Shocker: they aren’t all self-help or by Stephen King.
This year I read/listened to about 41 books (“about” because I didn’t finish a couple of them and because I still have a week and a half left to finish a couple more). I mostly read non-fiction, self-help, and horror fiction. Below are some of the more memorable reads from this year.
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software — Charles Petzold
If you have ever been interested in how the nuts and bolts (bits and bytes?) of computers work, this is the book to read.
Petzold starts out describing data transfer via tin cans and string and quickly moves you on to telegraphs, relays, binary logic gates, etc.. until the end of the book when you have “built” a model computer with full features like memory and an assembly language.
I think the book is targeted more towards a lay-person with interest in computers, but it is a fun read regardless of your technical ability as long as you are willing to think while you read.
Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal — Sue Eisenfeld
I’m not a huge fan of reading history unless I can directly relate to the subject matter. In this case, I read Eisenfeld’s Shenandoah right before our camping trip to Shenandoah this year.
What’s interesting about Shenandoah National Park is that unlike its cousin parks out in the western United States, Shenandoah became a national landmark long after the land area was already inhabited by people. This means that if you visit the park today, you can find remnants of roads, cabins, cemeteries, and orchards all throughout the park.
This book looks at the history of the people of Shenandoah before the land became a park and the lasting effects that it has had on the United States.
Never Split the Difference is probably the best “self-help” book I read all year. You can find my notes on it in this previous post.
Voss was a master negotiator with the FBI, often helping negotiate for the lives of hostages. Each chapter provides an exciting story from his tenure with the FBI, along with the techniques he used to help direct the negotiation in his favor. He then goes into additional examples of how he has used these techniques when buying a new car, negotiating salary increases, and even how to get an unresponsive individual to respond to your emails.
Like any self-help book, it’s easy to read but more difficult to put into practice. I’ve already used many of the strategies Voss teaches in his book, and it is one of the most useful self-help books I’ve ever read.
I am not a huge fan of Jewel’s music, nor am I a folk music listener in general. Before reading this book, the only things I knew about Jewel was that she’s an Alaskan singer/songwriter that had a few hits in the late 90s.
After reading the book however, I learned that she is a pretty incredible person: she dealt with abuse from her family, lived out of her car for a while, paid her way through music school, is a yodeler, and has spent a lot of time about thinking about life and philosophy (one of my favorite observations from her was that “hardwoods grow slowly”, referencing how growth needs to be a long-term goal).
Overall, Jewel’s Never Broken has many good lessons and interesting stories from her time growing up as a folk singer. After reading it, I have a much better appreciation for her music too.
Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures — Robert K. Wittman
Another book on my list from a former FBI agent (these FBI guys sure do have interesting stories to tell!).
Robert Wittman specialized in art crime during his FBI tenure, helping track down stolen masterpieces. Lots of art crime is difficult to prosecute because details are difficult to verify — a lot of the time Wittman’s stories come down to Ocean’s Eleven style sting operations with lots of planning, false identities, and large SWAT teams storming into hotel rooms to take down the criminal dealers and save the works of art.
Besides the crime thriller aspect of the stories, the book also provides good introductory background on art and the different types of crimes that get committed, from breaking into and stealing from museums to illegally selling Native American bald eagle feather headdresses, making the book both exciting and informative.
The Hidden Life Of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Peter Wohlleben
Peter Wohlleben is a German forester who has spent his life in nature, initially as part of the logging industry but more recently as a custodian of natural growing forests. His book The Hidden Life Of Trees discusses the importance of diversified (yet native) flora and how old-growth natural (not planted by humans) forests have amazing ecosystems.
Wohlleben anthropomorphizes trees to the point that you will feel bad the next time you accidentally snap off a twig, however the book is full of amazing information about how trees “communicate” with each other and how trees share some of the same “senses” that we humans have like the senses of sound and touch.
The Hidden Life of Trees is a light read that will make you appreciative of your surroundings the next time you are taking a hike in the woods.
Full Dark, No Stars — Stephen King
I read six Stephen King books this year (still have quite the backlog to get through) and Full Dark was by far my favorite.
This book is a collection of four short stories. I only really liked three of the stories, but even so this is one of my favorite Stephen King books of all time.
Although I generally like all of King’s books, I think this one was especially great because it wasn’t focused on the psychic /other-worldly aspects like in many of his other stories — instead this book focuses on real-seeming characters with their real-seeming problems.
I think the relatability to the characters in this book is what makes the stories especially terrifying.
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