer culture and open source.
  • Gerald M Weinberg (1971): Psychology of Computer Programming
    • I don’t remember much, but I have 2 notes in my Zettelkasten from 2017 about the difference between observation and experiment, which I planned (and still plan) to use in WordCounter. Not sure if you should pick it up.
  • Nassim Taleb (2012): Antifragile
    • ★★☆☆☆ 10 notes in my Zettelkasten, the highest count of all on this list. I remember I found the book a bit confusing, going here and there, back and forth. But at the same time not hard to read at all. It’s well written, after all, but idiosyncratically structured. If you’re interested in cognitive biases and fallacies, you’ve probably already read this book. It was a huge thing a decade ago. I like to read stuff like this because it feels like I’m becoming more aware of how brittle or arbitrary everything I have in my mind actually is. Since nothing’s really as certain as my brain wants me to believe, this helps a bit with holding beliefs less strongly.
  • Matthew B. Crawford (2010): Shop Class as Soulcraft
    • ★★★★★ Still resonates with me a lot. This is what I believe work should be. I also found immediate moments of happiness in manual work after reading the book which made me think back to this. Recommended to everyone working on computers all day to think about what work is.
  • Edward Yourdon: Object-Oriented Systems Design
    • No notes in my Zettelkasten, but paging through the book, I see lots of marginal notes. Maybe this was the book that mentioned all these high software project failure rates? I do remember that this book sounded more like talking to a consultant than talking to a programmer. On the inside cover, I wrote: “lots of rave about CASE tools, all the time…” Never heard of that? I guess it’s because whatever came out of that movement culminated in UML. You can skip this book, except if you’re interested in its value as a historic document.
  • Neil Fiore (2007): The Now Habit
    • I know it’s a popular book, but I don’t remember anything now. My Zettelkasten says the book is the origin of “Work hard, play hard”. So that’s something. Searching for the book, I get notes on procrastination. I can also tell I never revisited these notes since 2012. Wait. 2012? Apparently I read the book 5 years prior, too?
  • Michael and Sarah Bennett: F*ck Love
    • Ugh. The humor is not lost on me, but it was a bit much. No Zettel have been written. I do recall that professionaling the screening process resonated with me, as in: taking this topic serious, and not leaving finding a mate for life and marry her to feelings, which are fickle at best. The substance is good, there’s solid advice. For me, this ties into an idea complex that was opened by Robert Solomon (1976): The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life, a philosophical book.
  • Debora Phillips and Robert Judd (1982): How to Fall out of Love
    • I wasn’t in a relationship at the time and not in love with anyone, but wanted to know more about the topic, I recall. I did create a couple of notes in my Zettelkasten, to my surprise, with gems like “To forget someone means to overwrite everyday expectations”, pointing out that the felling of hurt is tied to mundane situations that remind us of a past lover. Notes like this make the book worth to me, but I don’t know if it’s worth your while? I would re-read this with a teenage child to be prepared.
  • Jocko Willink: Extreme Ownership
    • I remember brouhaha and war stories, but regarding the substance, the term “Extreme Ownership” really says it all. Which kind of indicates that the book did its job! The concept of taking extreme ownership is great, but the book you could replace with YouTube videos and podcasts on the topic. One or two inspiring anecdotes should suffice to anchor the idea.
  • Fukuoka: The One-Straw Revolution
    • ★★★☆☆ Farming and gardening! I really like the topic. This is about rice farming, and mulching, and how you can produce a lot without doing all too much of anything. Permaculture fans will know this, the gardeners may enjoy this.
  • Guy Claxton (1999): Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind
    • Mixing this up with “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in my head. Same category for me. Interesting, but I don’t recall details. Falls into the category of “transformative by making me question my beliefs a bit more”. Only note in my Zettelkasten related to this book is actually St. Augustine: “I cannot totally grasp all that I am. The mind is not large enough to contain itself.” That’s a very generalizable principle!
  • Elizabeth Gilbert (2006): Eat, Pray, Love
    • ★★★★☆ I still recommend this book. That one does have transformative potential. Well, it had for me. Priorities in life; going on adventures; discover yourself a bit more in silence and soliture. And do not focus on the mundane too much. Leave room for exploration. “Spirituality” is such an awkward term, but I don’t know anything better. Above I mentioned Shop Class as Soulcraft, and that is about working with your hands more to discover something about your human nature. That’s also kinda sorta spiritual. Eat, Pray, Love is even more so. I don’t have a hard time thinking about the ‘learnings’ from books like these without being offended by their ‘spiritual’ focus. Given that you, dear reader, are likely a tech-savvy person – maybe that’s not your cup of tea :)
  • Yuval Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Audiobook)
    • I remember I enjoyed listening to this, but I don’t remember anything. Other people also liked it. Harari became even more of a household name since then. Must be for a reason. No recommendation, but you could spend your time worse.

To summarize the experience of going through this list again: I am doing an awful job at processing notes from books!

I never take the time. Really, never. Not exaggerating. I’m reading, I’m thinking, but I’m coding the rest of the time, so a lot is lost. That’s a bit depressing.

It’s also funny to me that the books that really left an impression have little to do with work or self-help and everything to do with what could be called “spirituality” – a term I’m not fond of, because it sounds like hocus-pocus to me. Whatever category you put “the meaning of life” into, that’s what I mean. Closely followed by books that are making me question my beliefs more. The rest went into the underdark of my subconsciousness where all the good stuff probably is buried.