Following the very ambitious and successful 2016 challenge, I have decided to keep the goal at the same level of 36 books for 2017 to prove to myself that it is sustainable and wasn’t a one-off success. Surprising myself, I have crushed the goal and finished 39 books this year. Below is summary of the best of those books.
Business, Management and Leadership
After changing my job at the beginning of 2017 and returning to Swiftype to focus on Technical Operations team leadership, I continued working on improving my skills in this area and read a number of truly awesome books:
- “The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done” by Peter F. Drucker — this classic has immediately become one of my favourite leadership books of all time. There are many useful lessons I learned from it (like the notion that all knowledge workers should consider themselves executives in some sense), but the most powerful was the part on executive time management.
- “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal” by Nick Bilton — A truly horrifying “Game of Thrones”-like story behind the early years of Twitter. I didn’t think shit like that actually happened in real life… I guess the book made me grow up a little and realize, that simply doing your best to push your company forward is not always enough. I’d highly recommend this book to anybody working in a fast growing company or thinking about starting a VC-backed business.
- “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE” by Phil Knight — a great story of a great company built by regular people striving for quality results. Heavily reinforces the notion that to be an entrepreneur you need to be a bit crazy and slightly masochistic. Overall, a very fascinating tale of a multi-decade development of a company — a strong contrast with all the modern stories about internet businesses. A must read for people thinking about starting a business.
Health, Medicine and Mortality
I have always been fascinated by the history of medicine, medical stories and the inner workings of the modern medical system. Unfortunately, this year I’ve had to interact with it a lot and that made me seriously consider the fact of our mortality. This has led me upon a quest to learn more about the topics of medicine, mortality and philosophy.
- “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi — Fantastic memoir! Terrifying, depressing, beautifully described story of a young neurosurgeon, his cancer diagnosis, his battle with the horrible disease and up to the very end of his life. I found the story of Paul very relatable and just like with Atul Gawande’s book I’ve read last year, it brought forth very important questions on how should we deal with our own mortality. Paul gave us a great example of one of the options for how we may choose to spend our last days — the same way we may want to spend our lives: “You can’t reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving”.
- “The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee — probably the best book on cancer out there (based on my limited research). The author takes us on a long, very interesting and terrifying trip through the dark ages of human war against cancer and explains why after so much time we are still only starting to understand how to deal with it and there is still a long road ahead. Highly recommended to anybody interested in the history of medicine or wants to understand more about the reason behind a malady that kills more than 8 million people each year.
- “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science” by Atul Gawande — once again, one of my favourite authors manages to explain a hard problem of complications in healthcare and give us a sobering look at the limits and fallibilities of modern medicine.
- Bonus: “On The Shortness Of Life” by Seneca — It is amazing how something written 2000 years ago can have such profound relevance today. I found this short book really inspiring and it has led me to start my road to adapting some of Stoic techniques including mindfulness and meditation.
Few more books I found very interesting:
- “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah — Listened to this book on Audible and absolutely loved it! Hearing Noah’s voice describing his crazy childhood in South Africa mixing fun and absolutely horrifying details of his life there and the struggles he had to endure being a coloured kid under and right after Apartheid.
Even though it was never as scary as what Noah is describing in his book, I have found in his stories a lot of things I could relate to based on my childhood in late USSR and then in 1990s Ukraine which was going through an economic meltdown with all of the usual attributes like crime and crazy unemployment.
- “I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons” by Kevin Hart — I have never been a particular fan of Kevin Hart. Not that I disliked him, just didn’t really follow his career. This book (I absolutely recommend the audiobook version!) ended up being one of the biggest literary surprises ever for me: it is the funniest inspirational read and the most inspiring comic memoir I’ve ever read (or, in this case, listened to). Kevin’s dedication to his craft, his work ethic and perseverance are truly inspiring and his success is absolutely well-earned.
- “Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground” by Kevin Poulsen — Terrifying read… I’ve never realized how close the early years of my career as a systems administrator and developer took me to the crazy world of underground computer crime that was unfolding around us.
I’ve spent a few weeks week wondering if doing what Max and other people in this story did is the result of an innate personality trait or just a set of coincidences, a bad hand the life deals a computer specialist, turning them into a criminal. For many people working in this industry, it is always about the craft, the challenge of building systems (just like the bind hack was for Max) and I am not sure there is a point in one’s career when you make a conscious decision to become a criminal. Unfortunately, even after finishing the book I don’t have an answer to this question.
The book is a fascinating primer on the effects of bad and the need for good security in today’s computerized society and I’d highly recommend it to everybody working with computers on a daily basis.
- “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari — very interesting insight into the crazy modern world of dating and romance. Made me really appreciate the fact that I have already found the love of my life and hope will never need to participate in the technology-driven culture today’s singles have to deal with. Really recommend listening to the audiobook, Aziz is very funny even when he’s talking about a serious topic like this.
- “The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country” by Helen Russell — Really liked this book. It offers a glimpse into a society surprisingly different from what many modern North Americans would consider normal. Reading about all kinds of Danish customs, I would think back to the times I grew up in USSR and realize, that modern Danish life is very close to what was promised by the party back then. The only difference — they’ve managed to make it work long term.
Even though not many of us could or want to relocate to Denmark or to affect our government policies, there is a lot in this book that many of us could apply in our lives: trusting people more, striving for a better work-life balance, exercising more, surrounding ourselves with beautiful things, etc.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the best books I’ve read in 2017. Let me know you liked it!