Not gonna lie. All those “Books of 2017” posts made me kinda wishing I kept a list of my own. No way for me to go back and figure out what I read last year (I give away most books once I’ve completed them) so instead will make this a living post, where I add as I finish. If we generously start 2018 on 12/26/2017, here’s what I’ve read so far in reverse-chron order:
14) Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou [non-fiction]
The Theranos story by the WSJ reporter who broke the fraud story wide open. I originally wasn’t interested in reading this, thinking my time was better spent consuming books I could learn from or which would inspire me, but it was an AMAZING read. Not just because Carreyrou’s a fabulous storyteller but because it produced an unexpected emotion in me: sadness. The Theranos lie was inspiring enough to pull together talented employees, the best of whom either quit quickly once they began to suspect something was wrong, or who were dumped by Holmes once they started to ask questions. But for anyone who has been part of a startup success story, you’ll recognize how special the convergence of talent can be. And what a waste of people’s time and talent. Carreyrou can’t answer the question of whether Theranos switched from moonshot to fraud on Day 1 or Day 1000 – that’s only known to its founder – but an unfortunately iconic book if you work in Silicon Valley.
13) The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – Richard Rothstein [non-fiction]
Wow, this was an important read. Rothstein basically shows that our country’s flawed and discriminatory housing history wasn’t just de facto segregation but de jure – that is, not the byproduct of private institutions and forces but law and policy decisions enforced by our government. Thank you Catherine Bracy for the gift.
12) In The Shadows of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History – New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu [non-fiction]
I’d heard Mayor Landrieu interviewed on a podcast and was impressed. This is a quick read based around his successful campaign to remove a stature of Robert E Lee from New Orleans. His second term of Mayor is coming to a close soon and this book is clearly part of the launching pad for “what’s next” but it’s also worthwhile hearing his perspectives on Katrina (and the recovery), the “Lost Cause” myth that hides racism and the complexity of big city systems.
11) Runaways: Volume 1 – Brian K Vaughan [fiction]
Every once in a while I jump into a graphic novel as a visual break. This one deals with a bunch of kids who discover their parents are supervillians. It’s ok.
10) Bad Stories: What The Hell Just Happened To Our Country – Steve Almond [non-fiction]
All the feels. This book left me nodding my head but did little to mitigate my anxiety about the combination of forces challenging our society today.
9) Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Succession – Chuck Thompson [non-fiction]
Yeah, uh, the title says it all. Part bomb-throwing humorist, part OpEd, part nutty screed.
8) Janesville, An American Story – Amy Goldstein [non-fiction]
Ethnographic study of a Wisconsin town in transition that makes you feel what “economic insecurity” feels like outside of its too-broad application in the 2016 election punditry. Beginning with the 2008 closing of an auto assembly plant that was already thousands of jobs smaller than during America’s industrial peak, Janesville is a pop in the mouth and tug on the heart. Here’s the NYTimes review from April 2017.
7) Brotopia – Emily Chang [non-fiction]
A year after Susan Fowler’s blog post we’re now at the point where talented writers like Emily can look at the “tech bro doing wrong” stories from a 10,000 ft level to help frame why we got here and some advice for how we get to a better place. It’s easy to read a book like this, encounter the most grievous examples of sexism, and shrug “that’s awful, but I’d never do that.” It’s more difficult for even well-intended men to know there’s still something (more likely *somethings*) we do that makes tech a less inviting place for women, and to resolve to listen, ask, learn and evolve.
6) Red Sparrow – Jason Matthews [fiction]
A friend recommended this on Twitter and I saw it was soon to be a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, who I generally like. Unfortunately, I forget that I don’t really love spy novels and the author used the word “sexpionage” non-ironically. So, yeah, maybe don’t read this one.
5) Against the Grain – James C Scott [non-fiction]
So, that whole thing about humans moving from hunter/gather to fixed agrarian society, and how it was awesome? Well James Scott has a bit of a contrarian viewpoint. He makes the argument that populations weren’t necessarily healthier and better off for domesticating themselves around crops. And that rather than these configurations giving rise to the stability of nation-states, that it was kinda the other way around. That nation-state needed agrarian populations to produce food for the kingdom, that this food could only be effectively harvested through use of slaves or indentured classes and that grains weren’t necessarily the *best* crops but rather than best crops for purposes of taxation. Read this if you’re into societal development stuff.
4) Finding Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [non-fiction]
You know when people talk about “being in the flow” – the stretches where you feel most alive and creative? When time passes without being aware of it? When you’re locked-in on a task that’s both hard and enjoyable? Mihaly is the grandfather of that concept. In Finding Flow, written 20 years ago, he further explains the concept of flow but also how to more regularly optimize for achieving flow in your everyday life. It’s ~150 pages (about 1/3rd of which are skimmable).
3) A Uterus Is A Feature, Not A Bug – Sarah Lacy [non-fiction]
A “personal” one for me as we’ve known Sarah and her family for a quite a while, but really bonded over becoming parents around the same time earlier this decade. Half-memoir, half-reporting, this was one where I didn’t want to let the year end without reading given my hope that 2017 was a turning point in how we think about gender in technology.
2) Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff [fiction]
I read very little fiction but when I saw that Jordan Peele optioned this book to turn into a HBO series….! Historical fiction + sci-fi + sociology of American racism I imagine this read is a bit too “pulp and cult” for some but I really enjoyed it.
1) Reset – Ellen Pao [non-fiction]
Bought this one after reading a stunning excerpt in New York magazine. I’d met Ellen a few times previously, but wasn’t until this past year that I’d say we became “friends” as we find our daughters in the same school, and more reasons to collaborate given her return to venture. Ellen used her voice to raise a bunch of systemic issues in our community and it’s hard not to see a straight line between her lawsuit and the #MeToo movement of 2017.