2010 — Best and Worst Books I Read

by Krishna on February 22, 2011

So, here are the books I read and liked or hated last year. Some of these may have been published in previous years. And if you are interested, you can take a peek at the lists from 2009, 2008 and 2007. My book reading count is down to 75 this year and that includes a big share of smaller fiction books. No excuses, hope to do better this year!

Best Books I Read in 2010

  • The Big Short, by Michael Lewis: What were the origins of the financial crisis of 2007-present? What exactly are CDOs, the so-called “financial weapons of mass destruction”? Michael Lewis explains what you need to know through the actions of a few key players. I have rarely read a non-fiction book that was as gripping, even thrilling.
  • Good Boss, Bad Boss, by Robert Sutton: Every manager should be asked to read this book often to keep them grounded and aware of their actions. This is a book packed with meaning in every page.
  • How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, by William Poundstone: Much better than I expected. I thought it was just going to be a book about the kind of logical puzzles are asked in interviews. There is that, of course, and Poundstone has good explanations of the logic behind the solutions. But he doesn’t stop there and examines the practice of asking such questions and interview questions in general.
  • Switch, by Dan Heath, Chip Heath: It is easy to come up with ideas for change, but implementing them is hard. The Heaths discuss why it is so and how to move people and organizations towards change. Like their previous book “Made to Stick”, it is a pleasant, too-easy read and perhaps because of that, the authors probably don’t get the respect they deserve for their work.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams: This is fiction, of course, but it turns out that this classic novel about rabbits happens to have good insights into leadership and management. One of those books I should have read a long time ago.

Honorable mentions go to C# in Depth (Jon Skeet — the world’s best programming guru?),  Understanding Comics (Scott McCloud), and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson). Also, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, was way better than the movie.

Best author: Michael Lewis with Sutton as a close second.

Worst Books I Read in 2010

  • The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr: A totally incomprehensible book. The premise is that the Internet is destroying our mind. It seems to have already destroyed Carr’s brain.
  • 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know, by Kevlin Henney: Not particularly bad essays, but a horrible editing job. Too much information. No focus. Conflicting advice.
  • Superfreakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: Sequels rarely work and this is no exception. The authors fail miserably in their attempts to derive counter-intuitive results.
  • One Night at the Call Center, by Chetan Bhagat: Bhagat starts off well with a good portrayal of the mind-numbing work and politics at an Indian call center, but ends up with some incredibly racist views and unethical ideas.
  • Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton: I always found it strange that many science fiction authors are terrified of scientific progress. In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton through the medium of one of the most irritating fictional characters (Ian Malcolm) launches insane tirades against “meddling with nature”. 20 years later, it seems so silly.

Also the horrible A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, which I didn’t quite understand until I realized it was written in 1962 and probably was against communism (“the darkness”). Pretty amateur effort for a supposed classic.

Rework, by Jason Fried and David Hansson, probably belongs on both lists. It is an inspirational book with some good advice, but is also littered with questionable assertions. In fact, the more I think about “Rework”, the more it seems to slide into bad territory. Much of it is simply opinion backed by one data point (37Signals).

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