A weird way I started reading books was when I watched Tai Lopez’s Ted Talk about having a ‘mentor in writing’ through his habit of reading a book a day. In retrospect, taking advice from Tai Lopez was not one of my brightest decisions. Regardless of his digital marketing, I still have my iPhone notes book list titled “Mentor List” because I like the idea of having literary mentors teaching me. I will include the Title, Author, Rating, Several sentences in my thoughts, inspired by Peter Johnson’s own List. The books will be listed in chronological order finished. I hope to make this an annual tradition. At the end will have some sort of recap on my year’s reading habits, a breakdown of my reading choices, and what I hope to read more of next year.
- Ender’s Game ★★★★ Book brought me back to a feeling I had in my childhood, where anything was possible and everything was attainable. This sense of boundless confidence where I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I liked the feeling of nostalgia I got from it rather than the actual plot.
- American Kingpin ★★★★ How a Ph.D. student from PSU named Ross Ulbricht became the Dread Pirate Roberts, creator of the Silk Web. Really interesting how the story isn’t heard about anymore. Also, fascinating how one who believes in libertarian ideals, has intellect, and a desire to change society creates the Amazon of the dark web. Cool to see an avenue of this upcoming view of libertarianism being used in a technological way: the question is for good or for bad?
- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging ★★★★★ Concise: short and sweet. I like it. There’s a reason soldiers integrating back into society find it difficult, there’s a lack of a tribal belonging/place. Especially in the digital age, makes you think about the meaning of a 10–50 person tribe in the 21st century compared to the stone age.
- Flow ★★★★★ Probably the best book I’ve ever read. This book could be used as a daily bible by lots of people. The author’s life work compiled into several hundred pages, mixing philosophy, psychology, and history all into one book. Made me have a whole new lens of perspective on what should be done to maximize opportunities of ‘flow.’ Definitely need to re-read this at a later time. 6/5 stars!!!
- Education of an Idealist ★★★★ Autobiography on Samantha Power, former ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama. Really liked her story from immigrant to ascent into Obama’s campaign. Also, has a great way of projecting optimism upon the end of 2016 in 2017 and in the indefinite future, something I think good politicians are great at.
- Born Standing Up ★★★ Steve Martin’s autobiography. Definitely not a spectacular writer, but I could sense a feeling of being lost as a comedian, especially during his young adulthood that I haven’t seen reading anywhere else.
- Four ★★★★ Scott Galloway has this ominous, foreboding voice on big tech that really hooks the reader. Interesting to see how a marketer views technology and how angry he was at big tech changing the landscape of society with no regard to those who aren’t technically capable.
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products ★★★ Some interesting ideas here on what makes a product able to ‘hook’ a user. I thought his writing didn’t have enough tech vocabulary which is why I wasn’t too keen on it. Didn’t really show me a ‘Product Sense’ from the inside out which is what I would’ve liked. Cool Ted Talks though.
- In the Plex ★★★★★ There are so many books on Google’s history. I’m glad I chose this one. Subjectively, Steven Levy is the best Tech writer I’ve seen in articles/books/journalism. Although dense, it gives a great history on Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s ascent from meandering Ph.D. students to Google co-founders.
- Thinking Fast and Slow ★★★★★ Probably the most informative book I’ve read this year. Also made me fascinated by concepts such as decision theory, neuroeconomics, and behavioral economics. Really made me see how statistics and logical thinking should trump intuition, and how courses in statistics or mathematics will help in this (something the author didn’t really touch upon but what I could see between the lines). Definitely on the “re-read shelf” and will think about reading into ^those topics later.
- Sour Heart: Stories ★★★ An anthology of Asian-American stories that made me reconsider my families’ own immigrant story, comparing it to how different every immigrant families’ story is, and the implications of immigrant families’ future generations like my own(educationally, financially, geographically, professionally, etc.).
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ★★★★★ Among the shocking story of Maya Angelou, I loved the altering of her narration based on how old she was in the story. Angelou’s diction and thought processes changed depending on her stage in life which I have never seen before. Themes I enjoyed: the South, the African-American condition, optimism under oppression, and more. There’s a reason schools across the country require this in elementary schooling…
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future ★★★★★ Probably the most popular biography on Elon Musk to date. Such a unique person. What stuck out to me was his intellect, background, motivation, relationship with the media, love life, and ability to handle inhuman amounts of stress (cue to 2008). Peter Thiel labeled the early engineers of Paypal as an ‘odd mix of nerdiness + alpha maleness’. I see that in Elon Musk a lot.
- Catch 22 ★★★★ Noooow I get what this phrase means. It reminded me a lot of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and this loony sense of reality where you either go on a suicide mission or risk being deemed irrational and crazy by not going on a suicidal mission. Like what? Really makes you detrimental decision-making in our own lives, much like the concept of the ‘banality of evil’ from Hannah Arendt.
- What Happened ★★★ Hillary Clinton’s memoir on her infamous 2016 campaign. Read this while the 2020 Election Campaign was happening. I thought Hillary showed her deepest fears and aspirations, particularly how she had to battle as a woman against Donald Trump. I did think it felt too much of covering up for her loss and playing on her own strengths rather than her losses. I would’ve liked to see more vulnerability
- Dune ★★★★ Great world-building. Can see why this is a cult classic. Would’ve liked the latter half to slow down a bit as the world-building seemed to stop then and the plot accelerated SO fast. Excited for Timothee Chalomet + Zendaya + Jason Mamoa + Javier Bardem + Josh Brolin in this in 2021! Also, there are 6 books in this series. What else can happen in the rest of the 5??!!
Fiction (4) | Nonfiction (12)
Fiction: Sci-Fi (2) | Satire (1) | Anthology/Short Stories (1)
Nonfiction (Some Overlaps Here): Political (2) | Narrative Nonfiction (7) | Biography/Memoir (5) | Psychology (2) | Other Informative Books (3)
Hindsight: No more political books or technology books made by people who aren’t in tech or have a technology background, that was 4/16 books this year. I would rather have read books in other disciplines than those. For example, psychology, sociology, satire, history, all fields I probably would have gained more in. I should probably read fewer biographies as well and more of learning in a different field (humanities). Really want to delve more into history as I’ve always been a fan since APUSH but was sort of scarred from all the mindless reading done in that class. Also, seeing how 2 psychology books were my most favorite of the year, will definitely look into psychology/neuroscience readings for 2021!
Notable Papers I Read
- AlphaFold @ CASP13: “What just happened?”
- AlphaFold2 @ CASP14: “It feels like one’s child has left home.”
Podcasts I Listened To
- All in Podcast (Ep. 10–15) ★★★★★ My new favorite podcast. Feels like I’m in the room with a bunch of people much smarter than I am.