My Favourite Reads of 2023
16 Books that I most Enjoyed Reading in 2023
A New Year is upon us, and as I look back at the swiftly elapsed annum, I considered sharing the rich, variegated collection of books that have been my constant companion this year.
2023 has been conspicuously fecund in my bibliophilic journey, witnessing my traversal through an upwards of 200 tomes, encompassing both the tangible realms of paperbacks and hardcovers, and the ethereal domains of digital Kindle and Audible formats. The collection spans through philosophy, technology, personal development, and history.
It is imperative to articulate that my commendation of these works is not a wholesale approbation of the authors or their philosophies. Whilst I appreciate the insights and narratives, they do not invariably resonate with my own philosophical paradigms and life approach.
Furthermore, this assemblage is unfettered by hierarchical sequencing. Hence I chose not to number it. These selections surfaced as I meandered through the aisles of my physical and digital libraries, each chosen not for its ordinal supremacy but for the impact it imprinted.
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
This biography, more than just a chronicle of Leonardo's life, serves as an exploration into the depths of curiosity, creativity, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Isaacson deftly navigates through Leonardo's myriad inventions, artistic masterpieces, and unquenched thirst for understanding the intricate workings of the world.
What captivated me most was how Isaacson illuminated Leonardo's idiosyncratic approach to both art and science, eschewing conventional boundaries. His detailed dissections of anatomy, coupled with the fluid grace of his artistic strokes, embody a symbiosis of disciplines that I find deeply inspiring.
As a reader and a learner, I was drawn into the vortex of Leonardo's mind. Leonardo's relentless observation, incessant questioning, and boundless imagination reminds me that at the intersection of art and science lies the potential for transformative innovation and unparalleled creativity.
How to be Everything by Emilie Wapnick
This book is an ode to those of us who do not fit into the conventional moulds of specialised career paths. Wapnick introduces the concept of 'multipotentialites' – individuals, who possess a myriad of interests, talents, and potential career paths.
It is both an affirmation and a guide. It validates the experiences of those who feel constrained by societal norms that champion specialisation. Her insights delve into the unique strengths and challenges faced by multipotentialites, offering practical strategies for thriving in a world that often misunderstands or undervalues diverse interests and abilities.
It dismantles the myth of the 'one true calling.' She argues persuasively for the embracement of a dynamic career path that can adapt and evolve with one's changing interests and passions. This approach not only resonates with my personal experiences but also aligns seamlessly with the fluid nature of the modern work landscape.
Notes on Complexity by Neil Theise
Theise's work is a compelling exploration of the myriad ways in which complexity manifests in various systems, from cellular biology to cosmic structures. This book is a testament to the interconnectedness of all things, a principle that resonates deeply with my own understanding of the world.
Theise's narrative is both erudite and accessible, making the often esoteric subject of complexity theory engaging for a broader audience. His elucidation of how simple components can give rise to complex behaviours and patterns captivated me, drawing parallels with the vast network of knowledge that I navigate in my intellectual pursuits.
What particularly struck me was Theise's discussion on the implications of complexity theory for understanding consciousness and the nature of reality. His insights into emergent properties and self-organising systems challenged and expanded my perceptions of intelligence, awareness, and the fabric of existence.
It serves as a bridge between the abstract world of theory and practical, observable phenomena. Theise’s examples from biology, physics, and even social systems illustrate the ubiquity and importance of complexity in shaping the universe and our understanding of it.
Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland
This book resonated with my own experiences in the creative process, offering a nuanced exploration of the fears and anxieties that can inhibit artistic expression. Bayles and Orland articulate these challenges with a clarity that is both enlightening and validating.
What distinguishes "Art & Fear" is its compassionate understanding of the artist's journey. The authors dissect the myriad internal and external obstacles that artists encounter, from the daunting pursuit of originality to the complexities of navigating the art world.
I was particularly captivated by the book's exploration of the relationship between art-making and self-discovery. Bayles and Orland argue persuasively that the act of creating art is not merely a quest for external validation but a deeper journey into the self. This perspective resonates with my own belief in the transformative power of creative expression.
The authors offer practical advice for overcoming artistic blocks and sustaining creative practice. Their pragmatic approach is grounded in the reality of artistic work, acknowledging that perseverance and resilience are as crucial as talent and inspiration.
The Lightness of Being by Frank Wilczek
This book captivated me with its exploration of the concepts of mass, energy, and the core principles that constitute our universe. Wilczek's eloquence in explaining complex scientific ideas is both enlightening and invigorating.
What I found most enthralling in Wilczek's narrative is his ability to translate the abstractions of theoretical physics into tangible, comprehensible concepts. His discussion of the "Grid" – an underlying framework of the universe – and the interplay of its components offers a fresh perspective on understanding the fabric of existence. It's a perspective that aligns seamlessly with my own quest for knowledge that transcends disciplinary boundaries.
