My 2021 in Books
Back in the days, I used to read a lot. I would have a book in my hands every chance I had. Then came the period when I started reading much less for various reasons; this period lasting a while. A few years ago, I decided to fix this by explicitly setting aside some time to read and by listening to audiobooks in the gym. Then, COVID hit, meaning no gym, but possibly, more opportunities to read at home; I kind of naturally started to read a little bit more. And at the beginning of 2021, I set a goal on Goodreads to read five books in a year. It's not much, but you have to start somewhere, and, IMO, it's more motivating to hit a goal and over-achieve it than to under-achieve.
Goodreads reports that I've read ten books, which isn't true because there are two papers on this list, an audiobook that I finally finished from before, and a book that I started in 2020; it's a huge one, though.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky (started in 2020)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is the best fanfic I have ever read. It is about Harry Potter, about methods of rationality, and it is written by a decision theorist, artificial intelligence theorist, and a co-founder and research fellow at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. If that isn't enough of a recommendation for you, look at the chapter titles on the book's website and check out my review.
Deep Learning for Coders with fastai & PyTorch by Jeremy Howard and Sylvain Gugger
This book is one of the best and practical introductory courses about Deep Learning – I love how practical it is. The excerpt below should give a better understanding of what I am talking about:
Harvard professor David Perkins, who wrote Making Learning Whole (Jossey-Bass), has much to say about teaching. The basic idea is to teach the whole game. That means that if you're teaching baseball, you first take people to a baseball game or get them to play it. You don't teach them how to wind twine to make a baseball from scratch, the physics of a parabola, or the coefficient of friction of a ball on a bat.
So, here's our commitment to you. Throughout this book, we will follow these principles:
• Teaching the whole game. We'll start by showing how to use a complete, working, very usable, state-of-the-art deep learning network to solve real-world problems, using simple, expressive tools. And then we'll gradually dig deeper and deeper into understanding how those tools are made, and how the tools that make those tools are made, and so on…
• Always teaching through examples. We'll ensure that there is a context and a purpose that you can understand intuitively, rather than starting with algebraic symbol manipulation.
• Simplifying as much as possible. We've spent years building tools and teaching methods that make previously complex topics very simple.
• Removing barriers. Deep learning has, until now, been a very exclusive game. We're breaking it open, and ensuring that everyone can play.
The book covers the most relevant areas of machine learning, including deep learning for computer vision and natural language processing, decision trees, and collaborative filtering. The book and the course are comparatively modern. They were both updated in August of 2020. The course is available at course.fast.ai. The book is entirely written in Jupyter Notebooks and is freely available on GitHub. Still, if you want to read it from your reader's convenience, you can grab a copy from Amazon or Kobo and support the authors.
Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters by Ryan Singer
The book describes a robust software development methodology honed inside of Basecamp. The methodology is laser-focused on shipping the product and features that matter to the end-user, provides ways to manage risks, and enables autonomy of developers, benefiting velocity. It profoundly resonates with me, and I love the idea of appetites vs. estimates a lot. It is my favorite methodology now, highly recommended to anyone involved with software development. The book is available freely here.
It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
A fun book about work organization practices. It overlaps with Shape Up (and other "Books by Basecamp") in some aspects, but, despite that, offers unique ideas and perspectives. It is also less focused on software development. If you are running a modern company, you'll find something useful in this book, no matter the industry.
Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
Great book about remote work that was written before remote work became mainstream. It has something to offer, even to someone who has been successfully working remotely for a few years already, and it is a delightful read.
Read more about these three and other "books by Basecamp" in my review here.
The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
The Lean Startup is another entertaining and enlightening book about building startups. I love the ideas and the illustrations presented, and I am itching to apply the lessons learned.
Instead, the way forward is to learn to see every startup in any industry as a grand experiment. The question is not "Can this product be built?" In the modern economy, almost any product that can be imagined can be built. The more pertinent questions are "Should this product be built?" and "Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?" To answer those questions, we need a method for systematically breaking down a business plan into its component parts and testing each part empirically. In other words, we need the scientific method. In the Lean Startup model, every product, every feature, every marketing campaign—everything a startup does—is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning.
The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John C. Bogle
Your chances of earning your fair share of the market's returns are greatly enhanced if you minimize your trading in stocks.
This book is an excellent introduction to investing. The author sold me on index funds. This is not surprising because he is the creator of the first index fund. Now I am interested in reading a book presenting an opposing view.
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
This is the audiobook that I started earlier and finished in 2021. The funny thing is that I do not remember having the intention to read or listen to this book. If I remember correctly, I listened to it only because it was available for free with the Audible subscription back then, and I wanted to listen to something at that moment. I picked it because it was the only business book in the selection. Now, I am happy to say that the book exceeded my expectations. It is a great book on management that, in my opinion, will benefit everyone, from individual contributors to managers of any level. The book focuses on the idea of extreme ownership, which is explained from different perspectives using different real-life illustrations from both business and military worlds.
[Paper] No Silver Bullet Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
This is one of the most known articles on software development. It's short, so instead of reading me paraphrasing ideas from it to you, just read it yourself.
[Paper] Computing machinery and intelligence by Alan Turing
This one is another classical article, this time on artificial intelligence. This famous paper asks the question "Can machines think?" and introduces the renowned Turing test to help answer it. This one I highly recommend to everyone. And, yet again, it's short, so just read it – trust me.
Last year I read many more papers on AI and ML, but listing them here won't fit the format of this post. If you are interested in discussing AI, follow me on Twitter.
This year, my reading goal is to read seven books, and I already have enough books beside me to fulfill it, thanks to Grid and my friends from whom I received a few fantastic books at the end of last year.