2019 Books

Posted: 8 February 2019

Refer to First Post of 2019 for my thoughts on the books read in 2018. Looking forward to populating this page with more books in 2019!

21 Lessons for the 21st Century - Yuval Noah Harari

1st February 2019. This was a lot more refreshing than Homo Deus, though there are overlapping themes with Sapiens and Homo Deus. I really liked Harari’s idea of how “everything” is a construct - for example, countries are a construct. He ended the book with Meditation, and this coincided with the current trend of everyone meditating. Calm and Headspace are such examples, and the former company raised a whopping sum recently and achieved unicorn status. It’d be exciting to see how humanity develops over the next few years.

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles

8th July 2019. This book was one of the 5 books Bill Gates recommended reading for the summer of 2019. The book revolved around the life of a person living in a hotel as he was under “house arrest” there. When you first hear of it, it would seem boring but the author did a really good job of giving a glimpse of Russian history through a character.

A Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami

12th October 2019. This book was actually written in the 1990s and translated from Japanese. It’s written in weird English - probably to keep as close to the original Japanese version as much as possible. The story was… strange to say the least. Trying to understand it at a deeper level probably requires reading a few literature reviews about it. Nothing much more to write about here actually.

Clean Architecture - Robert C. Martin

24th July 2019. If there is a book you should read about software architecture, it has to be this. It can be read from end to end and gives you great insight into how to build maintainable software and not overengineer.

The Future of Capitalism - Paul Collier

August 2019. Once again, got this book from Gates Notes. Capitalism has worked well for the past 100 years. It’s lifted billions of people from “poverty”. I put poverty in quotes because when we think about it, money is concept constructed by society - are the poor really poor? They could be really happy living in a village and leading sustainable lifestyles, but society as is today judges that as a “failure”. This is a theme that’s closely related to Harari’s books.

Capitalism seems to put growth at all costs as the goal - this is worrying. Companies around the world constantly produce and produce and produce. Food and clothing are good examples. Just look around us - we throw away so much food, buy new clothes every few months and donate our old clothes. Is this really all necessary?

Well, it seems like Capitalism is the only known model that “works”. It is here to stay, but we need to rediscover an ethic of belonging, patriotism and belonging for it to continue to work. More often than not we hear of this term “global citizen” that’s used to describe a young 25 year old working professional who has the capability to live anywhere she wants because she is skilled. She has no sense of belonging to any location and does not contribute back to the cities that have helped in her becoming successful. The elite are propelled forward in life and the large middle class is left behind. Collier explained this is one of the reasons why we see the current situation in politics around the world - Trump, Brexit, etc.

The new “global citizen” needs to start remembering his roots. I can start by contributing back to Singapore.

Structures - J. E. Gordon

6th July 2019. I picked up this book because I saw that it’s one of the books that Elon Musk recommended - thought it must be good. It turned out to be a really interesting read. Whenever I look at structures now, I look at them with greater intent. For example, I’ll observe a building in New York City and wonder if the window is there because of the beam or because there’s reinforced concrete. If I look at bridge, I will observe the way it’s built and how the forces are spread. I also think of I-Beams as simply 2 flat pieces of metal supported by an “infinite mesh”.

The part on having large safety tolerances was insightful. We have to factor that into buildings as lives are involved, but for some reason, we do not do that for software. Why can’t we engineer large safety tolerances into software and build more stable products that are less buggy. When constructing a building, it has to be perfect. When constructing software, it seems like we allow for errors. To be fair, it’s not a direct comparison as a building takes 3 to 5 years of planning and another 5 to 10 years for construction. In a nutshell, I’m wondering how we can improve the software construction process.