Wilczek also delves into the beauty and elegance of the universe's fundamental forces and particles. His insights into the nature of light and the ethereal quality of physical reality challenge conventional perceptions, inviting a deeper contemplation of the cosmos. This aligns closely with my belief in the interconnectedness of all things, from the microscopic to the cosmic scale.
The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson
This book offers a provocative examination of the subconscious drivers that influence our behaviour in social and personal contexts. Simler and Hanson meticulously dissect the often overlooked or intentionally concealed aspects of human psychology.
They delve into how evolutionary biology has shaped our brains to be self-serving, yet socially strategic. Their analysis of how we unconsciously manipulate and deceive not only others but also ourselves was particularly enlightening, revealing the complex machinations of the human psyche. The insights into the ulterior motives behind seemingly altruistic or rational behaviours provided a revealing lens through which to view societal norms and personal interactions.
It challenges readers to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and the human species at large. The book encourages a deeper self-awareness and understanding of our intrinsic biases and hidden agendas. Simler and Hanson's work is a crucial addition to the discourse on human behaviour and psychology. It serves as a powerful reminder of the complexities and contradictions inherent in human nature.
Conquest of the Americas by Marshall C. Eakin (The Great Courses)
Eakin's comprehensive narrative captures the complexity and multifaceted nature of Colonial Europe. Eakin's meticulous scholarship offers an in-depth analysis of the political, cultural, and economic factors that drove European powers to explore and ultimately conquer vast territories across the Americas.
One of the most compelling aspects of this course is Eakin's balanced perspective. He delves into the perspectives of both the conquerors and the indigenous populations, providing a nuanced understanding of the conquest. This approach resonated with me, as it aligns with my own belief in the importance of viewing historical events from multiple angles to fully grasp their complexity and long-term implications.
It illuminates the long-lasting consequences of these conquests, including the cultural exchanges, the economic transformations, and the profound shifts in global power dynamics. Eakin's analysis helped me to better understand how these events have shaped the modern world, influencing everything from global trade to cultural identity.
The Decisive Battles of World History by Gregory S. Aldrete (The Great Courses)
This course provides a comprehensive analysis of key battles that have significantly altered the course of human events, from ancient times to the modern era. Aldrete's expertise and engaging narrative style brought these historical episodes to life, providing insights into the strategic, technological, and human factors that influenced these critical confrontations.
What I found particularly fascinating was Aldrete's ability to contextualise each battle within its broader historical setting. He delves into the cultural, political, and economic conditions that set the stage for these conflicts, offering a rich backdrop against which these dramatic events unfolded.
Aldrete also explores the lasting impact of these battles, highlighting how they have shaped nations, redrawn borders, and influenced the development of military tactics and technologies. His analysis extends beyond the immediate outcomes, considering the long-term ramifications on societies, cultures, and global power dynamics.
It has deepened my understanding of how pivotal moments in military history have shaped our world, offering invaluable lessons on leadership, strategy, and the human spirit.
The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition by Daniel N. Robinson (The Great Courses)
This course from The Great Courses series serves as a comprehensive and insightful journey through the evolution of philosophical ideas, from the ancient Greeks to contemporary thinkers. Robinson's articulate and thought-provoking lectures not only provide historical context but also delve into the profound questions and ideas that have shaped human understanding and inquiry.
What I found particularly compelling about this course was Robinson's ability to make complex philosophical concepts accessible and relevant. He articulates the ideas of great philosophers with clarity and depth, drawing connections between their thoughts and the broader historical and cultural contexts.
Robinson's exploration covers a wide range of topics, including metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of mind. His analysis of how these ideas have influenced and been influenced by the social, scientific, and cultural developments of their times provided me with a richer, more nuanced understanding of the history of human thought.
The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg
In this book, Stulberg challenges the relentless pursuit of 'more' that characterises much of modern life, advocating instead for a grounded approach rooted in inner strength and balance.
Stulberg's philosophy centres around the concept of groundedness, which he defines as a stable and robust foundation from which to engage with the world. The emphasis on authenticity, purpose, and community in building a grounded life particularly struck a chord with me, reflecting my own values and aspirations.
I appreciated the way Stulberg integrates scientific research with real-world examples to demonstrate the benefits of groundedness. His exploration of themes such as embracing vulnerability, fostering resilience, and finding joy in the process rather than solely in outcomes offered fresh perspectives on personal growth and achievement.
Golden by Justin Talbot-Zorn & Leigh Marz
Golden is a compelling exploration of the value of stillness and reflection in our increasingly fast-paced and productivity-focused world. The book presents a well-argued case for embracing moments of pause and tranquility as vital to personal and professional development.
