Posts Tagged ‘books’
Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg
Scott Rosenberg, who is a journalist writing for Salon, followed the team of the Chandler Personal Information Manager (PIM) around for the half a dozen years since their founding back in the early naughties.
The Chandler project was started by Mitch Kapor, the original author of Lotus 1-2-3. His goals for the project were ambitious and idealistic – he wanted to build something that could not just replace Microsoft Exchange, but that was also Open Source, decentralized and more generic. Like himself, the team around Kapor consisted of many veterans of successful software products. Despite that, the book ended up chronicling a tragic history, rather than an epic tale of success.
Over 5 or 6 years Rosenberg documented the progress of the project, it was redesigned from scratch again and again, important components were thrown out and rewritten, and personnel joined and left – all without anything being released that was actually useful to end-users.
Rosenberg writes in a way that is understandable for non-programmers – there are some technical terms, but for the most part the book is about the people, their motivations and their interactions. The book gives the reader some impression as to why large software projects are hard, but at the cost of making it sound like a mystical, nobody-knows-what-they’re-doing kind of process.
For programmers, there is a lot of classic computer science history – weaved through Chandlers tale – that is probably not very interesting, but that’s fairly easy to skim over. As a software engineer, I did cringe as I read about mistake after mistake that the Chandler team made – all of this seemed way too familiar.
If anything, Chandler serves as a warning as to what can go wrong with a software project.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
The main premise of this book is a world with a class system in which what colors you can perceive is what sets you apart. The protagonist is a “red”, who has been sent to the outer rims of civilization because he has shown signs of rebellion – attempting to improve queuing. It’s an interesting premise – and the book is full of absurdist humor. The story and the characters weren’t as interesting.
The Children of Men by P.D. James
If there is no future for the human race, what is the point of fighting for anything – of rebelling? P.D. James describes a world of infertility in which the last remaining youth is revered and everybody is meekly waiting for the world to come to an end. It’s an interesting concept for a post-apocalyptic book, but I felt the book was long-winded and then ended prematurely.
Three Famous Short Stories by William Faulkner
When I was visiting New Orleans we heard various stories about William Faulkner and his time drinking in the city. I had never read any Faulkner, so I figured now would be a good moment to try some. I eventually found a tiny book store – housed in one of the places Faulkner had lived. It was run by an old American lady and her dog, and I suspect they had been there for the last 20 or 30 years. Every visitor was consistently sniffed by the dog and greeted by the old lady. I asked her for recommendations on a first Faulkner and this is what she gave me.
These stories were a mixed bag. Spotted Horses did nothing for me. Old man was better – not because of the story but because of the characters. The Bear was my favorite, in particular his recreating the air and atmosphere of hunting in the south.
One Bloody Thing After Another by Joey Comeau
Picking a book merely based on the back cover blurb doesn’t always work out. It did for me in this case. One Bloody Thing After Another is as funny, weird and charming as it promised it would be. For a horror book, the characters are surprisingly winsome.
This is one of the best books I have read so far this year.
Why I Write by George Orwell
One in three books I read these days is written by Orwell. This is another collection of essays (Why I Write, The Lion and the Unicorn, A Hanging, Politics and the English Language), which overlaps with some of the other collections of essays I’ve read earlier. Why I Write is mildly interesting. The essay on socialism is longwinding and outdated. Politics and the English Language is good and still relevant.
Lamb by Christopher Moore
The first pages of this book express the hope that the reader find whatever they are looking for: that they will be offended, laugh or have their beliefs confirmed or challenged. I wasn’t specifically looking for anything, and I was not in the slightest offended (and I have a hard time imagining that any sane person would be), nor in any way enlightened. As for laughs, there were some pretty funny moments but overall the story was disappointing. If you’re looking for a funny and clever take on the down-to-earth life of a possible messiah in Judea during the reign of Augustus, watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian instead.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Pretty much what I expected from it. Travelogue of a drugged-up roadtrip, against a backdrop of the latter years of the American sixties. The book starts out very strong, but bored me more and more towards the end.
I’d still like to see Vegas sometime.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
More dystopia. I enjoyed the movie, and the book is good too. It took me a while to get past the annoying abundance of nadsat in the first dozen pages.
It’s been a while. Unfortunately my time for reading these days seems to be limited to the 30 minutes I spend on the tube each day.
Love in the time of cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
García Márquez describes the tragedy of life-long unrequited love.
A well written book, as you would expect from the writer of 100 years of solitude. It has all the nice little details that make the story come alive. I found it hard to like the two main characters; they’re both selfish to the extreme, obsessive and Florentino combines that with an almost catholic form of self-mortification. Yep, seems fairly realistic.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Together with 1984 this is perhaps one of the two 20th century novels about dystopian societies. Huxley paints a picture of a world in which there is bland, drug-aided happiness, eradicated of any expression that might upset the delicate balance that is keeping the populace calm and drowsy. The book heavily features eugenicist ideas and narcotics, which is understandable considering the time in which it was written. These days, what Savage calls the Brave New World seems a lot more outlandish than the world ruled by Big Brother in 1984.
I’m not sure which of the two I would prefer: passionate but suppressed or dozed and happy.
Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
I figured that after the collectivist What We Are Fighting For I should read something on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
No matter what you think of it – and regardless of whether it actually works in practice – this is a very good explanation of neoliberal theory.
Tickling the English by Dara O’Briain
This book describes O’Briain’s life on the road as he travels from venue to venue for one of his tours, intermixed with anecdotes, general observations about Britishness – from an Irishman – and some history.
I’m a fan of Mock the Week and Dara O’Briain’s standup, but this book disappointed. Despite being well-written, it feels unnecessarily long. It has some funny observations and good jokes, although a few I had already heard in his live show. Much of the content – like in Bill Bryson‘s Notes from a small island – is descriptions of English sea-side towns and theater architecture that I don’t really care for.
Readers browsing through the damaged library of Holland House in West London, wrecked by a bomb on 22 October 1940.