Talbot-Zorn and Marz skilfully weave together scientific research, historical anecdotes, and practical advice to illustrate the transformative power of stillness. Their examination of how periods of quiet and reflection can enhance creativity, decision-making, and well-being provided me with insightful perspectives on the often-overlooked value of stepping back from the constant drive for action.
The book’s emphasis on the accessibility and simplicity of these practices makes it a valuable guide for anyone looking to cultivate a more thoughtful and reflective approach to life and work.
The Pragmatic Programmer, 2nd Edition by David Thomas & Andrew Hunt
With the second edition of The Pragmatic Programmer, I revisited a classic guide that has profoundly influenced my approach to software development.
This updated edition enriches the original's timeless wisdom with contemporary insights, making it an indispensable resource for modern programmers. Thomas and Hunt's pragmatic philosophy resonates with my own experiences in software engineering, advocating for a balance between technical excellence and practical application.
The authors present a broad spectrum of topics, from personal responsibility and career development to architectural techniques and coding practices. Their emphasis on adaptability, continuous learning, and the importance of understanding the broader context of one's work aligns closely with my belief in the necessity of staying agile and informed in a field as dynamic as computer science.
It has reinforced my commitment to best practices in software development and has continued to shape my approach to tackling complex technical challenges.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
This memoir resonated with me, as it mirrors my own journey of finding balance and meaning through physical pursuits like walking and running. Murakami's narrative transcends the simplicity of a running diary. It's a reflection on the discipline, solitude, and endurance inherent in both long-distance running and creative endeavours.
His introspective and often philosophical musings provided me with a deeper appreciation of the mental and physical fortitude required to pursue one's goals, whether in art, work, or life. I was drawn to Murakami's candid and thoughtful discussion on ageing, his evolving relationship with running, and its impact on his writing.
This aligns with my own belief in the power of solitary pursuits to foster deep self-awareness and resilience.
Understanding Software by Max Kanat-Alexander
This book highlights the importance of simplicity and clarity in building robust and maintainable systems. What distinguishes this book is its focus on the essence of what makes software work well, rather than just the technicalities of coding. Kanat-Alexander emphasises the need for developers to understand the broader context of their work, including how design decisions impact the usability, scalability, and maintainability of software.
This perspective aligns with my belief in approaching software development as a holistic practice, where understanding the 'why' is as important as knowing the 'how.'
I was impressed by the author's insights into reducing complexity in software design. His pragmatic advice on navigating the trade-offs and challenges inherent in software development offers a roadmap for creating more intuitive and user-friendly systems. This approach is vital in an industry where complexity can often be overwhelming and counterproductive.
Max Kanat-Alexander's insights have not only enriched my technical knowledge but also reinforced my commitment to pursuing simplicity and elegance in software design and development.
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
Heidegger's exploration of the nature of being (Dasein) and its temporal dimensions offered me a transformative perspective on existential and phenomenological questions.
One of the most compelling aspects of "Being and Time" is Heidegger's analysis of 'authenticity.' He posits that confronting the inevitability of death and acknowledging the finitude of our existence enables a more authentic mode of being.
Heidegger's critique of the Western philosophical tradition's neglect of the question of Being and his deconstruction of this oversight provided me with a new lens through which to view philosophical thought. His emphasis on existential angst, the role of language, and the critique of Cartesian dualism are particularly noteworthy.
One disclaimer that is necessary though is that it can be one of the most dense reads, even as a philosophy book. So should you endeavour to venture into it, take your time with it and be patient.
Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff & Mark Johnson
This book resonated with me profoundly, illuminating the often-unconscious influence of metaphors in structuring our perceptions, experiences, and even our language. Their thesis intersects with my own interests in the cognitive and linguistic underpinnings of human thought and communication.
Lakoff and Johnson argue that metaphor is not just a linguistic expression but a fundamental structure of human thought. They demonstrate how our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, influencing how we perceive and interact with the world. This perspective was eye-opening, revealing the depth and breadth of metaphor's role in shaping our everyday realities.
The authors’ analysis extends to a wide array of common metaphors and their implications for our understanding of complex concepts such as time, love, war, and ideas. Their exploration of how these metaphors not only reflect but also shape our beliefs and actions provided me with a deeper appreciation of the power of language in constructing our reality.
This book challenges the traditional view of metaphor as merely a stylistic device in language. Instead, it positions metaphor as central to human thought, influencing everything from our daily conversations to complex philosophical and scientific theories.
Lakoff and Johnson's work is a profound contribution to the fields of linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive science. It has not only enriched my understanding of the cognitive mechanisms that underlie our language and thought processes but also deepened my appreciation for the ways in which our conceptual systems shape our perception of the world.